I have been asked many times about what is a good tone and How to get a good tone. I thought I would write a bit about it hear. When I was a young student at Berklee College I had a teacher who would always tell me that I played well, but my sound was not mature enough. At first I thought this was just the rambling of an "older" teacher who didn't understand what a great "Modern" sound I had. After all I had paid a lot of money for my "Custom Made" ( I hate that term) Tom Anderson Jazz Bass. I had always heard that I had to "Develop a sound". It's funny, because now as a teacher, I find myself using that line a lot on my students. Many of my students play very expensive "boutique" Basses. Most of them don't sound very good. Is it the Bass or is it the player? It's some of both, but mostly the player. A good instrument is capable of giving you a good sound. You have to get it out of it. Most of the sound problems I see are from bad control of the instrument. Anyone can play the notes. The real good players control the notes. You can give a monkey a Stradivarius violin, but it won't sound good. There are only a few players in the world who know how to play a Stradivarius Violin and can make it sound better than other great instruments.
When it comes to electric Basses, you have to have a great instrument. That is an instrument that is capable of giving you the sound you want. Don't play a Music Man Bass if you love the sound of Marcus Miller. That Bass can't give you that sound. When it comes to vintage Fender Jazz Basses, they don't all sound good. Some are great and some are terrible. Just because you pay a lot of money, doesn't mean you have a good sounding instrument. My students are always blown away when they try my main green 1969 Jazz Bass. They can't believe how good the Bass plays, feels and sounds. That's because it's a great instrument. It took me many years to learn how to play that Bass. I have played it for over twenty years.
I want to give some general tone tips. When I record my books and do other studio sessions, I am direct into the board. I never use any signal processing except for a compressor. I record my Bass with both volumes all the way up. The Bass sounds good on it's own. It does not need any effects or a lot of EQ. The produces may add a bit of low end in the mix, but I leave that up to them. You have to have an instrument that sounds good naturally. If you find yourself doing a lot of EQ-ing or fiddling with knobs all night on the gig, I think it's time for a new Bass or amp. You have to find the right combination, so you can just play and stop messing with knobs. I will give one piece of EQ advice here. That is to try using subtractive EQ instead of boosting frequencies. Try cutting the mid's instead of boosting the highs and lows. The EQ pots are a cheap gain stage and can add a lot of noise to your sound. Cut rather than boost and then turn up your amp. You pay all that money for that clean power, so use it.
I hope that helps a bit. The sound is in your hands. It takes years to develop a good sound. Listen to great players you like and try to copy their sound, feel and phrasing. Pay attention to the details. Remember, all the good players can play everything. It's their sound, feel and phrasing that separates them.