The bass guitar is considered by most as the backbone of most musical tracks, providing a solid foundation from which the rest of a song or arrangement can grow.
In a full band, the bass, if played well, locks in seamlessly with the drums to create the rhythm and groove while complementing the additional melodic instruments in the song, including the guitar, keys, and vocals. In an acoustic or semi-acoustic arrangement, the bass guitar performs the same role but in many cases, strikes the perfect balance between rhythm, groove, and melody, adding a great deal of nuance to the song.
For home recording in particular, the bass guitar can add some serious punch or depth to a track by merely hitting the root notes of each chord and placing it at the right volume or level within the mix.
With a few simple methods and techniques, you can make that bass guitar sing in a host of weird and wonderful ways, adding textures or tones to your home recordings that you never before thought possible.
The beauty of these inventive bass guitar tips is that you don't have to be a Flea, a Chris Wolstenholme, or a John Entwistle to achieve these sounds—all you need is your bass guitar, your Spire Studio, a little space, and a little time for trial and error.
It's possible to utilize each of these inventive home recording tips for bass guitar by layering them over an existing bassline—as demonstrated in the sound samples—or as a standalone technique. And fundamentally, as with all music worth its salt, when it comes to testing these methods out, you should let your creativity be your guide.
1. Bottle or cup sliding
The slide guitar adds a wonderful sonic depth to blues and country-influenced or psychedelic music, with tones that range from tinny and brash to smooth and stargazy, but have you ever considered using it on the bass guitar?
The first thing to note here is: attempting to use the bass slide as a lead instrument in a home recording context won't work; it will only serve to confuse and muddy the arrangement. That said, you can add some cool layers and almost whale-like tones to your track by sliding a glass bottle or a smoothly surfaced cup over your fretboard.
In the sound clip that I recorded on Spire Studio, I have layered a simple bass lick over an existing bassline by using a tin cup. In this case, I have achieved this effect by sliding up to each root note from a whole tone below, as well as sliding up beyond the fretboard to a “sweet spot” that matches the overall tone or frequency of the bassline. I found the sweet spot through trial and error before practicing it through and recording it.
In this instance, I used a Tube 30 amp emulator, slightly rolling off (or turning down) the drive and presence to ensure the sound wasn’t too overbearing. I also panned the slide track hard left in the mix and set it back slightly to give the part extra definition.
Tips for success:
1. Slide to root notes of your song arrangement to ensure you don’t play parts that fall completely out of key
2. Use sliding conservatively and at opportune moments
3. Experimenting with different objects such as a metal pen, a glass bottle, a tin or china cup, and the side of a rectangular 9V battery, will give you a wider range of sounds to work with
4. If you’re playing in the keys of E, A, D, or G, the 10th and 12th frets are a great area of the neck for trying out licks and ideas, as this part of the bass is easy to navigate and the higher notes cut through the sounds wonderfully
2. Double tracking
In stereo recording, laying down two versions of the same part can create a rich and dynamic sound.
If you have ever listened to the The Sheepdogs or Thin Lizzie, you will probably recognize that many of their main guitar lines are double tracked with a mimicking line played an octave higher.
You can achieve this sound by double tracking specific parts of your song’s bassline in a higher octave—or put simply, the same set of notes played in a higher register further up the neck.
In the clip above, I played the exact same chromatic line present in the second part of my bass part, two octaves up, to accentuate the notes and add an additional element of punch and brightness.
During the recording process, I used the Verb '65 amplifier plug-in on both parts with a little extra tremolo added to create a sense of warmth; I also panned the track in the higher octave slightly off centre.
If you decide to double track your entire bassline using this technique, I would suggest panning one hard left and the other hard right for a full stereo sound.
Tips for success:
1. Study your track, stopping and starting when you need to, and identify the parts you feel will benefit most from this type of double tracking. Once you’ve done so, locate the part of the fretboard required for playing the parts in a higher octave
2. Experiment with volume and panning in your mix until you’re happy with the outcome of your double tracked bass parts
3. When you’re picking parts to double track, make sure they are consistent throughout the song—for instance, every chorus or in the middle 8 only.
Much like with the six-stringed axe, harmonics on the bass guitar offer a dreamy sustained ringing that can really enhance the overall feel of a recording.
Once you’ve mastered how to play a simple, singular harmonic note, you will be able to add harmonic notes in your intros and outros to add an intensely hypnotic element to your tracks. Also, as I’ve done in the sound sample, you can add a few sparing harmonic notes to your song to add an extra dimension of tonality.
Here I have added a light hall-style reverb to the harmonic note track and played harmonics that are an octave above each root note of the bass line, a similar approach to the double tracking technique. I also panned the harmonic notes slightly to the right to add depth and definition.
To give the arrangement character, I have also purposely hit some harmonics dead on the note and some slightly off—often it’s the slight imperfections that make a song what it is, as long as your quirks smart and sparing, it’s okay not to be perfect all of the time—just ask The Stooges.
Tips for success:
1. Experiment playing harmonic notes on different parts of the neck to understand the nuances in tone and texture
2. Listen to your song closely, playing harmonics that match the main root chords or notes of your song, letting them ring out or dampening them to see what works best
3. The harmonic notes on the 12th fret of each string of your bass create the most sustained harmonic notes and are the easiest to play
4. Experimenting with FX
Of all of the inventive bass tips shared here, this is the one most open to interpretation. In other words, the sky is basically the limit.
In this particular sample, I decided that I wanted to create a space funk, Bootsy Collins on Red Bull kind of sound, so I chose the Intimate Space Vibes reverb effect and rolled up the “Amount” tone (this dictates how strong the effect will be on the overall signal), and I began to groove.
As the settings I selected created a slight delay, I developed a bass groove that took advantage of this sound, ensuring that the delayed notes cascaded and floated around each other rather than clashed. By playing to the sonic theme I created, I used the FX I had available in addition to my own creative judgement to achieve the desired sound.
Tips for success:
1. When it comes to experimenting with unusual sounds and FX, don’t be scared to push the envelope. Try out plenty of variations of a groove, arrangement or effect before punching the record button
2. Push your creativity to the limit but whatever you do, make sure your efforts serve to complement or enhance the rest of the song
3. Tailor your notes and rhythmic patterns to the style of FX you’ve chosen to make sure you get the most from it. For example, if you ‘re adding a heavy overdrive to your bass signal, incorporate notes that are higher up the neck to add definition and tonal variation.
4. Have fun, and remember—you can always record over your last attempt—so don’t get too hung up on a bad take
Like most musical instruments, the bass guitar can be as mundane or exciting as you want to make it. By trying the above techniques, taking the time to explore them in detail and using your creativity to push the boundaries of your recordings, your bass parts will be the talk of your tracks in no time.