The bass guitar is an important element of every contemporary mix even though it rarely plays a prominent role. Sometimes the bass is felt rather than heard while other mixes have the bass in a much more audible sonic space. Your home recording studio is well equipped to shape your bass tracks as long as you have a basic equalizer and compressor.
The bass big three: girth, definition, attack
Girth is a good description for the lowest fundamental frequencies of your bass track. These frequencies give your bass most of its low end energy and sustain. Too much girth will make your mix muddy while not enough will leave a thin sound or give an unnatural relationship as you try to make other instruments fill in these key frequencies. Start your search in the 80-100Hz range while looking for girth. A low to moderate boost will typically do the trick if your bass needs some help in this range. If you find yourself needing to use a more extreme boost to enhance girth then you would do well to also use a high pass filter to keep from adding too much in the sub-bass frequencies.
Definition helps the listener to pick out the melodic structure of the bass line. Our ears have a difficult time determining pitch at low frequencies. While the girth allows the listener to feel the power of the bass line, definition allows the shape of the bass line to come forward. The midrange frequencies are most important while trying to define a bass sound. A good start is a healthy boost aound 800Hz, but sweep around to find the sweet spot.
Attack is the result of either the pick or the fingers plucking each note. A strong attack will provide your bass track with its rhythmic percussiveness. The attack helps draw the ear to the beginning of each note. Dense mixes where the bass lacks attack tend to give the bass a sound of sliding around from note to note without any real rhythmic excitement. This might be fine if you are specifically going for that effect but is generally not what we want. Look in the 3-5kHz area to find your attack. Your bass track will cut through your mix more as you boost this range. Be careful not to boost too much unless you want your bass to come right to the front of the mix.
There are a few frequency ranges you can work on if you find your bass taking up too much sonic space in your mix. Some gentle cutting in the 200-500Hz window can work wonders for cleaning up the track. Be very careful though because the on the low side you could affect the important girth of your instrument while the high side gets perilously close to hurting your track’s definition.
Bass big three eq quick chart
More girth +6dB at 80Hz
More definition +8dB at 800Hz
More attack +4dB at 3.0kHz
Less mud -3dB at 220Hz
Bass eq recipes
Start here for a modern slap and pop type sound
- Band 1: +8dB at 60Hz
- Band 2: -3dB at 350Hz
- Band 3: +9dB at 850Hz
- Band 4: +8dB at 5kHz shelf
Start here for a vintage R&B sound
- Band 1: +9dB at 100Hz
- Band 2: +6dB at 1.6kHz (narrow)
- Band 3: +5dB at 2.5kHz
- Band 4: 4kHz low pass
Start here for a very punchy low end with plenty of cut
- Band 1: 60Hz high pass
- Band 2: +6dB at 80Hz
- Band 3: +8dB at 900Hz
- Band 4: +7dB at 3.4kHz
Compressing a bass is not always necessary but it can really help to smooth out the dynamics on an otherwise uneven track. It is very important to listen closely to the attack of your instrument after compression. A carelessly tuned compressor can do a lot of harm to the important first transients of your bass sound. This will leave you with a bass track that seems to lack all ability to be heard above other instruments. The attack setting on your compressor is the control to focus on while you are tuning the attack of the compressed bass sound.
Reduction level is the amount your bass track is being compressed. All good compressors have some kind of meter or way to gauge your signal reduction. This will sometimes be labeled gain reduction or will just be a meter that seems to work backwards, going down or showing negative values on each drum hit. You should be able to see the reduction increase (more into the negative range) as you lower the threshold of the compressor. I like to get 3-6dB of gain reduction for when compressing a bass track. Reduction level is not adjusted directly. It is adjusted by lowering the threshold control until you are getting your desired reduction level.
Bass compressor recipes
Punchy bass compression
- Ratio: 4:1
- Attack: 50ms
- Release: 50ms
- Threshold: adjust for 3-6dB gain reduction
Smoothing out dynamics
- Ratio: 6:1
- Attack: 0.3ms
- Release: 660ms
- Threshold: adjust for 3-6dB gain reduction
Waves Musicians 2 Bundle price check
This is the bundle I recommend people use as the entry point to the Waves sound and experience. It includes the Renaissance EQ and Renaissance Compressor which are two of my favorite plugins ever.
Waves Renaissance Maxx Bundle price check
This is the next step up if you can afford just a bit more. The two main go to plugins you will add above the Mus 2 bundle are the Renaissance Reverb and Renaissance Vox, two of my other favorite plugins.
Waves Gold Native Bundle price check
This bundle has a lot more plugins than the other two bundles, but it is a lot more expensive and doesn’t really add any go to plugins that are essentials. The coolest addition is the L1 which is great for mastering. Only you can decide if the extra plugins are worth the scratch.
Waves Mercury Bundle price check
This is the bundle for you if price is no object (costs more than most DAW packages). You get every Waves plugin currently supported by the company. There are a lot of cool, boutique eq and compressor plugins here. The SSL, API, and V-series plugins all have really great, classic sounds to them.
Your home studio is your playground, have fun!