ULTIMATE Thrash Bass Starter Kit – Sound like the BIG 4!

Ultimate Thrash Bass Starter Kit

You are a new bassist and you want to play Thrash bass. How about your band mates have decided they want to transition from Hair Metal to Thrash. Or you’re in a cover band but have never listened to Thrash. What are the essentials you need for a Thrash Bass Starter Kit?

Fans of Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer will want to study this ultimate Thrash Bass Starter Kit carefully if you wish to sound like your idols.

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The Essential Thrash Bass Starter Kit

You had a Thrash gig tonight, this is what your bass starter kit would look like.

In this Thrash Bass Starter Kit we will explore why this is the perfect rig.

Defining bass in Thrash

Starting at the beginning we need to look at the definition of Thrash and what we mean. Thrash is a subgenre of Metal that is played at faster tempos and with a prominent mid range. It is possible to get way more granular but that will do for now.

This Thrash Bass Starter Kit will primarily on the original wave of Thrash bands from the 1980’s up until 1990.  

The Big 4 – Ultimate Thrash Bands

Thrash has always had its flagship bands’, namely The Big 4 in the US who have had huge success and album sales to their names.

Remember the peak of Thrash was 40 years ago during the 1980s. At that time the big 4 and like minded bands all started from the same spot. They shared a similar musical style, cultural impact, audiences and collaboration across the US.

Since then the big 4 have matured and experimented with their genres in all sorts of directions. Some now lean into commercial viability and others retain the Thrashy edge.

Required Thrash bands to listen to

The big 4 are required listening as well as,

Two Camps of Thrash Bass Starter Kit

Thrash bass has never been a cookie cutter starter kit and there has always been a ton of variation in the scene drawing from endless amounts of influence.

The Metal genre guitarists and Thrash by extension, typically perform in the mid to higher frequency range.

Unfortunately occupying the bassists’ more punchier frequencies as a result. In some cases purposely removing lower bass frequencies from their music altogether (See Metallica’s Justice For All).

Holding the low end in Thrash bass

Thrash Bass can really boil down into two camps, firstly there are bands like Slayer, Exodus and Death Angel.

They have a bassists who are generally buried in the mix and difficult to hear – Sometimes deliberately. Functionally they occupy the lower end without much relevance.

Being heard in Thrash Bass

On the other hand you have Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax where you can hear some semblance of the bass in the mix.

This sound is typically plucky and clicky, avoiding the main guitar frequencies by occupying either the very low end or high end.

Frank Bello and David Ellefson are shining examples of this and their sound is the definition of “a scooped sound”.

Which avenue you should go down will be up to you, your band and your influences.

Which basses should be used in Thrash?

This Thrash Bass Starter Kit it is recommends a Jackson Concert bass or a bass fitted with split coil, single coil pickups.

In the Thrash genre specifically, this combo provides a punchy bite from the single coil pickup and the option of dialing in the fatness from the split coil to taste.

Giving you the freedom to pluck away at a riff and cut through a mix like on Peace Sells or sit back and hold the low end like Tom Araya.

Thrash Bass Starter Kit

Basses for the most part were a statement of style and character. They had to look mean, be loud and angry to upset the normies playing their Fender Precision‘s. Read the Essential Punk Rock Bass Starter Pack for a more suitable use of Precision basses.

Other basses that can be used in Thrash

Other basses which work well in Thrash include;

Basses to avoid for Thrash

There are some features that do not work well for Thrash bass, avoid;

  • Passive basses
  • Single split coil pickups
  • 5+ strings

While additional low strings are popular today, they weren’t factor in the 80’s and not authentic to the Thrash sound of this era. Basses with humbuckers should also be avoided, such as;

  • Rickenbackers
  • Thunderbirds
  • Stingrays

These basses are more advantageous for slower music where the bass can breathe. Yes, Cliff Burton had a Rickenbacker but lets face it, it was heavily modded.

Thrash basses need EMG pickups

For starters sake, you will want an active bass with split/single coil (PJ) pickups made by EMG.

EMG pickups are mandatory as every artist during this period used EMG with no exceptions.

Active EMG pickups are bright and offer the player more control over their tone when compared to passive pickups.

The easiest and cheapest way to acquire a Metal or Thrash bass sound is to upgrade your bass with EMG pickups.

Look for active EMG pickups;

Alternatives to split/single coil pickups

Alternatively other basses use soap bar pickups which can have a lot variation in their configuration thus making it complicated quickly.

However any pair of active soap bars are permitted and in terms of tone they may be darker generally speaking when compared to PJ sets and offer a different flavour.

The best amplifier for a Thrash Bass Starter Kit

Solid State and Thrash Bass Starter Kit

Amplifier choice goes hand in hand with your Jackson Concert bass. For the starter pack it is recommend to use a solid state Hartke with matching Hartke cabinets. 

During the 1980’s solid state amplifiers were becoming more common. As brilliant as tube amplifiers sound, they had their liabilities.

They were expensive, tubes were prone to burning out and in need of replacing. The sound itself was quite variable, depending on tubes used and on how loud you had to drive the amplifier. Both technologies are mechanically different and produce their own colouring of the bass.

However, at the time, solid state by comparison was trendy, more affordable and thinner sounding with an articulate clean voicing which happens to be advantageous to Metal and Thrash providing the scooped sound.

