This is the first in a new series of features aimed at spotlighting the best available sounds. As the availability of sound libraries continues to grow, sorting out what's hot and what's not has become increasingly difficult. Reading detailed reviews is a great way to learn about the specifics of a particular product, but sometimes you need broad comparisons of products that share the same goals.
With that in mind, each installment of “In Search of…” will focus on a particular category of sounds or instruments, with the goal of featuring the best collections and illuminating their particular strengths. This new series will serve as an ongoing resource for demanding professionals as well as amateurs and hobbyists seeking the best sounds for their productions. Inclusion implies cream-of-the-crop status, so rest assured that this series won't be covering any inferior products.
“In Search of…” will focus on sample libraries and custom synth patches, as well as soft synths, samplers, and their add-ons, because those areas are commonly the paths to upgrading sounds. We have omitted hardware units, as it would be impossible to include all of the available synths and sound modules in a continuing series of roundups. In the spirit of searching for the ultimate sounds in a given category, however, a particular piece of hardware will be mentioned if it's crucial to achieving that ultimate sound.
Achieving the perfect bass track for a song is an obsession for some folks. Certain professional mix engineers believe that if you nail at least the bass, drums, and vocals in a mix, it's much less likely to get vetoed by the record company or radio programmers, because everything else in the mix is only a matter of taste and style. Whether or not you agree with that philosophy, achieving a great bass sound usually takes some work.
Lots of excellent synth-bass sounds are available, but the subtleties of a good electric or upright acoustic-bass performance are much harder to capture in a sample. Out of all the bass guitar libraries available today, a dozen titles stand out.
BIG FISH AUDIO
Old School Funk Bass($99.95; audio, WAV)
If bass patterns and grooves turn you on, then you'll love Old School Funk Bass (see Fig. 1). More than 460 loops lay down the funk, and the collection also provides hip-hop, disco, and other old-school grooves. The playing is great, and the tones, articulations, and feel will put you smack back in the '70s. Multisamples of the Vigier bass used for the patterns blend well with most of the loops. Unfortunately, the multisampled bass notes provide just one sample per chromatic note — with no variety of articulations — and the bass notes are fingered only.
The library is packaged on two discs. One is in audio format; the other gives you the same data in WAV format, which has been Acidized for software programs that take advantage of such capabilities. Old School Funk Bass is a great resource for songwriters, hip-hop producers, and commercial composers.
Giga Bass($149.00; Giga)
Giga Bass features 13 different instruments, including mono and stereo versions of an upright bass, an amplified Alembic five-string electric, an Alembic four-string Spoiler, a Fender Jazz, a Fender Precision, and a direct and an amplified Gibson Thunderbird. Also found in the collection are a fretless Guild Ashbory, a five-string Guild Pilot, an amplified Hofner Violin “Beatle” bass, a direct Hohner fretless acoustic, several direct and amplified versions of a Rickenbacker 4001, a Toucan Fretless, and a Washburn AB-20 acoustic bass. Every chromatic note was recorded.
Giga Bass packs a lot of punch in a single library (see Fig. 2). Most basses have a few variations such as picked and fingered; neck, bridge, and both pickups; pops and slaps; amp and direct; and so on. Giga Bass makes clever use of Tascam GigaStudio's exclusive keyswitching feature, which uses a MIDI note outside the instrument's range to switch between articulations on the fly. For instance, keyswitching allows you to instantly switch between picked and fingered versions of the same bass as you play. Giga Bass's keyswitching feature also works in Steinberg HALion.
East Collexion Bass($99.95; Akai)
Compared with some of the other libraries in this roundup, East Collexion Bass weighs in on the light side. The samples are labeled only as Pick Bass, Finger Bass, Jazz Bass, Slap Bass, Fretless, Dan-O Bass, Chapman Stick, and Wood Bass (acoustic upright). The 3.7 MB Chapman Stick bank is outstanding and works great in a track.
All of the included basses are very good. Because most of the sounds are between 1 and 3 MB, East Collexion Bass is a good value if you don't have a GigaStudio rig or lots of RAM in your hardware sampler for bass-guitar sounds. More than a dozen good synth basses are also included (see Fig. 3).
