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 u-He’s Ace synth to make a subby bass sound inspired by the classic 808 kick drum.
Although you could make a similar sound by resampling a kick drum sample, using a synth gives you more control over the timbre of the sound. Using the pitch modulation techniques explored, you’ll also be able to create a variety of other similar synth sounds.
Here’s an audio example of the sound we’ll be making:
And here’s the MIDI screengrab of the hook we used:
We’ll be using U-He’s Ace for this walkthrough, but any synth that can produce sine or triangle waves and has the ability to modulate pitch using an envelope will be able to do the job.
Open Ace then click on the ‘patch’ button in the top left corner. Initialise a patch by selecting ’09 Templates’ from the left-hand list then selecting ‘initialize’ to the right.
Return to the ‘synth’ section by clicking the top right ‘synth’ button.
Both sine and triangle waves are ideal building blocks for sub bass sounds. Change the waveform of the first oscillator by clicking the box underneath the waveform selector (it’s the third dial from the left in the top row of the VCO box). Clicking it once gives us the option to select between a Peak or Tri wave instead of a Saw or Pulse. Turn the waveform selector all the way to the right and check the readout in the info panel reads 100.00 – which is a triangle wave.
Next, let’s set the amplitude envelope to control the initial shape of the sound. Ace features two envelopes (the two panels beneath ‘ADSR’). The one controlling the amplitude is the top one.
Click and drag the sliders until you get readouts of 0.00 for ‘a’ (attack), 40.50 for ‘d’ (decay), 0.00 for ‘s’ (sustain) and 24.50 for ‘r’ (release).
Basslines almost always benefit from being monophonic. To flip Ace into monophonic mode, click and hold on the button to the left of ‘mode’ (top left) and select ‘mono’ from the drop-down menu.
The trademark percussive feel that gives attitude to the sound comes by applying an envelope to the pitch of the oscillator.
In the bottom left corner of the ‘VCO’ section there’s a grey patch cable socket under the ’50 semi’ control. Click and hold until a virtual wire appears, then drag that wire to the socket alongside the lower (second) ADSR envelope.
When the connection is made, turn the ’50 semi’ dial all the way to the right to apply the modulation. Now the pitch of the oscillator is being modulated by the second envelope.
Finally, tweak the second envelope with an attack of 0.00, decay of 12.50, sustain of 24.00 and release of 0.00.
With the sound taking shape, let’s turn our attention to effects. The FX section of Ace is found in the top right corner of the synth.
First, to add some low-end weight to the sound, click and drag on the ‘Bass’ dial (bottom right of the FX panel) and boost it to around 37.50.
Next, click once on the ‘Chorus off’ box (top left) so that it reads ‘Chorus 1’. Reduce the ‘mix’ control to 11.00 and turn the ‘center’ dial all the way to the right. This adds a dose of warmth and depth to the sound.
Distortion infuses the sound with a final touch of grit and weight. Experiment with a variety of distortion units until you find the sound you’re after – the trick is not to decimate the sound but to use the distortion to bring out the decay of the bass. We’ve chosen Fabfilter’s multiband Saturn for this example and we’ve not gone mad with tweaking – we simply loaded up the plugin and turned ‘drive’ to 55%.
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