Tone Talk with B.B. Kates

Photo by Ted Cendejas
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My name is B.B. Kates, and I play bass and sing for my original band The Drained. We’re currently working on the debut EP and plan to release a single within the next couple of months. I started playing guitar over ten years ago and switched to bass full-time around seven years ago. I currently endorse brands Fender and GHS Strings. You can connect with me on Instagram @zombbkates.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
I have always loved a good, punk bass sound. Think Ramones, Green Day, and Rancid, to name a few. My bass tone has changed quite a bit over the years, but my goal tone has always remained the same. I’ve always loved that “Fender sound,” which is why I’ve used nothing but Fender basses since playing.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I mainly stick to two bass guitars: a Fender 2014 American Special Precision and Fender 2016 Mustang. I’ve really been digging the Mustang lately—it’s a short scale, so it allows me to play some more technical pieces. For live shows, I have two different rigs: if I don’t mind lugging around my 8×10 Ampeg Classic speaker, I pair that with a Fender Super Bassman 300 head. It gets the exact sound I want and sounds so powerful. For mobility, I like to use a Fender Rumble combo. It still sounds great and is amazing for both live shows and practice. It’s also very light! When I make covers or track bass, I like to borrow my boyfriend’s Headrush Pedalboard. It emulates tones very well, and it’s definitely a great alternative to lugging around big heavy amps!

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
I really make sure I know my parts. I like to practice with a click as well, and recording engineers will thank you for that! Another great tip is to know the drummer’s parts. Drums and bass are the foundation for an entire song, and it has to fit together like a puzzle.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Before hitting the stage, I like to know what my tone will be. When you’re at home, play with your sound a bit and find something you like. Take a picture of the knobs so you have a rough idea of where you want to be when you perform. These may need to change slightly depending on venues, but it helps to have a rough idea so you’re not wasting anybody’s time. I also like to stay aware of my sound level – if it seems too loud, it might be. I know bassists hate being told to “turn down,” but sometimes we just have to do it so everyone can perform their best.

What does your practice consist of?
I actually really enjoy learning music theory. I think it’s very important to have a general understanding of what you’re doing. I used to read tabs a lot when starting, but eventually, I realized, “Hey, some of these don’t sound right,” so I started learning every song by ear. Training your ear is insanely helpful, and will even make you a better musician. Practicing your skill doesn’t always mean sitting there and playing with it; you have to read about it too.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
The best advice I can give is to remain humble. The reality is that many women face competition in the music industry, but it is important to remember that we are not racing for success. It’s silly to be jealous over something a fellow local band is doing when you can use it to your advantage and learn some new tips you didn’t know before. If you’re nervous about playing live, carry self-defense items on you and always have people you can trust nearby. Always keep an eye on your gear too! Stay tough and confident.


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