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John Entwistle gear and style information

I want to know how Entwistle gets the sound from his bass on stage. I saw them in concert and it was incredible. I play bass and I want to know John’s style and what equipment he uses to get that classic Entwistle sound. thanks

Here are available sources on John’s style and equipment:

  1. johnentwistle.com. It’s got a complete “current” equipment overview for the JE Band.
  2. JAE’s Hotlicks series book and tape. This has a setup primer in the book for a basic JE-style sound. This is not an endorsement or advertisement, but the item may be available at hotlicks.com/bassguitar.htm#john_entwistle (offline).
  3. The Hiwatt Story has some basic discussion on classic JAE setups when he was using Hiwatts. Hiwatt Story (dcsbulldog.tripod.com) .
  4. Brad Rodgers’ whocollection.com: whocollection.com/john's_basses.htm. Contains specific instruments, equipment and accessories.

Basically, the classic JAE sound, however, is derived from splitting the signal to two amps, one amp for trebly lead sound and one for booming bass sound. Use a splitter or stereo pedal after a compressor. Crank the “lead” amp up to overdrive or use a bass overdrive pedal, and keep the low-end amp clean. Then control the overdrive with the instrument’s volume control. If it’s a good pedal or amp, it’ll react to the volume control by cutting back on the overdrive as you turn down, but will clean up the sound and maintain a sufficient sound level and tone through the amps.

The site orange-fields.com/widepages/basseq.htm (offline) contains suggestions for EQ settings to approximate John’s sound. Link courtesy of Shane Johnson.

Bass In Your Face (Aggressive John Entwistle sound):

  • Boost 1 to 2 kHz by 6 to 9dB.
  • Cut 200Hz by 6dB. For more “brittle” sound cut 100Hz by 2 or 3dB.

This will help a busy bass line to slice through the mix.

New on Whotabs: John’s Bass Equipment

John’s playing style

From April 1995 Bassist interview

“Back then, everyone either played with their thumb or a plectrum. I started off doing a bit of both until I saw someone playing with his first finger and occasionally his second though the guy later told me he was playing that way because he had a blister on his thumb! I thought that was a much more adaptable style for me because I played piano and learned to use both hands. With the trumpet, you finger with the right hand and with the left on French horn, so my fingers were pretty dextrous by the time I took up bass. I gradually used more of my fingers, and experimented until I found the easiest place for my right hand was right up at the neck; you get a lot more harmonics that way. But a lot of other bassists play down by the bridge and get a burpy sound that I don’t like at all, like a Jack Bruce fart!

“I think it was more what I played to Keith’s drums, by trying to fit in with his crazy way of playing. He would also try to fit in around my playing, so I suppose in some way we were each a little responsible for the other’s individual style. Because there was only a drum kit, a guitar and a bass, we tried to make as much sound as possible to fill up all the holes. The way I played on stage came directly from playing with Keith, but my actual playing style came from experimentation.

“Being as I used a lot of top end, I would have a very clamped down style with lots of left and right hand damping. If you are using a trebly sound and you don’t dampen the strings, it just blurs into one long ‘clang’. I love it when people plug into my gear and start trying to play like me because they just create a f***ing cacophony of noise through not having my damping technique. It’s all down to the amount of pressure you exert with your left and right hands, especially your left where you’re lifting up your finger but still touching the string to stop the note resonating. You have to do that quite a lot, obviously. It took me a long time to learn how to do that properly and my style sounded very clangy and twangy for a while but I eventually learned how to apply damping techniques to build up rhythm patterns, often just by playing the same note.”

Much to the irritation of his family and close friends, Entwistle discovered a new method of playing in the mid-70s.

“I tap my fingers all the time and by doing that I have been able to play the bass ‘sideways’. I can actually tap the strings with a quick, pushing motion, but it would take someone three or four years of tapping their fingers on tables or whatever to get it right. When I realised I could actually play that way it opened up a whole different world for me. It began when I started playing the Alembics around 1974 or 75. They had a very loud, gutsy sound and you didn’t have to exert as much pressure on the strings to get a loud note. Once the thumb slapping thing came in I didn’t want anything to do with that because it wouldn’t have fitted into what The Who were doing. I just devised my own version of it. You have four fingers there and position them to correspond with the four bass strings, so you could tap octaves or patterns. I found that I could do a lot more and do it faster too.”