Bass is my first instrument and as a bass player I’ve always been aware of the bewildering choice of guitar amp modelling plug-ins available. Everyone seems to make one, ranging from free generic emulations such as Eleven Free through to lovingly crafted emulations of classic amplifiers like the UAD Marshall Plexi 1959. Bass players haven’t ever had the variety of choices on offer to their guitar playing cousins and while DI bass has its place, I for one haven’t used a straight DI bass on its own in a track for years. I’m a big fan of re-amping but the simplicity of tracking through a bass amp modelling plug-in has left me leaving my (lovely) TC bass amp gathering dust more and more recently. Part of the reason that bass doesn’t get the same attention guitars do when it comes to amplifiers is probably because when it comes to classic bass amps the list is rather shorter than it is for guitars. That's not to say that the amplifier used isn’t important but the job of a bass amp is to be powerful and relatively flat. The same can’t be said of guitar amps.
The negligible latency while tracking through UAD plug-ins combined with the quality of the sounds on offer means that for me, plug-ins are no longer a convenient compromise. They can sound better than my amp. Let's look at the options available for bassists.
Softube Bass Amp Room
Given their wide range of classic studio gear plug-ins available it’s easy to forget that Softube started as an amp modelling company. Complementing their vintage and metal amp room products for guitar, Bass Amp Room is modelled on an unspecified 70’s guitar amp. Softube aren’t saying what it is and while I have my suspicions I have no more info on this than anyone else. The Amp Room format is highly visual and intuitive with a choice of three cabinets and a wide variety of mic positions on the click-and-drag mic stand. The three cabinets available are an 8x10, a 4x12 and unusually a 1x12. Rather than just modelling an amp and cabinet, this plug-in offers simple but effective tools for shaping bass sounds including high and low pass filters, a one-knob EQ and limiter on the DI input and importantly there is a DI/Amp mix control, acknowledging the common practice of combining DI and amped sounds, something not usually done on guitar amp sims.
The sounds on offer range from clear and deep to very dirty. Of the three cabinets the 4x12 is my favourite, offering just the right combination of depth and speed. The virtual miking offers predictable results and I really like the fact that it offers one mic but continuously variable positions. On bass where the mic is is at least as important as what the mic is. A handy tip is that using command (control on PC) offers fine control over the mic position making this much easier to use with precision.
Ampeg SVT VR
When it comes to famous bass amps the most famous manufacturer has to be Ampeg. Originally a manufacturer of pickups for upright basses (an amplified “peg” for the bass, hence Ampeg) they enjoyed huge success with the Portaflex range of combos. As the 60s gave way to the 70s, 25 watts of B15 Portaflex wasn’t going to cut it and the infamy the SVT or “Super Vacuum Tube” enjoyed was because at a time when the biggest valve amps available to guitarists from Marshall, Hiwatt and Fender were 200 watts, the SVT was designed to be, in the words of the designer “the biggest, nastiest bass amplifier the world has ever seen”. In its original incarnation it was indeed huge, with two 8x10 cabinets necessary to manage the huge 300 watts of all valve power this wasn’t an amp to be taken lightly (literally, as anyone who has ever moved one will know). Some years ago I engineered a tour which involved five bass players, all playing through SVT/8x10 rigs, and the power available was disorientating to say the least. For classic rock tones with a little (or a lot) of valve crunch and flexible midrange scrape and clank over a solid, articulate bottom end, this amp is the classic rock bass tone.
Ampeg SVT-3 PRO
More flexible EQ, more power and a third of the weight. Ok the last two don’t really apply to the plug-in but the enhanced EQ, focussed on the all-important midrange makes this modern take on the classic SVT more flexible and if I’m honest I think I prefer it to the SVT VR. The amp is solid state with a valve preamp section which might be why this model sounds so firm and in control at the extreme bottom end. The well chosen midrange frequencies of 220Hz, 450Hz, 800Hz, 1.6KHz and 3KHz offer very distinct voices and the 9 band graphic allows overall shaping. This amp model was a surprise to me and if you assume you’ll prefer the SVT VR because you like vintage tones all I can say is try this one too. I expected to prefer the VR but having tried this I’m not so sure.
As a bass player, if I had to choose only one UAD plug-in, I’d be really tempted to make it the SVT-3 PRO…