what does a tone knob on a guitar / bass do?

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Even when I turn it from 0 or 10 I can’t hear a difference, and I thought tone was in the fingers of the players?

In: 7

I’m no expert/scientist/audio engineer, just a humble bassist, but my understanding of it just through playing is that the knob controls the treble and bass frequencies that are let through. It basically controls how much of a high or low end your sound will have

Those dials are more for recording music than playing it. If you were recording a bass track for example, you would want the bass dialed to maximum

Fingers (the way the string is picked/plucked) definitely make a difference in the sound, particularly in the “attack envelope”. That’s how the sound volume goes up. Generally a pick gives a rapid attack, a finger pluck can give a more gentle attack. (It really depends on the technique, though.)

What the tone knob does is rather different. It is part of a simple filter circuit that’s built in. It can filter out higher/lower tones depending on how it is set. These circuits are pretty simple and the effect can be rather subtle, particularly on a bass.

It’s a filter. The magnetic pickups in your instrument have a self-resonance and a related built in low pass (high cut) filter. The “tone” knob ads a capacitive load to your pickup effectively lowering the frequency of the self resonance and low pass filter. It should sound like your instrument is trapped under a blanket when you turn the “tone” knob all the way down. (When plugged in and playing through an amp and speaker) If it doesn’t work like that then you may need to take it to a tech.

When you hear someone say “tone is in the hands” what they mean is that no matter the gear a musician will sound like herself/himself. So give Victor Wooten any working bass and amp and he’ll still sound like Victor Wooten, not Adam Neely. (Or whoever you want to put in my example.)

A passive tone knob can only cut. The majority of popular guitars and basses (strats, les pauls, P bass etc) have a passive treble tone knob. So it rolls off natural treble by filtering.

Many modern basses contain active circuits, and in an active circuit tone knobs can both cut and boost treble, bass, and midrange frequencies.