Bass amps are a tricky piece of any mix. Too often it gives you way too much to work with and you need to carve it way down to fit your needs. Other times you end up with so little of it that you’re left scratching your head wondering how you’re supposed to get it to cut through the mix.
Bass doesn’t need to be complicated, and more importantly it doesn’t have to be relegated to a basic DI signal. If you’ve already perfected your bass DI recording, you’re just a few steps away for bone crushing bass amp tone.
Today we’re going to focus on how your bass amp can help your overall bass tone, but I don’t want that to scare off any of you that work strictly with DI bass signals. If you prefer not to amp up your bass guitar, many of these elements will still apply to your bass sound. Stick around til the end and you might just learn a thing or two about why the amp users of the world have a leg up on your mixes.
1. The Right Microphone Is A HUGE Part of Your Tone
Guitarists seem to have all of the options when it comes to gear, don’t they? They get MORE amps & MORE pedals. While bassists can find creative uses for many of these tools, they’re clearly not the main targets of many manufacturers. But bassists of the world rejoice! Professional microphone manufacturers have given you the gift of microphones!
Don’t laugh it off just yet – these manufacturers know that the lower into the frequency range you go, the more imperative it is to capture a consistent, clear sound. Bassists get tons of mic options to choose from: the Electro-Voice RE20, the AKG D112, even the coveted Neumann FET47 is a dream mic on low-range instruments.
Using them in combination with a great preamp will show you just what a great bass mic can do to your bass tone. These mics have been built for audio sources like a good bass cabinet. If you don’t have easy access to try out these mics, try them out in Bassforge Hellraiser. Once you find the right fit, you can add one to your live rig for the perfect sound on stage too (or learn how to use a virtual rig live).
2. Fuzzy & Furious
Bass tone doesn’t just have to provide a foundation for your other instruments – it can take the spotlight on occasion too. If you’re looking for just a little more bite, adding a bit of “Clank” to your bass tone might be the right way to go.
If you’re looking for something that really stands out though, a fuzz pedal can really do the trick for heavy full-spectrum tonal dominance. I especially find fuzz useful in smaller bands where there might be only one guitar part in the song. A bass with a decent fuzz pedal can fill out a rhythm section in need just as well as any rhythm guitar.
3. A Well-Paired Cabinet
Have you ever taken the time to really dig into the spec sheets on some of the gear you buy? One of the most common things you’ll see with amps (both combos and stacks) are terms like “custom-voiced” speakers or “specially-designed” cabinets.
These descriptors at first glance might seem like they’re hiding something, but any company worth their salt is going to back up that these customizations are the result of hours of research and development.
When it comes to matching your cabinets and speakers to your amp, it’s important to take into consideration the nuances that all amp designs have. Some might tend to resonate at a particular frequency that isn’t particularly pleasing in a sonic sense. I’ve even heard of speakers rattling themselves loose from their cabinet because of mismatching!
This concept of match is why I’ve spent so much time focusing on the right cabinet for Bassforge and some of our other virtual rigs. The amp just isn’t going to sound right without the right cabinet to back it up. Need proof? Just listen to some of these examples that use our JST Matched Cab™.
4. Compression: High & Low
Your bass tone should always be treated as two distinct ranges: your powerful, impactful lows and your trebly, attack-filled highs. Both ranges serve their purposes of getting your bass heard and felt, but the approaches taken to make that happen sometimes require different approaches.
When this happens, EQ might not be enough to make things sound the way they should. If this has happened to you, you know how frustrating it can be when you’re trying to just get the thing to settle into the mix.
The next time you’re stuck with an untamable bass, try breaking your problem into two bands of compression. Compress your lows lightly with a slow release for consistency. Compress your highs a bit more aggressively with a fast attack and release. This combo is sure to get your bass sounding interesting and full.
Breaking It Down To The Basics
At the end of the day, you can really dial in most of your bass tone on the rig itself. A mixer’s job should be easy if a bass is recorded well through an amp that gives you everything you need.
I think I can count on one hand the number of sessions I’ve been given to mix where the bass blew me away right out of the box, but when those sessions come along they always seem to mix themselves. With the bass squared away from the start, everything else just seems to fall into place.