Bass guitar in the box
Featuring four fat, chunky strings tuned to the notes E,A, D and G, the electric bass guitar came to the fore in the 60s, backing up Motown hits and pop/rock tracks alike. Successive decades brought bouncing disco octaves, rumbling dub subs, machine-gun slap bass, and more. Today’s bass guitar vocabulary draws on pretty much the entire history of the instrument. Borrowing from the past, you have the retro vibes of Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. But looking to the future, we find the clanking, machine-like bass of modern metal acts, often utilising five-string (or more) guitars for extended range, and even fanned-fret, multiscale designs to deliver stability at ultra-deep tunings.
You can get all these sounds and more in your own productions, and there are two ways to go about it. First, and most obviously: record a real bassist. Alternatively, use a ROMpler, bass guitar synth or sample pack.
For recording, plug into your audio interface’s high-impedance instrument input – nearly all interfaces have one. If yours doesn’t, use a DI/preamp to plug into a microphone input.
The instrument should be fitted with suitable (new) strings. The main varieties are flat wound (smooth, old-school sound), nickel roundwound (classic, all-round tone), and steel roundwound (bright and punchy). The action (string height from frets) affects playability and sound: high action gives purer tones and greater dynamics; low action gives a percussive attack and natural ‘distortion’ as the strings buzz against the frets. Most basses have two pickups that can be combined and further shaped with the tone controls.
Most important is the playing itself. Areas to focus on for recording are consistent right- hand dynamics, and using the hands to mute strings that aren’t being played, to prevent background ringing. How the strings are plucked massively affects tone too, as demonstrated in the below tutorial.
This fat-stringed funk machine pumps out bassalicious riffs, and you can make them for yourself in software