A reader writes in with a question about how to EQ bass guitar:
On my recording, I’m using a sub-synth for the bass. It sounds good on stereo with good speakers, but the bass is almost not present on other smaller playing devices. Boost the harmonics? Cutting through frequencies? So the problem is that the bass doesn’t cut through in the mix at all. Should i make another layer of the sub-synth on another track? Or should i try to use another bass guitar sound and see how it comes out? Or should i leave the sub-bass, and add another bass guitar sound with it together?
It’s a common problem for the bass guitar to get lost on smaller speakers. If you mix on great monitors with a nice bass response you don’t realize how your EQ decisions are affecting the mix on other playback systems.
For instance, if your bass is really grooving and thick due to a nice boost at 100 Hz, try boosting the harmonic multiples of that frequency. If the fundamental frequency is 100 Hz, adding broad boosts to 200 Hz, 300 Hz and higher in the right multiples enhances the natural sound of the bass without excessively boosting one big frequency.
Also, if your bass guitar is sounding muddy, skip the low-end boosts and just concentrate on adding the harmonics. It gives you a well-rounded bass guitar sound without cluttering up the low-end.
To answer the question above, adding another layer of sub-synth won’t do any good. It’ll just add more bass and unneeded low-end mud. It certainly won’t make the bass cut through speakers that don’t hear that low-end anyway.
I would say, stick to the sub-synth but try to add more harmonic content in the higher frequencies to make it stand out. Alternatively you could add a different bass synth that’s more natural sounding and easier to manipulate in the middle frequencies.
Since we’re on the subject of how to EQ bass guitar, let’s go through some of the frequency ranges to see what’s helpful and what you should avoid.
As always, the lowest frequencies only tend to get in the way. You can clear up that bass sound by simply filtering up the lowest end of the frequency spectrum. Set your filter to at least 40 Hz, but higher could work for some styles.
Then, if the bass guitar needs some extra thickness, boosting the frequency range between 50 and 100 Hz will give you that low-end thickness. But be careful, as I said before, too much can quickly muddy up your low-end.
I’m usually pretty wary of boosting the bass between 100 – 250 Hz. It tends to add muddiness very quickly, which is one of the surest signs of an amateur mix. Cutting in this range can quickly clear up your low-mid muddiness problems.
However, if your bass needs a little extra roundness then tactfully boosting these low-mids can give it a little more thickness without excessive boominess.
Middle of the Road
Don’t neglect the importance of the middle frequencies. Just because it’s a bass guitar doesn’t mean you should forget about everything above the low-mids. Here’s where you add clarity and punch to your bass guitar.
As I told you before, boosting the harmonics of the fundamentals of a bass guitar can result in a cleaner bass sound.
Boosting around 600 – 900 Hz (I’m being broad here because it depends on so many factors) makes the actual tones of the bass guitar shine through. You won’t just hear the low-end rumbling beneath all the other instruments, you’ll actually hear some definition from the bass notes.
Some engineers like their bass guitar a little brighter. If you need to have the bass ‘pop’ just a little bit more, boosting the frequency areas around 1 – 4 kHz gives you even more clarity and presence to the bass strings.
It can bring out the plucky sound of the bass guitar, especially if the bass player is using a pick, similar to that garage-y Pixies sound so prevalent in the 90’s.
I wouldn’t venture much further up the frequency spectrum. Most of the higher frequencies just add hiss and high frequency noise that’s not particularly flattering to the bass guitar. You could even filter out the highest frequencies with a low-pass filter to focus your sound solely around the frequency areas you want.
EQ Bass With the Best of Them
It’s hard to hear how these tips work without using them in a session, so go open up your DAW of choice and go play around with your bass guitar.
If you’re still confused and struggling, or just need more info on EQ in general, check out EQ Strategies – The Ultimate Guide to EQ.
This post is a short excerpt from the eBook but it also comes with a full video package that shows you how to understand the frequency spectrum and use your EQ plug-ins most effectively.
Image by: jesusraydan