How To Make Your Bass Guitar Have An 80s Sound: Transform Your Bass Guitar Into an Iconic 80s Classic

Ah, the 80s – a golden era for music lovers, where bass guitar played an integral role in giving songs their distinct sound. As you jam out or craft your own tunes, you may find yourself craving that nostalgic touch only the 80s can provide.

This post will take you on a musical journey, exploring the characteristics and techniques behind that iconic 80s bass sound while helping you tweak your guitar to achieve those funky vibes.

Understanding The 80s Bass Guitar Sound

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The 80s bass guitar sound is characterized by a bright, punchy tone with pronounced midrange and exaggerated sustain, as heard in popular songs like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”

Characteristics Of The 80s Sound

The 80s bass sound is characterized by its distinct blend of punchy midrange, bright attack, and warm resonance that cuts through the mix with a powerful presence. This unique tone can be attributed to the popular use of synth bass lines and funky slap-and-pop techniques prevalent in the music of that era.

A key aspect in achieving this signature sound lies in avoiding excessive low-end frequencies while accentuating the midrange for a more articulate groove. To achieve this effect, many bassists would play lightly or employ palm muting techniques to maintain control over their tonal qualities.

Furthermore, using chorus, reverb, or flanger effects could add an extra layer of depth and dimension to already captivating grooves.

Popular Songs With The 80s Bass Sound

The 80s was a decade marked by its unique, experimental sound that revolutionized music production. The bass guitar played a crucial role in shaping the iconic ’80s sound, popularized by artists such as Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna.

Some of the most famous pop songs that feature the distinctive 80s bass sound include “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson – characterized by its punchy bass line with heavy chorus effect; “When Doves Cry” by Prince – featuring a synth bass with sharp attack and minimalistic approach; and “Into The Groove” by Madonna – where the plucky electronic groove is further elevated with funky bass lines.

Achieving The 80s Bass Guitar Sound

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To achieve the 80s bass guitar sound, you can choose a bass guitar with the right pickup and experiment with effects like chorus, flanger, and distortion while playing fingerstyle or with a pick.

Choosing The Right Bass Guitar And Pickup

To achieve an 80s bass guitar sound, choosing the right bass guitar and pickup is crucial. The classic 80s tone was often achieved using a Fender Precision or Jazz Bass with single-coil pickups.

The P-Bass provides a punchy tone, while the Jazz Bass produces a more dynamic sound. If you’re going for the retro synth bass sound, consider investing in a fretless bass and using a chorus effect to mimic that thick, shimmering timbre.

When it comes to pickups, single-coil pickups provide better mid-range definition and attack than humbuckers. You may also want to experiment with active vs passive pickups as they both have their benefits; passive pickups offer warmth and roundness of tone while active pickups allow for increased output and greater tonal control through onboard EQs.

Using Effects Like Chorus, Flanger, And Distortion

Incorporating effects like chorus, flanger, and distortion can make a huge difference in achieving the distinctive ’80s bass guitar sound. Chorus pedals add depth to your tone by creating a slight delay effect that simulates the sound of multiple instruments playing simultaneously.

To get started with these effects, try experimenting with different settings on each pedal until you find the right balance for your sound. Play around with adjusting the level, rate, feedback, and depth controls until you achieve the desired result.

Playing With Fingerstyle Or A Pick

Another way to achieve the iconic 80s bass sound is by experimenting with your playing style. Whether you prefer a fingerstyle technique or using a pick, each approach can produce different tones and nuances in your playing.

For instance, try alternating between plucking the strings with your fingers and using a pick for different parts of the song. This will add texture and depth to your basslines, giving them that classic 80s feel.

Keep in mind that finding your own personal style is crucial when it comes to achieving an authentic 80s bass sound.

Utilizing Techniques Like Palm Muting And Slides

To further achieve that 80s bass guitar sound, utilizing techniques like palm muting and slides can make a big difference in your playing style. Palm muting involves using the fleshy part of your picking hand to mute strings while keeping some notes ringing out for a tighter and punchier sound.

On the other hand, incorporating slides into your playing adds a smooth gliding effect between notes, giving off an expressive and dynamic performance.

By mastering these techniques and combining them with others mentioned earlier like fingerstyle or pick-playing and effects pedals like chorus or distortion, you’ll be well on your way to achieving that retro bass guitar sound reminiscent of the ’80s era.

Creating A Plucky Bass Guitar Rig

To create a plucky bass guitar rig for an 80s sound, focus on choosing the right bass guitar and strings, adjusting tuning to match ’80s standards, adding compression and EQ to enhance tone, and incorporating distortion and overdrive pedals.

Choosing The Right Bass Guitar And Strings

To achieve that authentic 80s bass guitar sound, it is essential to choose the right type of bass guitar and strings. Opt for a bass with a bright and punchy tone that can cut through the mix, as this was characteristic of many songs from this era.

As for strings, consider using roundwound or half-round strings for extra brightness and clarity. These types of strings are often used in pop music production to provide more attack and sustain.

Adjusting Tuning To Match ’80s Tuning Standards

To achieve the quintessential 80s bass sound, you’ll need to adjust your tuning to match ’80s standards. Back then, the standard E tuning was slightly lower than it is today.

