Many home producers would like to add a bass line to their instrumental mix, but either don’t have a bass guitar, don’t know how to play one, or simply don’t want to invest in the instrument. Thankfully, there are many options for recording bass on a mix without actually having to record a bass guitar playing.
So what are the ways you can record bass without a bass guitar? Here are 5 ways to do it:
- Bass plug-ins
- Use a hardware bass synth
- Downtuning a live guitar
- Add a harmonic generaton
- Record a Guitar and Downtune using MIDI Conversion or Transposition
Recording a bass line without a bass guitar doesn’t have to be complicated. Read on to find out the many ways you can pull it off.
1) Use Bass Plug-ins
Music creation has changed a lot over the past few decades, mainly thanks to the advancement of computers. No longer as musicians recording in our bedrooms do we need to fuss about acoustic treatment and micing up amplifiers if we don’t want to. We can now access millions of interesting pre-recorded sounds and manipulate them in software to create musical compositions.
So one way to add some bass to your mix without actually having a bass guitar is by using virtual bass plug-ins. Bass plug-ins are electronic emulators that you can use to mimic the sound of a live bass guitar in a mix production. They are available to download, sometimes for free, but are pretty much always a lot cheaper than buying a real bass guitar or synthesizer.
These pieces of software all provide rich, clean, deep bass sounds, but come with a variety of functions and amenities. Here are some of the best bass plug-ins you can buy in order to record a bass line without a bass guitar.
Native Instruments Massive features a modern sound and a virtual-analog design, making it suitable for recording bass both in the recording studio or on stage.
(Buy it on Amazon as part of the Native Instruments Komplete Package, still, the best thing I’ve ever spent money on!)
Encompassing a gigantic library of bass presets (over 1,300) a Native Instruments Massive plug-in is the go-to tool for any synthesized bass line. The Native Instruments Massive bass plug-in features the following functions:
- Eight macro knobs
- Customization options for presets
- Wave scanning algorithm for synthesis
- 85 wavetables with unique combinations of sonar qualities
- Flexible signal flow routing
- Advanced loop mode
- Two-step sequencer modes
- Global setting and keytracking pages
- Intuitive user interface
The sounds produced by this bass emulator are produced by three wave oscillators with controls for:
- Wavetable position
- Wave shaping
Along with the presets that come with this plug-in, Massive also features a series of expansion packs with different presets that are themed around various musical moods and ambiances. This makes Massive one of the most versatile bass plug-ins on the market.
A new evolution of the Subboombass plug-in, Rob Papin is a familiar name in the bass world and for good reason. Like the Massive plug-in, the Rob Papin Subboombass 2 comes with a variety of useful functions for emulating a bass line, including the following features:
- Familiar tonal layout
- Super-styled constructs
- Many stylish digital shapes
- 80 available tonal sources
- Oscillator sync ability
- Five different options for frequency modulation
- Multiple filter options including High Pass, Low Pass, Band Pass, and Notch filters
- X/Y pad control
- 303-styled options
Because it has so many tonal sources and ways to customize the sound being produced, the Rob Papin Subboombass 2 is perfect for novice and veteran sound engineers alike, as its easy-to-use interface and deep realistic sounds inspire composition and encourage experimentation with new sounds.
The Rob Papin Subboombass2 is not only good for reproducing really strong, authentic bass sounds, it is also functional as an electro-acoustic timbre plug-in and has a large arsenal of customization options that make it a most valuable player in any producer’s kit.
Well worth the price at under $100, check out the latest price at Plugin Boutique here.
This British synth bass plug-in features tight sound design and has a very short learning curve, meaning that anyone with a little bit of background with synthesizers should be able to jump right on and get started.
While the Bass Master isn’t as deep or complicated as some of the bass plug-ins on this list, its ease of use more than makes up for the lack of modulation options and onboard sequencing. Instead, Bass Master features a dazzling variety of bass options in an intuitive interface that focuses on low tones.
Some of the other features of the Loopmasters’ Bass Master Synth include the following:
- 1-12 semitones (pitchbend range)
- Two sample-based oscillators
- Six categories of samples: Low, Mid, High, Percussive, Simple and Sub
- Pre-filter overdrive circuit
The Bass Master can be a bit restrictive compared to some synths, but it plays to its strengths by offering strong sound samples with a clear interface and quick, deft controls.
The Minimoog V2 is all about emulating the synthesizer hardware of yesteryear and putting a modern-day twist on it. Along with the traditional display, the V2 features an extras rack display with a motion recorder function, vocal filter, modulation matrix, and Sound Map.
With the Sound Map, sound engineers can see all of the V2’s available presets displayed like a constellation of low-tone goodness, with similar sources displayed near each other so you can get an idea of just what each area sounds like.
