“F.R.U.B.S” is an acronym for “Francesco’s Recipe for Unexceptionable Bass-guitar Sound”.
Although I’m perfectly aware about the fact that it sounds sick, most of my recent home-studio time has been aimed to obtain “the perfect bass sound”. Some, or better many if not most of musicians/engineers, may argue that there’s no such a thing as “the perfect bass sound”.
I’m afraid I must disagree on this. A curious one would then probably question me about what I mean by “U.B.S.”...
From my perspective, a perfect bass sound can be told so when it meets the most wide balance in tone and dynamics and fits all styles, all genres the very best way possible.
So no matter if it’s about fingering, picking, slapping or tapping (I may add “nailing” here *aheurm* for I’m used to “finger back” strings while fingering when I need a pick-like strike), and no matter if it’s jazz, funky, whizz-rock or bang-roll, your bass-guitar sound should always be crispy, punchy, present, sustained, tight and warm.
To me, the real “no such a thing like” thing rather applies to statements such as “hey, that bass sound ain’t rock enough”, and/or yada yada yada…
Perfectly balanced sound just fits all, period. Trust me.
Now, be warned that what you’re reading here is basically a “well done to myself, Francesco” kind of celebration page.
I owe it to myself before leaving: as rarely happens in my life - I think I have struggled and fought to finally achieve a goal.
Again, yes: that goal represents the holy grail of every bass guitarist: the “unexceptionable sound”.
“How did you get there?”.
Well… Just like a cook would never fully disclose his best recipe, I’ll just drop some hints, that are in fact the gear I use, be it hardware of software.
My ol’ faithful bass-guitar is a 1996 Stuart Spector NS-4, sporting active EMG pickups which “listen to” an Ernie Ball’s Hybrid Slinky roundwound strings set.
I keep the middle pickups-couple’s volume control approximately 1/3 up, and hardly ever touch that, while the bridge pickup volume control ranges from, let’s say, 3/7 to 5/7 depending on the base amount of “guts” I want the sound to show. That allows me to bring up all the good off “Stu”, yet avoiding “over-showing”.
I also trim the very instrument’s high-frequency EQ when in need of a deeper, muddier sound, but that doesn’t happen quite often, honestly.
A fine custom cable delivers the instrument’s sound to my MOTU UltraLite sound card, which in turn feeds my recently-favorited DAW of all (at least when it comes to single live instrument performance): MOTU’s Digital Performer 8.
The mono signal then flows down this quite long list of plugins, in precise order:
- Line6’s POD Farm Tuner
You gotta love its “desktop alarm-clock digits”, its flawless precision and…
Well, tuning-speaking, it’s always good to have another opinion other than your ears’.
- Studio Devil’s Virtual Tube Preamp
Come alive, oh bass! Not much to say here…
- Waves’ REDD17
Analog channel input bonanza! Very mild settings though.
- Native Instruments’ Passive EQ
Immediately filters out (and in!) some frequencies in the high-range.
- Native Instruments’ Vari Comp
Tightens up the sound like very few other plugins do on bass sound. And by “tightening” I do not mean “squashing”: compression should allow your toughest slaps to ring without crushing your head, and yet leave room for the finest of all nuances. Good luck at that!
- Waves’ SSL G-Equalizer
Corrects some tiny-weeny artefacts off Vari Comp and also warmly adds harmonics: it is by any mean one of the most “musical” EQs in the hood.
- Plug&Mix’s Classic Phaser
Arguably the only phaser plugin which is able to add “movement thru shifting” without altering the overall tonal balance in nasty ways, but indeed subtly and gracefully making your strings “breathe” at low dry/wet mix level.
This plugin also splits the mono signal into a stereo pair at this stage. The sole reason for this is sound… Don’t question me: I’m still to find myself why it sounds better with splitting it up here instead of keeping a mono signal flow… As long as it sounds great, I’ll keep the question mark for another life at this point.
- TDR Labs’ Proximity
One awesome plugin which sort of “sums it all” down to a fist in your face, when carefully tweaked.
- Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 5
Say what?! Come again?!
O.K. Just trust me here when I say that I actually modelled a stack of tools in GR5 which allows me to turn the (almost - D.I.) perfect bass sound into a wall of heavy-petal guitars.
For the Evil Times’ sake.
- MOTU’s Live Room B
One Digital Performer’s own masterpiece cab modelling/miking plugin. I personally achieved a jaw-dropping emulation by blending the “DYN112”, the “SubKick” and the “Blumlein” mikes “listening to” the 1x15’ ported cabinet. Awesome.
(I always bypass cab emulation when triggering the Rig’s heavy-petal machine, for it already includes such a thing).
Last but not least the master channel sports a mild-set Kratos Maximizer, and I slightly feed the output to an auxiliary track where Native Instruments’ astonishing random hall reverb RC 48 gives the U.B.S. ambience, ranging from a subtle deepening which cuts through into a mix or a loud wall of guitars to a space age weirdo madness.