The controls on a bass are much like that of a stereo system. There are knobs for volume and tone bass, treble and sometimes mid.
Bass guitars either have a master volume for all pickups, or two separate volume knobs one for each pickup. With a master volume knob there is a separate knob that blends or balances the two pickups. A master volume is a little easier to control and set.
A few basses may have a pickup selector switch. A 3-way pickup selector switch has 3 settings: both pickups on, the bridge pickup on, or the neck pickup on.
Having one volume knob, two volume knobs, or a switch basically give you all the same options.
All basses have at least one tone knob. This allows you to adjust the amount of bass or treble frequencies output by the bass.
Passive basses often have just one tone knob that cuts the treble frequencies.
Active bass guitars have more tone knobs. An active bass will have at least a treble knob and a bass knob. These will allow you to both cut and boost the treble and bass frequencies.
Some basses will have a mid-range knob. This allows you to cut or boost those frequencies that fall between the bass and treble knobs’ frequencies. Some basses feature a sweepable mid-range. This allows you to choose from a spectrum of mid-range frequencies you wish to cut or boost. Otherwise the frequency is set for you as it is on the bass and treble knobs.
You may come across terms like 3-band EQ. Each frequency is a band. Three-band means bass, mid, and treble. A 2-band EQ would mean just bass and treble.
Having more knobs is convenient, but don’t forget you can do a lot with the EQ settings on the bass amp. And, the amp’s electronics generally sound better. With the knobs it’s nice to be able to adjust your tone right on your bass. Or, if you record your bass directly rather than through a bass amp, you can shape your tone a bit more.
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