Thanks to the remarkable advancements in music technology, it’s quite easy to transform the sound of your guitar into that of a bass guitar. There is a variety of methods you can use to achieve this.
Perhaps you’ve got an idea for a killer bassline but don’t have access to a bass guitar, or you’re simply curious about how to add more low-end thickness to your guitar playing.
After reading this guide, you’ll have a clear understanding of the most effective measures you can take to make your guitar sound like a bass guitar.
Table of Contents
Understanding Low-End Frequencies
In standard tuning, the guitar consists of the following notes (from lowest to highest): E, A, D, G, B, and E. The bass guitar follows the same pattern, consisting of the lowest four notes found on the electric guitar: E, A, D and G.
However, there’s a significant difference between the notes found on a guitar and those featured on bass. The bass is tuned down a whole octave lower than the guitar. This means that although the notes are the same, they are 12 semitones apart.
This results in the bass producing a sound that is rich with low-end frequencies, ranging from around 41Hz – 392Hz with additional harmonics in the treble end between 4kHz – 5kHz.
A 6-string electric guitar in standard tuning has a fundamental frequency range of around 80Hz – 1200Hz. The important difference to be aware of is between the lowest notes of the guitar and the bass. The bass can dive almost 40Hz deeper than a 6-string guitar.
It becomes apparent that in order to make a guitar sound like a bass guitar, you must somehow make it capable of producing frequencies somewhere in the region of 41 Hz.
Tuning down the lowest four strings on the guitar to be an octave lower may seem like a practical solution, but if you’ve ever tried to detune your guitar beyond a couple of semitones, you’ll know that the lack of tension makes it unplayable.
Consequently, we must look for solutions in the lower frequency range of the guitar without compromising its playability.
Octave & Pitch Shifter Pedals
In my experience, the best way to make a guitar sound like a bass guitar is by pairing it with a decent octave pedal like the Electro-Harmonix POG 2. Pitch shifter pedals like the DigiTech Drop do the same thing, except they can be used to create more complex sounds.
Octave pedals work by detecting the original signal of the guitar, then reproducing it at a lower or higher octave. They commonly feature controls labeled something like: “Sub Octave”, “Dry” and “Higher Octave”.
To make your guitar sound like a bass using an octave pedal, you’ll need to increase the prominence of the “sub-octave” control. You can blend it with the dry signal until you find the optimal balance.
This will allow the guitar to stoop to the lower frequencies that a bass guitar can produce. There are many great octave pedals on the market, and you can pick one up for a reasonably low cost.
EQ & Compression
To get the best out of your octave pedal, it’s a good idea to combine it with an EQ and a compressor pedal. EQ allows you to increase the prominence of the lower frequency band, which emphasizes the effect of the octave or pitch-shifter pedal.
For an EQ pedal for this purpose, I recommend going with the Source Audio EQ2.
The EQ pedal must have the capacity to adjust the lowest frequency band of around 40Hz for it to be effective. You can then find the right balance between the octave effect and the EQ settings.
Subtractive EQ is also a useful technique for this purpose. This entails reducing other frequency bands to make the bass frequencies more impactful. For example, you might scoop the high-mids to draw more attention to the bass frequencies.
If you want to ensure that the guitar is dynamically consistent, using a compressor is a good idea. These pedals limit the dynamic range of the guitar, producing a smoother sound.
When it comes to choosing a suitable compressor pedal, you can’t go wrong with the Keeley Compressor 4 LTD Edition.
Bass guitar is often compressed in recordings, to prevent sudden spikes in volume. It helps to control the attack and release of the instrument, and ensure that the low-end remains full regardless of playing velocity.
Using Your Tone Controls & Pickup Selector
If your guitar has tone pots and a pickup selector, these tools can also be useful for shaping the sound to be more resembling a bass.
The bridge pickup usually produces a brighter sound than the neck pickup, so choosing the latter is likely to be a better choice for bass-like tones. You can then adjust the tone controls to smoothen the sound or highlight certain frequencies which sound desirable.
Using heavy-gauge strings, such as those meant for drop tunings (I recommend these Mammoth Slinky strings), is a good choice if you’re trying to make a guitar sound like a bass. This is because the added thickness of the strings results in a more pronounced, fuller tone, compared to the light-gauge options.
The only downside to using heavier strings is that they are more difficult to bend, and can cause finger fatigue more quickly than their lighter-gauge equivalents.
My final tip for making a guitar sound like a bass is using a playing technique known as palm muting. This is where you use the palm of your strumming hand to dampen the vibrations of the strings while playing.
Palm-muting is a technique that many bassists used in the 60s to get that classic, warm, “rubbery” bass tone. It prevents the strings from resonating fully, tightening the dynamics and allowing you to control the tone.
It’s possible to create authentic-sounding bass guitar tones using an electric guitar. Even if you only have an octave pedal at your disposal, you can still achieve a decent bass tone. If you use all of the tools listed in this guide, you’ll be amazed at the results!