ProSamples, vol. 16, Guitar & Bass($49.95; AIFF, Akai, audio, EXS24, HALion, WAV)
Culled from the Quantum Leap Guitar & Bass library, the two-disc ProSamples, vol. 16, Guitar & Bass aims for maximum compatibility by providing the included content in multiple formats (see Fig. 4). Only two basses are included: a MusicMan StingRay in hard and soft versions, and a Fender bass in soft, medium, and bend-up versions. Guitar & Bass also has a dozen or so useful acoustic and electric guitar sounds.
The package's value is in its flexibility and low cost. The quality of what's included is high. If you're interested in more sounds from this collection, look at the full Quantum Leap Guitar & Bass library, for Akai, Giga, Roland, and Unity formats, which adds another MusicMan (finger and funk), a Fender fretless, a slap bass, a “ChubbyFunk” bass, and a picked rock bass.
Ultra Freakin' Bass($99.95-$179.95; Akai, audio, E-mu, Giga, Roland, SampleCell, WAV)
Also called Will Lee Bass Library, vol. 2, Ultra Freakin' Bass consists of licks, riffs, and grooves played by the master himself (see Fig. 5). A variety of styles are covered, and the performances are full of character. Tempos for the loops are provided, but the three new multisampled basses in the Giga version have a noticeably different tone than the loops.
Although the bass sounds aren't transparently integrated with the basses from the first volume (which I'll discuss next), with a little extra effort you can find some that match the loops. Using the library to its full potential feels a little improvisational, but both Will Lee libraries have a “just relax and make music” vibe about them. If only a handful of loops work for your productions, then the collection is worth buying. Some of the performances are so good that Ultra Freakin' Bass can also serve as a private lesson in great bass playing. (Note that the Giga version is distributed by Tascam and not by Sampleheads.)
Will Lee Bass Library($99.95-$149.95; Akai, audio, E-mu, Giga, Roland, SampleCell)
When it comes to character and attitude, the Will Lee Bass Library has them in spades. Eleven of Lee's basses were sampled chromatically, and care was given to preserving performance aspects such as fret noise and buzzes; these bass sounds drip with personality. Harmonics, mutes, pulls, slides, drops, x-notes, pats, stops, and other articulations add to the palette of performance colors.
Fender Jazz and Precision, Sadowsky 4-string and 5-string, Hofner “Beatle,” Pedulla 8-string, Martin Acoustic 4-string, Yamaha acoustic fretless 5-string, Spector, APX, and Hamer 12-string basses are all included. When you use these sounds, it sounds as though a bass player played the part.
If you don't want to commit to an entire library of bass samples, you can download individual Giga, SampleCell, SoundFont, and WAV files from Sampleheads' Web site. They range in price from $9.95 to $24.95, and Sampleheads offers a 100 percent credit toward the purchase of a CD-ROM. (Note that the Giga version is distributed by EastWest rather than by Sampleheads.)
SCARBEE SAMPLE LIBRARIES
The designers of J-Fingered have taken the approach of focusing on capturing the subtleties and nuances of a single bass guitar in enormous detail (see Fig. 6). Only one aspect of bass performance was captured in J-Fingered, which was created to complement Scarbee's J-Slap sample library. (“Light” versions of either disc are available for $79 each, with an upgrade path to the full versions.)
In J-Fingered, Scarbee recorded almost 1,100 samples for each of three pickup settings (bridge, neck, and both) of a custom Celinder J Update 4 electric bass. I'm not familiar with that particular instrument, but it sounds stellar in this library. The sampling quality is superb and the detail is mind-blowing.
