Bass guitar: tricks, tips and advice on getting the most out of equalization and compression.
Home recording and DIY production is a tricky old business for the newly initiated.
With each new software program, vst plugin, hardware and technique their comes a new challenge.
As with the other instruments I’ve talked about on this site, getting your bass to respond in your mix is every bit as important and needs just as much care and attention as anything else.
Your track can live or die by getting these things right.
I’m not an expert but I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.
Some may seem to contradict each other, but these are received wisdoms and as such should be treated as guidelines.
Every recording is different, there are no set in stone presets to fix what you need fixing.
Use your ears as guides and treat each recording as new material.
Get your mix right in the first place the mastering will be easier in the long run.
These settings are guidelines only, use your ears it’s important that you get a sound that you feel fits with your material. Driving the compressor hard with create distortion, if that’s what you intend then go for it
Compression can also be used to control muddiness and level changes, peaks and dips.
If you’re new to bass then compression can help control the uneven peaks and dips in your playing volume.
Set your Threshold to the level where your compressor starts to work.
Ratio: 2.5:1 or 3:1 – increase this as you need to really but try and be careful with your settings, aggressive settings here will introduce distortion.
Attack: 40ms to 50ms – the attack of your bass is important, if the attack rate is too short you’ll create a muddy sound, less definition.
Release: Around 180ms – as always with your release settings you need to set it long enough to work but short enough so that when the instrument plays again the compressor is allowed to work. This way you’ll get the pumping so you want.
Gain: As always try not to add too much gain if any, make up any difference between your input and the output volume.
To add a fullness to your bass try a boost of between 1 and 2db in the 100 to 200hz frequency range.
To get rid of mud from your bass try a cut of around 3 to 4db in the 200-300hz range.
To add punch a boost of 2 to 3db between 500 to 1000hz should do the trick.
To give your bass more attack try boosting the frequency range between 2.5 and 5khz by 2 or 3db
A shelf to remove the lower end, around 40 to 50hz is always a good way to start with Bass guitar. It’s the part we can’t hear and most stereo systems can’t deal with.
Be aware that most mud occurs in the 200-300hz range, try small cuts if your instrument lacks definition.
Avoid if you can adding boosts below the 100hz but boosting between the 100 and 200hz range can fix a thin/flat sounding bass.
If your bass lacks punch then adding a little boost between 500 and 1000hz can increase this.
To bring in more attack and add sparkle try a boost inbetween the 2.5 and 5khz range.
When you work with the bass guitar bear in mind your kick drum, adjusting the frequncies of each instrument can allow each instrument to exist and be heard, when your cut from the bass try boosting the same frequency in the kick.
The snare if done correctly can be part of your signature sound, if you take a listen to a lot of 80s hair rock you’ll hear a very definite style of snare.
Using presets for your compression and eq can be a good starting point, but if you’re interested in learning to sculpt the sound, experimenting with your eq and compressor can be very rewarding.
Set your Threshold/Input to start the compressor working.
The following settings will all depend on taste and your music, they are general settings to give you a starting point to find your sound
Ratio: 4:1 to 6:1ms
Attack: 5 to 10ms
Release: 125 to 175ms
Gain: As with all compression, you want the volume to match the input volume
As with the above settings for compression use the following as a general starting point and work with them until you get what you need for your mix.
To add warmth try a 1 or 2 db boost in the 100 – 150hz region.
A similar boost in the 250hz region will add depth or body.
To reduce boxiness a cut of between 2-3db in the 800 to 1000hz region should be a good start.
A boost in the 3-5khz region of about 1 to 3 db will add attack.
And a boost in the 8 to 10khz area of 1 or 2 db will add crispness.
As stated before these eq and compression settings are starting points and should be treated as such.
Use your ears as always.
:::EQ and Compression: Kick Drum tips, tricks and advice:::
If you use VST equalizers and compressors, you’ll find they come with their own presets.
Presets are great as starting points, the compressors should only need either the threshold or input changed for them to apply their magic.
VST EQ presets on the other hand will start to work straight away.
Unprocessed kick drums usually benefit from having some EQ boosts and cuts.
All of the processing tips presented in this article are ‘wisdoms’ I’ve picked up over the last few years.
Some are contradictory, but so is sound – there is truth in all of them.
If you use each tip intelligently you should be able to, using your ears, find what you are looking for.
Adding definition to your kick can be as simple as a boost at 80hz which will add ‘punch’.
