Here at Musical Sanctuary, we are huge fans of physically modeled instruments – and the possibilities that come with them.
Previously, if you needed a bass track for your recording, you had two options.
Either you could record yourself playing an actual bass, or you could use one of the sampled bass libraries available on the market and play it with your keyboard.
That’s fine at all, but there’s one problem – due to the way sampling works, developers can only include a limited number of options in their software. Doing something as simple as letting you choose between flat wound and round wound bass strings doubles the entire size of the sample library, and the number of required samples goes up exponentially for each additional option that you add.
Enter physical modeling.
Physical Modeling, And The Advantages It Offers
Bass players are often quite picky about their tone, and we can’t blame them.
Fortunately, this is where physical modeling shines.
Instead of using small recordings of an actual bass to play back the notes, physical modeling uses complex math to recreate the sound of the instrument from scratch.
This means that you can make an infinite number of adjustments without software creators having to actually mic up a bass and take a bajillion recordings.
You can even do things that would otherwise be extremely impractical to do, like instantly swap out pickups or move them around up and down the body of the bass. We’ll get more into the details of how you can customize the sound later, but hopefully this gives you an idea. This is hands down the most customizable bass VST on the market right now, and by the end of this review you’ll see why.
As an added benefit to physical modeling, this also keeps the file size of MODO BASS quite small – only around 300mb.
The Bass Selection
At the time of writing, the full version MODO BASS currently has 14 basses available to choose from, whereas the cheaper SE version only has 2 basses (the ’60s P-Bass and the ’70s P-Bass pictured above.) It should be noted that IK Multimedia has added new basses free of charge since the program was originally released.
The list of basses are as follows:
’60s and ’70s P-basses, which are based on Fender Precision Basses.
’70s J-bass and Modern J-Bass, which are based on Fender Jazz Basses.
Devil Bass, which is based on a Gibson EB-0.
Bass Man 5, which is based on a 5-string Music Man StingRay.
Rick n’ Bass, which is based on a Rickenbacker 4003.
Studio Bass, which is based on a Yamaha TRB5P.
Violin Bass, which is based on a Hofner Violin.
Thunder Bass, which is based on a Gibson Thunderbird.
Japan Bass, which is based on a Ibanez Soundgear.
Flame Bass, which is based on a Warwick Streamer.
On its own, each bass sounds true and authentic to the instruments they are trying to model – even without all of the customization options, MODO BASS would have been a great deal just for the sheer number of different basses available all in one package.
Let’s select a bass, and start looking over the interface in more detail. Note that MODO Bass currently has over 100 built-in presets, and you can save your own at any time. Playing with presets is a quick way to see just how diverse a range of sounds MODO BASS has to offer.
MODO BASS Play Style Customization
Here on the ‘Play Style’ screen is where things really start getting interesting.
Part of what makes bass unique (and so difficult to perfectly sample) is that there are so many variations in the way bassists play. Not only with articulations, but with how they hit the strings and what finger positions they choose to use, for example.
Starting out with this main interface here, you have a keyboard running across the bottom. As you play a note, this will light up, showing you what note is being played and what string / fret is being used to generate that note. The white keys represent the playable range, grey keys are notes that can be played by adding strings or changing basses, and the red notes are reserved for keyswitches. I should note that all of these settings can be mapped to keyswitches or MIDI controls, making it easy to tweak them while playing or after your track has been sketched out.
On the left hand side, you have many of the settings chosen at this particular time, including settings in the ‘Strings’ and ‘Electronics’ tabs that we’ll view in a moment. If you want to reset the bass back to its default settings when you started, you can just click the ‘Reset Bass to Default’ button, and it will put everything back how it was.
At the top of the Play Style screen you have a large number of settings.
Starting with one of the most important, you can choose between simulating plucking the strings with a finger, a pick, or slapping the bass. As you can expect, these will instantly change the sound of the instrument.
While each sounds good, one of the few gripes we have with this plugin is that the slap sound is a bit weak – it sounds fine in the mix, but wouldn’t be our first choice for a solo.
Moving on over to the right, we have our level of muting when the notes are played. The muting in MODO Bass sounds really authentic, and having fine control over it is really wonderful and definitely adds to the authenticity of the sound, helping it to sound less like a software-based instrument and more like an actual bass guitar recording.
Next, we have some further settings to control how the strings are hit. Note that these settings change depending on whether you’re using the finger, pick or slap setting.
For finger, you can control whether you want to use your index finger, middle finger, or alternate between them. You can also choose between a light, normal or heavy touch.
For pick, you can specify if you want downstrokes only, upstrokes only, or to alternate between the two. You can also choose between normal and hard scratch, which simulates different levels of pick thickness.
Finally for slap, you can also choose between slapping and pulling the strings, as well as an ‘auto’ function that determines which to use by how hard you hit the keys. Again, the slap isn’t my favorite, but it works well enough for most things, especially with the ‘auto’ setting turned on.
