TECH TIPS: Modern Bass Tones – Super Vintage Gets Super Modern

December 9th, 2022 |  John Dines

As you may already have seen, we were honoured to have Vman, bassist of Slipknot, visit Origin Effects HQ recently. While he was here trying prototype pedals, he was plugged into a BASSRIG Super Vintage and a Cali76 Compact Bass – two mainstays of his touring rig – and sounded phenomenal! 

This got us thinking; we spend a lot of time talking about and demonstrating the BASSRIG Super Vintage’s very vintage credentials. It is, after all, a recreation of the Ampeg® SVT®, which is synonymous with 1970s bass tone. But this amp is still the go-to for many modern players, particularly of heavier music styles, and the BASSRIG Super Vintage is absolutely capable of capturing those sounds too. 

So, we thought we’d explore the modern side of this vintage-inspired pedal, with a little help from a Cali76 Compact Bass because, well… you could hardly accuse Slipknot of being stuck in the ‘70s! 

Disclaimer: this is not a “How To Sound Like Vman” article. There are many aspects to his sounds, not least the man plucking the strings. It’s more that the frankly monstrous tones he was getting inspired us to try something similar, better suited to those with more modest means at their disposal. This was our process… 

The BASSRIG Super Vintage, which recreates all the tones and behaviour of the Ampeg® SVT®, and can be treated as the “amp” in our setup. If you own one of these, you can play along at home. We recommend using the DI OUT to get the benefits of the analogue cabinet simulator. 

The SVT® has huge low end, the thundering sound of an 8×10 cabinet and a famous overdrive tone, capable of varying shades of growl and grind. Though popular among modern bassists, it’s still a vintage, non-master volume amp, producing its overdrive in the output stage. Because the overdrive is the last thing in the chain, the tone controls come before the drive. The same is true in the Super Vintage, which means we have to treat it a little differently than a modern amp or preamp pedal, where the drive comes before the EQ. 

Fat Clean Sound

If we start with a clean sound, we can adjust the EQ to a fairly “modern” setting, boosting some bass for extra depth, adding treble for clarity and scooping mids at 220Hz to prevent things from becoming too congested and fighting with the guitars in a mix. So far so good. However, as we increase the DRIVE control and add gain, that extra low end begins to overwhelm the output stage and become “flubby” (technical term). 

Removing some bass can help restore clarity in the low frequencies, but taking too much away will make the tone too thin. Using the Super Vintage’s LO CUT switch applies a high pass filter at the output of the preamp, allowing us to cut the lowest frequencies from our signal and maintain clarity, without resorting to excessive use of the bass control and removing frequencies we’d rather keep. 

Lo Cut Enabled

Adjusting bass EQ before the overdrive stage not only alters the frequency content but also the character of the drive. It’s possible to dial in just the right amount of “squish”, which is an essential part of valve bass amp tones, the tones the Super Vintage was made to recreate. But a modern bass tone requires a lot more clarity than this and we’re still making a compromise between having enough low end and keeping thing sounding controlled. This is where the BLEND control comes in. 

It’s common for producers to mix the sound of a miked-up bass amp with a clean DI signal in order to balance the character and drive of the amp with clarity of the DI. It’s also a popular feature of more typical bass drive pedals to blend in some clean signal for the same reason – you can keep the driven tone free of excess bass, but never lose the depth of the clean tone. The Super Vintage’s BLEND control does just the same, introducing unaffected clean tone as you turn the knob anticlockwise. 

Not only does this add a more hi-fi quality to the sound, especially with an active bass, but it also means we’re able to turn down the bass in the “amp” bit of our signal, as the clean path is now providing the low end. Less bass in our “amp” sound means we can use more overdrive without losing definition, so we can turn that up too! 

If you’re using an active bass, you can further tweak the sound with the onboard EQ, adding more bass which will beef up the clean tone, while compensating by taking a little more bass out of the “amp” tone. While this can really improve the overall tone and clarity, it doesn’t solve the other problem of blending clean and drive tones: dynamics. 

Blended Signal with Comp

An overdrive tone, by its very nature, restricts dynamics. Notes that are picked louder don’t result in more volume, they result in more overdrive as the peaks of the signal are all being clipped by the overdriving circuitry. We’re all familiar with this concept but what might not immediately be obvious is how that mixes with a clean tone. Because a clean signal is free to represent those loud peaks with their full dynamic range intact, digging in harder with a blended signal makes those clean peaks jump out of the mix, suddenly sounding much louder than your drive sound. The effect of this is weird in two ways: firstly, dynamic playing makes it sound like your clean/drive blend is always changing. Secondly, digging in harder actually makes your overall tone sound cleaner, which is probably the opposite of what we want when we play hard. This is where we need a good compressor, in our case, a Cali76 Compact Bass. 

A compressor also restricts peaks from getting louder, but cleanly. By dialling in the right compression settings ahead of our BASSRIG, we can get our clean tone to react to dynamics in the same way as our drive tone. Loud peaks will be kept in check and there won’t be an adverse effect on the drive tone either. In fact, hitting our “amp” with more even dynamics will keep our bass signal in the “sweet spot” of overdrive, helping it sound consistently more overdriven without needing to add any more gain.  

Though there is no shortage of modern, blendable bass overdrives on the market, we think there’s something special about the overdrive tones of a cranked vintage amp. That extra character and bounce is the reason big, roaring valve heads are still used on today’s heaviest records, and the reason we went to such lengths to capture that mojo in the BASSRIG pedals. Sure, when Vman hits the road, he takes a truckload of gear and an army of experts, but you can get some pretty enormous sounds with a couple of pedals and a little tweaking.