Tone Talk with Jules Whelpton

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Photo by Chuck Lapinsky

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine, Issue 8

Southern California native Jules Whelpton is known by many as #thatblondebassist, but she also plays guitar, violin, viola, cello, and piano. She credits her parents to introducing her to ‘60s music and funk, but also grew up listening to classic rock. Bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, the Beatles, and Earth, Wind & Fire influenced her bass playing.

In a recent interview with us while at the Winter NAMM Show, she said that she is empowered by her bass. “Being a short person, playing this large bass guitar with the thundering sound allows me to be a larger person. I am a small person with this big bass, dancing around and getting lost in the music. That is what I want people to take away and make happen for themselves.

She initially performed with the LA band Daddy Issues and is currently holding down the low end with the Roni Lee Band and with San Diego band Fairplay. When not playing, she is busy writing and teaching students in Del Mar, Calif.

How do you define tone?

Tone is how you make your instrument sing. I used to think I needed a certain pickup, pedals, or a new amp head to make my tone better. While most of that is a bit true—different basses with various pickups, for example, will change your sound—I have learned that about 80 percent of your tone is how well you strike, slap, tap, pluck, mute, or pick your instrument. I do believe your hands are your best tone makers.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you using?

For my main axes, I use a Reverend Thunder Gun, a Fender Jazz Bass, a Fender Mustang, and a 1985 Fender Precision Lyte. All four of these basses have certain purposes for whatever gig I get called for, such as rock gigs, cover gigs where versatility is required, jazz fusion gigs, metal or punk gigs, etc. Some pickups are brighter, some are warmer, and some are active. As for my amp, I have just recently purchased a Markbass Little Marcus head, with a Fender 115 cabinet. I used to play a 2×12 Markbass setup but realized 15s have a deeper tone and can blend well within a band. For pedals, I have recently decided I would only actively gig with not more than four at a time. My go-to pedalboard is: one tuner (either BOSS TU-2 or my Shure wireless tuner), one Digitech Drop pedal for alternate tunings, one wah for solos or synth effects (Dunlop Cry Baby Bass), and one EQ pedal to boost any frequencies needed for the gig (BOSS GEB-7). If I’m feeling crazy, sometimes I will add distortion or compression if the backline amp lacks it. All of this is housed on a Pedaltrain Nano with an MXR Brick for power, and I exclusively use Pig Hog Lil’ Pigs for cables. A small set up in general, but it has been effective.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

For bass, I love the idea of direct inputs into mixers. There are a ton of great amp simulators on different DAWs, as well as some great preamp pedals. I love using my Tech 21 Fly Rig to record on. The ways of recording bass through actual amp and cabinet setups are a thing of the past these days.

How do you keep your sound consistent on stage?
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This factor was tricky for me to master, but I’ve been getting close to having a system. Dialing in your bass sound is just as important as having a tuned instrument. Every amp is different, every room is different, every rig is different. I like to begin dialing in my bass tone with my amp first and foremost since I like to keep it in the same position the entire time I play. Once I find the sweet spots for each knob, I tap different frets on my bass and see which ones get lost in the mix. Next, I boost any lost frequencies with my EQ pedal or fade any unwanted ones. Finally, when I line check with the band, I’ll make any last-minute adjustments with volume or EQing to make sure I can cut through the mix but still blend well with all the musicians.

What does your practice consist of?

These days when I practice for gigs, I’ll typically begin with more straightforward songs to warm up my hands a bit and have some fun. This helps me want to practice the harder ones. When I get to those, and there are parts I don’t know right away, I’ll stop the song, sing it back to myself, and find the rhythm and notes through my auditory memory. If there is a technique I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll search up a video on YouTube explaining how to play it. Going a tad under tempo when you are first starting out is a really effective tool for learning songs and techniques faster than just jumping right into the context in which you’re playing.

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

My two cents? Girls, this industry is still very much a man’s industry. You’re automatically going to get attention or hurdles thrown at you right from the get-go. Yeah, it’s getting better, but if you’re good, practice, gig, and go above and beyond the stereotypes, you’ll be surprised how many opportunities will be thrown your way. Most of all, do something because you want to do it.

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