While a bass guitar can be a full frequency spectrum instrument, the majority of it’s sound comes from two specific ranges: the lows and the upper mids. While these two ranges are undoubtedly tied together, treating them in a mix couldn’t require two more distinct approaches.
Bass is really unique in this regard; not many instruments get sliced and diced for a better overall sound. You’ll have situations where frequency-specific approaches should be taken with things like drums and even the occasional synth, but more often than not bass seems to take the cake.
So when you’re looking to break up your bass guitar to create a better overall tone, where do you begin?
Breaking Up Your Bass
Breaking your bass into two tracks doesn’t have to be complicated. Some engineers choose to duplicate the track, creating a “highs” track and a “lows” track. Each one gets a band-pass filter (single-band EQ) with the crossover frequencies set at the same point. A good place to start is around 300-500 Hz on both your low-pass and high-pass filters. Mixers can move the frequency up and down to find the sweet spot.
Looking to save on some processing power? If you’re comfortable with bussing your tracks around in the DAW, you can always send a single bass track to two different aux tracks with the same filter setup outlined above.
Starting Down Low
Especially during loud parts of a mixing, your low-end needs to be powerful and consistent. Our ears will naturally gravitate toward the guitars, vocals – really anything with a strong mid-range presence – during these parts of the song, so the bass needs to provide a foundation for those things to stand on. Dynamism can be great, but for the low-end of your bass you should be favoring a clean and reliable performance.
You may have already experienced a mix where this isn’t happening. Whether the result of a poor performance, older strings, or just a lack of gain or compression, the bass drops out from the song on some notes and jumps out on others. We want to squash these irregularities in the track using a limiter like Finality.
Since we’ll be maintaining our dynamics in the upper-mid frequencies of the bass, the squashed dynamics of the low end go almost completely unnoticed in the final mix, even to trained ears. A heavily compressed or limited low-end isn’t going to sound harsh, it’s going to sound smooth. Check out how Nick achieves his bass tone with this approach on In The Studio:
Hear how he’s getting additional control over his low end with this technique, but by the time it gets added into the mix you can’t hear anything other than a consistent performance? Transparency can be achieved even under heavy dynamic processing.
High End Sweetening
Your upper frequencies may also require some compression or limiting for control, but to a much lesser extent than we’ve discussed with the low end. Instead, the high end is where you can focus on things like transient design and distortion for a truly aggressive tone.
Engineers will use the settings within the plugins they’re already using to achieve this – such as the Aggro and Color knobs if you’ve already got Finality on the track. If you’re going for something a bit more extreme though, a virtual guitar rig can also help push the envelope for your bass’ upper frequencies.
Using a virtual rig like Toneforge Jason Richardson is a great choice that has many of the features you’ll need for bass built right in. It’s already been designed and optimized for low-tuned and extended range guitars that reach down into bass territory. While we wouldn’t recommend going all out on the amp’s gain, everything else is fair game for sweetening up a bass tone for more bite and aggression.
For the final touch, finding a good bass cabinet to load into the IR slot can be a great way to liven up a bass DI tone. If you don’t have one available, many guitar cab IRs can be used in it’s place, especially when it’s only being applied to the mids/high-mids.
Achieving The Perfect Tone
Have you been working on getting the perfect tone (bass or otherwise) but you’re just not sure if it’s there yet? Let me take a listen for you and give you some feedback.
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