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Synth Secrets is a series of programming tutorials in which we show how to make a range of classic and new synth sounds using plugins such as Massive, Sylenth1 and Predator.
This month we’re using Plugin Boutique’s Virtual CZ to make a classic reese bass. The Virtual CZ is modelled on the Casio CZ series of synths from the 80s, and uses phase distortion synthesis to weave its magic – a type of synthesis similar to FM synthesis. In his interview with Attack last year, Kevin Saunderson revealed that the original synth used for his classic reese bass sound (first heard on ‘Just Want Another Chance’) was a CZ-5000. The sound has become a staple of countless genres, made using everything from subtractive synthesis to FM synthesis. Here’s how to do it with Virtual CZ.
Here’s the MIDI we’ve used for our example. Note both the overlapping notes and the rising pitch bend at the end of the loop:
When you load an instance of Virtual CZ the ‘init’ (initialised) patch should be loaded automatically. If it isn’t, click the File button at the top of the synth and select Initialize from the drop-down menu.
Move to the OSC section in the top left corner. Instead of standard oscillators, the CZ has two Lines, each of which can load two different Shapes. Each Line can then be further shaped using the envelopes below.
On initialisation, only Line 1 is active, so let’s set this up first. To do so, click the top beige ‘1’ button and select ‘5 – SawPulse’. Now click on the bottom beige 1 and select ‘4 – DblSine’.
To fatten up the sound, activate Line 2. Do this by clicking on the MIX button (right hand side, OSC panel) and selecting ‘Line 1 + Line 2’. By default both beige pads are set to Sawtooth (position 1). Leave them as they are.
You may have noticed that when you activated Line 2 the panel beneath DETUNE switched on. These controls are key to the trademark Reese sound. First, turn the FINE dial to around 60 cents. Next, click on the button under MOD and select Ring from the drop-down menu. The ring modulation on this synth sounds awesome and really thickens things up. By all means experiment at this stage to get the sound you’re after – the more you detune it, the dirtier the result.
Leave the OSC section and move to the MASTER panel on the far right. Underneath POLYPHONY, select LEGATO, and immediately to the right in the TUNE section turn the PORTA (portamento) dial up to 28 (260 ms). The combined effect of these tweaks forces the synth to glide from one note to the next when they overlap.
(The advantage of using legato instead of mono mode here, incidentally, is that with legato the envelopes don’t re-trigger with each new key press, adding to the lazy ‘reesey’ vibe. Switch to mono to hear the difference.)
To supersize the sound, drop down to UNISON, click on the VOICES button and select 2.
For this example we’ve kept the number of voices deliberately low and haven’t moved the DETUNE dial alongside. Increasing either (or both) will add even more attitude to the bass, but bear in mind that by dialling in a dirtier sound you’ll be sacrificing clarity and definition.
Now let’s set up the synth to respond better to the MIDI pitch bend we programmed. To the right of UNISON, click on the BEND button and increase it from the default 2 to 12. The higher value means you can bend the pitch of the synth by greater values, making the pitch bend in the last bar of our loop much more effective.
Finally, to give give the bass a last dose of movement, set the DEPTH dial in the CHORUS section to around the half way mark.
A key element in most incarnations of the Reese sound is the use of a low-pass filter to add movement. At the bottom of both Line 1 and Line 2 there is a ‘DCW’ (digitally controlled waveform) control. This works like a filter for each of these lines, but due to the way the DCW envelope is set up on initialisation, these won’t currently have an effect on the sound.
Instead, set up automation in your DAW for both DEG1 Depth and DEG2 Depth (these correspond to the DEPTH controls found in the top right section of both of the DCW envelopes) and programme automation to add filter movement to the sound.
If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.
Synth Secrets is sponsored by
u-he are makers of award-winning software synthesisers and effects including Diva, Repro-1, Zebra2, Hive, Bazille, Presswerk and Satin.
Download the demos and try them for yourself at www.u-he.com