To get a deeper sound without mud a 10db boost added around the 50-60hz and a cut of about 10db around the 220hz.
To create a more of a crack/slap sound, you could boost in the range between 3khz – 6khz.
Be wary though and use your ears.
When you add EQ onto your kick make sure you listen to your music.
The kick might need to be prominent or not – it’s the music that counts.
The above settings are a guide line.
Take into account that 10db is quite a high amount of boost or cut – go with the extreme and draw it down until it sits properly.
Also take into account than adding boost to the lower frequencies will take up ‘room’ in your mix.
Boosting with a low-frequency bass shelving filter can create problems as well, if a kick sounds muffled in the first instance it will just get more muffled.
Also remember that the lower frequencies, the ones below 40hz will not register on most stereos or home music centres – in clubs you might feel it but you won’t hear it.
Also the more boost applied to the lower frequencies means that more of your headroom will be taken up.
Finding the right kick sound takes a bit of experimentation, also you’ll need to bear in mind your bass instruments sound and anything else that lives in the same area frequency wise.
Getting these instruments to mix well is one thing but perfection is getting the bass and the kick to glue is another.
Using a compressor on the kick we can allow the ‘attack’ of the kick pass through and then try and control the boominess.
Threshold/Input: Adjust this to taste, remember this affects the whole sound, drag you theshold down until the compressor starts to work.
Ratio: 4:1 to 6:1 -> Anything above 8:1 starts to work as a limiter. Use your ears.
Attack: 40 to 50ms -> You can adjust this as you listen, remember a faster attack time will kill the ‘attack’ dulling the kick itself.
Release: 200ms to 300ms -> Typically the lengh of time the compressor works on your kick – you don’t want it too short but also at the same time you don’t want it to overlap onto the next time the kick sounds.
Gain: Adjust to taste, but really try and get it so that the instrument doesn’t get any louder than it’s original volume.
Getting the kick to sit with your bass is what you should aim for.
glue these two instruments will give your track the cohesion it needs.
A good tip is to use the eq of your bass as a guide – if you boost in your bass at say between 100 and 250hz cut the kick in that area, this should help them gel.
To bring out the bottom end of your kick you could add a couple of db between 80hz and 100hz.
If the your kick starts to sound like a card board box a cut between 400hz and 600hz can combat this.
Again as mentioned before to get that click/crack/slap attack of the beater you could add a little between the 2.5 and 5khz range. This boost should also give you more presence.
:::Surgical Kick drum EQ:::
Round up of eq settings…
6dB cut at 20Hz using can clear up muddiness.
To get that ‘thud’ you can either,
Boost around the 50-60Hz or in the 100Hz range.
To boost the Attac,
Boost the 3-5kHz range.
Find the smack in the 1 to 1.5khz range.
A boost in the 6-8kHz range with bring out the beater sound of your kick
A thin cut in the 250-300Hz range will help remove mud.
It all comes down to taste and the music your working with, the above ideas and tips are just that.
Experimenting and listening are what you need to do, there are no clear right or wrong ways to do things and there is no magical setting for any instrument.
You have to take your time a listen.
You can use the ideas above as guidelines but remember it’s not the be all and end all.
What is rolling off?
I know, these phrases banded about by everybody ‘in the know’ are confusing.
Put simply rolling off is a curve.
See the pictures below,
These pictures are designed to show what a curve will look like when applied.
They’re only represenations but it’s a good way to understand what an EQ curve looks like.
This kind of curve is usually referred to a ‘high pass’
A ‘low pass’ looks like this,
A curve as you can see ‘curves’ off the frequency in a gentle ‘slope’ .
The severity or amount of ‘curve ‘ is created by the amount of ‘Q/Bandwidth’ + ‘Gain’
A ‘High Pass’ removes low frequencies
A ‘Low Pass’ removes high frequencies.
To try and remove a little confusion keep shelves and passes seperate.
Learn what a ‘High Pass’ and a ‘Low Pass’ do first – then try a ‘Band Pass’
A band-pass filter is a ‘high-pass filter’ and a ‘low-pass filter’ combined to allow only a band of frequencies to pass through.
A ‘low shelf’ will affect low frequencies up to a certain point and then above that point will have little effect.
A ‘high shelf’ affects the level of high frequencies, while below a certain point, the low frequencies are unaffected.
Really well put together Video tutorial about using EQ.