MODO Bass by IK Multimedia is a virtual bass guitar instrument with a sound engine that uses physical modeling rather than samples.
MODO Bass is a 64-bit VST, AU and AAX plugin for Windows and Mac systems. Being a bassist who also makes sampled instruments and whose favorite virtual piano is the physically modeled Pianoteq, I obviously wanted to get my hands on it and put it through its paces.
I’m A Model, You Know What I Mean
Rather than focusing on a particular bass guitar, MODO Bass includes models of several, well… models. They’re generally the basses most used on large numbers of classic recordings – Fender Precision and Jazz, Gibson EB (solid body variant) and Thunderbird, a Rick, a Hofner violin bass and more modern active basses from MusicMan, Yamaha, Warwick and Ibanez. Sure, there are lots of other basses out there, and one could always think of more basses to add, but it’s a really good list of basses one might reasonably expect a studio bassist to own. The basses themselves aren’t too configurable – you can make any of them 5 or 4 strings, with the option of drop D tuning on 4 strings, but you can’t change parameters such as scale length, number of frets, bridge mass etc.
You can, however, freely configure electronics based on the available models, as long as you don’t need more than two pickups (well, two magnetic pickups plus a bridge piezo). If you want to stick the bridge pickup from the Hofner bass right up against the end of the fingerboard of a P-bass and give it a 3-band active EQ, then sure, go for it! This also allows a few configurations which are not included by default, but are quite common in the real world, such as PJ or twin MM-style humbuckers.
Strings and setup are also configurable, although these are selections and not continuous controls: low, standard or high action; fresh, broken in or old strings; and roundwounds or flatwounds. In addition to the bass, the bassist is also modeled, with fingerstyle, pick and slap articulations, playing styles from soft to hard, and parameters such as hand position, degree of muting and vibrato. The parameters which could be controlled on the fly on a real bass can be controlled by MIDI CC or keyswitches live. Things which can’t be done while playing in reality, such as moving pickup locations or changing string type, need to be selected with the mouse and will cause the sound to drop out briefly while the model recalculates.
Because of all the flexibility, there are more controls than on a typical sampled bass, but it all generally makes sense and there are no real surprises. MIDI CC controls are freely assignable, too, which is great, although the keyswitches are fixed. There is no “one MIDI channel per string” mode, which would be useful for specifying fingerings or for using MIDI guitar controllers.
One clever control I have not seen on other basses is the chord CC. Set it low and the instrument will look for note fingerings regardless of what string they’re on and whether they’d mute currently playing notes on that string or not, but set it high and it will attempt to play multiple simultaneous notes on separate strings to form chords. This is really convenient, and solves an annoyance I’ve had with other basses when I tried playing chords (although, to be fair, I almost never play chords on basses, either in the DAW or in reality). The only control I don’t like is the vibrato – it only does string-bending vibrato (going above the note), not violin-style vibrato (goes both above and below the note). This means that, if I want to do vibrato the way I would play it on a bass guitar in reality, I have to use pitch bend.
With so much more stuff than any other virtual bass (or real physical bass) on the market, is anything still missing? The main thing missing is more range. A lot of people interested in virtual guitars and basses want to make very detuned metal, so the ability to tune lower than a 5-string’s low B would be useful for them. But for now, B is the lowest you get, and a high G on 24-fret basses are as high as you can go. Six or more strings would be good for urban gospel or prog-rock, too. Those are the only important things, and beyond that we move into nice-to-have territory. Fretless basses and electric uprights (especially an Ampeg Baby Bass, which is the classic bass sound for salsa and as far as I know does not even exist in a decently detailed sampled version) would be useful sometimes. And while the choice of models is pretty much complete, with maybe only a modern boutique bass and a Danelectro being the only common bass sounds missing, it would always be fun to have more oddities and obscure basses available – Audiovox 736, anyone?
A Little Less Conversation And A Little More Action
I’ve been talking about this for six paragraphs now, and haven’t played a note yet. Time to do something about that. Choose a bass, set it up the way you like and play a note, and it sounds like it should. A P-bass with high action and old flatwounds sounds right, and a Thunderbird with roundwounds does too. Being modeled, the instrument is also very naturally responsive and flexible to dynamics – as I said in my Pianoteq review, it’s like an instrument with 127 perfectly scaled velocity layers – as well as changes in picking hand position, etc. This is one aspect which differs the most from sample-based basses, and the other is that the math includes some very clever randomization. Let’s try to make this bass machine gun, and then see what happens.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t machine gun at all, no matter how unrealistically fast and repetitive a part you ask it to play. The same randomization also comes in handy for multi-tracking. You can have as many instances as you want spread around the stereo field, and each will sound slightly different. Now, with bass instruments this isn’t terribly useful unless you like to have extra high-passed bass tracks to add width (like the big synth wide basses in electronic music), but if IK ever make a guitar instrument using the same technology, this will become extremely important, especially to metal producers.
However, play a bassline with various notes, and the illusion of realism is not quite 100% complete. After some testing, I realized that things sound a bit too consistent to be real, as the basses all have perfect intonation and no dead spots on the neck (notes with obviously shorter sustain than those above or below them). In the real world, those things would be great, but in a virtual bass, it seems like the model could use a few more parameters. Perhaps an imperfection control, to make some of the unpleasant downsides of real-world basses optional, would be a good addition to a future version.
The other thing which is a bit too consistent to be completely realistic is the release noises. They are not nearly as varied as they are in reality, when it comes to variation between different frets on the same string and also randomness of duration and tone. Noises are always the most difficult thing for physically modeled instruments, however, and even Pianoteq uses samples for some of them. The fret buzz modeling is surprisingly good – with low action, hard playing and light strings, things can get fairly buzzy (though I’ve heard more extremely buzzy and rattly bassists IRL) and the response to changing velocity as well as changes in buzz color between frets are simulated well.
There’s also a built-in amp and effects section, which is something IK Multimedia have been doing for years with the Amplitube series. There are two amps to choose from – a tube with a 1×15 cab and a solid state amp with a 4×10 cabinet. Also included is a pedal board with four slots and seven effects to choose from. They’re basic effects, but they do cover everything you need to get a normal amped or even effected bass sound (as well as some weird extremes, especially with heavy distortion) and done right. If you want to use external amp sims, you can turn the amp volume down and just send a DI signal to your mixer channel.
CPU usage is around 15-22% on my machine, depending on the complexity of the part. I’ve only run into one bug, though it seems to be a serious one so I hope it’s fixed soon – rendering audio from FL Studio often leaves out the first few notes, unless the pattern starts with some leading silence (UPDATE: this bug will be fixed in v1.01).
Are We There Yet?
For a new piece of software, MODO Bass is very impressive and complete. It could still use a few more aspects of the model but its ability to sound realistically like a bass guitar is already only slightly behind the best sampled bass guitars. The instrument’s playability is already ahead, and its flexibility is far ahead of any sampled bass.
More info: MODO Bass (€299 plus tax, or €199 plus tax crossgrade)
MODO Bass Review
For a new piece of software, MODO Bass is very impressive and complete. It could still use a few more additional aspects of the model, however its ability to sound realistically like a bass guitar is already only slightly behind the very best sampled bass guitars on the market. The instrument's playability is already ahead, and its flexibility is far ahead of any sampled bass.