Here are some of the other functions of the Arturia Minimoog V2:
- Polyphony, arpeggiation, and effects
- Automaton functions
- Extended modulation matrix from prior iterations
- Easy preset navigation
If you’re looking for options, Spectrasonics by Trilian is probably one of the best options if you want to choose between electronic bass, synth, and acoustic bass from the same audio workstation. This high quality plug-in features incredible amounts of detail along with instant, intuitive playability.
Some synths have a difficult time reproducing a bass guitar without sounding tinny or inauthentic, but that’s not a problem with Spectrasonics. This plug-in features some of the truest bass sounds around.
In combination with a MIDI keyboard, Spectrasonics practically removes the need for a live bass player entirely.
Here are some of the other great features that come with Spectrasonics by Trilian:
- Precise sounds including audible string plucks and wood slaps
- Controls with a wide array of tweaking options
- Simple user interface that facilitates ease of use
- Huge amount of editorial tools and articulations for each instrument sample
Customers agree that when it comes to authentic bass sounds, you can’t get much better than a Spectrasonics Trilian. If you invest in this plug-in, chances are you won’t need any other bass module for your studio again (and you don’t need a bassist either).
Substance is a plug-in to look into if you’re after a unique sound that you won’t find in any one bass guitar or other instruments. The customization options on the Substance plug-in make it versatile enough that it can feature a main role in your mix tracks rather than just serve as background noise in the low end.
Substance samples are based on some of the following sound sources:
- Electric bass guitars
- Acoustic bass guitars
- Old analogue synthesizers
- Live brass sections
Even though the display on this plug-in features a dazzling array of options for tweaking sound, the user interface still manages to be intuitive and easy to use. Substance features around 300 presets, which aren’t quite as robust as some plug-ins such as Massive, but all of the samples are well-recorded and sound great.
Here are some of the other features available with the Substance bass plug-in:
- Legato and monophonic modes
- Three-band equalizer
- Velocity settings and glides
- Variety of effects including reverb, delay, compression, pitch, distortion, and motion
- Arpeggiator with precise fine-tuning options
While all of Substance’s sound engineering options are great, they would be worthless if the samples on offer didn’t sound good. Luckily, the samples in the Substance plug-in are interesting, varied, and mean-sounding, offering plenty of options for a strong bass line.
This monophonic bass synthesizer features an intuitive user interface and produces an authentic, raw analog sound without any distortion. This virtual SH-101 module with aggressive Roland tones is perfect for those who are looking for an emulation of the classic SH-101 presets.
Before MIDIS, the original SH-101 had:
- A simple sequencer
- An oscillator and sub-oscillator
- One envelope generator
While it featured a simple design, this simplicity allowed sound engineers to get a really good sound out of it without a lot of fiddling and manipulation.
The Bassline 101 iteration of this synth design isn’t much more complicated except that it features a polyphonic mode and a display for the sequencer/arpeggiator sections.
The Bassline 101 includes the following technical features:
- MIDI automation
- Filter-FM modulation
- Self-resonating filter with zero feedback delay
- Step sequencer with up to ninety-six steps of mix recording
- Left hand portamento and pitch transposition controls
For those sound engineers who don’t want to drop the money for the Bassline 101 plug-in, Bassline also features a freeware plug-in version of the SH-101 lineup called TAL-Bassline. This can be a good option for those who need to record bass without a bass guitar who are on a tight budget for their music production.
Bass Line 3 is an attempt to reproduce the sounds of the Roland TB303 bass synthesizer, and by all accounts, it does a pretty good job. The Bass Line 3 showcases some of the best pattern editing available along with a resizable GUI for easy reading.
Bass Line 3 also includes the following technical features:
- User customization
- Can be mapped to a MIDI controller
- Delayed vibrato function
- “Force to scale” randomizer
- Wave analyzer to convert TB303 sample into an ABL3 pattern
- Pattern mode with 16 visible steps
- VCO phase reset mode
- Random generator
Bass Line 3 is a good affordable option for anyone who wants a synthetic bass option without having to incorporate a live bass guitar.
Cyclop isn’t one of the most versatile bass synth plug-ins on this list, but for someone wanting a reliable synth bass software, it’s still a good choice. This is a monophonic bass synth that focuses on unique FX sequences and distinctive bass sounds.
Cyclop can be a little daunting to boot up, but the user interface is surprisingly intuitive, and it doesn’t take long for a recording producer to get the swing of things. Even though Cyclop is supposed to stand in as an instrument, it does have a lot of options for modulations and effects, you can tweak the end sound.
This synth uses mid/side processing for a strong, punchy stereo sound. Cyclop has enough bass options to give you plenty of choices when substituting for a real bass guitar, but it is by no means a bass-centric software, and there are a ton of other samples available.
