IK Multimedia MODO Bass by Sound-Guy
MODO Bass and MODO Bass SE (1.5 update) from IK Multimedia
MODO Bass made its appearance over three years ago and was reviewed on Gearslutz shortly after release. It has been updated a few times and two additional bass models were added with release 1.5. And there are now two versions, the full version and a light SE version for half the price. The original review still stands for its description of what is available, and I decided to give it a try when it popped up in the new IKM Product Manager (which has caused quite a stir on forums with some people, me included, appreciating what it does, and others “upset” because they wanted something different). Since I had previously complained about the somewhat convoluted system to access and get products with the old system I found the new Product Manager a definite improvement.
I didn’t think I really needed a new bass instrument, but the idea of a physically modeled one, like MODO Drums and Pianoteq pianos, intrigued me. And there it was!
What Is It?
MODO Bass includes 14 physically modeled bass guitar models (two in the SE version). Unlike sampled instruments, MODO Bass uses no sound sample files, but creates sounds based on mathematically modeling vibrating strings, resonating bodies, and electro-magnetic interaction of strings and pickups. Being mathematical models you can modify them in many ways: change string type (flat or round wound) and number of strings – you can make any of the guitars into 4, 5, or 6 string basses which is impossible with real hardware. You can age the strings, change the pickup position and even change the pickup entirely, add two pickups where the model normally has only one, swap out pickups to any one or two of 24 individual pickup models, add a piezo pickup under the bridge and add (or remove) active electronics in the guitar itself. You can select from two generic amps (solid state and tube) and use up to four stomp-boxes, or use the DI output to send the signal to other processing gear (such as AmpliTube). You can also modify the playing style, including fingering technique, stroke direction, pick type (hard or soft), and muting. And one capability I found very effective is changing the picking position in real time. This adds subtle variation beyond that of the picking intensity (MIDI velocity).
A Rick n’ Bass modified from four strings to six, playing an A# – note the vibrating string and the picking location at 6.03” from the bridge.
The two new bass guitar models are “Metal” (based on a 5 string Dingwall Combustion NG2) and “Imperial” (based on a 6 string Fodera Custom model). Other models range from a 60’s Fender Precision Bass through a Gibson EB-0, a Rickenbacker 4003, and Yamaha TRB5P to an Ibanez Soundgear and a Warwick Streamer.
One of the new models, a five-string Dingwall Combustion NG2.
The SE version has only the 60’s P-Bass and 70’s P-Bass models (a Fender Precision Bass with an Alder body and Fender Precision Bass with an Ash body), but has all the controls of the full version so you can still obtain a wide range of tones and playing effects, even creating 5-string and 6-string models.
The main view includes a preset menu at the top, and six tabs to open other views for choosing basic guitar model, adjusting playing style, setting string type and condition, changing electronics and pickups, setting amp and FX choices, and setting MIDI and keyswitch controls. The large central area shows the bass guitar model and is not just a pretty picture – you can change the picking position in this view and see a summary of all specs including any you’ve changed, like number of strings, string gauge and winding type, pickups, etc. Below the face view of the guitar is a view of the neck, strings and frets which is animated as notes are played. And at the bottom a keyboard view which shows what you are playing as well as showing keyswitch areas and settings.
Preset window opened to Slap category – note a preset includes everything from the basic model to strings, pickups, electronics, amp and pedals.
More Strings and Tuning
One issue some people brought up with the original MODO Bass was that they could not go as low as they wanted with Low E (41.2 Hz) being the lowest playable note on the four-string models and low B (30.87 Hz) the lowest on the five-string. Version 1.5 added a six string version and a “drop” tuning mode to shift the four-string models down to Low D and the 5/6 string versions to A0 (A below Low E at 27.5 Hz). That’s the lowest frequency I can accurately reproduce in my studio, and likely as low as anyone really needs. And if you really want a lower frequency, the included pedals have the Octaver which will produce sub-bass down one octave.
