How do I achieve the bass tone that can be heard at the beginning of this song? What combination of playing technique and equipment is being utilized here? Does this kind of sound have a name?
Definitely just some broken in (but not dead) strings played with a pick. Probably a P-bass, but possibly a Jazz bass using the neck pickup. Tone controls are all the way on for a passive bass; flat for an active bass. Maybe a hint of reverb, but probably just recorded in a very live room. Some EQ on the top (upper mid boost) and there you go! The rest of the tone is in the hands.
It's called Slap Sound. On electric bass guitar, it's a technique first made famous by Larry Graham of Sly and Family Stone in late 60's and early 70's:
Note that I'm principally referring to the sound, not the technique, which can be achieved in different ways. Your example is a very moderate form of slap tone, perhaps not executed with full-on slap technique. Perhaps it's a sort of slap sound emulation.
One thing is clear, and I know it first hand, because I was playing before Larry Graham arrived - nothing akin to such a sound as your example was ever heard until Larry Graham made slapping one of the standard bassist's weapons. Jaco Pastorious, with all his experiments and gymnastics with bass sound, did not slap and you'll hear nothing like that from him, because he, and many other great players, learned to play before Graham arrived - it was just not part of their style of playing. The great Anthony Jackson, about my age, said exactly that in a 1986 interview. Yet from the early 70's on, after Graham made his mark, that sort of sound and countless variations become common.
The slapping sound came to dominate funk and a lot of RnB and Disco in the 70's and 80's, and continues to be very popular today: The bright popping sound makes the bass stand out in the band, and when used properly it is great for dance music. Here is what full on slapping sounds like: Aside from Graham, Stanley Clarke (School Days), Mark King of Level 42 (the best IMO) and Flea demonstrates how to "Slap" - of Red Hot Chile Peppers are among the most famous bassists to make slapping the focus of most of their playing.
The Flea video takes you through it step by step. And here's some very good information from Seymour Duncan's site - a highly respected maker of pickups and effects processors for electric instruments:
I think Randy Jackson said it best, when he said “Ha! Slapping, the ketchup of the bass world!” and it rings true. Walk into any music store and you will usually hear SOMEONE slapping away on a bass (and in full disclosure, sometimes that’s been this guy). It’s fun, relatively simple and while there are traditional techniques out there, it has become very personal, varying from person to person. But one thing we can all agree on is that tone!
Slap bass requires a different tonal approach than your usual playing. Don’t think so? Play fingerstyle in a group, switch to slap in the middle of a song and listen as your tone gets buried.
So, how can you achieve that perfect slap tone? You know, that tone that cuts through the band mix like a sledgehammer, and keeps the pulse on the dancefloor moving and shaking. Here are a couple of things to consider:
Strings: Strings will make a huge difference right off the bat. Slap bass usually favors roundwound strings that are fresh and new. That’s not to say you can’t slap with old rounds or with a set of flats, because plenty of guys/gals do it. However, the harmonic content that is found in a new set of strings (stainless or nickel both work great) helps bring out that pop! sound that is so characteristic of slap bass.
Pickups: The pickups in your bass are going to have some effect on the clarity you’re going to be able to get. For those of you with jazz basses (or other two pickup basses), you want to favor the bridge pickup a little bit (check out the “Know Your Volume” for a more in-depth explanation) to give you a tight and dry sound. The hotter the signal output, the more aggressive and tight the sound will be when favored, which is why the Music Man Style pickups are a favorite among many for slap tone.
EQ on the Bass/Amp: The most characteristic slap tone has scooped mids, allowing those sparkling pops! and thundering slaps! to come forward. Easiest way to do this is either cut the mids (if you have a STC-3 active preamp or other 3 band), or boost the bass and treble (effectively scooping the mids) on a 2 band. Of course, unless you’re really quick with your fingers, fiddling with the EQ takes a bit of time. And when you’re onstage in the middle of a song, it’s not the time to do it. However, a bonus of the STC-3 active preamp is the push/pull volume knob that has a slap contour preset, which will allow you near instant tonal switching.
Note that in your song, the bass persistently cuts through the mix with its distinctive, bright, snappy sound - that is what slap sound does.
The technique for getting a good slap tone is not all that easy and requires lots of practice. Often effects processors are used to create/enhance the slap tone.