by Metal Mastermind

February 17, 2021

Bass Tone with DAW Plugins

You’ve got your metal rhythm guitars recorded and just finished creating the drum tracks. Now it’s time to lay down your bass tracks.

You don’t have the appropriate room to mic a huge bass cabinet so you decide to go with plugins. And maybe the budget is an issue, too. So buying expensive plugins is not an option.

That’s okay because you already have the plugins you need for recording bass guitar in your DAW. And I’m going to show you how to use them to get a solid and usable bass guitar tone for your project.

**You can watch the video version below. But I also encourage you to read the entire post as you’ll learn more details in how to setup your DAW plugin chain for your bass tracks.

First Step to Getting a Good Bass Tone with Plugins in Your DAW

Before you start messing around with plugins, I suggest that you record a raw bass track, first. This will allow you to make adjustments to the plugins as you hear the bass track being played.

Don’t add anything, just plug your bass guitar into your interface, open a new track, and hit record.

  • Record up to 1 minute of a solid steady bass line.
  • Make sure you’re playing with the same attack and style that you would be in a song.
  • Remember to set the interface input volume to where you’re getting a strong signal but not peaking.

That last point is for guitar players. You may notice that the interface input volume needs to be higher for bass than it is for guitar (ex: my interface input setting for guitar is 22; for bass, I have to bump it up to 36).

That may or may not be the case for you but it’s important to note so that you’re aware.

Compressor DAW Plugin and Settings for Bass

DAW Plugins for Bass - Compressor

The first plugin you’ll want to drag onto your bass track is a compressor. The reason for this is that you want to compress the initial signal coming into your studio before altering any of the frequencies or adding effects.

You want to make sure that your bass lines are evened out so that there are no noticeable peaks or dips in the sound before adding other elements.

The good news is that every DAW comes with a stock compressor plugin. In addition, most DAWs will also have a default preset for different instruments, including bass.

Chances are, the default compressor settings will be fine for your bass track. Of course, you can always tweak them.

EQ DAW Plugin and Settings for Bass

DAW Plugins for Bass - EQ

Next, you’ll want to add an EQ and place it below your compressor so that it’s next in the plugin chain. Every DAW is going to come with some type of EQ plugin as well.

Like the compressor, the stock EQ will most likely have default settings for instruments. In fact, you may find that the EQ has more default options than your compressor.

The EQ plugin is where you’re going to dig deeper into dialing in a bass tone that fits your song. So be prepared to spend some time here.

On that note, there are no wrong or right settings. But there are some best practices.

And I do suggest starting with a default bass setting if your DAW’s EQ has that option. That’s a good starting point and will save you some time. If not, just take a look at the screenshot above and start there.

Here’s your bass guitar plugin chain so far:

  • Compressor
  • EQ

You’ll also want to revisit these settings once you have the full mix available. EQ for bass can be the difference between a really awesome mix and a crappy one.

You don’t want the bottom end overpowering everything else because it will make your mix sound muddy. And you don’t want the bass to sound thin because then your music will sound like someone’s kicking cans down the street. Adjust your EQ settings until you find the right balance.

Channel Strip DAW Plugin

DAW Plugins for Bass - Channel Strip

You can get away with just using the compressor and EQ plugins in your DAW. But adding a channel strip plugin can give your bass track more dominance and help it sit better in the mix.

Most channel strip plugins are essentially a compressor and EQ with some additional bells and whistles, such as deeper frequency options and gain.

As you may have guessed, your DAW’s channel strip will probably have default settings for your bass. So start there.

One thing you may want to do is turn off the compress part of your channel strip and just use the other settings to further tweak your bass guitar tone. There should be no need for extra compression.

Here’s your bass plugin chain with the added channel strip:

  • Compressor
  • EQ
  • Channel strip

You could get by just using a channel strip. But I encourage you to try using it with the initial compressor and EQ plugin. It gives you more options for shaping your tone.

Free Bass Plugins

Plugins for Bass - TSE Audio BOD

Now, you may be thinking:

“These plugins in my DAW are great, but they’re just not cutting it for metal!”

In that case, you can go with one of the many free plugins for bass.

The image above is the BOD (bass overdrive) from TSE Audio. TSE is also known for its metal amp sims. The BOD has a really awesome drive setting to give you those extreme metal bass tones.

Here’s the link to the TSE BOD plugin:

You can use the BOD as a standalone plugin, though I would recommend at least throwing a compressor in front of it in your plugin chain. Or you can combine it with the plugins we’ve talked about (you may want to remove the channel strip in this case – I share this in the video posted towards the beginning of this post).

In the above case, your plugin chain for bass would look like this:

  • Compressor
  • EQ

The TSE BOD is not the only third-party plugin option. Just do a search for ‘free bass plugins’ or ‘free bass amp sims’ and you’ll find plenty of choices.

Also, many DAWs also come with their own version of amp sims, though they’re not always the greatest (I’ve found that creating my own bass plugin chain as we’ve discussed here sounds better than the free bass amp sims in most DAWs).

Lastly, you could download one of the free overdrive pedal plugins that guitarists use. Sometimes that can work well when used with your DAW plugins.

The point is to start with what you learned in this post and build your own tone from there. And don’t overthink it. Sometimes less is more and simplicity usually wins (and causes fewer headaches in the studio and final mix).

The Truth About Bass Tones in Metal

If you’re a bass player then having a phenomenal bass guitar tone is a must! Unfortunately, if you’re anyone else, the bass tone can sometimes get overlooked. Especially in metal music.

More time is put into tweaking guitar tones, mixing the drums, and, of course, the majority of the effort goes into the vocal tracks.

Want proof? Just listen to the majority of metal albums. Can you hear what the bass guitar is actually doing?
I’m not saying ALL metal albums but a good percentage of albums could’ve used a little more attention on the bass tracks.

This doesn’t mean that the bass guitar should be dominating over everything else. But you should be able to at least hear the notes being played, and there should be a clear distinction between the bass and guitar sounds (oftentimes the bass is just kind of muffled in there somewhere).

Metal Bands with Great Bass Tones

Here are some examples of metal albums that a great mix where you can hear the bass guitar and solid bass tones:

End of DisclosureHypocrisy
DeliriumLacuna Coil
First KillAmon Amarth
Shovel Headed Kill MachineExodus
NymphetamineCradle of Filth
Black (album)Metallica
Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?Megadeth

I hope this article helps you dial in better metal bass tones. And remember, even if you’re on a budget you can use the plugins that you already have in your DAW. You can really make some magic happen in your studio when you learn how to use basic plugins appropriately.

Even better, there are several free plugins out there for bass players. You can use those as standalone plugins or for more options, combine them with the plugins in your DAW.

Metal Mastermind

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