The reason for this lower tuning is that during live performances in small venues, some bands would speed up their performances and compensate by lowering their tuning without changing their fingerings.

This created an interesting retro sound that we associate with the era’s music.

Using A Compressor And EQ To Enhance Tone

To achieve the iconic 80s bass sound, utilizing a compressor and EQ can make all the difference in enhancing tone. A compressor helps even out the volume of your playing, providing a smooth consistency that’s perfect for everything from slap bass to fingerstyle.

Meanwhile, an EQ allows you to adjust various frequencies in your tone, emphasizing or reducing certain elements as needed.

One great example of how compression and EQ can be used to create an 80s-inspired sound is the bassline from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” By using a blend of compression with slight boosts to treble and high-mid frequencies, producer Quincy Jones was able to create an instantly memorable groove that continues to stand out decades later.

Incorporating Distortion And Overdrive Pedals

To achieve that iconic 80s bass guitar sound, incorporating distortion and overdrive pedals is a must. These effects will give your bass tone an edge and add some grit to your playing.

Distortion pedals like the Boss DS-1 or Big Muff Pi produce a crunchy, distorted sound by clipping the signal’s waveform. Overdrive pedals like the Ibanez Tube Screamer offer a more subtle effect, pushing an already dirty signal into further saturation.

Experiment with different pedal combinations until you find what works best for your playing style and genre. For example, if you’re going for hard rock or metal, go heavy on distortion; but if it’s funk or new wave music you’re after, opt for overdrive instead.

Techniques For Playing 80s-style Bass Guitar

This section will cover the different techniques for playing bass guitar with an 80s-style sound, including slapping and popping, fingerstyle playing, using a pick, and incorporating muted notes.

Slapping And Popping Technique

Slapping and popping is a popular technique in creating an ’80s bass sound. This technique involves using the thumb to slap the strings, and then popping them with either the index or middle finger.

To get that classic ’80s sound, players should aim for a percussive attack with a sharp release.

Some legendary bassists who used this technique include Marcus Miller, Larry Graham, and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Experimenting with different amounts of force when slapping and popping will help you achieve variations in tone and texture.

Combining this technique with other effects like chorus or distortion can make it even more unique.

Fingerstyle Playing

Fingerstyle playing is a popular technique among bass guitarists who want to create an 80s sound. This involves plucking the strings with your fingers instead of using a pick, which can produce a warmer and more nuanced sound.

To get started with fingerstyle playing, it’s important to develop proper hand placement and use consistent finger patterns for each note. You can also experiment with different fingering techniques like alternating between your index and middle finger or using your thumb for lower notes.

Using A Pick

Another technique for achieving the 80s bass sound is to use a pick when playing your bass guitar. This approach can add more attack and brightness to your tone, giving it that classic ‘snap’ that characterizes many popular songs from the era.

When using a pick, it’s important to pay attention to both the angle at which you strike the strings and how hard you hit them. Experiment with different angles until you find one that produces the desired amount of attack, while also experimenting with variations in picking intensity to get just the right amount of brightness in your sound.

Additionally, make sure to choose an appropriately sized pick for your hands; some players prefer larger picks for greater control or smaller picks for more fluid playing style.

Playing With Muted Notes

Another technique to achieve that classic 80s bass sound is by playing muted notes. This technique involves placing the fretting hand over the strings, slightly touching them without pressing down to produce a percussive sound.

One song that extensively used this style of playing is “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, where the iconic intro features a slap bass line followed by muted notes throughout the chorus.


If you want to nail that classic 80s bass guitar sound, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First of all, make sure you choose the right bass guitar and pickup for the job.

Playing technique is also important when it comes to achieving an authentic 80s sound.

When it comes to creating a plucky bass guitar rig, tuning is crucial.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to create that retro synthesizer-inspired bass sound in no time!


1. What are the key elements of an 80s bass guitar sound?

An 80s bass guitar sound typically features heavy use of chorus or flanger effects, a punchy and bright tone with a clean, defined attack, and playing techniques such as slap and pop-style basslines.

2. Can I achieve an 80s bass guitar sound with any type of equipment?

While certain gear can help you achieve the specific tone associated with the era, such as using vintage amplifiers or pedals, it is possible to emulate this style on modern equipment by dialing in similar settings or using digital emulators.

3. How can I recreate classic songs from the 80s on my bass guitar?

To recreate classic songs from the 80s on your bass guitar, start by identifying key elements of each song’s bassline – whether it involves intricate fingerpicking patterns or simpler root notes with emphasis through timing & inflection rather than too much technique.You may also want to explore various EQ settings & FX that were commonly used during that time period as a way to get closer to recreating specific sounds.

4. Do I need special skills or training to master an 80s-style bass guitar play?

While having some basic music theory knowledge and proficiency in playing technique will definitely enhance your ability to execute better sounding lines – mastering this particular style requires practice more than anything else.Practicing regularly allows for internalization/implementation whereafter things like groove feel,strumming/picking accuracy,dynamic range control really come into play which work towards mimicking most relevant qualities observed in top players within genre thereby making sure you have good study material available at hand (i.e.,transcriptions,tutorials,music books) can also facilitate learning overall just be consistent and disciplined about practicing so you improve over time!

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