The bass guitar is an important instrument, often serving a rhythmic and melodic role while offering low-end musical content to the mix. Bass guitar often benefits from EQ in the mix to make it sit perfectly. When it comes to EQing bass guitar, there are no simple step-by-step instructions; every mix is unique. However, there are certain considerations we should take into account when EQing the bass, which is what this article is all about.
Before we go any further, I should state that there are no hard rules with EQ or any other mixing process. The tips mentioned in this article are simply suggestions and techniques worth considering when EQing bass guitar. There are no procedures that work 100% of the time, and every mix is unique in its own needs.
Here are 11 pro tips for EQing bass guitar:
- Consider the role of the bass guitar in the mix
- Consider how the bass guitar was recorded
- Consider the genre
- EQing bass guitar in the context of the mix
- Splitting the bass into low and high controls
- Increase brightness with a low-pass filter
- Find the characteristic frequencies
- EQing against competition with the kick drum
- EQing against competition with everything else
- Always A/B test
- Be aware of phase shift
Let's discuss each of these tips in more detail to give you important considerations when EQing bass guitar in your mixes.
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Consider The Role Of The Bass Guitar In The Mix
Understanding the role of the bass in the mix and the overall arrangement can help us make more informative EQ decisions.
It's often the bass's role to hold down the low-end, provide rhythmic movement and maintain a harmonic centre (often playing the roots of the chords). It can also be much more percussive or melodic in certain sections (during bass solos, for example) or throughout the song in some arrangements.
We generally want the bass guitar to be well-represented in the low-end. EQ moves in the low-mids and mid-range may vary depending on the other elements and the bass's role.
In sparser mixes, we may opt for gentle EQ to boost character and reduce frequency masking, if we EQ it at all. Conversely, in denser mixes, it may be necessary to apply more aggressive EQ to make it fit perfectly into the mix.
Without giving any specific EQ moves, it's important to consider the role of the bass guitar in your mix.
Consider How The Bass Guitar Was Recorded
Understanding how the bass was recorded will give us valuable insights into how we ought to EQ it (if at all).
It's relatively common for bass to be recorded through a DI (direct inject), where the signal from the pickup(s) is sent either directly to the board or interface (or converted through a DI box to a mic level signal before feeding a mic input).
It's also common to position a microphone in front of a bass cabinet and record the sound produced through the bass amp and cab.
We can also sometimes record from a bass amplifier's line out, benefiting from the tone of the amp's preamplifier circuit without having to set up microphones in real acoustic space.
During recording, it's often the case that we'll record the bass using 2 or more of these techniques.
Knowing how the bass was recorded will give us valuable insight to help guide our EQ decisions.
For example, a DI signal may require more tone-shaping work with EQ, while signals recorded through the amp or a mic in front of the cabinet are likely to have their tone already dialled in by the bassist.
When EQing a microphone signal, it's worth considering the environmental factors as well. How close was the mic to the cabinet, and is there significant proximity effect happening (where the low-end frequencies are over-represented)? Is there pronounced bleed from other instruments in the signal, or is the signal focused in on the bass?
It's also worthwhile to consider the signal chain of the bass guitar signal. What pedals, if any, did the signal run through? Was there any outboard processing (EQ or compression, most notably) before the signal was recorded?
Although not part of the technical recording chain, it's also worth noting the playing style. Picking, fingerstyle and slap may benefit from different EQ moves.
Armed with this information, we can anticipate certain characteristics or potentially problematic frequencies in the bass guitar.
Consider The Genre
I've stressed that every mix is different. No specific EQ moves are appropriate 100% of the time.
However, certain mixing trends span across specific music genres (and even periods of time in music production). For example, beyond the instrumentation and arrangement differences, a bebop jazz record will be mixed much differently than a thrash metal record, even though both can have bass guitar.
As another example, the bass guitar in a funk record may benefit from added tone in the mid-range to help it pop through the mix. Conversely, an RnB record may profit from a bass tone subdued in the midrange but powerful in the low-end.
Of course, it's largely up to the bassist to dial in the tone, but it's also on us as mixing engineers to understand the goal of the mix and how EQ can help the bass guitar (or not).
