Best Ways To Make A More Powerful Bass
I’m a long-time bass player, I’m biased and dead-set on making my bass sound incredible when recorded. It’s taken a long time with a lot of research and experimentation, but I believe I have finally found the simplest and best ways to really make the bass powerful – and I’m going to share it all with you! Before we begin, let’s get a few pretenses out of the way:
- I have a real bass.
- I am a good bass player.
- I don’t have a DI box, but I do have an audio interface with a Hi-Z/instrument input and sometimes go through a pedal that converts the signal to regular line level.
If you’re already familiar with recording or use a VST, then you can skip this nerd moment:
Number 3 is especially important when recording so you don’t lose half your signal. If you’re going direct, then you need a Hi-Z or instrument input. I will not go into detail about the math behind it, but wherever you plug your device in it should say one of those two things. Otherwise, it’s a regular line input and you’ll lose a part of your sound going in.
Alternatively, you can find any random effect pedal and go through that. If you don’t want to use the effect, then switch off/bypass it. Be careful of those multi-effect digital processors, as even bypassed they can make a mess of your sound. These pedals will convert your signal to line-level, much like a DI box, and then you can plug into a basic line input or line-in (but not a Hi-Z/instrument input).
Now, let’s say we have a single bass track. It may have been recorded directly or maybe it’s a VST. Maybe you have a second track recorded over your amp or mic? That’s really good! If you ONLY have a track recorded over mic and amp – delete it and go direct or both. Recording a separate direct and amp signal won’t work because we want the bass to be tight.
Now that we have it recorded, here’s what we can do with it:
1. Amp Simulation FTW!
This rocks! Literally. This is the bread and butter of getting a really powerful bass sound. Just use it right. What most pro studios do is record two bass tracks. One is direct and the other is the signal that comes out of an amp. Then they keep both. I’m not going into detail on how they combine so well – they just do.
In most cases you won’t have a good room, a good mic or a good amp to record a decent amp signal. So, instead, you can use amp simulation. You make a copy of your direct signal and put an amp VST plug-in on that copy:
That’s it! Now, what VST and how to configure it is up to you, as it’s all about making the sound fit the mix. For example – don’t use a large “rumbly” sound if it’s a tight dance track. Using an amp VST helps cut the otherwise high costs of a good amp, mic and room. Unlike using a cheap real bass instead of a VST, budget solutions will not help in this case.
2. The Frequencies
It always comes down to this. Before you start, make sure you cut off any excess frequencies. Even if it’s a bass, it’s often a good idea to cut around 30-40Hz to tighten it up a bit. Once it’s been cleaned you can shape it to taste. Here I’m referring to settings on your amp VST, not the mixing EQs. Pick only one or two adjustments based on your goals:
- If you want more bass presence and prominence, a good place to start is between 100Hz-300Hz. This is where the bass is really audible as a “bass”.
- If you want to give it more “oomph”, a good place to start is 80Hz and below, all the way to say 40Hz. This may not be very audible, but you do feel it.
- If you want to fill up the room then go below 40Hz, try boosting around 20Hz. This, you definitely will not hear, but it is felt.
- If you want to give it some high-end crunch or click, look between 3KHz and 5KHz. Mid-range “klang!” is between 1KHz and 2KHz.
- Finally, you can give it a bit of sparkle with a slight boost above 8KHz.
3. That Extra Touch
Sometimes your initial sound is just thin or flabby. You can add a saturation plug-in to help fill it up, or an exciter to give it some top-end. Distortion or drive can also help in certain ways. The point is not to use EQ to try and bring out something that just isn’t there. Instead, use any plug-ins that create harmonics in a musical way. You can put it on either track or both, before or after the amp VST, it’s all situational. For example, I also use a BOSS limiter pedal while recording because it immediately evens out and fattens up the sound. I use it very mildly though, so it doesn’t squash the incoming signal. You have to be careful when putting anything on in the recording process because it can’t be taken out later.
Using these tips and techniques (especially number 1) you will get a great bass sound – guaranteed. Keep in mind though, with great knowledge comes great responsibility. Your bass WILL sound great on its own, bit it takes a real mix master to make it sit well with the rest of the instruments. So, consider this the first step of a long journey.