Hartke and Aluminium cones

The original Hartke cabinets also boast a different speaker cone construction being made of aluminium .Generally speaking, this also helps create brighter, cleaner snappy tones like the solid state amplifier. Helping Thrash players literally cut through the mix and be heard – Something David Ellefson used with great effect.

Other amplifiers worth looking at in a Thrash Bass Starter Kit;

An authentic Thrash Bass Starter Kit should stick with solid state and avoid tube amplifiers. In some cases tube heads like Ampeg can be used if you prefer a warmer, smoother traditional sound.

The best bass strings in Thrash

For the Thrash Bass Starter Kit, it is recommended to use stainless steel sets like Dean Markley Blue Steels 45-105.

There’s a running thread through this guide, warm and traditional or cold and contemporary. Strings too can be pulled into this debate.

Your run of the mill nickel strings are warmer and traditional sounding, easier to play and a perfect all round genre string. Steel strings by comparison give us the scooped sound and are brighter.

String sizes and gauges in Thrash bass

In terms of string gauge any goes; lighter strings are physically easier to play and snappy. Heavier strings can give more output but with a bloated fundamental note the heavier you go.

  • Players who like moving about the bass quickly, should stick to sets .105 and under.
  • Players who are content holding down the low end should not  go higher than .110.

Strings like pickups are the easiest component of your sound you can change and it is very much encourage you do so.

Thrash bass string brands

However, if you want Thrash bass authenticity any steel string will do and popular brands to look at are;

Bass string brands to avoid in Thrash

Avoid any and all “signature artist series” and stay away from flat wounds.

Artist sets usually have unusual pairings or coatings and flat wounds are purposely designed to give a flatter duller sound like a double bass.

Bass tuning in Thrash

Tuning is an artistic choice, however at its peak, Thrash was tuned to E standard in most cases.

As time went on the tuning got lower and lower but we seem to have come full circle again as Metallica has returned to E standard during their last record.

If you really want to push the envelope you can play Drop D.  

Thrash Bass Effects Pedals and embracing the scooped mids

Effects pedals in a Thrash Bass Starter Kit can be a blessing and a curse and it’s very important to remember, Thrash as a whole is all about heavy distorted guitars. No one listens to Thrash for the bass alone and the bass is secondary to the mix.

Unfortunately, you will be battling your guitarists for every frequency of your tone and they will almost certainly be using distortion; stealing away your mids.

Should you too engage a distortion pedal, your bass frequencies will then simply fall out of the mix.

Thrash bassists will want to embrace the scooped sound. Cut out the competing mid range frequencies and give a slight boost to the lows and highs.

Ultimate Thrash Bass Starter Kit Effects Pedals

Keeping things simple for the Thrash Bass Starter Kit. Consider an overdrive in favour of distortion. You will want to keep the fundamental bass note and have just a hint of drive in the overtones. Thereby retaining articulation and clarity while sounding angry. This could be as simple as a little drive from your amplifier.

Acceptable soft clippers and overdrives;

Thrash Bass and careful use of distortion

With that said distortion can be an option. If you and the band all agree beforehand that you’re going for a high gain scratchy sound and happy to forgo the low end then more power to you. Try to use different distortions than what your bandmates already use. If they all use a BOSS DS1, try an MXR distortion instead just to get some variation in there. distortion variations  

Thrash and Bass Fuzz pedals

Fuzz too has a firm footing in effects and has the benefit of retaining your low end whilst keeping you in the mix. Be aware you will lose articulation while the effect is in use.

Fuzz pedals to look for

Thrash Bass needs compressors

While not an obvious effect pedal, a compressor is highly recommended to tighten up your tone.

Thrash generally speaking doesn’t have a lot of dynamics at play and a compressor will lift up your playing and make it a bit more sharp and snappy.

Any compressor will do without complicating matters.

Other effects used on bass for Thrash

Finally, other effects which could be used include a BOSS CEB-3 Bass Chorus or PH-3 Phase Shifter.

Usually played on slower songs where the bass has a few bars to breathe.

Essential Thrash plectrums for bass

Lastly, look at plectrum choice which is not a massive deal overall but can help tie your sound together.

Thrash more often than not is played by pick, there are of course virtuosos who play with fingers so either is an acceptable choice if you can handle it.

Plectrum thickness for Thrash bass

  • Lighter plectrum size the more snappy your tone will be and quicker you can palm mute
  • Heavier plectrums require more stamina to play but make your sound chunky and output louder

Plectrum sizes (from lightest to thickest)

Experiment to find a balance between what is most comfortable for you and sounds best. A good starting size would be a yellow totrex point 73 mil and above.

The Essential Thrash Bass Starter Kit

In summary, putting those constituent parts together, If you had a Thrash gig tonight, this is what your bass starter kit would look like.

The Joys of Thrash Bass

Because Thrash has its two camps it’s really up to you how you wish to express yourself. If you want to step forward and solo like Cliff Burton you can do that.

If you want to palm mute away and chugga chugga like your guitarists you can do that too.

Just remember this genre – in my opinion it is all about the guitars. If you can work around their tonal footprint you then have freedom to do whatever you want and experiment.

Watch more from Know Your Bass Player

Head back to The Which Bass Know Your Bass Player YouTube channel for more bass rigs from the biggest bands. If you’re new to the channel, can I recommend that you go and watch my Les Claypool bass rig or Cliff Burton bass rig videos? They’re very popular. As always, if there’s a bass rig you want to see on this channel, let me know by Twitter and I might just do it!

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