Among the best virtual bass-instruments, the majority are sample-based, with only a few physically modeled instruments. Presumably, those in the latter category can provide more nuanced response and greater control over shaping the sound and playability.
IK Multimedia’s Modo Bass goes a step further by focusing on a dozen specific models of electric bass from a number of manufacturers. They include vintage and recent variations of Fender Jazz and Precision basses; a Gibson EB-0 and Thunderbird, a Rickenbacker, a Hofner violin bass, as well as instruments from Ibanez, Music Man, Warwick, and Yamaha. Modo Bass can be used as a standalone instrument or as an AU, VST2, VST3, and AAX plug-in.
From the horizontal gallery, you can choose any of the basses in their default state (see Figure 1). The tabs below access pages to set up your bass rig and determine how it sounds. A drop-down menu displays a list of presets arranged by playing technique, with a submenu of titles suggesting stylistic applications such as “90s Funk,” “Jaco,” or “Motown.”
Fig. 1. Modo Bass provide physical models of 12 electric basses, which you can modify in a number of musically satisfying ways.
To the left are the Specifications of your setup. The orange indicator lets you position your picking hand between the bridge and neck positions, the results of which are remarkably realistic. Dragging the picking position as close as possible to the bridge of the ’70s J-Bass yielded a sound similar to the funky, woody, slightly nasal tone of players such as Victor Bailey. Moreover, you can modulate hand position (among other performance techniques) in real time.
Fig. 2. On the Play Style page, you can choose between different techniques such as Finger, Pick, and Slap.
The Play Style page lets you fine-tune your playing technique: Choose Finger, Pick, and Slap for starters, then add muting, which dampens the attack and softens the tone appropriately (see Figure 2). I’ve never heard a slap bass player mute the bass while playing, but in this case, it produced an interesting and satisfying tone. With finger-style playing, muting is great for chordal soloing. Used with the pick setting, its aggressive snap provided a terrific bass for reggae and ska.
The Stroke parameters depend on the technique you’ve chosen. With Finger style, you get index and middle finger strokes, and the ability to alternate between the two. That goes a long way toward avoiding the machine-gun effect. However, I wish they’d added the thumb to the stroke menu.
For Slap Bass, the Stroke choices are Slap, Pull, or Auto. With Auto, harder velocities move the instrument toward the Pull articulations for a satisfying pop. Among other parameters, you can keep note choices below the fifth fret (higher notes default to the first string), move your next note to the closest position of your last note, or choose Easy, which makes string choices based on performance models of popular bass lines.
Moreover, you can choose to play open strings, which Modo Bass handles convincingly, as well as mix in release noise and the sound of the frets when sliding notes. The default modulation for sliding is Pitch Bend, and it’s very smooth unless you want to rough it up with a little added fret noise.
As with the Play Style, string selection goes a long way toward personalizing the sound. The choices are a standard four-string setup, five strings (with a low B), and a four-string Drop-D tuning. You can select the number of strings for any of the bass models: So, if you ever wanted to do an impression of Paul McCartney playing a five-string Hofner, you’re in business.
Next, choose the action—high, standard or low. As in the real world, a higher action yields clarity and a somewhat brighter tone. You can also add round-or flat-wound strings. How long should you go before changing strings? Modo Bass offers light, medium, and heavy gauges, with new, broken-in, or old strings if you like that woolier tone.
Fig. 3. The Electronics Page is where you swap and reposition pickups between any of the available basses. Here, I’ve moved a Hofner-style pickup to the neck position of a Fender-style Jazz bass.
Do you want to mount Rickenbacker pickups on a Yamaha five-string, or one Hofner Violin and one Humbucker? Here’s your chance (see Figure 3). Modo Bass can swap out and reposition physically-modeled components, letting you create interesting hybrids. Move the pickups relative to the bridge or neck by grabbing and dragging them. The Electronics tab proffers 12 pickups, and you can add them to any bass you choose, select active or passive circuitry, set the tone controls, and balance the pickups using volume knobs.
The Amp/FX tab offers solid-state and tube amps, as well as seven stomp boxes. Select the Octaver pedal, then turn the mix to 100 percent to get a nice synth bass. You also have access to EQ and a limiter, and the ability to mix between Amp, DI, and master volume.
Fig. 4. The Control Page grants MIDI access to a number of real-time bass articulations.
Modo Bass functions similarly to sampled bass libraries, with key switches positioned below the range of the instrument enabling different articulations. For example, you can switch between a slapped, fingered, or hand-muted emulation of a Fender Precision or Jazz bass, among other options, which can be found on the Control page (see Figure 4). The key-switch controls are hard-wired and include forcing a note to be played on a specific string, ghost notes, harmonics, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and Style switches.
You can also assign Control Changes to affect the amount of muting and the pluck position between bridge and neck. In a future update, I’d like to have the option to control the switching between neck and bridge pickups or the balance between pickups. I also hope the developer will add fretless-electric and double-bass models.
Overall, Modo Bass is a superb instrument for emulating electric bass. IK Multimedia has managed to deliver a lifelike and playable instrument that is easy on the eye and places few extra-musical demands on the player in its pursuit of authenticity. Download it and take it for a spin!
Authentic-sounding electric bass models. Interchangeable pickups. Customizable strings, action, and electronics. Real-time control over articulation and playing techniques.
No pickup switch controls. No fretless bass or acoustic models.
Marty Cutler’s latest book, The New Electronic Guitarist, is available from Hal Leonard.