A proper bass rig is one of the absolute best ways to fill out the low end of any song, regardless of if you’re in the studio or on the stage. Bass rigs need to provide a level of clarity, punch & presence to your sound. This is especially true in genres like metal and djent where the low-end content is often overlapped or mixed closely alongside extended range guitars.
With so much weight being put on your bass tone and how your rig sits in the mix, it’s important to consider innovative new ways to improve that sound.
Beyond the bass or amp itself – what can you be doing to set your bass rig up for success?
Starting With A Clear Source
If you’ve been following the blog for a while, chances are you’ve heard me talk about the importance of a good direct box (DI) at least once or twice. When it comes to bass, this is doubly important.
A direct box is responsible for taking the unbalanced, high impedance signal of your bass and meeting it with the right amount of resistance to effectively step it up to a clear signal for your converters. While many audio interfaces will offer an input or two that can do this for you, they’re often not as transparent as a dedicated DI and can significantly color your sound.
Bass DI boxes come in all shapes and sizes with active, passive & tube circuitry. Each variant offers its own approach to tone, just as you’d see when comparing different pickups or amps. Regardless of which one you choose, you should get a result that’s perfectly capable of replicating the highest highs and lowest lows of your bass tone – giving you the perfect starting point for in-the-box bass work.
Don’t Sleep on EQ
Speaking with other engineers and producers, the conversation about how to dial in a good bass tone often comes down to amp gain and compression. We rarely talk about what a powerful resource EQ can be when managing your bass amp’s tone.
What’s especially unique about the EQ is that you’ll often be able to control it in multiple stages, letting you alter your sound as it passes through the amp. A great on-board EQ should have enough bands and flexibility to really change the way the amp gets driven – helping you cut some of the highs before the amp’s output if it’s starting to sound harsh or cleaning up some muddiness in the low end if it’s too present.
Sandwiching the onboard EQ with another EQ before or after the amp gives you complete control. You’re able to clean up your source audio before ever hitting a gain stage, get it sounding right on the amp itself before it reaches the speaker, and clean up any post-speaker issues with EQ after the fact.
All three EQs might not be necessary a lot of the time, but knowing you have the flexibility to clean up your frequency content anywhere in the chain is comforting, especially in a dense mix.
Improving Your Bass Amp’s EQ
If there’s one place that you’ll struggle the most with EQ, it’s going to be on your bass amp itself. There often just isn’t a decent enough graphical representation of what’s going on to pinpoint frequencies that stick out. It’s usually just trial and error.
Fortunately, there are workarounds for that when using a virtual bass rig. By pairing an EQ with good visualization and making the adjustments on the amp’s EQ, you can effectively expand your resources when working with bass to make more informed decisions.
Take a look at how Justin deBlieck from Ice Nine Kills pairs his favorite EQ with Bassforge Rex Brown:
The EQ gives him a way to pick out problem frequencies in the bass that he’s then able to clean up on the amp itself so they don’t ever make it out of the bass rig in the first place. It’s such an awesome trick!
Bass Tone Secrets
Getting a great bass tone is about so much more than your bass rig itself. Hopefully you’ll get some use out of the tips shared here, but I think you could take your bass tone strategy even further with our eBook, Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone.
Inside, I share 80+ pages on all of the best bass recording, mixing, and mastering tips to get the bass tones you want AND how to make them stand out in the mix!