EQing Bass Guitar In The Context Of The Mix
Mixing is about balancing and processing individual elements into a cohesive piece of recorded music. The word “mixing” is a perfect term for the process. It's important, then, to treat a mix as a sum of different parts rather than focusing too much on the individual tracks of the mix.
Of course, we can and should check the bass guitar in solo and consider EQing out any problem frequencies (low-end rumble and annoying resonances, for example). However, it's not our goal to shape the sound of the bass guitar by itself. Rather, our job is to fit the bass into the mix as a whole appropriately.
This means applying any processing to the bass guitar (including EQ) in the context of the mix.
There's not much use in shaping the bass track to perfection in solo. Beyond the fact that the bass tone was likely a conscious decision from the artist that we ought to preserve, the mix is about all the instruments in the arrangement, not just the bass.
Considering the mix as a whole, it's often the case that the individual tracks will be processed to improve the technical and emotional aspects of the music at the expense of their individual sonic characteristics. In other words, we'll often make EQ moves on a bass guitar that sound worse when soloed but lead to an improvement when combined with all the other tracks in the mix.
A great mix is often the sum of imperfect parts, and it's sometimes necessary to process bass guitar in an “unflattering” way to make it fit perfectly in the holistic mix.
The denser the mix, the more truthful this statement becomes.
So, when opting to EQ a bass guitar, do so in the context of the mix. Have the mix playing and make any EQ adjustments you believe will improve the mix.
Be sure to A/B your EQ decisions by turning the EQ on and off and listening critically to recalibrate your ears.
If the EQ on the bass guitar improves the mix, keep it. If it doesn't, don't hesitate to readjust the EQ parameters or even get rid of the EQ altogether.
Splitting The Bass Into Low And High Controls
A neat mixing trick is to effectively split a bass guitar's frequency content into a low band and a high band using EQ. This allows us more control over the sub-bass and bass frequencies independent of the bass guitar's midrange.
This can be done if we only have a single recorded bass guitar track. Duplicate the track, and insert a low-pass filter with a specified cutoff frequency and slope. Insert a high-pass filter with the same cutoff frequency and slope on the original track. Use your ears to determine where this crossover/cutoff frequency should be (between 80 – 200 Hz is typical).
If you have bass tracks from a DI and a miked bass amp, you may also be interested in splitting the tracks into low and high controls. You can opt to low-pass the DI signal (typically) at a cutoff that sounds right and then high-pass the miked signal at the same cutoff with the same slope.
We can now process the low and high frequencies of the bass separately, giving ourselves more control over this critical element within the mix.
The low-end can be processed and EQed further to interact appropriately with the kick while maintaining solid low end. The high-end can be processed and shaped to bring out tonal characteristics that would benefit the mix.
Increase Brightness With A Low-pass Filter
Here's a counter-intuitive trick with EQ: we can actually increase the perceived brightness and presence of a bass guitar using a low-pass filter.
The harmonic content of a bass guitar doesn't extend far beyond 5 kHz in any remarkably audible way. Bass amps and cabinets don't typically produce frequencies beyond this range either.
While it's nice to have “air” above the frequency content of bass guitar, cutting out the high-end frequencies is often preferable to make room for instruments that do have musical content in these upper frequencies.
But we can also enhance the presence of the bass while doing so.
This is done by increasing the resonance boost at the low-pass filter's cutoff frequency. Most parametric EQs will allow for this. Bring the LPF down to the upper range of the bass guitar's harmonics and have the EQ boost this content before rolling off the high-end frequencies.
Using this EQ tip, we can brighten the bass guitar's sound and increase its presence in the mix, all while eliminating the signal's high-end noise.
To learn more about low-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A Low-Pass Filter & How Do LPFs Work?
Find The Characteristic Frequencies
While EQ isn't the only way to bring out the character of a bass guitar in a mix, it's a useful tool for allowing certain important frequencies to cut through a mix.
The second harmonic is particularly important to the overall body of a bass guitar's sound. If something sounds lacking in fullness in the bass, try boosting slightly and widely in the 150 – 250 Hz range.
