Guns N’ Roses Bassist Duff McKagan’s 5 Tips to Aspiring Bass Players

Duff McKagan Gives Bass Players His Top 5 Tips!

Duff McKagan gave his five top tips to bass players in a new interview with Music Radar

1. Find a good drummer

“Okay, you ready?! Finding a good drummer is number one. You need someone you can lock in with that can also listen to the rest of your band.

“Don’t put a fill in every time the drummer puts a fill in. If you really wanna be good, work out those fills together. Make sure it’s not where the guitar player is doing their thing, because guitar player’s always wants to do some’ fills! And also figure out where the singer is singing.

“I’ve discovered that I did work harder with our drummer [Steven Adler] and came up with the right fills for songs like Out Ta Get Me or My Michelle or Welcome To The Jungle. We didn’t overplay them. So listening back now, I’m stoked with myself as a young kid. I think to myself, ‘Oh, you did the right stuff there!’”

2. Serve the song, first and foremost

“This is an important thing to remember. If you are a bass player and you want to be the front-centre guy… well, let’s just say that usually won’t happen for you. Unless you’re Lemmy! If you want to do that, use him as your guy.

I’ve been using less notes on this Guns N’ Roses tour than I did back when we were originally playing these songs

“But generally, less is more as a bass player. I’ve really been learning that the more and more I play. I’ve been using less notes on this Guns N’ Roses tour than I did back when we were originally playing these songs.

“Bass playing is about the groove. Your band is gonna suck unless you and your drummer have got your stuffgoing on. The band is only as good as its rhythm section. A lot of the times, it’s only as good as the bass player, haha! That’s the musician who has to calm the drummer down and get them to sit in the groove.

“It’s not about how fast you can play or how rippin’ you can slap a bass. It’s rarely about that. Sometimes Prince would showcase the bass player, and it would be great, but generally those cases are rare…”

3. Learn some Larry Graham and Roger Glover licks

“Fairly recently, over the last 10 years, I’ve gone back to taking bass lessons. I’ve been learning Larry Graham stuff and Deep Purple, the latter of which is just shredding in G minor, haha! That’s a great way to learn the neck in minor. Do stuff like that.

“Learn from someone like John Paul Jones for dexterity, something like Immigrant Song, which he actually plays with a pick. Do those weird major runs with a minor seven during the build-up and learn how to play them fast. Those are great warm-up songs before you go out and play on stage. Those are the kind of bass players I really appreciate.”

4. Versatility is important

“Sure, learn how to play like John Paul Jones and all those guys I mentioned. But also go back before that and listen to musicians like James Jamerson. Learn as much as you can about the roots of it all. If you’re going to be a bass player, learn how not to be the front guy.

Figure out where the bass fits in all the styles of music that interest you

“Jamerson played in the studio, but you can learn those grooves and use them live. Then do something totally different, like listen to post-punk like Killing Joke or Motörhead! Figure out where the bass fits in all the styles of music that interest you, and learn how to apply ideas that work.”

5. Ultimately, find your own sound

“Then become your own guy or gal! Take all that stuff and wrap it up into your own thing. I played bass on this new record of mine, as well as playing acoustic guitar and singing, so I watched our drummer Jamie Douglass and observed everything he did.

“After seeing it three times, I went into the control room and played over those beautifully sparse drum parts. He thinks more in terms of what he didn’t play… sometimes I want to get my groove on, but a lot of the time it’s just about being in that pocket. The pocket is the most beautiful thing for a bass player.”