What is synth bass?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by mrbell321, Nov 26, 2012.

  1. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    I know the characteristic sound when people talk about "synth bass", but what IS it?
    I understand compression(scale the waveform to a certain max level), overdrive, distorition, fuzz(varying levels of squishing the peaks of the waveform w/ different artifacts), octavers(flipping the wave and adding it back to the original signal), chorus(pitch modulation and delay), wah/envelope filters(use the changing signal to sweep a filter), but what is synth?
  2. warwick.hoy


    Aug 20, 2006
    Spokane, WA.
    Beta Tester: Source Audio.
    Got Netflix? Watch the MOOG Documentary.
  3. Phagor


    Mar 26, 2002
    London, UK
    If you're talking about synth pedals, then there are two main types:

    Waveshapers, which take your bass's signal and change the waveform in some way, usually by distortion or filtering, to make it more 'synthy'. They may also use an octave effect to double your bass's pitch an octave or more above/below; and

    Pitch trackers, which use oscillators like those on 'real' synthesisers, but change the pitch of the oscillators based on your bass's signal.

    After that, both types process the audio with filters (like an envelope filter, to change the harmonic content of the signal) and amplifiers (to change the level of the signal), both possibly controlled by envelope generators (to control changes to filtering and amplitude over time).

    They may also have low frequency oscillators (which can introduce slow changes to pitch/filter/amplitude over time, like vibrato or tremolo).

    The main difference between the two types is in the sound generation - the waveshapers have excellent response to your playing, since they just modify your bass's signal, but you might find that the sound is too fuzzy or not synthy enough for your tastes.

    The pitch tracking types sound more like 'real' synthesisers, because they use they same analog or digital oscillators, but tracking the pitch of the note you are playing on your bass is not easy, and these types often have tracking issues, which may result in glitches, wrong notes, delays before playing notes etc.

    While there are many all-in-one synth pedals (Akai Deep Impact, EHX Bass Micro Synth, MarkBass Super Synth, Boss SYB5, Ibanez SB7, Behringer BSY600 to name a few), many players experiment with different pedals, along the lines of the effects you mentioned, to create synth sounds. A typical chain of pedals might be:

    Fuzz - Octave - Envelope Filter - Chorus/Phaser/Flanger - Reverb

    There are a million threads on bass synth effects here - try this or just search for 'synth':

  4. Crater


    Oct 12, 2011
    Dallas, TX area
    Synth is short for "synthesizer", an electronic keyboard instrument that "synthesizes" sound by using electronic oscillators for tone generation and filters for tone shaping. In the 80's the Moog synthesizer became a popular instrument for playing basslines in some genres of music.

    Nowadays many bassists replicate the bass synth sound with effects pedals.
  5. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Haha, ok. So, I should have been more clear that I was specifically talking about synth pedals/effects and what they do to the signal.

    Phagor got close. I'm actually asking specifically about waveshapers. So, more specifically I want to ask:

    What is the distortion/filtering that makes a dry bass signal sound synthy?
  6. I can really only speak to the Bass Micro Synth (waveform shaper) since I've owned that pedal, but here it goes.

    The BMS splits your signal into four parallel paths. Runs one clean, one through and octave down effect, one through an octave up effect, and one through a fuzz or 'square wave' effect. The relative levels of each of these paths is adjustable. It then recombines the signal and runs it through an attack delay circuit (which creates the fade in sound) and then through the filter circuit. (The order of the attack delay and filter circuits may be reversed, but the effect on the sound is pretty much the same).

    The filter circuit of the BMS is a triggered filter, not an envelope filter. Whenever your attack is stronger than the setting of the trigger, it 'triggers' the filter to start, and then it sweeps at a predetermined rate. The start and stop frequency are pretty self explanatory, the filter starts at the start setting and stops at the stop setting. The resonance control affects the shape of the filter as it moves through the frequency range (higher resonance = more pronounced filter effect), and the rate slider effects the speed which the filter moves. Slower speeds give you more of a 'Tom Sawyer' tone, a little faster gives you closer to 'Mr. Crowley', and faster still goes 'Chameleon'.

    With these controls, you can get really shape your tone to get a broad fat static tone, or a sweeping tone that changes character over the decay of the note, or most of what's in between.

    Hope that helped. There are more than one way to get to synth, but that is pretty much how the BMS does it.
  7. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Awesome, that's exactly what I was looking for. Anyone else have knowledge of a different unit for comparison?
  8. Phagor


    Mar 26, 2002
    London, UK
    I should have mentioned that the octave effect in waveshaper synth pedals also can have tracking issues - wrong octave, warbelling between two notes, not working below a certain note on your bass...

    I haven't tried one, but the Korg G5 is usually considered the king of the waveshapers. Similar deal to the Bass Micro Synth, but with more shaper and filter options, and with presets you can save and switch between.

    The Boss SYB 5 has a waveshaper mode as well as oscillator modes.

    I have a BMS and love it, but in recent years, I've been looking for a more real synth sound, so have gone over to pitch tracking. I've gone with a MarkBass Super Synth, but am looking for an Akai Deep Impact. Expensive hobby!
  9. 11o8o


    Feb 8, 2012
    I had BOSS ME 6B - great synths; I have BOSS ME 8B - even better synths; few days ago I have bought BOSS GT 6B but still haven't made any synth patches (found on forums that GT 6B has the best synths of all GT's).

    My limit is: Will not install MIDI pickup on bass. So, pitch tracker synth with oscilators are my choice.