There’s been lots of talk about amp sims for guitar, but not so much about amp sims for bass . . . stay tuned, though, because amp sims are arguably even more applicable to bass than to guitar, and here’s why:
· Basses are an octave lower than guitar, so the high-frequency harmonics generated by heavy guitar distortion—which can lead to unpleasant artifacts—are less of an issue, if they’re an issue at all.
· Guitarists are really picky about distorted tone; when multiple notes play simultaneously, intermodulation distortion needs to be pleasing— and emulating tube/transformer intermodulation distortion with sims is not easy. Bass parts often consist of single-note lines, making intermodulation distortion characteristics far less important.
· Recording a bass amp with a mic can be a problem due to room acoustics, because the long bass waveforms tend to interact with non-treated rooms in undesirable ways, causing build-ups and suck-outs. That doesn’t happen with sims.
While many amp sims designed for guitar include emulations specifically for bass, there are some bass-centric issues—are frequencydependent effects tuned down for bass? Can you create parallel effects paths easily to preserve the low end? Are the virtual miking options suitable for bass?
With the following sims, my primary test was to create a parallel patch for each one (except for the Ampeg SVX, which doesn’t allow for parallel paths), consisting of a Jazz Chorus-type guitar amp for high frequencies, layered with a big bass amp sound for lower frequencies. One surprise was that all of them make solid, pleasing bass sounds with an “amp” character that you can’t get from going direct. Another surprise was the general accuracy of the emulations; for example, the various Ampeg B-15 emulations really sounded like a B-15. (I’ve logged a lot of hours with that sucker, so the sound is burned into my brain.) As a result, the sim you choose will likely have more to do with special features or options that may be important to you. Let’s look at each sim, and the kinds of “special sauce” each offers.
Really, there isn’t a loser among any of these products; as many of these programs are on their third or fourth generation, the companies have had time to nail down their emulations. However, there are some differences that may sway you one way or another. Note that most of these have demo versions available, so you can check them out before committing.
AmpliTube 3 can integrate other IK products, making it more of a “modular” setup that can be expanded with IK’s Fender and Ampeg sims. The tone is outstanding, and if you also play guitar, being able to expand the system is a strong point. The miking options are intuitive and effective. If you want bass and only bass, Ampeg SVX delivers great bass sounds; but some might find that it’s worth getting AmpliTube 3 and Ampeg SVX because of the greater range of tones.
POD Farm 2 also allows for expansion by purchasing the Platinum pack, which gives it an edge in the “sheer number of stuff” category. The vocal preamps are a plus if you work with voice. POD Farm 2 also breaks down various aspects of the program into “elements,” and instantiating just these can save on CPU power; and of course, Line 6 has been at the modeling game a long time, so they have the tone thing down.
For sonic mad scientists, Guitar Rig 4 offers features like splits within splits, the crossover module, multiple modulation sources, etc. These may not be as applicable to bass as they are to guitar, but they open up opportunities for bassists that other programs don’t offer. Couple that with attractive pricing, and GR4 is extremely cost-effective.
ReValver MkIII falls into a similar category as GR4, as you can dive really deep into the options. However, ReValver is the only modeler that lets you tweak down to the level of individual components. This can be pretty daunting, but the versatility is outstanding, and you can actually create your own tones rather than having to rely on the ones that come with the software.
VBA Pro is the least flexible of the bunch, but has the appeal of solid sound quality, ease of use, and transparency for the “I just want to play music” crowd. Despite the seeming simplicity, though, the options are well-thought-out, and provide a wide range of tonal variations given the number and scope of controls. If you don’t need the bells and whistles of guitar and other processing, VBA Pro focuses in on bass players like a laser.
Finally, Waves GTR has a unique, detailed sound quality that’s subjectively different from most other sims. It’s a very subtle difference, but works very well for bass. GTR also allows for multiple routing choices due to the amp/pedalboard separation, although it takes a little more effort to copy tracks to take advantage of this. I’ve also found that while Waves doesn’t really push this point, their effects are eminently applicable to vocals, drums, and the like; they don’t sound that different from the effects in their pro apps.
I’d love to be able to say “One particular sim is definitely the best for bass,” but after spending quality time with all these sims and my BecVar bass, I have to say that they’re as different as . . . well, real amps. They have their own unique features and qualities, and judging those kinds of factors gets really subjective, really fast, depending on your particular needs. Your best option is to take advantage of the free trials and demos, and find out which sim works optimally for you.
Being able to create parallel signal paths is important with bass, because many bassists use guitar effects that aren’t “tuned” for bass. For example, most envelope- followed filters optimize the frequency range for guitar, so putting bass through it kills the lows. But put that filter in parallel with the bass, and you’ll overlay the cool filtery effect on the bass’s low end.
You can create parallel paths in any DAW by copying a bass track, then instantiating another set of plug-ins. However, I like sims with built-in parallel path options, because you can simply save one sim preset and have everything ready for recall at any time. DAWs offer a workaround if they can create and save track presets or effects chains (i.e., particular configurations of effects and tracks as a single entity). While somewhat more difficult to set up in the first place, once you’ve saved your track preset you can recall it as desired.
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