Do you struggle to get bass guitar to sound right? Is it always either too loud or too thin or too boomy or too round?

We’ve all been there. On some projects the bass just seems to fall into place. On others, you feel like nothing short of divine intervention will make the bass sound right.

Here are three quick tips for getting a better sound out of your bass tracks.

1. Go Nuts with EQ

There are no rules when it comes to EQ-ing bass. I’ve mixed some tracks recently where I had a 16 dB cut at 250 Hz on a bass track. Seems extreme, I know, but that was what it needed. Only then did the bass begin to sit nicely in the mix without giving me a headache from all the low-mid buildup.

The EQ curve looks just plain ugly, but the bass sounds right.

2. Use Distortion

Most of us are probably recording a fairly clean bass, either direct or through an amp. Sometimes a little bit of distortion can go a long way with bass.

I first saw this watching someone mix a (believe it or not) country song. He duplicated the bass track and added a distortion plug-in to the second track. He dialed in a fair amount of distortion and blended it with the original bass track.

The end result is a bass that seems to cut through more. You don’t necessarily hear the distortion, but the distortion helps draw the ear’s attention to the bass. If your bass track tends to hide in the mix and you can’t seem to bring it out without overwhelming the mix with bass, try duplicating it and adding distortion.

3. Play with the Attack Settings on Your Compressor

I usually heavily compress the bass on my mixes. It helps me get a consistent volume out of the bass from note to note. However, compression brings with it a whole can of worms. It can accentuate trouble frequencies or turn down the very frequencies you’re trying to hear.

One way to drastically change the tone is to change the attack settings. I talked about attack a little bit in yesterday’s podcast.

If your bass has too much punch, try a faster attack. it will start compressing the transients of the bass note, keeping them from standing out too much.

If your bass LACKS punch, try using a slower attack, this will let the transients of the bass come through before the compressor kicks in, helping the bass “thump” a bit more.

Usually when I adjust the attack I end up going too far one direction or the other, then I slowly dial it back until I find a happy medium.

What about you?

We’re all about sharing tricks and tips here on HSC. Got any bass tips for us? Leave a comment. If I get enough good ones, I’ll feature them in a future sequel to this blog post. I’ll need at least 10 comments before I can post the next article/video.

[Photo by Joe Seggiola]

  • Mike Shvedov

    What a load o’CRAP. SERIOUSELY!!!
    There R a couple things while recording bass –
    – good&short cable
    – NO messing around with knobs
    – new strings

    Leave the rest to the engeneer!

    • Erik Brown

      this article is for people who do everything themselves lol. if yr answer is “pay someone else to do it for you.” this article is not for you.

  • Abner

    There is unfortunately no magic pill for great bass tone. Have a goal in mind for your desired bass tone and focus on achieving it. You have to try a bunch of different combinations and settings. Get creative. Don’t forget to document the best settings as u go…take a picture with your phone or write them down. So far the things that have worked best for me are;
    1. Play when you’re warmed up.
    2. Get a good set up done on your instrument. Intonation, setting action, pick up height, a good cleaning, a good set of strings, and possibly hardware replacement or fret work.
    3. A good compressor.
    4. A good amp.
    5. A good bass.

  • Grant Duffey

    1. Di directly into interface. Duplicate track.
    2. Place lpf 200 hz in front of everything. This controls honk. After that 8:1 fast attack fast release compressor. Just barely tickle the transient. You’ll need it later.
    3. Amp modeler.
    4. Subtractive eq. I usually cut around 180 hz. Gives me good metal tone.
    5. Slow attack bpm release compressor. To control the actual bass. 2 or 3:1.
    6. Maxxbass or bx_saturator to shift transients upward to 200hz. Very important.
    7. I make 2 aux channels. One is a parallel conpression aux. 20:1 ratio. Low thres. Raise level. Careful not to destroy tone. The other is for harmonics shifting.
    8. The other one I put a gate. Low threshold. Just cAtching transients. Next use a transient design. Boost the crap out of low end transients.
    9. Use saturation to shift those transients upward to 200 hz. After this use another gate just to get the pop through.
    10. In the end side chain bass with kick drum. There should be a shard transient around 200 hz out of the way of kick and guitars. This works well for me.

