Ample Bass Upright II is a virtual double bass instrument from Ample Sound, a company which focuses mainly on developing guitar virtual instruments.
As the double bass is the main instrument I play, I was really looking forward to reviewing a virtual one. This beast weighs in at 4.26 GB, which goes to show how much sample content is actually hidden under the hood. It is available as a VST and AU plugin for both PC and Mac, and comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. It can also be used without a DAW, in Ample Sound’s standalone host application.
The Clue’s In The Name
Ample Sound calls this plugin “Upright” rather than “double bass” for a reason. The instrument sampled here is known mainly as the double bass in classical circles, and upright bass in jazz, folk etc. The bass pictured on the GUI is also not very classical – sure, it looks like a nice old bass, but there are subtle lines on the fingerboard, and even faint position marker dots. So, the name and GUI make it clear that this is not a classical bass suitable for playing bass parts in symphonies or chamber pieces and that it doesn’t sound like it’s being played in a concert hall. Instead, this plugin is like a competent session bassist who’s been hired for a jazz or pop studio session. First of all, there are no arco (bowed) samples at all – all notes are plucked with the fingers. As a bassist, of course I wish there were bowed notes, but I also agree with the decision to leave them out – it’s something we only occasionally are asked to do outside of a classical context. Also, there are a lot of possible bow articulations and legato gets quite complicated, so adding bowed sounds would mean a whole lot of extra work for something that would not be very useful to many people. Besides, I’m a big fan of sample libraries such as Metropolis Ark I, which focus on doing something useful extremely well while leaving out things which are “basic” and “essential” in other contexts.
Something you do get Ample Bass Upright II, which is unusual for a double bass library, is the same note sampled in multiple positions. Almost two octaves are sampled on every string, although the highest notes on each string have a smaller number of round robins and velocity layers, because they are unlikely to be used very often. Also, you wouldn’t get a lot of velocity layers up there with a real bassist, either. I can attest to the difficulty of plucking notes that high up the neck with a wide range of dynamics. You do, however, get a variety of release and fingering noises.
If this is starting to seem like something that works more like a typical virtual bass guitar than a typical virtual double bass, that’s exactly what it is. The plugin works much like Ample’s bass guitars do, and even uses the same position numbering system and uses the term “fret noise” for fingering noise. Of course, that’s theoretically wrong as there are no frets on the instrument, but it’s clear what it’s supposed to mean, and I suppose using the wrong term makes it easier to understand for people more familiar with guitars.
This is the kind of sound you’d probably get if you said “give me a session musician with an upright bass”. It’s generally a high-end version of a middle-of-the-road tone that works well for jazz, pop, folk, indie etc. It’s very warm, with a strong low end, and somewhat on the polite side. The highest velocity notes are a little buzzy, especially on the E string, so you can get the sound of a jazz bassist really digging in, although nothing too extreme.
There are three microphones to choose from – neck (which captures more performance noises and buzzes and less low end), ambiance (studio room sound, not concert hall), body (more low end) – and a DI signal from a pickup. The neck and body mics are close but do include a little bit of room sound, whereas the DI samples are obviously completely dry. There are three separate EQs for the neck and ambient mics, body mic and DI signal. The attack time control is also quite useful for making the sound a bit more tame and mellow, even at high note velocities. The DI sound is a little less rich and natural by itself, but it’s great for adding clarity and cutting through mixes. All this adds up to a lot of tweakability.
There are a lot of different percussive noises sampled here, so this bass can even do rockabilly slap, although in a “session guy with a nice carved double bass who’s not going to hit it too hard” way rather than a “full-time rockabilly bassist with a plywood bass which he smacks quite violently” way. You also can’t quite get a very buzzy jazz sound which requires low action and low-tension strings, nor a very thuddy bluegrass sound. However, with a bit of EQ and mixing in the right mics, Ample Bass Upright II can come fairly close to both – again, about as close as a session bassist who didn’t have a bass with the specific strings and setup could.
This is a non-guitar instrument created using a very guitar-specific engine, but that seems to work out quite well. I didn’t run into any stability issues, and CPU usage is fairly low – with all microphones on and typical basslines it seems to stay around 8-15%, and playing lots of notes pushes it up to about 25%. The slide articulation sounds quite natural and convincing, and has multiple slide speeds controlled by velocity. There are two automatic legato modes: one using slides and one using hammer-ons and pull-offs. These also work well, although automatically using hammer-ons and pull-offs to play intervals of a major third is pushing the boundaries – it’s possible, but comfortable only for bassists with really big hands.
There are several ways of controlling what position on the fingerboard the notes are played in – strings can be specified, position can be specified by the very guitaristically named “CapoMan” keyswitch, or for maximum control, each string can be put on a different MIDI channel. There’s also an automatic position shifting mode which does a reasonable job, although it tends to use low strings in high positions somewhat more often than most bassists would – it behaves more like a bass guitarist. Vibrato can be controlled by the pitch bend wheel (going up or down) or mod wheel (going up only – like a guitarist bending strings), and wide vibrato even adds some nice finger-sliding noise, but there is no automatic vibrato. Vibrato on fretless instruments is quite flexible and expressive, and a vibrato LFO with a few key parameters (at least depth, speed, and onset delay) would be nice and much more convenient than the current manual vibrato options.
Fingering noises, release noises and random buzz are all also available, have their own volume controls, and seem to be scripted well. They can be used to add realism, or turned down for a cleaner performance. Although some very detailed things like the tuning or volume of individual samples or the dividing points between velocity layers can be configured, the keyswitches for changing articulations are fixed.
Now, there are some features which most users will never touch – the tab player, which can import GuitarPro files, and the effects pedal emulations. The A, D and G strings can also be detuned up to a full step. The E string cannot, which means the open E is the lowest note available. Again, here is an example of this being a virtual upright bass rather than a double bass – orchestral double basses often play lower notes by using a fifth string, an extension, or detuning, but in contexts where the term “upright bass” is more common, that open E is normally as low as it gets. Detuning the A, D and G strings would be very rare anywhere. Still, all these features can sometimes come in handy for some people, so I don’t really see any reason not to include them. Besides, I can’t lie, cranking the distortion pedal and playing some upper-register lines is just plain fun and sound surprisingly good.
As an upright bass that’s very different from most double bass libraries on the market, Ample Bass Upright II does a great job of filling a niche. It’s very much not a classical bass, but as long as you don’t need bowed notes, it can cover most other playing styles when the sound of an enormous acoustic bass is needed.
More info: Ample Bass Upright II ($149 regular, $119 intro price)
Ample Bass Upright II Review
As an upright bass that's very different from most double bass libraries on the market, Ample Bass Upright II does a great job of filling a niche.
Pros: Realistic, tweakable non-classical double bass.
Cons: No bowed samples, no automatic vibrato.