Bass Sample Libraries Manufacturer Title Formats Description Price
Big Fish AudioOld School Funk Bassaudio, WAV (Acidized)2 CDs. 1 audio CD and 1 Acidized WAV CD containing more than 460 hip-hop, old-school funk, '70s funk, disco, and basic groove patterns. Multisampled Vigier electric bass.$99.95Dan Dean ProductionsGiga BassGiga1 CD. Acoustic bass, Alembic 5-string and Spoiler, Fender Jazz and Precision, Gibson Thunderbird, Guild Ashbory fretless and Pilot 5-string, Hofner Violin “Beatle” bass and fretless acoustic, Rickenbacker 4001, Toucan Fretless, Washburn AB-20. Features keyswitching between articulations.$149.00East ConnexionEast Collexion BassAkai1 CD. Acoustic bass; Fender Jazz and Precision; finger, fretless, pick, and wood bass; various synth basses.$99.95EastWestProSamples, vol. 16, Guitar & BassAIFF, Akai, audio, EXS24, HALion, WAV2 multiformat CDs. Includes the StingRay and the Fender basses from the Quantum Leap Guitar & Bass library.$49.95SampleheadsUltra Freakin' BassAkai, audio, E-mu, Giga, Roland, SampleCell, WAV1 CD. Grooves, licks, and riffs. Funk, fusion, jazz, Latin, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and effects.$99.95 audio; $129.95 WAV; $179.95 Giga; $149.95 other formatsSampleheadsWill Lee Bass LibraryAkai, audio, E-mu, Giga, Roland, SampleCell1 CD. Fender Jazz and Precision, Sadowsky 4-string and 5-string, Hofner “Beatle” bass, Pedulla 8-string, Martin acoustic 4-string, Yamaha acoustic fretless 5-string, Hamer 12-string, Spector 4-string, APX 4-string.$99.95 audio; $149.95 other formatsScarbee Sample LibrariesJ-FingeredGiga1 CD. Celinder J Update 4 electric bass.$139.00Scarbee Sample LibrariesJ-SlapGiga1 CD. Celinder J Update 4 electric bass.$139.00Sonic ImplantsAmps + PickupsAkai, E-mu, Giga, Kurzweil1 CD. Spector slap; upright acoustic; hard picked rock; Alembic fingered, picked, and slap; Fender Jazz and Precision; various acoustic and electric guitars.$149.95SpectrasonicsBass LegendsAkai, audio, E-mu, Roland2 CDs. Mulitsampled basses and grooves played by Abe Laboriel, Marcus Miller, and John Patitucci. Acoustic, amplified, electric, and fretless basses.$299.00 CD-ROM; $99.00 audio CDSpectrasonicsTrilogy-Total Bass ModuleMAS, RTAS, VST; Mac/PCVirtual-instrument plug-in with 3 GB of electric, acoustic, and synth bass samples.$399.00TascamLarry Seyer's Upright Acoustic BassGiga1 CD. Acoustic bass. Every note of every string sampled in stereo at 4 MIDI Velocities with no loops. Plenty of variations.$149.95Yellow ToolsPure E-Basses, vol. 2Akai, EXS24, Giga4 CDs (EXS24, Giga) or 3 CDs (Akai). Ibanez BTB 5-string, Epiphone Jack Cassidy, Warwick Streamer Stage 1 fretless. 4-8 Velocity splits per note.$149.95
SCARBEE SAMPLE LIBRARIES
If slap bass is your thing, it doesn't get any better than J-Slap. More than 900 samples are dedicated to each of the three pickup settings of the same Celinder bass. The slap samples are immaculate, and after hearing the available nuances and performance potential of the slap bass sounds, you'll turn up your nose whenever a rerun of Seinfeld comes on the tube. Used together, J-Fingered and J-Slap give a well-rounded picture of a single instrument, though there are no picked bass samples.
Amps + Pickups($149.95; Akai, E-mu, Giga, Kurzweil)
If clean basses are want you want, you'll find them on Amps + Pickups (see Fig. 7). Basses include an acoustic upright; Spector slap bass; hard-picked rock bass; an Alembic bass that's picked, fingered, and slapped; and Fender Jazz and Precision basses. The well-recorded raw samples have lots of attack, almost to the point of sounding a bit generic.
Much attention went into programming the various formats, however. Each takes advantage of the effects and envelope capabilities of the hardware or software sampler for its format, which is where the character lies. (As a result, some of the cool programming in the Giga version I evaluated did not translate well in HALion.) One of my associates preferred the Alembic fingered bass in this library to everything else he heard. Plenty of cool guitars are on the disc, as well.