  • Depending on the sound you’re looking for, there are different approaches to getting “that” sound. For instance, a warm round bass sound, a DI into a tube pre (slighly driven). Mix that in with a cab mic’d with something like a beta52 or D112(my preference) to get some attack. For a pristine clean bass tone, any preamp that uses a nice piece of iron is preferable (if thats not available, a good DI thats got a good transformer in it will do the trick) It might be out of reach of a lot of home studio’s but something in the vein of a neve 1073(or 1290 for just the pre) is AMAZING (and for serious bass players, worth a serious looking into for recording and live applications! There are nice reissues out there that are not totally out of the realm of possibility budget wise) If I’m going for a nice scoop sound (similar to what was described above with duplicating tracks and processing the bass and treble separately) A good 2-way cab (say a 15 and some 10’s) is a great way to go. Again a large dynamic on the 15 and something smaller (sm57, 421, or even a condenser) on one of the 10’s. The trick is in getting the phase correct between the two. If you’re dealing with heavy music (metal specifically) I will sometimes throw a NASTY hpf on the guitar tracks and get rid of almost all the low end (below 400) on the guitars. That helps seat the bass in its own “space”. Then theres the “secret weapons” which were taught to me by a very prominent engineer and are somethings I would have probably NEVER thought of doing on my own… (one of them can only really be done on a DAW)
    A lot of times the bass and the kick drum (which take up a lot of the same sonic real estate) are playing on the same beats and sub-beats (a nice tight groove between the kick and bass) Two things can happen… the bass can mask the kick and vice versa or both?
    Secret weapon 1) Phase. Yeah the most over looked thing especially for home studios like yours and mine. Bring the bass track and kick track next to eachother when looking at the waveforms… you will see that big fat attack spike when they both hit. Although ridiculously time consuming, you may want to look at that relationship if the track is REALLY lacking. If the initial transient (or spike) on the kick is going UP and the bass is going down you may be getting some cancellation going on in the extreme low register which can cause either the bass or kick to sound thin or usually a bit of both. You’ll be surprised to see what reversing the phase on the bass track may do for the sound in relation to the kick. ( i say reverse the phase on the bass instead of the kick because if you’ve multi-mic’d the drums, theres probably already a delicate balance between all those mics and you don’t want to upset that balance if you’ve taken the time to get a good kit sound, the bass is 1 track and easier to deal with).
    Secret weapon 2) has to do with having either the bass or kick stick its head out a bit more in a mix. It’s call ducking (not like the animal, but more like OMG that foul ball is headed this way!) Its the process of compressing (oooh, a bad word? get Joes understanding compression to remove that stigma) one of the two parts (kick or bass) to allow some space for the other to stand out. Say Wha?! Ok, its a little complex and perhaps it’s something Joe might want to write about (or maybe I could write about it more? 😉 ) which would probably double the length of this response…

  • I slowly dial it back until I find a happy medium.

  • Pingback: 6 Tips for Reigning in the Bass in Your Mix | Home Studio Corner()

  • I duplicate my DI bass and in one I insert the Bass Amp Room (Softube), which make the bass more “bass” with the right low and and than I use the other track with a nice tape distortion.. than I compress/limit as you write the track with Bass Amp in order to have the body and the distorted one for the attack.. I blend them in a group and this is!

  • something i’ve recently started doing is recording a bass line and then duplicating the track. i eq one to accentuate the low end and basically cut out all the attack and high end. the other track i do the opposite. cut the low end and leave mainly the attack and punch. i then heavily compress the low end track so the “bass” of the song maintains consistent volume. i then lightly compress the attack track so the bass guitar punches somewhat naturally. mix the two tracks to taste until you find the right amount of low end to actuall attack. i use this same technique when i want overdriven/fuzz bass, except i only fuzz the attack and not the low end. i find this gives you the grit you are looking for but wont muddy up the nice low end notes that support your song.

  • Zsazsi

    Great tips! I’ve also found that a little parallel compression/distortion or filtering can spice up my electric bass recordings.

    I’ve found Camel Audio’s Camel Crusher a very awesome tool for the.

    Check it out, it’s free!!!

    http://www.camelaudio.com/camelcrusher.php

  • Pingback: Delay in posting « Beards And Gear()

  • T. Hill

    I can get some nice sounding basses with my Behringer Bass V-Amp Pro. They sit nice in the mix and are really punchy with a little chorus added.

  • Seems to me most of the time when I have trouble getting the bass right it’s because something else is masking it. And more often than not, it’s guitar. What I remove from the mix with EQ is often more important than what I add.

    Also, I find reciprocal EQ is more effective than EQing the bass alone. In other words, I can +6 at 250Hz on the bass -OR- +3 the bass then -3 the electric guitar at the same frequency.

  • Ethan

    I have a very simple “tip”. PUT ON NEW BASS STRINGS THE DAY YOU RECORD. I literally just got done recording bass tracks for my bands EP and was trying to get a good tone coming stright out of the bass. It sounded good but not great. I went out and got new strings. And it was as easy as that! Seriously recommend doing that.

    • christopher [chrisw92]

      I would recommend putting them on the day before, so the tension sets in.

    • bassbrobruh

      Not a bad idea if that’s the sound you’re after. It’s very subjective, some people like the brightness and punch of brand new strings, some people despise it and prefer a more rounded dull tone. Very much up to personal preference and genre.

  • Very cool tips Joe

    I guess that adding distortion is kind of like what orchestrators do by doubling (or tripling/”xling”) the double-bass part with another instrument an octave higher – adds overtones and upper harmonics that outline the fundamentals for the ear…

  • Let me preface by saying I love a clean punchy bass sound. But I found a great way to get a sound I like that cuts through the mix nicely is to record my bass direct but also record the bass through a mid 60’s Fender Vibro Champ with the “warm” Blue Ball mic. It is much like the other ideas of using a guitar amp sim, but with a real amp instead. The DI signal gets the body of the bass sound while the mic’ed amp gives the bass sound an extra punch without too much because the Blue Ball helps attenuate the real high end of the signal. The small speaker guitar amp also helps compress the bass signal quite a bit which mixes nicely with the original signal I find. I’ve found this works better than using an amp sim because of the small 8″ speaker in the amp. None of the amp sims I’ve tried recreate the small speaker size, which I think helps get this sound that I love.

