The low end of a song is the foundation and it’s very crucial to get it right because when it’s not mixed well the entire song will fall flat.
Getting a bass guitar to sound great is not a complicated process and this is what this post will reveal.
It’s also important to mention that your low-end instruments should work well together from the source. If the bass and kick are clashing during production then you’re fighting a losing battle.
In order for you to get the best results, you’ll need to choose or record sounds that complement each other.
For instance, if your kick drum is already sub-heavy then record or design a bass that has less sub frequencies and vice versa.
Once you’ve got your low-end instruments working well together from the source then you'll be able to get the sound you desire.
How to EQ Bass Guitar Like a Pro
Mixing music is an art form and not a science so use the following suggestions as a guideline.
Every song is different and will require a different approach. But I’ll give you an approach that you can use for many different situations.
The goal is to have enough bass to complement every other sound in the mix. Too much bass can result in muddiness and your song will lack clarity.
Not enough will make the song sound too thin and uninteresting. In a world where music consumers have sub-woofers in their homes, everyone wants more bass.
So, it’s very important to get the perfect balance of bass frequencies to give the listener what they want.
OK enough talking, let’s get into the practical stuff.
High Pass Filter for Sub Bass Roll Off
The lowest note on a bass guitar is an ”E”. So this means the lowest frequency for a bass guitar is 41.2Hz.
But after recording a bass you’ll see a lot of information below 40Hz. This is usually rumble and you don’t need any of those sub-frequencies.
Keeping those frequencies will cause a lot of mud in the low-end and because they’re not musical they’ll clash with the kick.
Another benefit of cutting them out is that you’ll create more headroom for your mix to become louder during mastering.
If you’ve ever wondered why your mixes can’t get loud like your favorite songs, this could be the reason. The low-end takes up too much headroom this is why you need to clean it whenever necessary.
All you need to do to eliminate all the unwanted rumble is to create a high pass filter around 31Hz to 40Hz.
This should be enough to remove the rumble without making the bass sound thin.
Control Resonance Frequencies
In a situation where the bass player gets too excited or if you’re recording using a pick, you might find that some parts of the recording have resonances that are way too loud.
You’ll need to deal with those resonances so that you get a consistent level throughout the entire song. Since resonance doesn’t occur all the time you’ll need to deal with them using a dynamic EQ.
You also can’t use a multiband compressor because you’ll need a very narrow cut.
The reason you’ll need to use a dynamic EQ over a static one is to avoid making the bass dull in sections where the resonances don’t occur.
You can use a frequency analyzer to find these loud resonances and cut them dynamically. Make sure that your dynamic cut is only compressing the problem frequencies without affecting the quieter parts.
Add a Low Pass Filter (High Roll Off)
The meat of a bass guitar is from 60Hz up to 1kHz and then you’ll have some overtones till around 5kHz.
The human ear will usually focus on the midrange which is around 1.5kHz to around 5kHz. Everything above that will be occupied by other instruments that are in the mix.
There isn’t much harmonic content above the 5kHz range for a bass guitar. So, cutting some of the higher frequencies helps the bass occupy its own space.
This will also create space for other sounds such as vocals, trumpet, hi-hat, cymbals, etc. without the unnecessary noise from the bass guitar.
Cutting some of that top-end noise is really important if you’re mixing a dense mix to avoid any clutter and frequency overlapping in the high frequencies.
Use a low pass filter to cut all the frequencies above 6kHz to 8kHz. This will remove the unwanted noise without affecting the attack, clarity, and necessary harmonic information.
Decreasing Muddiness & Boxiness
When you ask most top mixing engineers such as Chris Lord-Alge about using cuts on a bass sound they’ll tell you to avoid doing it.
I strongly agree with this approach and also recommend that you boost all the good parts of the bass guitar till the muddy stuff is reduced in loudness.
However, I understand that in some cases, you could be dealing with a really bad recording or sound design so in that situation then you can apply a cut or two.
The main reason some engineers don’t use surgical EQ is that the bass is usually dynamic so the notes keep changing. This means the frequency response of the bass will also keep changing.
So you could fool yourself into thinking you solved the problem only to find that you only reduced one loud note and ruined a good performance.
