Why It’s Perfectly Fine To Use A High-Pass Filter On Your Bass
As you prepare to argue and tell me that I’m crazy for suggesting your mix needs less bass, take a deep breath and think about all of the fighting you’ve done with bass guitars in the past. It takes a lot of time and energy to get a decent bass tone at every stage in the recording process.
Bassists train for years to get consistency in their bass tone, and as any guitarist that’s tried switching between the two can tell you: it’s not as simple as knowing one means you can play the other.
Whether the player uses a pick or their fingers to play will have a huge impact on the sound. The transition between notes needs to be timed perfectly, or you risk “bass dropout” when the sustain gets cut off too early. And as much as everyone hates replacing them, old strings on a bass can give you a dull tone with a lackluster attack in the higher frequency range.
Bass is a fickle instrument, but when it’s done right it can pull together an entire mix, giving you a professional, polished sound. So why would you ever want to filter out the defining frequency range that the bass guitar occupies?
Muddy, Undefined Bass
The range of hearing for humans starts at 20 Hz, which is actually incredible if you think about it. At 20 Hz, you can actually see most speakers moving in and out with the soundwave. It’s mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, without a purpose, all of that super low-end content is just noise. It’s rumbling mud that’s taking up space in your mix and doing a disservice to your sound.
While I wouldn’t suggest rolling off too high into the human range of hearing, a simple low-end cleanup trick to use a high-pass set to something below 100 Hz. It shouldn’t affect your sound too much, but if you feel like you’re sacrificing useful bass content to clean up the mud, just set it lower until you find low-end equilibrium.
Replace The Bass
The other time some high-pass filtering on your bass comes in handy is when you’re looking to replace part of it with synthesized bass. Using a synth like Sub Destroyer, MIDI bass can fill in the gaps where a less-than-ideal player might not have been able to.
Remember that sustain problem we were talking about just a minute ago? This is the “fix it in the mix” solution when you can’t retrack:
As Nick walks through in the video, clean and consistent low-end is huge to the final sound of a song. His bass wasn’t bad on it’s own, but it needed that consistency and sustain that synths come in clutch for.
Best of all: he was able to salvage the performance by keeping the natural high-end and attack of the bass notes. Any time you can do this, you’ll get a clearer, truthful piece than if you had gone in trying to stretch the source audio or replace it with a full-on synth bass.
Are You Filling In The Gaps In Your Mixes?
Some engineers like to use production tricks and effects to fill in space in a mix. Others tend to rely more heavily on the source audio and dynamic audio processors to fill things in. Whatever your approach, seeing how others work exposes you to tons of techniques and mix situations you might not otherwise see.
If you’re looking to see how more engineers are treating their bass – come join us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook.