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Bass Session Recording and Playing Tips with Nashville Bassist Amos Heller

Hello, Pro Mix Academy, I’m Amos Heller. Touring bass player with Taylor Swift. We’re here at my home studio in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’m going to walk you guys through what I typically do when I get emailed a song to play bass on, so what we typically call a remote session or an e-session.

So in this case, the song I’m working on is called Down, Down, Down, and it’s by a group that I used to play with back when I lived in Cincinnati called Elerry. You should absolutely check their music out, it’s very cool. Very piano driven independent Pop. I love them, and they’ve asked me to play bass on a tune of theirs. I tend to try to treat a recording session like a live thing where you’re just going to play it all the way through one time and try to get it right.

So here we go.

[music, tracking bass]

I’m just going to walk through a couple of basses that I have that I feel like are going to be a really valuable addition to most any bass player’s stable. A word to you about what they are, other bassists that like them, and what you can expect out of them.

So this is one that I probably get the most comments on whenever I play it out. It’s an Orlando, which is actually a bass that was made in Japan in 1970 or 1971. These aren’t particularly common. If you’ve ever seen The Stone Temple Pilots unplugged, I believe the bass player is playing one of these, and I got this from a vintage dealer here in Nashville, and I absolutely love it. It’s got flat wounds on it, it’s a short scale, so it tends to be very bloomy and warm. It’ll do a Beatles type thing, but it’s a great bass for ballads.

[bass, Orlando]

I’m a bass player who comes from a place of — I like basses with a lot of definition. I grew up playing a lot of metal and a lot funk, so I like a lot of bite and attack, but I’ve fallen in love more recently with a warm, sort of boomy sound, and this will obviously do…


Will give you that kind of Beatles Hoffner sort of thump. There’s a lot of basses like this, Hoffner makes a lot of really great short scale hollow body basses. It’s a super useful thing for anything that’s more mellow, and I just love it because it’s kind of an oddball. I haven’t seen a lot of them around. Its output is actually fairly hot, and it has a three-way pickup selector and a tone knob. I leave the tone all the way up and pickup selector in the middle. I just like how the natural.


I just like the natural tone of it, I like how quickly the note dies, and yeah. So it’s a great bass for ballads or Americana. Anything you want to play if you’re playing against acoustic guitar or banjo. You want it to sound almost like an upright without the danger and expense of buying one and learning how to play it, and then driving it all the way across town. You could have one of these tiny little guys.


Another bass that I feel like a working bass player is going to want is the active 5-string, what a friend of mine calls a Fender-shaped object. Anything from Fender, Sadowsky, Sauer, Mike Lull, something like that. This particular one is a custom shop that I just got that I’m very excited about that has a Sadowsky preamp, Nordstrand pickups, a Hipshot bridge, and was master built by Dennis Galuszka, and it feels and just sounds…

[bass, Fender]

Again, something that you want for anything more high powered and modern, this is definitely one that has plenty of definition.


This is much better for modern stuff. Rock, anything you want to play with a pick.

[picked bass]

You want something like this that’s responsive and has a nice hot output. Modern country relies a lot on stuff like this. I’m a big believer in the 5-string, I know some guys get upset for reasons I can’t possibly fathom that a bass should have four strings, which doesn’t make any sense to me, because this thing has if anything, more bass.

It’s definitely something if you haven’t gotten your fingers around the idea of playing one, just get a cheap one, and get into the idea of where the notes fall on the string. It’s definitely something you want to be comfortable with.

I have basses tuned down super low to basically supplant the idea of a 5-string, but getting a well made one is something you’re going to find pretty necessary. It’s just nice to not have to reach for a different bass. If I’m doing a show on a small stage and just one of the songs happens to be in C# or something like that on the recording, and you need to…


Have that low note available, it’s great to not have to reach for something else, and have — you know, lug two basses in and out, anything like that, so it’s definitely a must-have. So yeah, you’ve got a short scale, weirdo hollow body, hopefully with flat wounds on it. Then some kind of high — this has an 18 volt preamp, something with a lot of output, but it will definitely put you in sort of that modern place, that modern mindset.

This is a precision bass, which I think most of you are going to recognize. Also, I think an absolute must have. An incredibly versatile instrument for how few controls and options it has. Just really one of the great basses that responds very well to different approaches. You can get a whole range of tones out of something like this. Anything from, you know…

[bass, P-Bass]

You know, anything from thumpy to if you end up on a Punk gig or something…

[bass, punk riff]

You know, it’ll do just about anything.

I suppose a word on playing with a pick, which I know is another thing that’s kind of divisive for bass players, I would recommend learning how to do it and learning how to do it well. I’ve been in many situations where it’s required, and it can be a lot more useful and versatile as a technique, because I think people tend to think of Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols.


You know, was sloppy and imprecise. I would urge you to look up any YouTube video featuring Bobby Vega. There’s an attack and approach with a pick you can get even if you’re being subtle with it.

[picked bass]

There’s a lot to be said for playing with a pick, and I guess I understand why some people turn their nose up at it. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at anything. I think one of the best pieces of advice that I got off a podcast of all places is that there’s only one answer in show business, and that’s, “Yes.”

