Let’s Talk Gear | Tone Talk with Tonya aka Sweets on Bass

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It’s Women’s History Month and we wanted to talk to some of our favorites about their gear and tone setup(s). If you are not familiar with Guitar Girl Magazine’s “Tone Talk” series, this is where we dive into what makes the tone of different musicians’ setups unique to them. We unpack their likes and dislikes and what makes their setup perfect.

If you like what you read, check out Tonya’s Tone Talk on our IG page where she walks through some of her favorite gear.

Tonya “Sweets” Dobbs is a self taught bassist from Houston, Texas. She grew up playing quartet in church but eventually decided to branch out onto her own path to discover her sound and style. She pulls inspiration from influences such as Pino Palladino, Bootsy Collins, Jimi Hendrix, Mos Def, Wu Tang, and various Reggae artists. She has played with many artists over the course of her career including Klymaxx featuring Bernadette Cooper, Brent Faiyaz, Jack Freeman and Lizzo for her 2020 SNL performance. 

Sweets is currently working on her first project with her band “Sweets and the Swishas” and is looking to release their second single Junkie in early April. 

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?

My definition of tone has definitely changed over the years. Back in the day I was drawn to all bass with no highs or mids. There was an underlying muddy tone that I liked but now I have added in more highs and mids while still having a very present bottom. I aim to have my bass tone to pierce through in a way that hits every chromosome in your body. 

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why

I mostly play on my Fender Squier 5-string bass that I’ve had since 2010. The only mods I have done with this bass is adding pearls onto the body which is something I did back in 2017 after being hit with a creative stroke of branding.

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I play on my TC Electronic because I love the features and find it cool that they actually have an app where you can sync sounds to your amp which comes in handy. I use the Boss GT-1B pedal where I honestly only use a handful of sounds. I haven’t really had the time to sit down and learn everything about it but I know it has a lot of sounds that can be customized to bring out everything you are looking for.

What about strings?

I’m currently using DR nickel strings. I like the feel of them on my bass and I sometimes use the Black Beauties.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

Not really to be honest. I just plug and play. 

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

I want my bass to be felt and heard but I never want to over power the vocalist so I spend a lot of time in soundcheck and throughout the gig watching my band to make sure I am blending in with all instruments.

I also watch the crowd a lot and pay attention to people’s body language, then make adjustments based on what I see.

What does your practice consist of?

It depends on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I practice my scales to build up stamina and fingering, then there are times I hear a song that is stuck in my head so I spend time shedding to it. But there are also times where I focus on practicing a difficult song I haven’t learned so decide to just go for it.

There’s never a right or wrong way to practice, you just have to make sure you practice and keep practicing. There will always be millions of people in the world practicing the same instrument at the same time trying to get where you are and beyond. Don’t get left behind on your craft by not practicing.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

My advice is to never let this industry or the people in it place you in a box because you are a woman. Being a woman (especially a Black woman) in a male dominated industry can be challenging because people will always underestimate you. To that I say hone in on your craft and your character will always speak on your behalf. 

Follow Tonya on IG @sweetsonbass

Check out Tonya’s Tone Talk video here

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