Bass tones in metal are the bread and butter than make things heavy in both a low-end frequency sense and in an aggressive sense. Guitars get praised for their use of distortion to achieve a heavier tone, but many people overlook how easy it is to apply those same concepts to a bass guitar.
Just like your electric guitars, bass has several options to achieve a variety of brutal bass tones, but it all starts at the source. Having a great bass player with an in-tune bass and decent pickups (active or passive – your call) is the first step toward getting a brutal bass tone. Beyond that though, there are several paths you can take to get the perfect bass tone for your song.
The Expensive Way
Nobody ever said developing a lifelong addition to musicianship would be cheap, right? Well if you’re like 99% of musicians out there, you’re probably lusting over some amazing gear right now that will supposedly open new doors for your bass tone. Does that sound accurate?
Wanting huge stacks of gear is completely natural and in some respects it can absolutely add to the tonal palette you have available in the studio. Building up the right collection of amps, pedals, and more hardware can be a lesson in futility though if you’re always after the Holy Grail of Tone.
For those that can escape the cycle, bass players can achieve extremely heavy tones with the right combination of pedals, amp & microphone. Usually this rig demands some compression upfront and some tube saturation from the amp to get a useable tone, but when it’s right, it’s right. Throw a microphone in front of it that’s good at capturing low end (the AKG D112 & Electro-Voice RE20 both come to mind) and you should be all set.
Unfortunately, many bassists find out the hard way that the best bass rig on the planet doesn’t mean that’s what ends up on the album…
The Direct Way
Whether through the recording interface or through a dedicated DI box, bass is quite often recorded directly. Even in sessions where a speaker cabinet is being miced up, many engineers will opt for a direct signal as well. When it comes time to mix, they’ll either blend the two together or ditch the miced up cabinet completely.
All of that money spent building a bass rig of doom? Replaced by a box that only cost the engineer a couple hundred bucks.
Of course, direct boxes don’t always have to be plain or cheap either. While a Countryman Type 85 might be one of my favorites in the mid-to-upper price tier, there are fancier options like the Tech 21 SansAmp RBI or the Darkglass Microtubes B7K that offer more aggressive/clankier tones right on the unit itself.
If you choose to use one of these tools – just remember that you’ll be printing the tone down when you record, which isn’t always ideal and brings us to our third option…
The Modern Way
Modern metal bass recording really demands a hybrid approach involving both a great DI signal and an in-the-box virtual bass rig. By capturing a clean and consistent DI signal, you can dial in exactly how much gain, EQ, etc. you need on the amp right inside of the plugin.
Tools like Bassforge Hellraiser allow you to apply the right settings during tracking and tweak them in the mix later if you’ve found there’s too much or not enough of something. Check out how it can be done in this In The Studio clip:
I’m a huge proponent of this because it means cutting down additional tweaks further down in the signal chain. Are you likely to still want some EQ & compression after the amp? Absolutely. But you’re not forced into boosting some low frequency content or upper-mid bite that just wasn’t recorded in the first place. It’s a winning combination.
Balancing Stringed Instruments
Once you’ve got a killer bass tone, do you know what to look for to balance it with the guitars in your mix? JST VIP members have access to exclusive plugins and tutorials, as well as The Ultimate Tone Bible & Virtual Signal Chain Secrets eBooks that were specifically made to help shape their mixes.