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Mixing Bass Guitar with Brad Wood [Excerpt]

This is a really cool bass track. Let’s play you the original without any effects.

[bass guitar]

That’s a real amp. I would bet money that’s a real amp. You know why I can tell? It’s noisy. Buzzing. Right? A lot of attack. I really, really like it. I only wanted to accentuate some stuff like that. I’m not worried about the noise. It’s part of what makes the song the song. Leave it alone.

What I ended up doing was running it through another amp, and I’ll play this for you right now.

[bass guitar, reamped]

Now, I’d compare that to what the original sounds like.

[bass guitar, original]

So what I was looking for was something that had a little bit more of a traditional bass tone.

It’s a little rounder, a little deeper. If you hang on a second, I’ll show you how I got that sound.

Alright, so what I used to reamp this thing, this bass track, was Guitar Rig. That’s one of my favorite amp simulators. So let’s wait a minute for this to bring itself up. I have presets. Seagrass JCM 800 for guitars, Seagrass Growly Bass, Seagrass Clean Guitar 1, Clean Bass, Compress 2, Compress 1, I have all kinds of stuff.

It’s a great starting off point and I’d really, really like to have customized presets. It’s not that I’m going to live with them, but it’s a great starting off point, and it’s something I like to call my own, so I used the Seagrass Clean Bass compress channel, so it’s got a tube compressor, it’s got your amp and cabinet. Alright?

So let’s have a quick listen here.

[bass amp]

Now back when I prepped this a couple of days ago, I’m sure I must’ve brought the treble up, because hear all that reverb and that pick on the string? You’re going to want to hear that. This guy is playing straight eighths through the verses and carrying a lot of — again, a lot of weight propelling the song.

You don’t really hear a whole lot of usefulness in the mid-range. It’s mostly a treble thing. The compression is adding a little more sustain to whatever low end note is happening there. I really like that, so I’ve basically reamped this guy and we printed that mix. Or excuse me, printed that track.

What we’re left here is with the new bass print.

[bass, reamped]

And I’ve kept the original bass print.

[bass, original]

And in order to get that to sound a little more present, I have used the dbx 160 — the hardware version of that is a renowned bass compressor. I mean it’s just a great box. And the UAD version, the emulation seems to me to sound really, really close to the hardware version.

What are we doing with this thing.

[bass, compressed]


Yeah, not really destroying it. You can see the lights here. A lot of it is below the threshold of compression. Just kind of tickling during the verse. These eighth notes are just compressing a little bit. Not too much.

I have a tendency not to hit bass guitar too hard. I kind of like to hear bass guitar kind of bloom. I know that maybe in modern mixing, an incredible consistency is what you’re looking for, especially when you’re talking about car audio with great big subwoofers for the low end that just transfers note to note. Always smooth, always the same strength. I’m talking about the super low end stuff where it’s just hitting you the same every note.

I think that works better for EDM than it does for Rock and Roll. I’ve got a wall full of vinyl here on my turn table. I’m always listening to records from Rock’s earlier days. 60’s and 70’s. 70’s especially. One of the things I noticed is that bass guitars are — back in those days are kind of coming and going.

I’m always audibly hearing a lot of picks or finger sounds, the higher frequencies, but that low end is not always hitting you in the chest. Depending on what note they’re playing, depending on the key of the song, depending on how long the bass player is letting the string ring out, you may not hear that note as strongly as you’ll hit an F, and it won’t be that loud. The bass player goes down a step to an E — or down a half step to an E, and that’s the open string, and all of a sudden, boom.

Back in the old days, we would just let that stuff go. That’s how a bass sounded. It wasn’t always compressed to smithereens, just completely obliterated. And I try to remind myself of that all the time, that this is not electronic dance music, where a super consistent low end might be what you’re looking for. Don’t know that compressing the hell out of a bass guitar is the best thing for the song.

I think that some of the complaints people have about modern rock and maybe some pop production and mixing being sort of lifeless sounding, I think a lot of that stems from people specifically trying to control things a little too much, specifically their low end. Let things breathe a little bit, and in a well constructed song, you may not get a whole lot of low end out of your bass guitars until the chorus.

Well, the chorus will breathe more because maybe that’s when they start to play more open strings or they get to a note that resonates more. You know, a G will resonate more than a B flat, depending on whether or not it’s a Peavey or a Fender Bass.

It’s all very specific and I think that it speaks to what this band or this artist had in mind. They made conscious or maybe unconscious choices as to what instruments they used and how they played them, and the keys of the songs they wrote, based on how things felt in the room when they were playing them, and if we as mixers are undoing some of that, I don’t know if we’re serving not only the song, but the clients that have hired you to come along and help them out.

So that’s a long way of saying, “I didn’t compress this bass very much.” Just a little bit. I turned the output up — output gain, because again, I kind of like the way it just sort of sounds coming through the dbx, and sometimes, I won’t compress it noticeably at all. Everything will be below the threshold. I just like the way it sounds through a dbx 160.

So we now have a blend of the two.

[bass, original]

That’s the original.

[bass, reamp]

That’s my print.

[bass, both]

That’s the two of them together.

Now, they combine in a way that’s a little phase-y. Maybe some cancellation going on there. But what I’ve found is that in the mix, they combine in a way that helps that bass stand up in the track.

By the way, let’s listen to a couple of seconds of it here.


You can hear, that’s a busy bass track. I mean, the bass player is playing eighth notes throughout the intro of the verse. Busy, busy part.

So a ton of low end — is this going to muddy the playing? Make it difficult for anything to make itself known? It’s a percussive part, let’s treat it like more of a percussive instrument, and that’s what we’ve done.

Okay, let’s move on. The next track is the main piano part, and I’ll just solo that up real quick…


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