This is why I’ll recommend you use a wide Q-factor so that you don’t only affect one note. I would also urge you to utilize a multiband compressor or dynamic EQ to control the muddy area dynamically instead of applying a static EQ cut.
Using a dynamic EQ will keep your bass guitar sounding natural and musical. A static cut could make the bass sound thin in other parts of the song.
You can find and reduce the muddy and boxy frequencies of bass from around 200Hz to 500Hz.
Fixing a Thin-Sounding Bass
Whenever you’re mixing a bass that’s lacking body and fullness you need to be careful because most beginner engineers will usually boost the low-end and cause a lot of muddiness.
You need to be sure if the bass is lacking body, attack, punch, or clarity. Boosting the wrong frequencies can cause a lot of clutter in a mix.
If the bass is sounding too thin that’s when you can increase the lower frequencies between 80Hz to 200Hz with a wide boost. This will add more body and make the bass guitar sound fuller.
When you boost these frequencies and hear the kick, snare, congas, or keys start to suffer then it’s either you boosted too much or you increased the wrong frequencies.
This means your bass is not thin-sounding but it’s just lacking punch and intelligibility.
Punchy Bass EQ Settings
If you ask most beginner mixing engineers to show you where to find the punchiness of a bass guitar they’ll most likely point you to the low frequencies.
However, the meat and punch of bass are found in the midrange.
Don't assume you must boost the low-end if you can't hear the bass clearly. Instead, applying a wide boost between 500Hz and 1.5kHz will bring out more intelligibility.
So, the punchiness of bass is often found around that frequency range.
Getting Bass to Cut Through the Mix
To get a bass guitar to cut through the mix you’ll need to increase the higher midrange frequencies.
Boosting this part of the spectrum will bring up the attack and make the bass sound much clearer without being overpowered by the rest of the instrumentation.
Improving attack and clarity often helps bring up the string noise which can make all the notes become more audible throughout the entire song.
This is usually done if the bass guitar is sounding too muffled and dark in louder parts of the song.
The attack and clarity are often found between 1kHz to 5kHz. Sweep around that frequency range until you find the sweet spot and boost with a small and wide Q-factor.
Use an EQ to get a transparent boost. But in some instances, you might need to use a saturation plugin to create a colored boost.
Saturation will enhance the bass tone while adding some character. This will make the bass audible on small speakers and headphones.
Make Space From Other Instruments
In some situations, all you need is to create space for the bass guitar to pop by cutting out certain frequencies on other instruments in the mix.
Sometimes the bass is not even the problem. The piano could be masking the bass and preventing it from shining.
Start by muting sounds such as the guitar, vocal, organ, piano, pads, strings, etc. then listen to figure out which one is fighting for the same frequencies with the bass.
Don’t mute them all at the same time. Instead, mute them one at a time. Keep muting and unmuting each sound until you’re sure that the particular instrument is not the problem.
This will help you find the root of the problem. You’ll be able to find out what’s preventing your bass guitar from sitting perfectly in the mix.
Another trick you’ll need to try is to start panning the other instruments left and right. This will open up some space to help the kick and bass to dominate the low-end and the center of the stereo image.
Once you’re sure that the bass guitar is the problem then you can start cutting unwanted frequencies and boosting to enhance the tone.
Bass Guitar EQ Cheat Sheet
EQing bass guitar can be one of the most challenging aspects of mixing. If you're having trouble crafting a bass that sounds balanced, full, and punchy, you're not alone.
The key to nailing bass guitar EQ all the time starts from the source. Always keep this in mind, you can’t polish a turd.
Here’s a cheat sheet that will help you figure out which frequencies you need to cut or boost to get the best bass sound possible.
- 80Hz - 200Hz: Body & Fullness
- 200Hz - 500Hz: Muddiness & Boxiness
- 500Hz - 1kHz: Punch & Intelligibility
- 1kHz to 5 kHz: Attack & Clarity
That’s it for today’s tutorial about how to get the best EQ settings for your bass guitar. You can use this post as a guideline whenever you’re mixing bass.
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Leave a comment below to let me know what you’ve learned or if you want to ask a question.