A few weeks ago I made a lesson on how to improve the tone of your bass and how to set your tone controls. This week we’re going to focus specifically on volume controls on your bass guitar. I’m sure any of you beginners have wondered about what settings you should go for and how to deal with multiple volume controls when you have them. Well, wonder no more. We’ll look at single pickup volume (Precision Bass), two pickup setups (Jazz Bass) and single volume with a blend knob.

Bass Guitar Features

Pretty much every bass will have at least one volume control, it’s simple enough to figure out when you just have one volume knob, but what if there are more than one?

Well, this all has to do with your pickup configuration. You can have one split pickup, two single coils, one single coil, a humbucker, two humbuckers, a double coil etc. There are also many basses that use a combination of all these types of bass pickups, but for now let’s focus on the two main types and what to do with them!

The volume control or controls, tend to be located closer towards the neck or middle for easy access. This may vary on different basses, but generally this is where they are usually found.

Single Pickup

A bass with a single pickup like a Fender Precision, will have just one volume control. This is right next to the tone control and very self explanatory. Although this set up is quite simplistic, and doesn’t necessarily give you much choice or variety when it comes to tone. It’s more a one-size-fits-all approach to bass tone. Now that’s not to say that’s a bad thing, the Fender Precision’s split pickup configuration is considered the benchmark in bass guitar design and was indeed the first bass in mass production invented by the late, great Leo Fender. It’s got an unmistakeable rich tone favoured by all the greats including the likes of James Jamerson, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Steve Harris and Roger Waters.

Two Pickups

A bass with a two pickup configuration like a Fender Jazz, may have two volume controls, one for each pickup. The neck pickup volume knob is located below the neck pickup, and the bridge pickup volume knob is located below the bridge pickup. You can hear the difference in tone when selecting between the volumes of either the bridge or neck pickup. The bridge pickup has a slightly punchier sound, while the neck pickup has a warmer tone. This set up requires a little bit of experimentation as you figure out what sounds best, it can be a little cumbersome trying to blend between the two via the two volume knob system. That’s where the single volume knob with the added blend knob comes in very handy..

Single Volume With A Blend Knob

Some bass guitars, (like my trusty Enfield Lionheart) have a two pickup system with just a single volume control and a blend knob. What’s a blend knob I hear you ask? Well, it’s just a handy way of selecting between the two pickups with the option of blending some elements of one pickup’s sound into another. So for example; if I have the blend control up midway, that’s the equivalent of both pickups up full. If I switch it all the way towards the bridge, then that selects the bridge pickup. If I switch it completely the other way towards the neck, then that’s the neck pickup up full. If I switch the blend knob somewhere halfway between midpoint and the bridge, then I get a sound of mostly punchy bridge pickup with a hint of the warm neck pickup and vice versa the other way. I prefer this system of having one volume control and a blend knob, as it’s much easier to use and handy for dialling in the sound you want on the fly.

Up To 11!

After saying all that however, my go to answer when it comes to volume on your bass guitar is to crank it up all the way! This ensures that you are sending a strong and clean signal to where you want it to go, wether that is an amp, mixing desk or the DAW of a computer. If you were to keep the volume low, then you would have to compensate for this by boosting the gain and volume on your amp or DAW, which can cause noise and hiss. So don’t be afraid to turn it up!

Now, this is a bit different when you’ve got two volume controls, so use these like a blend knob and choose which pickup you want to hear more of, or how much of the other pickup you want to blend in. You can hear the variation of these in the accompanying YouTube video lesson. There may be times when you need to drop the volume while playing, but the rule of thumb here is to not let it go below halfway as you can increase the chances of unwanted noise and hiss. There are of course other factors to consider when it comes to overall volume, but the bass guitar itself is the starting point. Take a look at the bass or basses you have and make sure you go to 11!

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