So you want to be able to say a confident yes to almost anything. Do you play jazz? You want to be able to say yes and mean it. Do you play with a pick? Can you slap? All that kind of stuff. There’s really no reason to turn your nose up at anything. Every playing approach, every genre has something it can teach you about the instrument that will be very applicable to any other genre. I mean, you can learn how to play with a pick if you’re playing Pop Punk, and you’ll be surprised how useful it is when you’re playing Funk, obviously Rock, or Country or anything like that. I learned about left-hand muting from playing to and learning Rock…

[bass, muted]

And now it’s a technique that I…


It’s a technique that I use all the time. You can pick up all of these little tricks from all of these different quadrants, then bring them into different situations and contexts and get these really interesting sounds out of it.

Because in the end, that’s all that really matters is how does something sound? But this would be another bass that I would absolutely recommend as far as being a working or gigging bass player. You see these on stage a lot, and I think you see them up there for a reason. They’re versatile, reliable, there’s only so many things that can go wrong with them.

This is the one that I actually smashed in half at a show a long time ago, and it was glued back together, and it plays as well as it ever did. They’re resilient, tough basses, and they sound great.


One of the first recording projects I ever did, I ran up against a guy who to this day is probably still the most exacting producer that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He was an absolutely brilliant guy, a drummer, but one of those guys who’s just very fastidious about each part and how it should sit and what it should be, and I learned a ton from him, although it was very difficult at the time, and something I would really recommend any bassist work on and pay attention to is their sense of time.

Just their approach rhythmically to what they’re doing, how their part is sitting, whether it’s right in line with the kick drum, slightly ahead, or slightly behind, and getting a grasp on that either listening to it or creating it with my hands has been a life long journey. And I just remember sitting with him and I remember sitting there with this producer, and the part he was asking me to play couldn’t have been much simpler.


You know, something like that. Something that wouldn’t take me more than a minute. Now, we must have spent all afternoon on it, and he kept telling me my timing was wrong, and at that point, I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. He was like, “You’re ahead of the beat, you’re ahead of the beat,” and I didn’t understand what he was saying, so absolutely my recommendation is to hone in on that idea as much as you can, and the way that I practice that these days is I’ll put a loop together in Logic or Garageband, and record myself playing to it and listening back. I think it’s a deceptively difficult thing to listen to yourself externally while your brain is also occupied with making music, and choosing the part, and doing a fill, and writing a line, to do that and then also be able to more or less evaluate it externally I find extremely difficult.

So the way I work on that is I’ll record a part, and it’s usually something simple, like the part I just played, or playing simple eighth notes or half notes even, and listening back, and investigating for myself, how do I think that feels? How does it feel?

That whole concept that’s most of what a bass player has to be concerned about is how are you making the drums feel, how are you making the part feel? And the software that’s available, even if it’s something on your phone, even if you get a drum machine going on your phone and just record yourself using a voice memo or something like that, but the process of listening back to something that you just did, while you’re not in the moment, I find very often something that feels cool to play, or would be fun to play right there, when I listen back with the bass out of my hands, most of the times, I’m much more satisfied with something simpler than I think I’m going to be.

So that would absolutely be something that I’d recommend is to find a way to hone in and work on your time. Practice with a metronome, or play along to songs or something like that to engage your inner sense of tempo and time as a bass player, it’s absolutely invaluable. It’s 100% as important as it is for a drummer, and that’s all those guys ever think about.

I’m just going to demonstrate a couple of different pedals I have, which vary in their degrees of usefulness from I would take this to a gig, to this is something I only do in the privacy of my own home.

A lot of bass players these days are showing up to gigs with octave pedals, because they are awesome. If you’re unfamiliar with an octave pedal…

[bass with octave]

So it takes the — it’s kind of what it sounds like. It takes the note you’re playing, and then replicates it an octave down. This is — the one I’m using is the Aguilar Octamizer, which has some really cool settings.


So one of my favorite things to do with an octave pedal, so you can hear…

[bass with octave]

So you can pretty clearly hear the note I’m playing and the note below it. I like taking the note I’m playing completely out.

[bass, low octave]

It gives you kind of a bass synth kind of thing almost. More and more bass players that I know are being asked to play key bass, or to cover parts that sound like key bass, and an octave pedal with the clean tone dialed all the way out is a great way to start getting with that.

So this is the Aguilar Octamizer, and I also have an MXR Bass Octave Deluxe that I like a lot.

[bass with MXR]

And you can do the same trick with this one where you just pull the dry signal completely out.

[bass, only low octave]

Next we have a bunch of different drives, overdrives, and fuzzes that I like a lot, including the Seymour Duncan.

[bass with Bass Drive]

This is a good one that sounds mixed in with the cleans.


So just to give you a really sort of raucous, kind of over the top thing.

[bass, extreme distortion]

The DarkGlass Vintage Deluxe, another absolutely outstanding distortion pedal with a lot of settings.

[bass with DarkGlass]

And maybe my personal favorite is the White Elk Fuzz.

[bass with White Elk Fuzz]

Again, it’s pretty out of control. Not a lot of producers will let me do that. One of my favorite tricks to do though is to blend a drive or a fuzz or anything like that with an octave, and you can get some pretty outrageous things.

[bass with fuzz and octave]

Again, just some outrageous stuff if I ever end up in a Parliament cover band, that’s the thing I’m going to use. Another pedal I’ve become a huge fan of recently is the Mooer Mod Factory, which is this tiny little green guy down here, which has everything from a chorus, to a phaser, then an envelope follower.

I especially like the stutter setting.

[bass with stutter]

And I recently discovered something called an Electro Harmonix Freeze, which is a great way to create some interesting textures. It’ll actually take a note that you’re playing and just freeze it.

Let me get you one in tune.


Alright, here we go. So just take a note that you’re doing and freeze it.


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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