Other features of Cyclop include the following:
- Trance-gating functionality
- Eight programmable effects slots
- Nine overdrive/distortion models
- Robust core synthesis capabilities
Cyclop is not a particularly analog bass sound, so if you’re wanting something that sounds like live bass and not a synth, you might want to look at one of the other plug-ins on this list. But for someone that just wants to plug and play to add in a decent-sounding bass line, Cyclop is perfect.
Chris Hein Bass is one of the largest libraries of aggregated virtual guitar sounds available to sound engineers, and has a preset available for each instrument, making moving between sounds a breeze.
Each bass instrument in this library was lovingly sampled with clarity and precision, and the quality tells in the end product. The samples available have rich, authentic sound and are perfect for the sound engineer who wants an almost limitless amount of options for inserting a bass line into a recording without using a live bass guitar.
The front end of the Chris Hein Bass library is a NI Kontakt Player 2, which should be familiar to many sound engineers, makes for an easy entry into this virtual library. Here are some of the other features:
- Advanced articulations such as slides, muted notes, strums, falls, and flageolet
- Ambidextrous keyboard mode
- Performance options such as squeak, stop, strum, and modified vibrato
- Harmonise, Unison, and Chord Modes
Make sure that you leave plenty of space on your hard drive for this plug-in, as it contains over 20,000 individual samples and is over 13GB in size. However, once installed, you have a world of bass instruments at your fingertips to implement a bass line without a bass guitar.
Rickenbacker Bass is a coveted sound in music recording, and Native Instruments claims to have reproduced the sound of this classic instrument in a bass plug-in. This plug-in is playable with an eerily realistic sound, so if you’re looking for a bass plug-in that sounds like the real thing, this Ricky virtual clone from Native Instruments is a good choice.
Here are some of the other technical features of the Rickenbacker Bass by Native Instruments:
- KSP scripting
- Sleek, easy-to-use GUI
- Built-in effects
- Customizable performance controls
- Volume and tone controls
- Neck and bridge pickup selector
- 25 factory presets with two sound modes (palm-muted and undamped)
The Rickenbacker Bass has a husky tone almost reminiscent of a guitar, and this plug-in by Native Instruments captures that distinctive quality. Rickenbackers have graced bands from Queen to The Who, Tool to Chicago.
Who needs a live bassist when you can have the sounds of some of the most eminent rock bands of our time at your fingertips? That’s the question Native Instruments asks with its Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass plug-in, and the answer is: nobody when you have a bass synth like this one.
Like the Bass Line 3, the Phoscyon by D16 is an attempt to recreate the sound of the old TB303 synthesizer. It has plenty of competition on the market as a TB303 clone but is a good option for anyone looking to add a bass line to their recording without a bass guitar.
The first thing you’ll notice when you look at Phoscyon is its photorealistic interface, which makes experimentation and engineering a joy. The plug-in features a large number of switches and knob options, but everything is laid out in a way that makes sense and makes the control layout easy to pick up and understand.
The Phoscyon has a 16-measure step sequencer on offer that is the trademark of the TB303, and also offers the following features:
- Two-octave pitch change
- Threshold function
- MIDI note triggering mechanism ideal for live performances
- Complex arpeggiator with customized options
- Compatibility with external sequencers
The Phoscyon by D16 may not have the versatility of some of the larger bass plug-ins on this list, like the Chris Hein Bass or Massive, but for someone looking for a simple bass option, it might be a good software model to check out.
ManyBass is the plug-in you want to look at if you want a digital version of a bass guitar, straight up. While it features a somewhat cluttered GUI and the factory settings for volume are a bit low in comparison to other plug-ins, ManyBass is a good choice for anyone wanting a reasonable facsimile of a bass guitar sound for recording purposes.
The ManyBass also features several bundle expansions including:
- Ultimate Bass Kit
- Upright Bass
- Acoustic-Electric Bass
The plug-in features a variety of factory presets, with some being unique sounds and others clearing an imitation of a famous bassist’s signature style. Either way, it gives sound engineers plenty of raw source material to play with, so you’ll never feel like you have to go out an get a real bass guitar to get an authentic sound.
The articulations on these samples are so true to life that you’ll be tempted to fire that certain bassist who never shows up for band practice on time.
If you’re wanting to record the sound of an electric bass guitar without the bass, look no further than Shreddage Bass 2 by Impact Soundworks. Impact Soundworks also offers a few other notable libraries, such as Shreddage Picked Bass and Shreddage 2 Electric Guitars.
Shreddage Bass 2 only takes up 5GB of hard drive, so it’s not quite so resource intensive as some of the larger libraries, but it still features over 11,000 different samples that are appropriate for a wide variety of recording projects.
