Tone Talk with Amy Epperley

Photo by David Hobbs

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine, Issue 8

I am the Platinum Viking and, as they say, one of the hardest working musicians out there. I love my job! I’m a full-time musician who plays in several projects in Atlanta bands, including Vices of Vanity, Sash the Bash, and Siamese Dream–The Smashing Pumpkins tribute, to name a few. I’m a classically trained cellist and currently play electric cello for various original projects and tribute bands. I recently picked up the bass guitar, which has become my main instrument and passion. I also sing, am a songwriter, and a multi-instrumentalist with guitar, piano/keys, bagpipes, and the theremin.

I also tour, do studio session and recording work, manage and book for several local bands, host songwriting workshops, serve as program director for the internet streaming station Moon Rock Radio 88.8, and am the creator and host of local Atlanta festival GarageFest. I volunteer for music festivals, teach music theory and math lessons, write gear product reviews, and recently started venturing into modeling and acting.

Outside of music, I am an avid animal lover who runs a local pet rat rescue organization and am happily married to the love of my life.

What is your definition of tone?

Welcome to a sneak peek into my five-year journey to find the perfect bass tone! When I was just starting out, tone was not a main focus for me. Then, one day while at a local show, I heard it: a searing, driving sound with a powerful punch and aggressive, gritty bottom. I’d never heard these sounds coming from a bass live before! I knew it was what I wanted to emulate.

Tone is often defined as all-encompassing—pitch, quality, and strength. More importantly, I feel it’s your sound’s ultimate character. It is what is you speaking through the instrument. I equate this to what some call “tone color,” which is the final element of pitch and involves understanding and detecting the subtle nuances of sound that correspond to colors, but I take it a step further. I consider how the sound feels when it’s heard. To me, it’s that feeling that is most important, as well as being heard in the mix, which tone plays a huge role in. Being heard is critical when you’re a five-string bassist who spends a lot of time on the E and B and in drop tuning (as low as drop C) for my notes to be well defined with a good amount of attack and sustain. I want that solid deep thundering bass with an edgy growl, even mids that punch through with a bite and sustaining highs that can sing tone. Basically, I want it all! But I also want a tone that is immediately identifiable. I want someone to say, ‘Wow, what tone—that is definitely such-and-such bassist’ no matter what I play through, on, or with.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using?

I’m enjoying switching between my MusicMan StingRay5 bass and my new five-string Fender American Elite Jazz Bass. With the larger five-piece band that has two high fuzz/distortion guitars and organ/keys, the Fender Elite stands out among all the noise with a tone that can be heard. It has a strong, distinctly punchy mid-range while still giving me decent amounts of lows on the E and B. It also has robust, balanced highs for soloing and octave pedal applications. I also use this bass when playing with the Smashing Pumpkins tribute. Originally, I started using the Fender Jazz for the reasons above, but in researching the tones and equipment of the Pumpkins’ bassist D’arcy Wretzy, I learned that she also used Jazz Basses early on for similar reasons (she also used MusicMan StingRays later, as well). In most of my trio projects, I play often on the E and B string, so the MusicMan is best for giving me that huge, full bottom end that fills up the soundscape well while still giving me balanced mids and highs.

Amp-wise, I use MarkBass amps almost exclusively. It’s either the Little Mark III bass amp head with a SWR Goliath II or Ampeg 410HLF speaker cab and the Mini CMD 121P 1×12 bass combo. I love MarkBass for two main reasons: the power-to-weight ratio is bar none, and the reliability is the best. I can also easily and fully drop in my tone preferences and preamp into its modeled sound. In the practice space, I also occasionally rock out on my Ampeg SVT-7Pro 1000-watt tube preamp bass head with an Ampeg SVT-810E Classic Series 8×10 bass cabinet for classic rock projects needing big sound and the AC/DC tribute, though I rarely take this out to a gig or on the road due to its size.

So let me preface this part with: I‘m a pedal nerd! I don’t think bassists should ever be afraid of using pedals or trying out lots of new and varying effects. In fact, I often have a bigger pedalboard than my guitarist! A well thought out, quality board can make a great bass sound live or in studio and can be a huge part in defining your unique tone. Often, pedals are necessary to build a bigger, better, more complete show. That being said, my current board is slimmed down to only the essentials needed for the actively gigging bands and contains a TC Electronic’s Polytuner for the way it effectively tunes the B string and lower, the DigiTech Drop pedal for half-step interval drop tuning on the fly or nice octave capabilities, the Electro-Harmonix Op-Amp Big Muff Pi for more driving distortion and overdrive, the BOSS Bass Chorus for layering and building sounds, the MXR Phase 90 for layering and as a phaser application, and finally, the Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI for preamping, on stage DI option, tone control, and better EQ controls at your feet. I use the industry standard Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 plus to power my board and have them all mounted to the Pedaltrain Classic 2 SC 24”x12.5” pedalboard. When playing with my Black Sabbath tribute, I add the Dunlop Geezer Butler Cry Baby Bass Wah at the front of the chain.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

Being a bassist in the modern recording era often means simply putting a dry signal through a DI and into the studio rack. You would play your part directly to a scratch track of drums, rhythm guitar, and sometimes vocals while sitting in the control room. Any effects and amp modeling is done right then on the master computer after the track is recorded. This is pretty much how I’ve recorded most of my work. I prefer to record this way, as it gets the job done quickly and efficiently—always important when paying for studio time. I like to give one to two takes max and let the magic happen on the mixing and mastering.

How do you keep your sound consistent on stage?

This is actually really hard! Something is always changing depending on the venue, the sound system and PA, whether the room has a crowd or not, whether you’re using your own backline or another band’s, etc. What I’ve found helps is using a good preamp on your pedalboard for easy tweaking and using high-end multi-driver in-ear stage monitors so you can really hear what you need to. I’ve found that most sound engineers prefer to take the cleaner signal off the SansAmp DI bass driver than from the back of an amp, though some will also mic the amp to get your full percussive sound within the room for the mix. Also, as a bassist who plays a five-string and often in lower registers with drop tuning, it’s important that my in-ear monitors are custom molded to my ear and have as many high-quality drivers as economically possible.

What does your practice consist of?

Unfortunately, at my current level of playing and touring, I am not as consistent with a personal practice routine as I was when just starting out. Most of my ‘practice’ ends up being learning new material in a very short amount of time, writing new songs or riffs, live practices with the many bands I’m in, and studio session or recording work. When I was just starting out, however, I remember working on scales to get familiar with the fretboard as well as practicing fingering and fretting techniques to a metronome. Later on, I practiced by building up a significant song repertoire and becoming versatile with both finger playing and playing with a pick equally.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

My biggest piece of advice for all women of any age is that it is never too late to pick up an instrument and pursue music at any level. I came into the industry at the age of 33 and had been told many times that not only was I an insignificant woman in a male-dominated industry, but that I was way too old to try to start. Good news—in this day and age, both of these conventional ideas are being challenged, and we are becoming much more comfortable with the concept that you can be young, old, new, seasoned—whatever—and still find success. It’s great to see the different women making and playing music today!

GGM Staff


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