  • David S.

    I use the Amplitube Ampeg Bass plugin. on it’s own the bass sounds great w/ this plugin, but when i try to mix w/ it, i’m either too loud or too thin. No punch. i am having trouble just getting the bass to sit in its own spot for some reason. i can’t figure it out. I’ve assumed it was the recording of the bass track, meaning I maybe just have a horrible tone to start with. I went direct into a preamp and set my active bass eq to mids. however, i’m thinking i need to re-record the bass going through an amp or something. I really have no idea what to do. lol
    anyone use this plug in? any tips out there??
    help!

    • David S.

      let me reiterate what i’m after. I want the bass tone to have a bit of growl in it and i’m not accomplishing this for some reason. is the growl a tone that one must record into the DAW? can you get a growl from a DI signal, ie: my bass directly in to Pro Tools, by mixing?

      • I think you can get growl from your Amplitube model, but I also think the way that you EQ the bass will dramatically effect how the “growl” sounds.

        • David S.

          thanks, Joe. Everyone has so many good ideas, I guess I’ll take a weekend and try them all until I “find the missing the growl”.

  • Mike

    Hey Joe, Great tips! I recently doubled a bass part with Spectrasonics Trilian software worked out very good. Just a little
    picked bass from the software mixed in with
    my finger style direct playing, This isn’t gonna work all the time but I can see how it will on certain typys of music.
    Thanks, Keep em coming!
    Mike

  • I’ve started using the Scarbee PreBass VSTi and I love it! Not only does it sound GREAT but it gives me the flexibility of midi editing. Now I find that after I get a good take and add come compression I used rhythmic editing more than anything to get the bass part to sit well. Sometimes a bass notes sit best when it land just a smidge behind the kick. Sometimes it works best to let a note hang over a couple of kicks and you almost hear it as two separate notes because of the kick attack. A good bass player knows all this which is why a part played by a good bass player is easier to mix. Another great thing about PreBass is that with the various articulations you can create an interesting part without having to over play (i.e. fewer notes but using slides, pulloffs, etc.) If you’re in the market for an excellent bass VSTi Check out the video & audio samples at native-instruments.com

  • Steve

    Try series compression too. 1st compressor to even out the dynamics of different notes, then a 2nd compressor to get the attack you want.

  • christopher [chrisw92]

    hmmm, distortion? seems strange but it just might work. going to try it now.

    • That’s what I thought the first time I saw it.

  • I’ve been using the PSP VintageWarmer plugin with good results for the electric bass.
    http://www.pspaudioware.com/plugins/dynamic_processors/psp_vintagewarmer2/index.html

  • Great tips brother Joe. I like simple but effective tips. Keep ’em coming.

  • I always mix a distorted SVT model with something fatter to get a balanced sound.

    Joe, have you tried any of the Softube plugins? Bass amp room is really good, really versatile despite its apparent limitations, and Vintage Amp Room is out of this world!

    • David S.

      what do you mean you mix it w/ something fatter? can you expand on your technique?

  • Wayne Johnson

    I usually do drums and bass first. These usually take the most time for me. I do like a little distortion on most bass parts that need to cut through the mix. I usually do bass parts through a Bellari RP220 tube pre in which you have a gain and a volume and can overdrive it for some added warmth. This pre works great for vocals and instrument to add warmth. I also use IK’s Fender plugin which has some great emulations and bass sounds. Just use your imagination and if you have PT 8 SanAmp and Eleven work well. Use EQ to find that problem frequency with the kick and the bass. That’s my opinion on the subject. There are no cut and dried rules on this but look out for the bass and EQ police. They’re out to get me!!!

  • carlisle

    using distortion could you still get a good tone.

  • Rob

    Great tips joe. Would you ever consider using a program like guitar rig to get a bass sound? Also how would you mix a bass so that it sits well with a kick drum. the problem i have is that they clash from time to time and i get a wall of muddy sound. thanks

    • Rob, I actually use Guitar Rig from time to time on bass. Like joe mentions, I’ll duplicate the bass track, leave one track clean, with slight compression, and eq to taste. Then I’ll take the dupe track and run it through Guitar Rig. Something like they’re Orange model works pretty well. I tend to make the clean track more prominent and just have the distorted track somewhere in the background. works well.

      • I tried this on one of the songs in Joe’s MixWithUs course and it sounded fantastic. I used Podfarm for mine, but the same thing: distorted track lower in the background. Really worked wonders…

    • Alex

      To help the bass and the kick work well together, have you tried side chaining the compressor on the bass? Just set up the compressor on your bass track and set it to your kick track, then dial it in so that the kick can shine through and not be overwhelmed by the bass. Be careful though, if you over do it the bass might throb a bit too much. I hope thats helpful, if you need more info refer back to Joe’s post on Side Chaining