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So your bass rig on stage goes next to the drummer? Did you want to go deaf?

It's an old cliche of rock music that the bass guitarist should be close to the drummer. But with modern technology does this still matter? And will you indeed go deaf?

Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor...

Ideally where should a bass rig be on a stage i.e. next to the drums? I have always preferred to be next to the drum rig for a variety of reasons. One being that every record I've ever heard has the bass and drums right down the middle together, a rhythm section as it were. I have recently gotten some flak about this and have been asked to move to the outside of the stage with a guitar rig between me and the drums.

David Mellor (with many bass playing memories) responds...

Q - How many bass players does it take to change a light bulb?

A - None, They let the keyboard player do it with his left hand!

OK, that's enough of the bass player jokes. Perhaps it's part of musical folklore that the bass player should stand next to the drummer. Or perhaps there is good solid reasoning behind it. One thing's for sure, the concept of the 'rhythm section' of a rock band consisting of the bass and drums is valid.

Before sequenced music, the togetherness of the 'ensemble' of a band was defined by the bass and drums, and of course still is now, but bands often incorporate loops or sequenced music into their performance which of course are perfectly rhythmically precise.

But if you go for the traditional approach of a band playing all of their own instruments on stage without the benefit of sequenced backing, then ensemble is all-important.

Ideally the bass guitar should synchronize exactly with the kick drum. There is never any leeway or 'artistic justification' for anything else. If they synchronize, then they will sound good together. If they don't synchronize, everything will sound terrible.

Clearly, the bass will be playing notes in between kick drum beats. But when they coincide, then they really must coincide exactly.

I had the opportunity to experiment with this recently when I was asked to dust down my bass for a recording session. I was pretty rusty so things took time to come together.

The drummer was one of those guys who never seems to feel he can play loud enough. But even so, I found that I achieved my best playing when I was closest to the drums. We were recording the basic tracks without headphones, which is the best way if you know the song well enough and don't need a guide vocal.

The only problem was the sheer volume of the drums. They were bloody loud, and I for one want to keep my hearing until a very advanced age. Fortunately I had ear plugs with me, so my ears were protected, and I could literally feel the kick drum in my gut.

The result was entirely satisfactory - the rhythm section sounded rhythmically spot on, so I would attest to the value of having the bass player as close to the drummer as possible.

For recording, the reason why the kick drum and bass are panned center is so that they are reproduced by both speakers, thus optimizing the maximum level that can be achieved in the bass end, simple as that. On recordings from the 1960's they didn't realize this, so you will hear the bass and drums panned all kinds of places.

On stage, with good monitoring, there is no reason why the bass player shouldn't have the kick drum as loud as he likes in his monitor in order to achieve good ensemble. My feeling would be though that to become a proper 'rhythm section', bass and drums still should be physically close.

Just make sure that if the drummer has a large China cymbal, you stand on the other side! (Been there, done that)

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By David Mellor Monday March 29, 2010

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