John Deacon Amp Settings & Gear – ‘Queen’ Bass Tone!

Author: Liam Whelan | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Queen, notably, are the only band in rock history where every member wrote a number one hit single. Bass player John Deacon’s most notable contribution to that record is the undeniably powerful disco pulse of “Another One Bites The Dust.”

I’ve always felt that, in a band of virtuosos, there’s always one member who flies under the radar, despite their prodigious talents. In Queen, where Roger Taylor’s drumming inspired legions of drummers, Brian May’s guitar work is routinely cited among the world’s finest, and Freddie Mercury is widely considered the greatest frontman of all time, John Deacon is that oft-overlooked member.

I’ve always loved Deacon’s playing for its understated elegance. The bass intro to “Another One Bites The Dust” is a classic example of what makes his playing great: always perfect for the song, well-timed, and propulsive. No small amount of this was in Deacon’s tremendous tone. In this article, I’ll take you through the key elements you need to nail the Queen bass tone.

John Deacon Bass Guitars

John Deacon played a variety of bass guitars over the years, including Rickenbacker and Eko models, and eventually a custom-made bass guitar. However, by far the instrument and sound most associated with John Deacon is the classic Fender P Bass.

The P bass, short for Precision Bass, was the go-to instrument for countless bass players demanding diverse tones and unparalleled playability from their instruments.

Just as Leo Fender intended, the P bass is widely available, easy to customize, and has found its way to the hands of working bass players around the world. While John Deacon’s own preferred bass was a late-sixties model, there aren’t too many variations on the Precision Bass design, so getting an era-accurate instrument is not of paramount importance.

John Deacon’s bass enjoyed a few cosmetic changes, but the inner workings of the instrument remained largely untouched. Deacon did prefer his bass with a rosewood fretboard, which has a slight effect on the instrument’s tone and how you play it, so I’d recommend getting a bass with rosewood, rather than a finished maple fretboard.

The American Professional P Bass is one such example, or you could try the Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Precision Bass.

Another option might be the Vintera Precision Bass, at a comfortable in-between price compared to the high-end Fender bass and the more beginner-oriented Squier bass.

John Deacon Bass Strings

John Deacon, like Queen’s guitar player Brian May, was a devoted player of Rotosound flatwound strings. These helped facilitate his flawless technique and offered a very distinct tone compared to the sound of roundwound strings.

Deacon preferred .045 to .105 gauge strings to accommodate his aggressive playing style, so I’d recommend the Rotosound flatwounds in that gauge.

John Deacon: Pick or Fingers

While, technically, the answer to this question is “both,” the truth is that John Deacon rarely played using a pick, and did so only in the studio. Even some of Queen’s more aggressive, upbeat tracks (like “Stone Cold Crazy”) were performed entirely using Deacon’s strong, articulate fingers.

John Deacon Amps

John Deacon, a trained electronics engineer, helped customize many pieces of equipment for his Queen bandmates. Most notable among these was the “Deacy” (pronounced “Deeky”) custom amp, which Deacon built from spare parts he found in a dumpster.

Queen used this amplifier to record many of their orchestrated parts, but it was rarely if ever, seen live.

In the live environment, John Deacon played a variety of different amplifiers. For Queen’s earlier, more aggressive material, Deacon played an Orange bass head, although by the late ‘70s, he had switched to a cleaner-sounding Hiwatt head.

In my opinion, the classic Queen sound includes the Orange tube tone, and I’d strongly recommend the Bass Terror as a cost-effective, diminutive, modern take on the classic Orange bass sound.

Your other option, although Deacon did not use Fender bass amplification, is to try the Fender Rumble series, which offers a very clean, neutral tone that you can easily shape with your EQ and effects to get close to the Deacon sound.

John Deacon Amp Settings

The good news for bass tone aficionados is that John Deacon ran his amplifiers fairly neutral. There are no major spikes in his tone, and most of his sound is just the raw, unfiltered tone of his Fender bass, flatwound strings, and Deacon’s own hands.

John Deacon used his bass skills to serve the song.

Volume: 5

You don’t need stadium-sized volume for this tone. Tame the volume.

Bass: 5

Start with your bass control at 5, and turn it up slightly if your bass tone lacks “boom.”

Mids: 5

Keep the mids halfway, so you don’t encroach on Brian May’s sonic territory.

Treble: 5

Start with the treble at 5, and increase slightly if you need more brightness and presence.

How to Play Like John Deacon

As most musicians will tell you, 90% of your tone is in your fingers. That means that the gear you play isn’t quite as important as how you’re playing.

John Deacon used his fingers almost exclusively, but he also played his bass, unlike many other bassists.

Deacon, like the other members of Queen, had a strong working understanding of music theory. This means that, unlike other bassists, he avoided playing simple root-note basslines, preferring to outline chords and complement the melody of the song. Deacon often used the entire length of his bass neck in his bass parts.

If you know some basic chord theory, you’ll recognize that many of John Deacon’s parts start with a third or a fifth note. He would often add a fill, such as the two rapid-fire notes descending into the iconic riff from “Another One Bites The Dust.”

Final Word

You don’t need much more than a Fender precision bass, flatwound strings, and a decent tube amp to achieve the John Deacon tone. Learn the bass parts to a few of your favorite Queen anthems, be sure to play hard with your fingers, and let your left hand run wild up and down the neck.

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About Liam Whelan

Liam Whelan was raised in Sydney, Australia, where he went to university for long enough to realize he strongly prefers playing guitar in a rock band to writing essays. Liam spends most of his life sipping strong coffee, playing guitar, and driving from one gig to the next. He still nurses a deep conviction that Eddie Van Halen is the greatest of all time, and that Liverpool FC will reclaim the English Premier League title.

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