Do you have a part of a song where a synth lead part would work well? Today we’ll talk about how to make your bass guitar sound like a synth and some valuable tricks that will help in the process.
Synthesizers, like basses, can be found in various forms, each with its unique sound that you can use in various musical styles. So it’s easy to see why bassists would want to take part. The good news is that you can quickly achieve a synth-like effect on your stringed instrument.
Using a separate setup means more work for bassists who have already invested money in equipment. Learning to play a new instrument is another possibility. Although, at the same time, some synths don’t look like a piano (e.g., modular/semi-modular synths), those with the greatest functionality, termed workstations, typically opt for the layout of the classic keys.
You can expand your musical palette without learning to play many instruments. Especially true for bassists, who can use a variety of effects, pedals, devices, and inventive approaches to approximate synth sounds, so let’s look at the methods.
How To Make Bass Guitar Sound Like Synth?
You can make the bass guitar sound like a synth by adding an octave pedal, a gated fuzz, and an envelope filter to the signal. With an octave pedal, the bass’s tone will be drastically lowered and thickened and adding a gated fuzz after this provides harmonics and makes your notes short, giving a synth tone.
The envelope filter is a filtering pedal that automatically sweeps its cutoff frequency dependent on the volume of your input sound. This effect was likely invented in the 1970s with a pedal like the Mu-Tron III, which artists as varied as Stevie Wonder used to give guitars a synth-like quality.
Any octave pedal, gated fuzz, or envelope filter may do the work here, so don’t be scared to experiment. Try out a few different pedal configurations; you’ll immediately see the wide range of options available. The standard technique of manipulating a bass to make synth sounds developed in the 1970s, when signal processing technology began to find its way into the hands of performing musicians.
Many musicians jumped at the chance to try out the weird new gadgets companies like Maestro and Mu-Tron were releasing to breathe new life into their instruments. If you have an octave pedal, a fuzz, and a filter, you can make your bass sound more like the oscillators in a synth. But we offer the nonlinearities and subtleties that can only come from an acoustic instrument, in contrast to the synth’s rigid, predictable nature.
Synth Pedals Method
Synth pedals are a simple, straightforward, and unique method to get to the heart of making your bass sound like a synthesizer, and they offer greater flexibility than modular, multi-pedal solutions. Unfortunately, still popular despite being discontinued; synth pedals include the Digitech Synth Wah and the Source Audio C4.
You can get a convincing analogue synth effect by sending your instrument’s inputs through an authentic analogue synth voice equipped with an envelope generator, oscillator, and resonant lowpass filter.
So instead of applying effects to your bass or guitar to make them sound more synthetic, you’ll be controlling a real analogue synth with them. It’s very out there, and if you need ear-shattering synth noises quickly, it’s a perfect one-stop shop.
The C4 is a vastly more versatile pedal than its predecessors. The web-based editor gives the impression of working with a real patchable modular synthesizer, which accurately represents the instrument’s advantages.
Unfortunately, due to the pedal’s lacklustre user interface, you’ll need to use the editor to program your unique settings. While that method isn’t for everyone, the plethora of new audio options it opens up is genuinely unique sounds into intricately sequenced synthesizer textures.
Layering Pedals Method
A typical pedalboard will have all of the effects connected in series, with the signal from one pedal feeding into the input of the next pedal until it reaches an amplifier. Every impact in this chain affects the nature of all subsequent effects; however, this is merely illustrative and need not be the case in practice.
To produce something like a layered, multi-timbral synth patch, you can use parallel processing chains instead of dealing with all your effects in series. For example, using a Signal Blender, you may send one signal through an Octavider+ before it reaches the B:ASSMASTER, and send another signal through the Bass Synth Wah, giving you access to two separate, parallel signal channels.
Sub Bass Method
The bass’ dynamic range is substantially decreased by compression, leading to an artificial sustain that features unnatural attack and decay characteristics. After amplifying the signal, the bass is removed using a wet octave pedal.
Placing the compressor before the octaver has another helpful side effect: it improves the accuracy of octave tracking by eliminating the peaks and valleys that can arise when pitch-tracking signals with wider variety and variability.
The bitcrusher is where this method shines, allowing you to create a low, resonant bass sound throughout a whole octave while maintaining a consistent dynamic range. Digital aliasing is introduced via downsampling, creating discordant inharmonic overtones in this low synth-like tone.
This synthetically produced tone is more typical of synthesizers and computers than electric bass. Therefore, it’s helpful to achieve a more ethereal sound with your instrument. Similar to ring modulation in terms of sound, but with a more polished, subdued flavor.
Numerous openings for aural research exist in the same vein as the preceding technique. Try adjusting the octave, sample rate, bit depth, and compression levels of the bit crusher and listening to the results. You need to do something to this signal line to make it sound less synthesized than before.
Tips For Making Your Bass Sound Like Synth
- Midi Pickups
The bass guitar’s distinctive tone can be attributed mainly to the pick attack on the strings. You can create a seamless transition between notes by replacing picking with hammer-on and pull-off techniques, much like when playing a synthesizer. You have to pluck the string for it to sound right continuously.
Picking the guitar strings is unnecessary with sustainer-style pickups, as they output notes consistently loud regardless of position, allowing for fluid playing on a single string without a traditional guitar tone’s characteristic dynamic rise and fall.
A MIDI pickup provides an even more comprehensive range of customization options. For example, suppose you have a guitar equipped with a Roland, Boss, or Fishman bass with a specific pickup. Then, you can use a MIDI device like the Boss SY-1000 pedal to select a fully customized tone and play it through your instrument as you would with any other pickup.
- Bass Controls
Synthesizers typically have controls like faders and tremolo. Therefore, you can imitate both styles on the guitar with minimal specialized equipment. You can achieve this by playing a chord or a single note and slowly increasing and decreasing the volume.
As with sustainer pickups, the trick here is to pick with the volume completely off, which eliminates the distinctive “guitar pluck” sound. Instead, turn the bass guitar’s volume up, switch to the neck pickup, and back off the tone control for a fuller, richer sound that’s a far cry from the electric guitar’s thin twang.
- Legato And Tapping
You can incorporate tapping and legato techniques into your playing by accentuating the synth tone you’ve established with the other techniques on the list. Turning your guitar into a synth requires more than just a change in tone. It’s best to think of the instrument as a keyboard and play it that way.
One could argue that legato is the simpler of the two styles to master. It’s accomplished by playing a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs without picking the string between each note. Then, after lots of practice, you can move effortlessly from one string to the next.
Due to the necessity of using your picking hand to play notes, tapping takes much more time to perfect. Strike a fret hard with the finger of your picking hand that is most at home there. Once you’ve mastered tapping with a single finger, you can use two or more fingers and tap over chords.
We’ve reviewed several methods for giving a bass guitar a synthesizer-like tone. Still, it’s crucial to remember that synthesis and audio processing is incredibly broad and flexible disciplines. Use these concepts as springboards for your creativity by modifying, combining, and rearranging them.
As soon as you start thinking of sound processing as a technique to give your instrument a new sound, you’ll open up a whole new universe of possibilities for how you may use your skills as a performer, transforming a standard instrument into something that may have never been heard before.
Death metal enthusiast here. I am a Romanian musician and producer with over 13 years of experience in the music industry. I’ve experienced all types of Metal up until now, playing Melodic Death Metal, Brutal Death Metal, and Black Metal with different bands. Learning by doing is my base principle, which is why I’ve been drawn to sound design from an early age.