5 tricks for great rock
and metal bass tone


Quite a few things go into getting a great bass sound on your recordings.
And what constitutes a good bass sound for rock and metal is not the same as for other genres.

So a lot of the tips you’ll find online don’t really apply. We can’t cover all aspects of bass recording and mixing here, but we’ll look into some of the basics. It all starts with the instrument, the playing technique, and the amp, so that’s what we’ll cover.

1. Use fresh, clean, roundwound strings

As with any genre, a critical job for the bass is to create the tonal foundation for the chord instruments. What’s more specific to rock and metal is that you also want a metallic and clangy element in addition to that foundation.

You know, that growl that blends with both the guitars and the drums and adds dimension and drive. To achieve that, you typically want to use roundwound strings.


Yes, I know Steve Harris uses flatwounds, but his strings are among the brightest flats you can get (Rotosound), and his sound is also more about clickety-clickety rather than growl. For the growl, you want roundwound strings.

Steel strings are typically brighter than nickel, that’s just a matter of preference. But what’s more important is that the strings are fresh and clean. Dirt and oils from your hands build up over time, dulling the strings. 

We all know that bass strings are not exactly cheap.
When I do a production, the bass player usually has an endorsement and we get all the strings we need. However, there is an old and tried trick you can try at home to get dull strings back to life. You’ve probably heard about boiling strings in a pot for a few minutes, and it does indeed work in a pinch. Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid for extra measure.

This dissolves the gunk and gives your strings some of their piano-like brilliance back. Ultimately, though, you’ll need new strings. They’re expensive, but there’s no way around it.
You can extend the lifetime of your new strings by making it a habit to wash your hands properly with soap before you pick up the instrument.

That removes dirt and grease that otherwise ends up on your strings.

2. Make sure the strings hit the frets when you play

Having metallic sounding strings is only one part of the component — the real clang only occurs when they, in turn, hit something metallic.
That something is a fret. Your fresh roundwound strings need to be set low enough to slam into the frets when you play.

You’ll have to experiment to find the string height that suits your playing style and feels comfortable. If you play with your fingers, the string movement is directed downwards, towards the neck when you strike.

So in that case, you can have the strings farther away from the fretboard than if you play with a pick. With a pick, the string movement is more “sideways”, so you’ll need the strings a bit lower before you get them to hit the frets — depending on how hard you play the strings.
In any case, you’ll need to hit the strings quite hard.

Playing rock and metal bass with your fingers is more or less the same as a funky slap bass, although funksters typically slap with the thumb and use their index finger to alternate with the bright pops. We typically don’t do that in rock and metal.

Instead, we strike the strings hard with our index and middle fingers (and ring fingers if you want to do really fast gallops and such). And if we use a pick, it’s typically on the thicker/heavier side, so it doesn’t bend when it hits the strings.

3. Tune and intonate the bass

This one is pretty obvious, but still surprisingly common overseen.
Get your instrument tuned, and check the tuning between takes so it hasn’t slipped — which can easily happen with a hard-hitting playing style and low-cost instruments. Also, make sure your bass is intonated correctly.

Otherwise, the open string may be in tune, but some of the fretted notes won’t be. I won’t go into how to intonate your instrument here, there are plenty of other guides for that. Just make sure you do it, it’s not hard.

Check your intonation every now and then, and always do it if you switch string thickness or even just brand/type of strings.

4. Get a good bass amp and cab

I’m aware I haven’t mentioned the quality of the bass guitar itself.
The thing is that you can go a long way with low-cost instruments, and pretty much any brand and model, as long as you follow the advice above.
(You may want to skip the Hofner violin bass for metal, but work with me here, OK?).

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the bass amp and cab have more impact on the end result than the bass make and model.

What you’re looking for in rock and metal is a solid, somewhat compressed low end with at least a little distortion on top, but probably quite a lot!
There’s a reason the Ampeg SVT with an 8x10 cab has become a de facto standard for rock and metal bass, and that’s because it has precisely the characteristics I just mentioned. 

The lows and mids are quite clean, and very solid. The distortion occurs where you want it to, in the mids and highs where they bring out all the growl.

This is also why our Bassknob STD plugin is inspired by that amp.
I love and use my Ampeg in most cases when I record bass, and I wanted to bring that sound into the Bassknob STD. Sorry for tooting my own horn here, but I’m really proud of that plugin.
Check it out if you haven’t already.

5. Distort!

Distortion is obvious with electric guitars, but you typically don’t think about it when it comes to bass.
However, this is key to making the bass notes audible in a dense mix.
By adding all the extra harmonics you are helping with the definition of the sound.

You might be surprised how much bass distortion your favorite albums have.

Once it’s in the mix, it does not stand out as much, just blends in nicely.
And that brings me to the next point…

Adjust your settings in the context of the mix

This piece of advice goes for any sound source in a music mix, but it’s extra vital for bass guitars in rock mixes with loud guitars and drums. You may have a great bass sound when you play the instrument by itself or hear it soloed in the mix, but that is 100% irrelevant.

The only thing that matters is which parts of the bass sound manage to poke through the loud wall of guitars and drums and how it all forms a unity that works.

The impression of the bass sound soloed compared to hearing it in a dense rock mix can be drastically different, so make your settings in the context of the mix. Look, I’m not forbidding you to ever use the Solo button!

Just make sure you decide which aspects of the sound you want to fix while you hear things in context. You can then solo to make the tweaks, and the go back to the full mix to decide if you accomplished what you were after.

But this is taking us into mixing, which is a much bigger topic we’ll cover elsewhere.

Thanks for reading this far!
Cheers, Jens

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Krimh Drums
Krimh Drums

Krimh Drums


Krimh Drums is a next-level drum instrument created by a top-tier metal producer Jens Bogren in close collaboration with Kerim "Krimh" Lechner — a rising star among today's generation of metal drummers who has lent his outstanding skills to acts such as Behemoth, Decapitated, Dååth, and Septicflesh.

Krimh Drums goes beyond what you expect from typical MIDI drum instruments. It includes built-in algorithms that help create realistic performances and avoid the dreaded "machinegun effect" and other giveaways of MIDI programmed drums:

- Automatic double kick switching
- Unique algorithm for natural-sounding tom fills
- Automatic articulation enhancement for adding realism and human feel to performances

The instrument contains built-in EQ, compressors, transient shaper, and saturation for ultimate tone shaping.

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