Bass guitar is one of the most challenging instruments to add intensity to in your mixes. The issue isn’t necessarily the instrument itself, but the frequency range that it inhabits. But despite the challenges, plenty of bassists, engineers, and mixers find ways to make it work.
So what about you? What should you do if you find yourself faced with a bass guitar tone that just doesn’t cut through the mix in the way you need it to? How do you get your bass to compete with massive, layered guitars and punchy, explosive drums?
With a bit of pre-planning and a few simple mix hacks, of course!
Ditching Live Amps for DI
Whether you’re someone who enjoys micing up a live bass cabinet or not, a dry DI signal is an absolute must when recording bass these days. A great bass DI captures your signal in a way that a microphone on a cabinet just can’t. It eliminates the room from the equation and gives you an extremely transparent starting point to work from when you find that your bass just isn’t cutting it.
For those of you who don’t want to dive in on recording bass Dis exclusively, there’s nothing wrong with recording it in parallel to the live-amped track. Some engineers even choose to blend the two together – finding that the live amp helps put the bass in the room while a compressed DI signal helps the track cut through the mix and makes the performance sound more consistent.
For many engineers though, massive bass amps requiring hundreds of watts of power and huge cabinets are quickly falling out of favor. There’s so much available in-the-box that it’s just not worth the hassle for many of them anymore.
Should you change your mind later on and decide a live amp is the way to go, a DI is also the perfect source to start from – just run the signal back to your bass amp with a reamp box and dial in your settings with a perfectly consistent performance.
Preamp & Amp Relationship
One of the lesser discussed aspects of great bass tone is the relationship between bass amps and the preamps that sit in front of them. Just like a clean boost in front of a guitar amp can push the signal harder into breakup, bass preamps – especially tube models – saturate and overdrive your bass in a very unique way.
As a result, you can dial in most tube preamps to drive the transients of each note harder. The pick attack or pluck gets accentuated, which translates to more pronounced playing and, you guessed it – intensity.
All without ever adjusting the amp’s settings.
Just take a look at this example from Lard Graves using Bassforge Rex Brown:
EQ Matching Guitars
One other trick that you may have picked up on in the video is how EQ can be used to match your bass to your guitar tracks without sacrificing all of that low end the bass is intended to fill in.
This can be done on the amp itself or by using EQ after the fact, but the idea is that you’ll treat your bass as if it were part of your overall guitar mix – EQing it to create presence and definition along with the rest of your guitar tracks. This means dipping in the lower mids where there’s muddiness but boosting in the upper mids where a lot of the attack is. It takes a bit of work, especially when there are a lot of other guitar tracks to deal with, but in the end it’s 100% worth it.
And the low end? Well assuming you’ve high pass filtered your guitars, there’s no reason to do the same on your bass guitar. That’s where the strategy and correlation ends. Below about 200 Hz, you don’t need to roll a thing off the bass and you might even consider boosting it a bit. Low end isn’t going to drastically change your tone or intensity, but it goes a long way to help make your bass felt in the song.
Bass Tone is Complex
We’re able to make some pretty decent generalizations when it comes to bass tone, but the reality is that intensity is just one of the characteristics you need to strive for as a mixer. A great bass track needs to be balanced, full, and dynamic without being super loud or sitting too far forward in the mix.
For those struggling to get their bass sitting just right, I’d strongly recommend checking out Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone. It’s our quick reference guide for all things bass, and contains over 80 pages of useful tips, tricks, and techniques used by professional engineers and mixers on a daily basis.