This is probably the most asked question, so I will try to resume my setup.
Bass: Usually it’s my Rickenbacker 4001 CS. It’s a Chris Squire signature limited edition of 1000 and mine is #605. It was manufactured on the 30th January 1996.
Other basses are:
- early 70’s Fiesta Red Fender Jazz Bass
- late 90’s transparent amber Zon Sonus 8 eight-string bass
- defretted sunburst jazz bass copy
- early 90’s Warwick Thumb bass 5 – neck-through, bubinga-wenge, bartolini pickups
- Japanese Fender VI
Strings: I prefer the exact strings Chris Squire uses – Rotosound RS66LD “swing bass” (stainless steel, .45-.105 gauge). However I experiment some other brands, but the important thing is that I try to use very new strings when I am about to record. Chris Squire uses a new set of strings for every gig, that would be optimal but I can’t do that. I got a really nice sound with Dean Markley Blue Steels (Parallels) and recently I used really cheap strings from Warwick and they sound great. The main features are:
- roundwound (always)
- .45-.105 (always)
- stainless steel (nearly always)
- brand new (according to my possibilities)
One last word about the gauge. Some of you may think to get lighter gauge because .45-.105 is too “hard”. Really… it’s a) very relative b) a matter of practice. The fact is that a lighter gauge will not have the ability to sound the same. Try to win the ease to play the gauge that you feel it sounds better with your bass. Practice will be where you gain the technique, the ability to play it, rather than picking an “easier” gauge and be limited on sound. I don’t have the strongest fingers on earth so .45-.105 can’t be that scary… try to play the double-bass and you will look to electric bass strings in another perspective :).
Pick: I use Jim Dunlop’s Herco Flex 75 – it’s a grey-silver nylon pick. It’s the same pick used by Chris Squire. I will write an article dedicated to picking technique.
Amplifier: On most of the videos I plug my bass to my Sansamp Bass Driver DI. It’s a preamp/DI box with controls similar to a valve tube bass head. The knob settings vary and here you may follow your ears… I just make sure that I adjust the “Level” output to the input on my soundcard and that I “Blend” 100% (maximum) of the signal through the preamp (no dry signal). “Bass”, “Treble” and “Presence” are most likely 12 o’clock (+/- 2 hours) and I will add “Drive” if I want a dirtier, saturated sound.
I used on a couple of videos a real valve-tube bass head. My Ampeg SVT II pro (also a limited edition model). I only took it’s preamp output (no speaker and microphone) and it sounds brilliant, but the Sansamp is really good and practical for using at home.
Effects: Whenever I needed effects, I got them from software plugins such as Guitar Rig. These are specific situations and they are not really part of “my sound” because they depend of the application I am using them. I only used a real pedal on “Amazing Grace” solo because I couldn’t find a satisfactory plugin by then. On the clip “On the Silent Wings of Freedom” I installed at the time a demo version of Guitar Rig (2 or 3) and I combined 2 effects to emulate Chris Squire’s effect. The “Autofilter” effect dubbed the original “Mutron III” envelope filter pedal, and I added a Chorus preset that I seem to hear blended on the original Tormato recording (possibly made from an Eventide harmonizer). I couldn’t save the settings but it’s difficult to adjust the filter controls on that plugin because it’s very sensitive to changes. I am currently building a Mutron-like pedal that I hope will do the trick in the future.
So, the signal path is really straight forward bass-sansamp-computer. For me the most important points are the quality of the bass, the strings and the (pre)amp. Those really can affect your sound. I would really advise you to work the sound from these 3 elements rather than from effect tweaking because once you get your sound from the bass-strings-amp combination, then you can be sure that your sound will work good with effects, and perhaps most important – without!
Finally, don’t forget one last thing and maybe the most important factor on your sound – You. The way you play will affect your sound. As guitar luthier Mike Tobias said about Chris (and this is not word by word, but it’s on a Guitar World interview from September 1987) and goes like this: “Most of the tone comes from his fingers. Whether it’s the Rickenbacker or another instrument, it will still be the sound of Chris Squire playing bass”