Bass Legends($99.00-$299.00; Akai, Audio, E-mu, Roland)
Although it's the oldest library in this roundup, Bass Legends is still one of the best (see Fig. 8). Three of the world's finest bassists — Abe Laboriel, Marcus Miller, and John Patitucci — teamed up on the bottom end. The two-CD set contains extensive multisampled basses and a great collection of chromatically multisampled grooves. Acoustic bass, Fender Jazz and Precision basses, fretless basses, and amplified basses combine into one of the most flexible and complete libraries available. It's also the most expensive sample library of the bunch.
Trilogy-Total Bass Module ($399.00; MAS, RTAS, VST; Mac/PC)
By the time you read this, the third of three new sample-based virtual instruments from Spectrasonics should be on the streets (see Fig. 9). I evaluated a beta version of Trilogy-Total Bass Module, a plug-in instrument that features acoustic, electric, and synth-bass samples. It has a slick and intuitive interface that works as a MAS, RTAS, and VST plug-in on the Mac and PC. The final release will contain about 3 GB of bass samples.
The sounds I heard were excellent, though much of the programming was not yet finished. Trilogy has the best collection of synth basses I have heard. In addition, a fantastic upright acoustic bass is accompanied by myriad electric basses. According to Spectrasonics, all of the samples are brand new. Given the editing capabilities of its interface and the quality of sounds you always get from Spectrasonics, Trilogy will be a bass monster with thunderous potential.
Larry Seyer's Upright Acoustic Bass($149.95; Giga)
A whole library dedicated to the upright bass, Upright Acoustic Bass rocks and rolls (see Fig. 10). If serious jazz, rockabilly, or country upright bass is what you're looking for, then you won't find a better sample collection. A Del Serra ¾-size bass made in Pisa, Italy, in 1817 is sampled in exquisite detail. The programs are great, and the bass sound is fabulous. Taking full advantage of GigaStudio's capabilities, some layouts provide patches with one entire string per MIDI channel. One variation assigns the Mod Wheel to change fingerings on the fly, making it possible to play the full range of each string.
A “singular optimum layout” patch crams lots of articulations into a single program that uses key ranges and MIDI controllers to give access to sustained notes, finger-damped staccato releases, harmonics, slides, x-notes, vibrato notes, and others. It's a beast to wrap your mind around at first, but this single patch can produce some stunning upright-bass parts in real time. Because the Upright Acoustic Bass library offers a single instrument done right, it's not the place to look if you want a variety of basses. Sometimes, though, one is all you need.
Pure E-Basses, vol. 2 ($149.95; Akai, EXS24, Giga)
The Most Exhaustive Collection award goes to Pure E-Basses, vol. 2 (see Fig. 11). Four CDs are devoted to capturing practically every nuance of an Ibanez BTB five-string, and, in lesser detail, a Warwick Streamer Stage 1 fretless and an Epiphone Jack Cassidy Signature four-string. The Ibanez is given additional time with the inclusion of slap sounds and short, fingered articulations. Ghost notes, taps, slow and fast slides, harmonics, vibrato, hammer-ons, and effects are included for all the basses. The tones are big and fat, and the articulations integrate with each other naturally.
IN THE STUDIO
All the basses in this roundup are great, though some excel at certain techniques. The recording quality is consistent throughout all the titles, and I had more success than I thought I would at combining sounds from different libraries. As in most great sequencing, expect to spend some time laboring over the details to create a truly exceptional bass track with any of these sounds.
For speed and ease of use, Bass Legends and Giga Bass pay great dividends. The Bass Legends basses are immediately useful, and the real-time keyswitching of Giga Bass provides plenty of instant flexibility with articulations, which is especially useful if you're on a deadline. Trilogy also promises to be fast and easy to use. If you want to be meticulously detailed and don't mind spending a little more time and effort assembling your sequences, then the J-Slap, J-Fingered, and Pure E-Basses will not disappoint you. None of the other libraries are as detailed as those three, but you might need a tweaked-out hardware sampler or GigaStudio rig to take advantage of their full potential. To create an exposed bass solo that includes slapping and fingered passages, the Scarbee basses would be my first choice.
