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The P bass is known for its unique tone and its ability to sit well in any mix. However, we both know that it takes more than that for a bass to sound great in heavier genres of music. So how well does the P bass handle punchy riffs, and is a precision bass good for metal?
Most bassists will agree that a P bass can work in metal. However, most metal bassists don`t play a precision bass.
Generally, this is because they simply find that there are better options available. Others play a precision bass occasionally, while a handful of bassists have stuck to strictly playing the P bass.
To showcase why this is the case I`ve written this guide to showcase the pros and cons of playing metal on a P bass. I will also show you some metal bassists that have made the P bass work within the genre.
Lastly, I will show you a crucial detail that can make or break the tone of a P bass when playing metal.
Can you play metal on a P Bass?
The tight and punchy low-end of a P bass is generally a fitting tone for playing metal. It works well in a mix with distorted guitars and it was a staple instrument for early bands within the genre.
A precision bass has a relatively wide string spacing with a neck width of 1-11/16″, or 43mm.
This means you have a good bit of room to pluck strings hard while retaining a controlled playstyle. It is common for metal basslines to be played on 1 to 2 adjacent strings. This means you can add a lot of power to these riffs by plucking them aggressively.
P basses also have a humbucking split-coil pickup. This means that it can cancel out buzzing noise in your output signal. Furthermore, the tone of humbucking pickups has a good bit of crunch to them, which is suitable for heavier genres like metal.
However, the P bass also has a distinct tone with less room for customization than most basses. Thus, if you are looking to play a sub-genre of metal that requires you to be flexible with your tone, relying solely on a P bass can prove problematic.
The P bass also does not have the same mid-range as other options like a Shecter, or Jazz bass. It can be hard to hear the bass in metal, and the lack of mid-range will not help your case.
The upside of the tone of a P bass is that it will sit well in almost any mix. Thus, your tone will generally sound tight and hold any type of metal band together despite this.
Metal bassists who play a P Bass
The most notable Precision bass player in metal to me is Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. Not only has he played a P bass his whole career, but his P bass sound has shaped the sound of one of the most iconic metal bands of all time.
Iron Maiden is a versatile and dynamic band, and what’s impressive is how Harris has made the P bass fit within all their songs. He has made slow and fast, as well as aggressive and tranquil songs sound natural, all on a Precision bass.
However, most metal bassists that have played a Precision bass have not relied solely on it like Harris.
Below is a list of metal bassists that have used a P bass. Notice how most of them have used it occasionally, or for specific parts of their career.
This is in large part because the P bass is limited in what types of tones it can produce. Thus, while it will provide the perfect tone for certain songs, it can be an unfit choice for others.
|Bassist||Band||Precision Bass Usage|
|Alex Webster||Cannibal Corpse||On the albums Eaten Back to Life and Butchered at Birth|
|Steve Harris||Iron Maiden||Main bass throughout his career|
|David Ellefson||ex-Megadeth||Has played a P bass at various points throughout his career.|
|Bob Daisley||Ozzy Osbourne||Occasional. Used in the recording of “No More Tears”(1991).|
|Geezer Butler||Black Sabbath||Occasional, more common in earlier parts of his career|
|Jean-Michel Labadie||Gojira||Occasional. Has used a P bass during live shows.|
|Jason Newsted||ex-Metallica, ex-Flotsam and Jetsam||Occasional. More prominent in early stages of career, and on “Load” and “Reload”|
|Chi Cheng||Deftones: 1990–2008||Prominently used, Main Bass|
|Jeordie White||ex-Marilyn Manson, ex-A Perfect Circle||Occasional. More prominently used during recording and touring for “The Pale Emperor” (2015).|
Best strings for playing metal on a P Bass
I highly recommend using roundwound strings for playing metal on a P bass.
Precision bass players often gravitate towards using flatwound strings. While the musky and smooth sound of flatwounds can sound amazing on a P bass, they are generally a poor fit for playing metal.
This is because your tone will lack the punch and brightness that is generally associated with a metal bass tone. As a result, your tone will be less heavy and will struggle to drive songs forward when playing with a band.
If you are going to tune down to an alternate tuning, you will also need thicker strings. This is because if you play in Drop C with a set intended for E standard, the strings will feel sloppy and clanky. They will also sound less powerful and resonant.
Related reading: To find out what string gauges you need when tuning down, head over to my list of guides on alternate tuning.
If you are going to play metal in E standard, a regular gauge set of 50-105 roundwound strings will do the trick. In that case, I recommend this set from Ernie Ball for its punchy, balanced, and bright tone.
So are P basses good for metal? If you are looking for an old-school heavy metal sound, the P bass is a great choice. For bassists who are looking for a versatile bass that can handle various forms of metal, the P bass will in all likelihood feel too one-dimensional.
Another factor to consider is if you are going to play just one bass? The distinct tone of the Precision bass makes it a perfect secondary bass for metal, but a niche choice if it`s your only instrument. Like many of the bassists listed above, you might not play it on every song, but it will be the perfect bass for some of them.
Thus, if you are going to stick to one bass, I would generally advise against opting for a Fender Precision. For more versatile options I would go with a Shecter Omen Extreme, or alternatively, a Musicman Stingray.
If you love the bass tone in Iron Maiden or early Black Sabbath, the P bass could however be a great fit for you. It is also a great bass to have in your collection, and it is a bass that will fit certain songs perfectly.
While the P bass has a unique tone, some basses can get close to recreating it. If you are looking for a more versatile metal bass that can still get close to the sound of a Precision, continue by reading how to make a J bass sound like a P bass