Bass Knobs: What Do They Do? [Answered] (2023 Edition)

Table of Contents

If you’re curious about bass knobs actually do, you’ve come to the right post!

Understanding Guitar and Bass Electronics

So you just plug in your bass or your guitar into an amp, plug that amp into an electric outlet, turn it on, and you’re ready to rock, right?

Well, at the end of the day, it comes down to that.

However, electric guitars and basses aren’t as simple as they might seem at first.

Before we get to any knobs and switches, let’s start with pickups.

Magnetic pickups on your bass or your guitar sense the vibration of metal strings.

Of course, the same thing goes for piezo pickups, but that’s a different story.

Either way, we can say that they pick up the vibration of the strings, thus the name.

However, after they pick it up, they “translate” vibration into an electrical signal.

That’s what gets out of your guitar into an amplifier or any other device that you might use in between, like a pedal.

What’s also important to note is that, on its way out of the guitar, the signal passes through other components.

Aside from wires, obviously, you have potentiometers, capacitors, and switches.

In the case of active electronics, we have more components.

However, their main purpose is to affect the signal that comes out of the pickups and before it goes out of the instrument.

And that’s exactly the beauty of electric instruments, including basses.

A series of components will allow you to control and shape your tone the way it works for you.

They’re not there to make things more complicated for the sake of it.

Instead, they should help you achieve what you’re looking for.

Bass Knobs

Almost all electric bass guitars come with knobs on their front side.

What you see are caps and top parts of potentiometers.

Each potentiometer controls a certain parameter.

As opposed to electric guitars, basses usually don’t come with regular pickup selector switches.

However, you should also bear in mind that bass guitars have way more versatility with their control layouts.

They’re not as standardized as electric guitars.

These are the controls that you might find on a bass guitar:

  • Master volume
  • Individual pickup volume
  • Tone (or treble roll-off, we’ll get to that)
  • 3-band equalizer (bass, middle, and treble)
  • Balance between pickups, also known as “blend”

The most common knobs on a bass are for volume and tone.

Pretty much all, or almost all, basses come with at least one volume knob.

However, simpler layouts usually include an additional master tone control.

In case you have a bass guitar with just one pickup, then it’s usually like this.

When there are two pickups, then you’ll either have two volume controls or a pickup selector switch.

Bass Knobs: What Do They Do?

If you’re new to bass guitars, don’t be scared by these controls that you might not understand at the moment.

Things are pretty simple.

So let’s first start with simpler layouts.

And then we’ll move over to more complex ones.

Two Knobs

If your bass guitar has just two knobs, then one of them is for master volume and the other is for master tone.

Master volume controls the overall output level of your instrument.

Be it one or two pickups, it will affect them both equally.

Master tone control makes your tone brighter or smoother.

If you turn it all the way up clockwise, you’ll get the brightest tone.

Going counterclockwise, you’ll notice the drop in high-ends, which is why we can also call this control “treble roll-off.”

Three Knobs: Two Volume Controls and One Master Tone

In case your bass guitar has three knobs, two of these are for individual pickup volume.

The third one is the master tone control.

It works the same way as explained above.

Now, with two volume knobs, you most likely won’t have a pickup selector switch.

Instead, you balance the ratio of these two pickups in the mix by individually altering the volume of each one.

Three knobs are the most common setup on two-pickup bass guitars.

Other Examples

But things can get more complex.

You might find basses with five knobs and additional switches.

Having five knobs isn’t that unusual and is what you see on basses with active onboard preamps.

Essentially, you have a small preamp in your bass that runs on a 9-volt battery.

Along with it comes a 3-band equalizer, or what you may know as “bass, middle, treble” controls.

So these are the controls that you can see on a 5-knob bass:

  • Master volume
  • Balance or blend – controls the balance between the bridge and the neck pickup
  • Bass
  • Middle
  • Treble

Along with that, you might find an additional switch.

This switch will allow you to choose between active and passive electronics.

The passive option gives you a lower output with a more controlled and smoother tone.

In some rare cases, there are other switches and features as well.

For instance, if a bass has one humbucker, you might have a switch for its mode of operation.

Other features can include so-called “push-pull” knobs.

On the outside, they look the same as other knobs.

But pulling one of them up, usually the master volume, it switches between active and passive electronics.

In case you’re just starting out, I suggest that you avoid using these complex basses.

One reason is that they’re usually more expensive.

But you’ll also have additional controls that aren’t necessary for basic tone shaping.

Bass Knobs: What Do They Do? Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you better understand bass knobs and what they are used for!

And if you want to read more about the bass on this blog, then check out:

Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!

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