Writing and recording your own music is an addictive hobby and, as your skills and ambitions grow, it’s not uncommon to find that there’s always yet one more piece of equipment you need to create the sounds you need. Like most people, until that lottery win comes in, I have to make-do with what I have but, rather than being a limitation, this can be a great impetus to learn new tricks.
For most of my compositions, I really only need simple, root note bass to add some low end thump, so Logic’s built in synth bass tones are usually good enough. But for those occasions when I need some more realistic phrasing in my bass lines, the synth starts to fall short. So if, like me, you need some realistic bass sounds in your recordings without having to buy, borrow or steal, here’s a quick tip for getting a great bass sound out of a regular 6 string guitar.
Here is a short track demonstrating what you will achieve with this tutorial:
Choose Your Weapon
A big part of achieving a convincing bass sound is using the right guitar for the job. I’ve achieved the best results using a maple bodied guitar with two single coil pickups, as this provides an edgy, bright tone that comes closest to the bass guitar tones I like. Using the bridge pickup produces a sound that’s a little too thin and twangy; a neck, centre or bridge and neck pickup setting gives a rounder, more balanced sound which is closer to that of a bass. Of course, whatever guitar you have, a little EQ placed immediately after the guitar in the chain can help to produce the sound you need.
With all of my guitars, I’ve found it helpful to roll back the guitar’s tone control a little, as it seems to help reduce the “warble” effect that sometimes occurs when using a pitch shifter.
Open a new project in Logic, and create a new audio track. In case you need to tweak the direct sound of your guitar, I recommend adding the Channel EQ plugin first. Next, add the Exciter plugin and set it to the Refresh Airless Material preset; as the name suggests, this adds a little air and makes for a more natural sound. Now add the Bass Amp plugin, and dial in a tone that sounds good to you; the presets are a good starting point to get you in the ballpark of the sound you want.
Next, add Pitch Shifter II. Set Mix to 100%, and Semi Tones to -12, to shift your guitar’s signal a full octave down. I find the Vocals setting seems to work best, but try all three to see what works for you. Open the advanced settings by clicking the triangle icon at the bottom of the plugin window, and set Delay as low as it will go (2.0ms).
Finally, I like to add a Low Cut single band EQ, set to around 60Hz, taking out the very low bass frequencies to keep things from getting muddy, and the Compressor set to one of the bass guitar presets to help even the signal out and give it an edgier sound.
As you play around with this, you may want to add in other effects too, such as a limiter or more EQ. I’ve found that the pitch shifter seems to track better if its at or near the end of the effects chain. If you need to, add in the Noise Suppressor plugin, too.
It goes without saying that you need to adapt your playing style to produce a convincing bass guitar performance. I find that the best sound is produced by limiting myself to the 6th and 5th strings – anything higher than that starts to sound too processed. Try to avoid excessive string bends and, of course, since we’re relying on a pitch shifter, chords won’t sound very nice. However, with a little practice, tricks like slapping the low string can sound very convincing!
Latency and Limitations
Hopefully, you’ve got a pretty convincing bass sound! However, depending on your computer’s specification, you might find that the pitch shifter introduces too much latency for comfort. When rehearsing or recording, the solution is to switch Logic into Low Latency Mode, which disables the pitch shifter. Of course, this means that you don’t get the “feel” of playing bass, but with a little practice you’ll get used to it. When you’ve recorded your take, just turn off Low Latency Mode to hear the pitch shifted version.
So, there we have it. Simple, quick, easy, and I think the results sound pretty good: certainly good enough for pre-production demos. Have fun with it!