Boosting certain frequencies can help make the bass more present without overloading the low-end (as is often the case when we push the fader). If we can't hear the bass guitar when monitoring low, it may need a bit of a mid-range boost to bring it out in the mix. If this is the case, a good place to check is in the 600 – 1,000 Hz range.
EQing Against Competition With The Kick Drum
Bass elements will compete with one another for the critical low-end frequencies of the mix. Perhaps the most common example is the bass guitar competing with the kick drum.
We'll want to use mirrored EQ to help carve out space for the bass and kick in the mix. Whichever element gets the lower-frequency boost (and higher-frequency cut) depends on the mix. Sometimes the bass should cover the lowest frequencies, and sometimes the kick should.
When EQing the low-end of the bass, it's often best to start with what works best for the kick and adjust the bass from there. It's also typically worth spending some time EQing the kick and bass together in solo to help ensure the low-end is sounding clean.
Find the “fundamental” frequency where the kick is powerful and resonant. It may not be necessary to boost the kick's EQ at this frequency, though cutting the bass gently at this frequency may be beneficial.
EQing Against Competition With Everything Else
Moving beyond the low-end, the bass guitar will have frequency content in the low-mids and mid-range.
In denser mixes, there may be significant frequency masking between the bass guitar and other elements with notable low-mid and mid-frequency content.
Frequency masking happens when two or more sounds compete for certain frequency bands and become ill-defined within those bands. They effectively “mask” each other, and our ears have difficulty perceiving them as distinct sound sources.
Frequency masking desensitizes our hearing and causes us to lose separation and balance in the mix.
So, suppose the bass is competing with other elements in the low-mids and mids. In that case, EQ can be an invaluable tool in carving out different frequency bands for each element to be pushed up in the mix while still maintaining their separation.
There are no specific frequencies I can give you here. Use your ears and listen for what sounds best.
Always A/B Test
This was mentioned earlier in the tip on mixing in context, but it's important to reiterate the importance of A/B testing.
When we're EQing a bass guitar (in the context of the mix), it's paramount that we periodically check our work by bypassing the EQ altogether.
Turning the EQ on and off is known as A/B testing. We're comparing A (the EQ on) against B (the EQ off) and making a decision about which sounds better in the mix.
It's too easy to lose our objective perspective when mixing, and A/Bing our EQ moves gives us a reminder of what our EQing actually sounds like while recalibrating our ears.
It's important to have an objective understanding of whether the EQ we're using benefits the mix or not. Be as impartial as possible when making a decision.
When A/B testing, tune the EQ off and listen for about 10 seconds. Turn it back on and listen for another 10 seconds. Repeat the process and decide whether to keep the EQ, readjust it, or get rid of it.
Beyond bypassing, we can also choose to toggle different frequency bands on and off in many EQ plugins. In these A/B tests, we're keeping the EQ engaged but toggling different bands on and off and judging whether they improve the mix or not.
If you're interested, be sure to check out my video on the top 5 A/B tests worth incorporating regularly into your mixes:
Be Aware Of Phase Shift
EQ causes inherent phase shifting at and around the cutoff and centre frequencies of the bands. Steeper filters and narrower boost/cut have great phase shifts.
Such frequency-dependent phase shifts aren't overly critical in the high end. However, when it comes to the longer wavelengths of low frequencies, even slight phase shifting can lead to significant constructive and destructive phase relationships between different elements.
Constructive interference can lead to resonances in the low end if we're not careful. Conversely, destructive interference can thin out the low-end of a mix if the bass is out of phase with other low-end elements.
The big problem here is that, unlike the EQ curve and interface, we don't typically see the phase shifting caused by an EQ. This can lead us to undermine the effects. Always mix with your ears rather than your eyes!
As an additional point, this is another reason why high-pass filtering “low-end rumble” from other tracks in the mix is worthwhile.
To learn more about high-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?
Other EQ Tips For Common Elements
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- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Snare Drums
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Be sure to also check out my top overall 11 EQ tips for mixing in this video: