If I told you that there’s one instrument that drives the groove of your song even more than your drums, would your first thought be the bass? If not, it should be.
Bass offers a lot to your mix. It provides a foundation for your song to build on top of. It’s the guide through which roots, fifths, octaves and more narrate your song’s melodic structure. A clear and consistent bass will be both present and transparent at the same time if tracked and mixed correctly – heard when you want it to be, or tucked away as a part of the overall mix when you want to lend the lead to something else.
In order to make the most out of such an important element of your mix, it all comes down to the quality of your DI.
Why a DI?
A DI box for bass is like a tube amp head for your guitar. While not a part of the instrument itself, it can do plenty to color your tone and shape it into something great. DI boxes come in all shapes and sizes from passive to active, Class A circuitry to tube preamps, and everything in between.
Don’t get me wrong – most any dedicated DI will do the job if you know how to treat your DI signal, but it sure is fun to experiment with new ones.
DIs offer great flexibility for plenty of reasons. For starters, their full-spectrum capabilities mean your getting an unaltered recording of what your pickups are… well, picking up. No speaker cabinet is between you and the bass to roll off your high end or build up in any particular frequency range. There’s no microphone placement to worry about. You just get a clean, direct signal between your instrument and your recording session.
Bass Amp Sims
If you are seeking some in-the-box classic bass tones, you always have the flexibility of bringing in an amp sim after the fact. Virtual guitar rigs like Toneforge Jason Richardson are made for extended range guitars, but can actually have quite the swathe of tonal options for bass as well.
While I wouldn’t recommend cranking up the gain too much on anything other than an “effect” for bass, lower settings can provide both presence and some natural EQ curves you’d expect to find on a real amp.
To really drive home your in-the-box bass rig, having a few select impulse responses can give you a real, live, “in the studio” tone without having to commit to it up front. Try out an amp sim the next time you’re looking to add some life to a bass DI and see what I mean. If you find it’s still too much, you can always create a duplicate or bus it to an aux track for some parallel processing.
Whether you decide to go strictly DI or something a little more spiced up, bass DI tone really is as much about the compression you’re using as the tools in the chain before the compressor. Because bass has a huge dynamic range and frequency content charting down as low as the human ear can hear, it’s important to find a compressor (or several) that can handle all of these variations.
BG-Bass is great at handling various bass instruments including bass synths, but at its core it was developed with a bass DI in mind. Realizing that there are three main ways engineers were compressing bass (lows, highs, and a combination of the two), it was important to build a compressor that could handle all three options seamlessly.
Light to medium compression on the low end will give you a much more natural tone that’s a bit rounder than you’ll get out of most basses without any compression. Start pushing a compressor a bit harder to clamp down on the low end will give your bass a bit more snarl and aggression – just beware of overlap with your rhythm guitars.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, compressing the high end of your bass will result in smoother attack and a more consistent performance at lower levels, but bring out clankiness or bite as you start to push it harder. The combination of both low and high frequency compression happening at the same time will give you an ultra colored (and ultra assertive) tone.
Ready to Show Off Your Chops?
Think you’ve got what it takes to compete with the best bass tones in the business?
Come share your best bass tone with us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook or on Instagram using #JoeySturgisTones. If you used a JST plugin to pull it off, be sure to let us know for your chance to get featured.
Have fun experimenting with your bass DI, and as always, happy mixing!