How to Play Bass Like Peter Hook

By Ralph Heibutzki
Peter Hook, as seen in his natural element, performing live before a festival crowd.

For all the prattling in rock 'n' roll about "being yourself," few artists have actually done it. That's not a problem for Peter Hook, whose gliding "lead bass" lines--primarily with Joy Division and New Order--established him among rock's most readily identifiable voices. Not content to plunk out speed-of-light licks, Hook consistently creates melodic basslines that are supportive yet stand on their own. Indeed, much of modern rock's canon would be empty and bland without him--as one listen to classic songs like "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (Joy Division) or "Temptation" (New Order) will attest.

Seek out the high end--in this case, the top two strings (D and G)--and keep your hands positioned up the neck, preferably past the ninth fret. As Hook has frequently told interviewers, this sonic strategy began during his late '70s tenure with Joy Division, when he often had to use bass cabinets with a poor bottom end, and thus could not hear himself properly.

Pay close attention to Hook's playing and phrasing. On a typical Joy Division or New Order track, he tends to hold back throughout the verses, only to reassert his presence during the instrumental tracks and double the chorus lines whenever the mood strikes him. See "Love Will Tear Us Apart" for a relevant example. This approach allowed him to play a second lead role behind New Order's singer-guitarist, Bernard Sumner, on hit songs like "Blue Monday," "True Faith" and "Regret."

Use heavy gauge strings--from 060, .065, .080, and .105 on the E, A, D, and G strings, respectively--to capture the bright, ringing tone that characterizes Hook's style. Because these string gauges are so much thicker and heavier than the average, playing with a pick will likely be a necessity, not an option. So count on putting in some additional practice to get used to the feeling.

Turn your instrument's bass and treble control knobs all the way up, while leaving the midrange alone. For the finishing touch, run your bass through a chorus pedal--Hook's preferred model being an Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory--to get the bright, shimmering sound that characterizes his groundbreaking Joy Division and New Order work.

Complete your setup with an Alembic or Roland pre-amplifier to route the sound through Crown or Ampeg SVT tube amplifiers, which allows the player to exert greater control over the sound--without compromising the crunchy, biting tone Hook prefers.

Tip

Develop an appreciation for Hook's musical eclecticism. At various times in his career--notably on his side recordings with Revenge and Monaco--Hook has also experimented with second bass players, farming out the more basic, low-end parts to his partners while retaining the high terrain for himself. Listen closely to the production so you can appreciate the difference, and proceed accordingly.

Keep Hook's varying equipment preferences in mind. Like many players, he has experimented with various setups throughout his 30-year-plus career, even to the point of routing his bass through an Ashdown guitar amplifier in the studio. In short, open your ears to all possibilities.

Warning

Don't merely copy Hook's distinctive basslines; appropriate the elements that work best for you, while fitting his trademarks into your own style.

Take online guitar-tab renderings with a grain of salt. Listen to as many studio and live recordings as you can of Hook's epochal work with Joy Division and New Order (and related side projects) to get a feel for how his playing style actually works.

About the Author

Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.