The Glory of a Guitar and Bass Playing the Same Part

Have you ever noticed how many legendary guitar parts and memorable riffs throughout the years consist of both the guitar and bass playing exactly the same part?
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Have you ever noticed how many legendary guitar parts and memorable riffs throughout the years consist of both the guitar and bass playing exactly the same part?

Often there is nothing else accompanying the two instruments (well, okay, drums), but, simply put, the guitar and bass have played 100-percent identical parts that are loud and proud, and have provided the hooks for loads of iconic, hit records.

Think about these songs: “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the MGs and “Can’t Turn You Loose” by Otis Redding (both songs feature Steve Cropper on guitar and Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass), “Day Tripper” and “Birthday’ by the Beatles, “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream, “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, “Dazed and Confused” and “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, “Sad But True” by Metallica, “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band, and the list goes on and on. I’m sure you can add several more if you’ve clocked enough listening time.

Some songs like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” also feature this guitar/bass lock step, but here the guitar plays a less prominent role, so it has the effect of being part of the bass sound, but with a higher tonal range and a percussive attack on the top end. Tons of Bob Marley tunes and other classic reggae tracks add a different spin on the guitar/bass arrangement, generally by using palm muting on the guitar so as to accentuate the note and attack, but not let the guitar sound ring out as long as the bass does.

When played with a pick, some electric basses can simulate the guitar-and-bass-together effect without a guitar in the mix, and even some acoustic bassists can almost achieve the sound by themselves. But while giving kudos to the bassists who can emulate a simultaneous guitar and bass sound, it’s never quite the same as having it played by both instruments. The fact is, the combination of guitar and bass playing as one is so strong that it’s no wonder the technique has spawned so many amazing and successful records—not to mention the hit-making careers of the artists who have employed the concept.

I have recorded countless single-note electric- or acoustic- guitar parts that ape the bass—usually palm muted. I place these guitar parts up in the mix to varying degrees— depending on the needs of the song—but, more often than not, I tuck them deep into the soundscape until they are almost subliminal. Sometimes, the idea works perfectly for some sections of a song, but not all. When it does works, it can really bring extra texture, identity, and focus to the part, and, c’mon, is there an easier way to achieve something cool and unique when recording a track?

Try it out and see what you find. Once it’s recorded, experiment with the level before you make any decision as to whether or not it works in the track. And, finally, make sure that the guitar and bass are glued together as tight as possible for the full impact of the effect. I’m guessing some songs will benefit greatly from experimenting with this technique, and you’ll add yet another handy recording trick up your sleeve.

Scott Mathews is a record producer, composer, vocalist, and multi–instrumentalist whose music has sold in excess of 40 million units and has generated more than 30 RIAA Gold and Platinum Awards in the pop, alternative rock, R&B, country, blues, and dance genres.