Bass slapping has been around for ages, and its invention is credited to Larry Graham. In this article, we’ll cover the best practices to achieve a decent bass guitar setup for slap, but first, let’s talk about the technique a bit.
It was made popular by lots of excellent artists such as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more recently on the web by the YouTuber Davie504.
When improving their skills, most bass players will at one point start to learn and implement the technique, since it is very impressive when performed right. It just looks and sounds awesome:
but it isn’t easy at first. Good slapping requires training, precision, coordination, and mastering at least 3 techniques, being:
- The slap itself with the thumb
- The pop with the index finger
- The muting with the palm of the hand that plays the fretboard
Being such a difficult technique to replicate, it is often confusing to the new player to know if their instrument is correctly adjusted, or if there is anything they can do to perform and sound better when slapping.
Let’s talk about it.
Best action setup for slap bass
String action is ultimately a matter of preference. Different playing styles demand different setups.
Since we are talking about a specific and well-defined technique, we can draw some conclusions based on our experience and the preferences of famous players.
As a general rule, to slap comfortably you want middle to low action, meaning:
- Lighter gauge strings
- Strings that are not too high in relation to the fretboard
- A neck that is straight as possible. The more leveled the strings are in relation to it, the better, since it will allow you to slap and pop all across the fingerboard without too much variation among frets
Action should be somewhat low, but not low enough that strings will hit adjacent frets and prevent them from vibrating correctly.
Other than that, you’ll want the setup to be exactly as any other well maintained instrument:
- String height that is proportional to the neck radius
- Good bridge adjustment and saddle leveling
- Good fret conditioning
- Good tuning/octaves in the right pitch
- Good tuning machines that won’t allow the strings to slip and go out of tune
There are lots of small tweaks you can make to set up your bass the way you want, but other than string action and a flat neck, they are not directly related to slapping.
In this article, we give you a pretty comprehensive guide related to the bass setup tool kit every player and aspiring luthier should have available, and across this site, you’ll find articles that detail each procedure.
Eq Settings for Slap Bass – Bass Guitar Setup for Slap
Again, EQ settings will vary depending on the genre and playing style. Some artists will prefer darker, more heavy tones, while others like their sound crispy on the high end.
When talking about slap bass, we are dealing simultaneously with the 2 opposite ends of the eq spectrum:
- Low sounds on the slap (more commonly hitting the low E and A strings_
- High pitches on the pop (usually performed on the G and D strings)
In order to achieve a decent slap tone while balancing these 2 extremes, experienced players will recommend these settings, on a 3 band (low, mid, and treble) equalizer amplifier:
- Around 8 on the highs
- Around 3-4 on the mids
- Around 8 on the low frequencies.
This is what players refer to as “scooping the mids“, which makes room for the low and high frequencies that sound more prominent when slapping.
Of course, this is but a standard approach that should work okay in most situations, but equalization’s goal is to reduce conflicts between frequencies, especially when playing with other instruments.
These settings are a good starting point, but ultimately you’ll have to listen and adjust according to your band’s sound to cut through the mix and be heard the way you want to.
On most bass guitars, there’s also the equalization knobs in the instrument itself, which can contribute to shaping the tone until the desired one is achieved.
More advanced equalizers (like pedals and DAW plugins) will extend the possibilities, adding more bands to play with.
Other factors that will affect your tone are the instrument as a whole, the amplifier, the length of the cable used, the subtleties in the technique, and others.
A compressor is a tool that will act (among other things) to level out the discrepancies in the signal, meaning that it’ll attenuate the signal when you play too loud, and enhance it when you play too low.
Simply put, its goal is to keep the sound within a certain amplitude range, which is awesome and has a lot of use-cases.
Compressors also have many other built-in functions like attack and decay, which will deal directly with the speed at which the sound gets to its peak volume and back to normality.
There aren’t any standard settings that would fit all styles, and experimenting with a pedal or plugin is highly recommended.
Any other tips?
When shaping sounds, the sky is the limit. The envelope filter is known to be a very good effect to use in conjunction with the slapping technique, but people have used everything at this point. Wah wah, distortion, delays… this opens up limitless possibilities, and finding out new combinations is what music and arts, in general, are all about.
Listening to the artists you like and trying to replicate their sounds is a very rewarding activity. For modern artists, you can even find their EQ settings used on certain albums.
Great for cover bands, and a good starting point for comparisons and finding your own cup of tea.
The Right Strings for the Job
Lighter gauges are generally preferred since they’ll offer less resistance to pop and exert less tension on the neck, but they come with the downside of breaking more easily.
The most recommended type is the round wound, which fortunately is the most common kind found in stores and modern instruments.
Flat wound strings are kind of slippery, and you want to have a good grip between the strings and your fingers when applying slap techniques.
Also, flat wound strings usually do not sound as bright as the round wound, but in the end, there’s nothing stopping you from trying to see what you like best.
The same goes for brands, gauges, etc.
Is Slapping bad for strings?
Well, if we consider that slapping will impact the strings much more than regular playing, then yes.
Especially when popping the strings, when the artist will pull the string away from the fretboard, and release the tension somewhat abruptly resulting in a collision with the fretboard and the characteristic sound.
But we can think of it as being a similar situation to the heavy metal guitar player that does a lot of bending. Their strings will in fact be overstretched and will break after a while.
Though these are similar cases, let’s not forget that bass strings are way more resistant than regular electric guitar strings, but we cannot discount the effect that continuously slapping will have on the duration of the strings.
Lastly, when considering strings, players usually like well-pronounced highs, which means that older and dirtier bass strings won’t be able to offer the same tonal properties.
Best Bass Models for Slapping
Any bass guitar can be slapped, although the ones we list below are proven and approved by many pros over the years
- Fender Standard Jazz
- Fender Affinity Series Jazz Bass
- Fender Precision
- Music Man Stingray
- Warwick Rockbass Corvette 5
If your bass model isn’t on the list, don’t sweat it, chances are that your bass can do pretty well if you learn the techniques right and use appropriate settings.
Though having an adequate setup to perform slapping is crucial both in terms of playability and tone, it is not enough.
Learning anything complex takes time, practice, perseverance…
… it isn’t different with slapping.
It is a technique that should be added on top of many other abilities, like playing in tune, on the right tempo, volume, equalization, song dynamics, etc.
However, not having any of these already mastered shouldn’t be a deterrent to start learning and practicing it.
Mastery comes through painstakingly progressing on each of the steps until everything comes together in the end.
Lastly, an incorrect setup of the instrument is perhaps the number one factor we can blame for slowing down the player’s evolution,
Not only regarding slapping.
An instrument that doesn’t play the right pitches will slow down the development of the ability to perceive and identify notes by ear in the long run, for instance.
We think that after reading the info contained in this guide you will be well on your way to understanding what you need to adjust your bass guitar setup for slap until you’re doing it comfortably and, more important, sounding awesome.