Shreddage Bass 2 features samples with a warm, rich, clean sound that is an authentic replica of a live bass recording. The GUI interface is less intricate than some other bass plug-ins, and has a variety of different options:
- Customizable articulation mapping
- Double track button
- Sustain pedal to legato feature
- Advanced tab options for intricate fine-tuning
The bass samples in this plug-in are best suited for rock and metal music productions but could be used convincingly in a variety of projects.
If you’re looking for a photorealistic setup that makes you feel like you’re playing a real bass guitar even when you’re not, look no further than the Modo Bass by IK Multimedia.
While it is one of the more expensive plug-ins on this list, the Modo Bass is a good option for someone who wants to record a bass line in their music, but is unable to play bass guitar or doesn’t want to bring in an outsider on the project.
Modo Bass has twelve bass simulations based on the most popular bass guitars ever created, and these digital instruments can be further manipulated through a variety of articulations and effects.
The Modo Bass integrates easily with MIDI keyswitch controls, making it a sure buy for any music producer who doesn’t want to fool around with a live bass guitar.
Here are some of the other features of the Modo Bass:
- Three playing styles (pluck, slap, pick)
- 20 interchangeable pickup models
- 7 stompbox effects
- Physically modeled bass guitar, player, and recording components for photorealistic aesthetics and simulation
2) Use a Hardware Synth
If software plugins aren’t your thing and you prefer to get your hands on some hardware here are a couple of reasonably priced options for creating basslines without a bass guitar.
Novation Bass Station II
One of my favorite modern analog synths that I own is the Novation Bass Station II. As you can probably tell by the name, the Bas Station does a pretty awesome job at creating some really cool bass sounds. Even the factory preset patches sound awesome and you won’t need to spend much time messing around to get some cool sounds.
Korg Volca Bass
If you are yet to come across them, the Korg Volca series are a collection of mini analog synths that are ridiculously cheap and are a great entry point into the word of synths. They don’t come with a large keyboard or hundreds of settings, but there is so much packed into these little bundles of joy, and they sound awesome too.
The Volca Bass is the one that is designed specifically for bass sounds allowing you to sequence basslines or create loops.
You can even start creating on the go as these synths are battery powered and fit in your pocket.
3) Downtune a Normal Guitar
By downtuning the four lowest strings on a guitar, you can get a lower tone out of the instrument that serves to emulate a bass guitar. Here is the process for downtuning a normal guitar to sound like a bass:
- Tune the G string to D.
- Tune the D string to A.
- Tune the A string to E.
- Tune the E string to B.
If you don’t have access to a keyboard or synth, downtuning a guitar can at least give an approximation of a bass line in a recording. This sound can then be cleaned up and amplified later in post.
4) Add a Harmonic Generator Like Renbass or MaxxBass
Along with traditional bass plug-ins, you can also add a harmonic generator like RenBass or MaxxBass. What a harmonic generator does is trick the brain into perceiving more bass by adding harmonics to the sound, which makes the sound seem heavier and more impactful.
These harmonic generator plug-ins can be a good way to add a bass sound to your mix but should be blended fairly low for a subtle enhancement.
For quick mixing, adding harmonic generators is a good way to increase the bottom on a bass line and make the entire mix sound deeper.
5) Record a Guitar and Downtune using MIDI Conversion or Transposition
One way to get around wanting to record a live bass sound without a live bass is to record a live guitar and then downtune the sound using MIDI conversion in an audio interface. By pitching the entire recording down an octave, you can achieve a bottom end sound without actually having to record a bass guitar.
Once you record the guitar and convert it to a MIDI file, you can then input this MIDI file into a bass plug-in and convert the track to a bass track.
With the continuing progress made in digital instruments, the days when you had to have a bass guitar in order to record bass in a home recording studio are long gone. Now with multiple synth libraries at every sound producer’s disposal, you can play any instrument you want without ever touching one.
Synthesized Bass or Live Bass Guitar – Which is Better?
There are some diehard purists who cluck their tongues at the idea of using synthesizers and sampled music libraries in order to take the place of live instrument recording.
However, bass synth plug-ins and other digitalized audio interface options are a great choice for producers who want to compose a bass line, but for whatever reason don’t have access to the live instruments.
For some people, it’s simply a matter of finding a guitar unwieldy to play in comparison to a MIDI controller or keyboard. For others, it’s simply a matter of convenience – one musical library can contain enough various samples for a producer to recreate their own digital orchestra (or in this case, their own bassist guitar).
Recording Bass Without Guitars is Always an Option
Which method a music producer chooses will depend on their individual preferences and needs in accordance with their project. Hopefully, this list gave would-be bassists plenty of options to look at for recording bass without a bass guitar.