How John Paul Jones Plays Bass
John Paul Jones - Michael Putland / Getty Images
With humble beginnings as The Yardbirds, they eventually donned the name Led Zeppelin, marking the beginning of heavy metal’s rise. Led Zeppelin established themselves as one of heavy metal’s highest ranking players, primarily due to success of their albums. What people usually miss is that the band is composed of talented individuals that are great at improvisation, synchronizing with each other to produce complimenting harmonies. Bass legend John Paul Jones brought to Led Zeppelin what nobody else could.
The John Paul Jones Effect
In heavy metal bands, the most notable instrument parts are those of the lead guitar’s. Fiery chops, complicated riffs, and distorted sound contributes to the overall ambiance of the music. Most people usually overlook the bass guitar’s importance in the genre, but John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin is truly an exception. A tried and true virtuoso, his playing style is not confined to making the combination of sounds cohesive just by linking the melody and tempo. Although Jones provides the rudimentary melodic backbone by abiding to the song’s riffs, he eventually branches off a bit and introduces improvised runs that further highlights the song structure.
Jones’ background as a session musician gave him profound understanding of how to infuse bass elements to a given track’s progression. His inspirations in playing include blues and Motown influences. Their single “Ramble On” is an excellent example of how he infused these sounds into their songs. Starting with slow, low notes, he then transitions to the higher range of the bass with an emphasis to a melodic progression that complements not only the lead but acts as supplemental vocals as well, adding a third dimension to the harmonies.
Another distinct characteristic of Jones’ sound is his alternating use of high and low notes, comparable to the drum’s snare and bass. He creates a dynamic tonality that brings life to an otherwise dull progression. He also employs the use of picks and fingers altogether, creating a heavy, grittier tone with the pick which he then chases with a cleaner tone with finger plucking.
This flexibility and improvisation of John Paul Jones allowed Led Zeppelin’s sound to be propelled to a greater reach. Their contradicting style of tight-but-loose playing made them stand out from the heavy metal crowd to become one of its icons.