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Creating a Realistic Bass Part 3: Strings & Things

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Originally I had thought the Realistic Bass tuts were complete, but have since come up with a few more ideas that push the envelope a bit further. The good news is that these new concepts don't rely on Logic or Sculpture, so although I will be using both, the concepts in this tut are open and accessible to the non-Logic users as well.

The Concept

Although we left off with a decent-sounding modeled electric bass, a few key components were not addressed—the main one being that of the bass strings themselves. The four strings which make up a standard bass are all of a different gauge, and therefore sound different even when playing the same note. 

 The low E string played at the fifth fret (a low A) will sound remarkably different from that same A being played on the open A string. This is true up and down the board; that the same note will sound different depending on what string it is played on due to the physical characteristics of the particular string.

This timbre difference between identical note values is an important characteristic of any type of stringed instrument, and one that, despite the subtle modulations already in use on our bass patch, is not happening. In order to emulate this we are going to have to do a little bit of setup.

Initial Steps

The first thing to do is to instantiate a separate instance of the bass plugin for each string we are going to emulate, and to populate the tracks with a de-mixed MIDI performance. The image below shows Logic's main page after completing this step and labeling.  Each track is named according to the string we want to emulate and each region is labeled according to the note value it contains. 

I have taken some license irrespective of real-world playing intuition in assigning the notes to the strings in order to utilize all four strings. (I.e. the G and G# would probably both be played on the E string.) This will allow for a wider range of variation later on.

The initial setup, showing the 'bass strings' on the left and the assigned notes on the right.


This is where we are at, with no change in sound from the previous tutorial.

Changing Timbres

To start creating some variation, we are going to want to start to play around with some plugin parameters. Two things to think about when doing so are the real world sound characteristics of strings of differing thickness and the overall cohesion of the final output across all four strings.

The lower and wider gauge strings of an electric bass tend to have a more wooly, rounded and sustained tone than that of the upper ranged strings. So, if I am using the tone we had previously created (a fairly tight tone) as a starting point, I am going to want to play around with some parameters to open things up a bit to replicate a wider string.

In Sculpture, the objects (cyan), string (magenta) and envelope (yellow) sections contain the parameters we want to adjust.

After deciding exactly what parameters to alter, it is important to go through and alter those same parameters somewhat differently in each instance of your chosen plugin to create a open to closed timbre gradient across the strings of the virtual bass (tight and clean to loose and wooly, etc.) .

When doing this, I started off rather technical. I used the open E string tone as my 'open limit', and the original tone as my 'closed limit' G string, then fit the other two string tones in between. 

I then freed up on the restrictions to get something that sounded good with the recorded MIDI.  I then went ahead and loosened up on the original timbre to get a more cohesive sound across all strings. I finally went into the mixer and balanced out the levels.

The mixer with individual channels and level balance for each 'string'.

The loop. As you can hear, adjusting the parameters has uncovered some note-off string clicks on a few notes that were mostly dormant.

Amps

From here, I summed the signal to an AUX track, and bussed each string to a guitar amp on a separate AUX track in order to amp the bass in parallel. I pretty much always amp sounds in parallel, as it allows for a greater control over the final tonality. 

 In this case, I am trying to emphasize some of the higher end harmonics, so I simply find an amp setting that accentuates those frequencies and then mix them back into the dry signal. In this way, I can piece together a sound with a great deal of precision.


Amp #1- a guitar amp to bring out the upper harmonics.

The MIDI bass running in parallel through the first amp.

I then went ahead and did the same thing again with a bass amp model to beef up the lows. This type of parallel amping of a bass guitar further emulates real world sound as many recording engineers will mix a direct input bass recording with that of an amped recording. 

In this instance, the dry signal can be considered our direct input and and the distorted signal will (obviously) be considered our amped recording.

Amp # 2 for the bottom end.
The mixer showing the 'DI' vs. amped routing.

The summed bass running in parallel through the second amp; the final product.

Final Thoughts

Although this tutorial is geared towards emulating real-world electric bass conditions, don't think the concept is limited to just that. This basic concept would work well for any sound type in need of some subtle and cohesive variation and can be used in a not-so-subtle or cohesive way as well. 

We could break up a boring synth lead by varying the patch on certain notes or push things in a much wilder direction by processing each note with a different delay and distortion model, etc. Or, in the instance of the bass above, I can buy some further variation by switching which notes get played on each string with each pass of the loop or send a varying amount if signal to each amp. The possibilities are literally limitless.

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