If you're looking for pure attitude, I'd start with either the Will Lee Bass Library or the Abe Laboriel sounds from Bass Legends. Although it's not as exhaustive as the Scarbee basses or Pure E-Basses, the sheer mass of detailed articulations in the Will Lee Bass Library is enough to keep anyone busy. Will's and Abe's basses maintain the most personality; when you use those sounds, it really feels as though you had a bass player on the date — warts and all. The StingRay from Guitar & Bass also has cool attitude.
Though other bass groove libraries are out there, I like Old School Funk Bass the best. The number of patterns and loops offered is mind numbing, assuming that '70s-style funk bass is what you're after. If you're looking for more Latin, jazz, swing, or bebop bass grooves, listen to Ultra Freakin' Bass and Bass Legends.
The best values are the Guitar & Bass and East Collexion Bass libraries. If limited RAM is a consideration, then Guitar & Bass, East Collexion Bass, Bass Legends, and several of the Will Lee instruments will get you through.
For clean basses, Amps + Pickups and Giga Bass get first nod. None of the other libraries are particularly noisy, but those two stand out because of the clarity of their raw samples. Amps + Pickups and Giga Bass also have the best programming features of the bunch. If you want to distort, twist, and mangle bass sounds, start with Amps + Pickups, because most of its sounds are very pure.
That brings up a good point: you don't have to use the bass sounds as provided by the manufacturer. With all the cool filters, amp simulators, and other outboard and plug-in processing available, bass guitar parts don't need to sound bland or dated. Remember, some very cool synth-bass sounds are made by creatively processing basic oscillator tones that might have been static and uninteresting in their raw form. Even with plenty of dynamics and variations in articulation, your bass parts can be remarkably improved with filtering and envelope processing. Bottoms up!
Producer and keyboardistRob Shrockhas recorded and performed with Burt Bacharach and many others. He wishes he still had the ¾-scale Fender P-Bass he had as a kid.
GETTING THE MOST FROM … BASS GUITAR SOUNDS
If you were to solo a track played by a world-class bassist, you would probably hear much more than just fundamental pitches holding down the roots of chords. In addition to pure notes, you would probably hear finger noise, slides, x-notes, and taps, as well as different articulations and dynamics. All of those performance elements add up to a bass part with much more life, energy, and interest than the typical keyboard player creates with a single bass patch.
Realistically emulating bass guitar takes work, though. Of course, note choice and register (octave) of the bass part are extremely important; you have to think like a bass player to create a compelling part. At some point, you might want to decide whether you're emulating a four-string- or a five-string-bass part, which will affect the range of notes you play.
One effective technique is to load your sequencer with patches for all of the articulations that you think you'll use for a specific bass part — long notes, staccato notes, slap notes, slides, x-notes, and so on — and assign them to different MIDI channels. Record the basic bass part using a sustained fingered or picked sound; that will give you a context in which to work.
Once you've sequenced the basic track, it's time for some creative editing. Make a copy of the bass part (as a backup) and begin selectively cutting out notes and pasting them into tracks assigned to the other MIDI channels to create variety in the performance. As you edit, you'll hear places where you should obviously add a slide, thump, slap, or noise. Go ahead and add the broader strokes, but don't get too caught up in details yet.
The key to creating a great bass part is making it fit within the context of the entire arrangement. Keep in mind that some of the subtle details of a real bassist's performance get buried in the track. You don't want the part to become too busy before the rest of the instrumentation has taken shape, nor do you want to waste time on elements that no one will hear.
After you've sequenced a rough bass performance, move on to other aspects of the song. As you work on the other tracks, you'll inevitably find holes in the bass part that need to be filled, as well as places where you need to add color. In some sections, you might even decide to delete slides or other colorations that sound like you were trying too hard. Use your instincts. Don't get too cutesy; bass parts aren't usually meant to be cute.
A great bass part is typically a foundation on which to build, so pick your moments of coloration wisely and make them count. When you're sequencing a detailed bass-guitar emulation, take the time to make sure you have a balance between a solid bass part and embellishments. A world-class bassist can usually achieve such a balance in just a few takes.
You might need to add some processing to tie all the various articulations together in a more cohesive manner, especially if you're combining sounds from different sample libraries. A little compression, EQ, or amp simulation can help combine slightly different timbres into a unified sound. Once you have the right combination of elements, you should print your composite bass part to a new audio track.