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Tom Quayle On Making Backing Tracks Part 2: Fake Bass

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 49 **

Hi guys – welcome back to my column on how I make backing tracks for my practice sessions. In the last issue, we looked at some of the great tools that you use to produce authentic sounding drum tracks quickly and easily. For this issue, we’re going to move onto the next foundational element of the groove part of your tracks – the bass.

I’m going to make what I assume is a pretty accurate assumption at the start of this tutorial – not all of you would consider yourselves as good bass players, myself included. For you guys who can play bass to a good level and have a bass that sounds good enough for your tracks, you can simply DI the bass, or record it some other way and get good sounding results from real bass playing. For our purposes, I am going to show you a way to get decent sounding bass results without ever touching a bass, using your beloved guitar and some cool processing available within pretty much all the major DAW packages – hence the title ‘Fake Bass.’

In a future episode, we will be looking at synth and sample based products that offer great bass sounds, but for now we are going to be dealing with the simplest way to get bass sounds that are authentic enough to get you a nice bass sound for your tracks without buying any new gear or having any programming or midi skills to speak of. All you need is your guitar DI’d into your audio interface and some basic plugins that are available to most users within their DAW of choice without any extra purchases. For this column, I’m going to be working within Presonus Studio One and using some third-party plugins as well as the inbuilt ones, but you can get very similar results in all the major DAW packages and the techniques involved are more important than the specific plugins.

The first step is to grab your guitar, create a new audio track for your bass part and get to writing a bass line on your guitar that you think will work with the track. The simplest option is just to play root notes, but you’ll get more authentic results by including 5ths, upper octaves and some 3rds in your lines. Once you have something you are happy with, simply hit record and lay it down using your guitar, preferably on the neck pickup for a rounder, more P-Bass kind of sound, or on the bridge pickup for more attack once processed.

Now we have the notes recorded, but of course, it’s an octave too high and completely the wrong timbre/EQ for a good bass sound. The first thing we want to do is drop our audio down an octave, without changing the speed. All DAW’s have this function built in – within Studio One v.3 it’s called Transpose. Logic Pro X for example has a great pitch shifting plugin and Cubase allows you to transpose audio easily too. If you get stuck at any of these stages for your particular DAW, the manual and YouTube will be your friend in showing you how to achieve the same results I did in the video.

After transposing our bass line down an octave, we have the right note range for our bass part, but the tone is all wrong. We have nowhere near enough low-end thump and way too much high end – the inherent qualities of a DI’d guitar tone. In the video, I use a parametric EQ plugin to bring the high end between 50-100hz up by about 9dB and use a low pass filter to gradually remove everything above 2-4khz to smooth out the high end. This goes a good way to get us closer to a bass tone, but we can improve things quite a bit from here.

Next, I add some amp simulation to mimic the sound of a bass amp and cabinet, removing some of the clinical nature of our DI’d guitar and getting us closer to an authentic bass sound. In Studio One I used the include Ampire plugin, but any good sounding amp simulation plugin with bass amps will work well. I also used Two Note’s ‘Wall of Sound III’ plugin to simulate the bass cab since it’s free and sounds better to my ears than Ampire’s in built cab sims.

All this processing reduced the attack of the bass, making it too smooth and muddy, so I used a compressor (in my case an LA-2A simulation) to bring back the attack of the pick so that my bass cuts through more easily. Any compressor will work here and again, you can find great compression tutorials on YouTube if you have no idea what you’re doing.

After utilising this processing, we end up with a surprisingly good bass sound that is more than good enough for putting quick backing tracks together for practice. If I was producing pro-level tracks to sell or for lesson material, I would want to use a real bass, or bass sample library, but for those that don’t have access to either of those things or the programming skills to sequence great sounding MIDI bass lines in their DAW, this method is a great solution.

I hope some of you find these techniques useful and are surprised at how good DI’d guitar can sound as a ‘fake bass.’

Good luck with your tracks and I’ll see you all in the next issue.

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