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Help w/ achieving fretless bass sound via Synths
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques  
Author Help w/ achieving fretless bass sound via Synths
Hey folks,

New user here at MW! I was hoping I might be able to pick your collective brain when it comes to establishing a fretless bass or double bass sound using Analog/Digital/Soft Synth or a combination of each to achieve the sound I am looking for.

The sound in question is the distinctive mwaw/bloom sound that the fretless is capable of producing. Currently, I am in possession of a fretted Fender P-Bass and have had little success creating this particular sound. I’m not sure I want to go as far as de-fretting my bass and purchasing a fretless is a little out of my budget at this time.

So my next best bet is achieving this through synth. I could use samples but I would like to try and achieve the sound via synth.

Before I dive into my attempts thus far, here are a few examples of the technique I am speaking of:

Kate Bush


For those interested - the Kate Bush song above uses a combination of Fairlight for the Glass Breaking Sounds and LinnDrum for the Percussion. The 'bloom' technique is performed on an actual fretless bass in this particular track.

Here are a few synthetic examples that are most likely FM type sounds:


[video] quT6pS8yVoh-IYBYA_Cm&index=11[/video]

The example above is one of the best I’ve found.

Final Fantasy VIII


Fretless Bass sounds are all over Nobuo Uematsu’s FF Soundtracks! They really sound wonderful. This example really uses the bloom technique to create a wonderful atmosphere.

Illusion City

[video] 9UIMMBWzZvTn5A2nrSSxV2fTMDD8R[/video]

Not as apparent but has hints of a fretless sound.

Here is the gear I have access to:


Korg MS-10
Moog Sub Phatty
Roland Juno 106


Yamaha DX7 (& Dexed VST)
Arturia Soft Synth Collection (SEM, Model D, M.Modular, ARP, CS-80 etc.)
Nord Electro 2

The closest I have been able to come to the sounds posted above is using FM Synths. But am unaware which ADSR settings (high attack, low decay?) and modulation or pitch bending techniques I may need to use. At times I have come close with the Sub Phatty/Korg MS-10 but it’s not quite right… confused. The DX-7 presets sort of come close but still is missing that slow attack and resonant string warble that is so indicative of the fretless sound.

Are there any methods MW might be able to share to nail this technique? Or any patches that may be a good jumping off point for the gear mentioned above?

Any help would be greatly appreciated! grin
That Kate Bush track has Eberhard Weber playing bass and as far as I'm concerned he is a god, the master of electric upright bass.

I'd imagine the DX7 would be able to come closest soundwise but the key is playing interface and I don't think you'll be able to get anywhere without something like a ribbon controller, Linnstrument, Roli, Continuum, etc
Thanks for the tip, Pulse_Divider!

Years ago... I went to a garage sale and found Eberhard Weber's first record 'The Colours of Chloë' for a quarter. Having no prior knowledge of who he was I put on the record was blown away! Only very recently did I discover he provided bass on some of my favorite Kate Bush tracks.

Do you think I might be able to achieve that technique using the CS-80 VST Ribbon Controller and the pitch wheel from my Sub Phatty? As an alternative? I imagine a keyboard with aftertouch might help?
Also, have you tried tapewound strings on your bass yet? I have a hollowbody bass with tapewounds and it starts to achieve that tone, though obviously you can't do smooth pitch glides if your bass has frets.
But yeah, with a synth you'd need a very tactile playing interface and then I'd suggest routing velocity and aftertouch to volume, and then slew/attenuate them and route that to filter. Add a touch of envelope that is dynamically controlled and a little aftertouch to filter and volume and you should start to get there.

I don't want to derail your thread with my love of Eberhard Weber but here's a live video so you can see what he's doing.

Thanks for the video (looks like I am in for a treat!) and I appreciate your insights! I will try some of your suggestions and let you know if I have any success.

As for the bass, I have not tried the tapewound strings. That could be a cool alternative. I just scouted a cheap-o Yamaha Fretless Bass on some local classified AD. I might try and convince the wife to let me get it if all else fails. grin
You can get close to the sound with wavefolding or FM, so, yes, your DX7 would be a good starting point. I can also hear some chorus or flanger in your Kate Bush + the first Eberhard Weber example.

But as pulse_divider suggests, it's probably in the technique and interface too: notes which are not quite in tune/ pitch bend, vibrato, slides ... all easier and requiring less modulators/patching on the real thing.

Thanks for the Weber links. I hadn't heard of him before but can sense one of my heroes, Mick Karn might have.
Probably depends on how much of a stickler for "realistic" you want to be, but I got a fretless sound on my MS-20 Mini that I was really impressed with - just the two VCOs set to a middling-narrow pulse waveform and slightly detuned, one a bit wider on the pulse width than the other, and the lowpass VCF at a fairly low cutoff and moderate resonance, with a little bit of envelope modulation to help get that distinctive initial attack "bwoing." Past that, the key is to carefully exploit single-triggering envelopes and auto-portamento/glide settings to mimic the playing style.
Best fretless bass sound I ever got was on my MS-20 mini with a narrowish pulse wave, slightly resonant low pass and the high pass very resonant and ttuned kind of low, to act as a bass boost. Tasteful playing and glide made t come to life.
i've been after this exact sound lately as well. the tone isn't that difficult to achieve , as others have stated, it's the playing technique. the envelope shapes/level can vary, you don't want glide all the time, occasional vibrato playable control over rate, etc. when it comes down to it, i'd go for the cheap bass over investing in something like a Roli.
commodorejohn wrote:
...just the two VCOs set to a middling-narrow pulse waveform and slightly detuned, one a bit wider on the pulse width than the other, and the lowpass VCF at a fairly low cutoff and moderate resonance, with a little bit of envelope modulation to help get that distinctive initial attack "bwoing."

That's pretty much what I do also. Pulse wave with PW set around 33%, fairly low filter cutoff, just a touch of filter envelope, maybe a bit of glide. But what adds extra magic; send a fast attack/decay envelope into the PWM (you can use the same envelope you are using for the VCA, or create a new one with an isolated "pick attack" and no sustain/release). This is what gives you a bit of "growl/grit" on the start of each note, and makes it sound more organic. As you increase the amount into the PWM it turns from an acoustic-growl sort of sound, into an overdriven type of thing.
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