The Control tab now enables remapping keyswitches and linking controls to MIDI CC, even providing a Learn function. Although MODO Bass does not respond directly to DAW automation, you can use a keyboard controller to implement real-time control and recording of the available playing techniques such as fingering technique, muting, vibrato, harmonics, plucking position, and others. And most DAWs enable editing CC values if you need to fine tune a performance.
The control panel has been expanded with more possible keyswitches and CC controls.
One problem I found in using MODO Bass is not really a MODO problem, but the old “where is middle C” issue – is it C3, C4, or C5? In the 30-plus years I’ve used MIDI I’ve found it defined at all three “locations” by different manufacturers. So when I first tried to test a bass line from an unnamed MIDI program, I found the notes were an octave lower than IKM uses. This caused two problems – silence when a note was sent lower than the bass model supported, and occasionally triggering a keyswitch to change the fingering mode! Solved easily by putting a MIDI transposer plug-in before MODO Bass. BTW, IKM correctly use C4 as middle C which is standard for an 88 key piano.
How Does It Sound?
In short, excellent! A beautiful range of bass tones is available, even just using the default models. Do the provided models really sound identical to the hardware? I can’t say for sure, but I expect they are close. The various playing styles provide realistic variations and if you can play like Jordan Rudess, you could get a gig as a session bass player anywhere! Even if your chops aren’t world-class, you should be able to get fine results, and using MIDI controllers you can tweak the bass performance in real time or use multiple passes to “comp” the controller data in your DAW. Check out the IKM site for some performances, and you can find more videos online with a wide range of examples.
MODO Bass is available as Audio Unit, AAX, VST2 and VST3 – for 64 bit OS only, Mac and Windows. In my test system (PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC running Windows 7 with 4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM) a single instance of MODO Bass uses from about 1% to 2% CPU resource so even a couple basses in a mix is no strain. Latency was always zero samples, so real-time playing can be very responsive.
A fine sounding collection of virtual bass guitars with extreme flexibility and excellent response to playing technique, which, luckily for me is keyboard-controller technique rather than guitar picking technique!
Do you need a virtual bass? It depends on what you do, of course. If you use a computer just for practicing by making backing tracks, then it might be overkill. However, if you mix tracks that sometimes need fixing with instrument replacements or you create your own productions using some virtual instruments, MODO Bass will give you the most detailed control over a bass sound you could want. And if you perform live with a keyboard controller and need a realistic and responsive bass, MODO will deliver.
You don’t need to be a bass player to play MODO Bass – a keyboard controller can yield great results, and a non-guitarist can play (or program) a wide range of performance effects.
Can create an “infinite” number of variations, some possible with the real hardware (and a very competent guitar technician), and some that would be impossible.
Can easily adjust tones within a mix, as it is playing, using the physical and electrical adjustments – this can help get a bass tone that best supports the other instruments.
You can use a keyboard controller not only to play notes, but also to switch or continuously vary playing parameters – all the controllable parameters can be linked to a Keyswitch, aftertouch, pitch wheel or a CC MIDI message, and you can use the Learn mode to quickly connect a parameter to a controller.
Much, much cheaper than buying 14 “classic” bass guitars!
Not really much to complain about. A minor issue is that controls do not respond to conventional DAW automation – you need to use a keyswitch or MIDI CC message. This is because MODO Bass was developed with real-time performance in mind. You can use a hardware controller to play and record any control variations, and with most DAWs you can also program/edit MIDI CC values.
No room reverb included, unlike MODO Drums which has six beautifully modeled room environments. However, if you use AmpliTube, you’ll get both rigs and rooms. And if you use FX buses for reverbs on auxiliary sends, then you can get your room vibe there.
Since you can create an “infinite” number of variations of bass guitar, you could end up spending the rest of your life just tweaking models and never recording a real song!
Not a cheap package, but the SE version at half price provides all the controls, amps, stomp-boxes and design modifications of the full version with the two basic Fender models which still provides a lot of possible tones.