Moving on over to the right, you have the option to let the strings ring out (regardless of the duration of the note), for a nice sustain sound.
Next, you have some control over which fingering positioned are used.
‘First Position’ plays using the first 5 frets of the bass, then everything above that is done only on the G string (assuming you are playing a 4-string bass.)
‘Nearest’ plays the nearest fret to the last note played, and jumps across strings much more.
Finally, ‘Easy’ was a setting IK Multimedia made by studying how bass riffs were played by famous bassists. In our experience, this setting still likes to play notes on the G string quite frequently.
The ‘Open String’ setting allows you to utilize open strings during riffs, instead of forcing a fretted note.
Finally, we have Detach Noise and Slide Noise. Detach noise increases the level of noise made while releasing the frets, and slide noise models the noise of made by your fingers moving between frets. These both add a degree of authenticity to the sound and help it sound more natural.
Before we move away from the ‘Play Style’ screen, there are two more things we can do.
See the orange bar going down over the strings? We can grab that and move it up and down to adjust where the strings are hit while playing them.
Additionally, the pickups look a bit out of place in this picture – that is because I moved them all the way down. Pickups can be moved and positioned independently of each other, allowing you to shape the tone in ways that would simply be impractical to do on your own.
The best way to hear the difference is to take it to extremes, like I have done in the picture above, then fine tune it to your liking.
This feature is pretty neat!
Strings Settings Section
Moving on over to the Strings section, we are presented with more options.
First, we have the option to change the number of strings on the bass, from 4 up to 6. Note that this does change the tonal characteristics of the sound, so you may not want to adjust it if you don’t plan on taking advantage of the extra range.
Next, you have the option to turn on drop D tuning, as well as lower or raise the action of the strings.
MODO Bass allows you to further customization the strings you’re using, which is really neat. The sound of these adjustments aren’t enormous and seem to be more significant on some basses than others, but by tweaking several settings you can start to notice real differences in the tone.
This bass VST allows you to choose between flat wound and round wound strings, as well as the gauge of the strings. You have three settings to choose from here – light, medium and heavy.
Finally, you can adjust the age of the strings – from brand new, to ‘broken in’ (moderately played on), or old.
As mentioned earlier, these sort of adjustments are simply not possible with sample-based libraries, and the fact that they can be done in just a few clicks (without having to wait for a new sample bank to load) is such a pleasure, especially in the middle of a creative session.
Electronics Settings Section
In the electronics section, you have a bit more control over the pickups and circuitry of the instrument.
One really neat feature is the ability to mix and match pickups from any of the other basses. In total, there are 14 different pickups to choose from. On this screen, you can also reposition the pickups by clicking and dragging them. This is a little bit nicer than on the ‘Play Style’s screen, because it shows you the exact distance each pickup is placed at. If you wish, you can click on the number and manually type in the exact distance you’re looking for.
As you could expect, the volume of each pickup can be adjusted independently. You can also remove one or both pickups if you wish, though the instrument will make no noise with both pickups removed unless you turn the volume up on the optional piezo pickup.
Finally, you have the ability to switch between a passive and an active bass, and make adjustments to the signal just like you would on an active bass guitar.
Amp / FX Settings
In this section, you can control the amps and the various effects pedals that are built in to MODO BASS.
I’ll admit, considering the sheer volume of amps, cabinets and stompboxes available in IK Multimedia’s Amplitube, it’s a bit of a shame that that they didn’t reuse more of these for MODO Bass. Yes, you can obviously load other effects and plugins into your DAW, but it would’ve been nice to have more built-in.
In the picture above, you can see the settings for the amp. Currently, MODO BASS has two amps available – a solid state amp, and a tube amp. The settings change depending on which you’re using.
On the right-hand side, you can control the volume of the amp, the volume of the direct input signal, and the master volume.
Clicking on the pedalboard will bring up your effects pedals. Currently, there are 7 available – an octaver, distortion pedal, chorus, compressor, delay, envelope filter, and graphic EQ. Up to 4 of these can be used at any one time, and clicking on one of them will bring up the settings for that specific pedal.
Again, considering Amplitube has over 100 different pedals with many specifically for bass, it is a bit of a shame that more weren’t included in MODO BASS.
All-in-all, this might be our favorite bass VST available, and certainly the greatest for those looking to really finetune their tone.
While it’s hard to get a software-based instrument sounding just like the real thing, MODO BASS comes about as close as you can, and the sheer number of basses and tweaking that’s possible with it is simply incredible.
At $299 it’s a bit pricey on its own, but considering how important bass is to a song we consider it to be one of or must-haves. Even if you intend to record an actual bass part later, it’s still pretty wonderful for sketching.
We hope that you found this review helpful. If you have any questions about MODO BASS or other bass VSTs, feel free to ask them using the comment form below.
Enjoy, and have fun!
– The Musical Sanctuary Team