JULY 3, 2024

How to Design a Reese Bass in SynthCell

Making a Reese Bass

The Reese bass, with its deep and swirling sound, has been a transformative element in the evolution of drum and bass, as well as various other electronic music genres. Characterized by its thick texture and a vibrating tone that seems to move within the space it occupies, the Reese bass is not just a sound but an experience. It’s created through a combination of synthesis techniques, including oscillator detuning, modulation, and careful application of filters and effects to create its distinctive pulsating effect.


In this tutorial, we will dive into these synthesis concepts and demonstrate how to create a dynamic Reese bass using SynthCell in Pro Tools. This guide is designed for you to follow along, providing step-by-step instructions to not only replicate this iconic sound but also understand the underlying principles that make it so impactful. Let’s get started!

1.  Set two oscillators to saw waves

To begin your Reese bass, select either saw waves or square waves for both Oscillator 1 and Oscillator 2 in SynthCell. While saw waves are traditionally used for their rich harmonic content and deep, buzzing texture, adding a square wave can introduce a distinct, hollow timbre suitable for certain tracks. For an added layer of depth, tune one oscillator down by 12 semitones (1 octave) using the "Tune" setting. This adjustment introduces a lower harmonic layer, enriching the bass sound significantly.



2.  Detune for depth

To achieve the Reese bass's characteristic 'wobble,' slightly detune the second oscillator using the "F. Tune" (fine tune) setting. This minor detuning creates a phasing effect where the two sound waves interact, adding movement within the bass. The interaction of oscillators at slightly different pitches is what gives the Reese bass its thick, pulsating quality, essential for genres that demand a commanding low-end presence.


3.  Set legato and glide for smooth transitions

The next step in creating a Reese bass is to enable legato mode. This mode ensures that each note flows into the next without retriggering the entire envelope, which is crucial for the smooth, connected texture characteristic of the Reese sound. It’s the legato setting that allows the bass to maintain its energy and intensity without interruption, giving your musical phrases a fluid and cohesive quality.


Adding glide takes this smoothness further, introducing a portamento effect between notes. This sliding transition is a signature in many Reese basslines, adding expressiveness and a distinctively vocal quality to the sound. When a note is played while another is still held, the pitch will glide from one to the other at a speed you set, which can vary from slow, sweeping changes to quick, direct shifts. This not only adds to the bass’s expressiveness but also reinforces the unity of the sound, making your Reese bass feel like a single, evolving entity.


4.  Apply a notch filter for tone shaping

For an added layer of complexity in your Reese bass, incorporate a notch filter using filter 2 in SynthCell. This filter selectively removes a band of frequencies, creating a distinctive phasing effect as it interacts with the rest of the sound. Adjust the cutoff around noon and turn down the key tracking to maintain this effect across different notes.


The notch filter introduces a dynamic texture by sweeping through the frequencies, contributing to the Reese bass's signature movement. While not the sole contributor to the sound's depth, the notch filter adds a nuanced quality, enhancing the swirling, living character of the bass. Pair this with a low-pass setting on filter 1 to manage the overall brightness and preserve the warmth of the Reese bass, making it ready for layering into tracks.


5.  Create movement with modulation

The Modulation Matrix in SynthCell is where the Reese bass truly comes to life, offering a way to automate and deepen its dynamic texture. For a Reese bass that evolves over time, setting an LFO as the modulation source and targeting filter 2's cutoff frequency is key. This configuration allows the LFO to automatically sweep the notch filter, adding a rhythmic movement that's both heard and felt.


  • Set LFO as Mod Source: Choose an LFO from the modulation source options. The LFO's oscillating pattern will drive the movement of the filter, creating a continuous ebb and flow within the sound.
  • Target Filter 2 Cutoff: By assigning this LFO to modulate the cutoff frequency of the notch filter, you ensure the Reese bass's phasing effect varies over time, keeping the sound engaging and dynamic.
  • Adjust Depth to Taste: The modulation depth controls how dramatic the filter sweep is. A subtle setting will gently evolve the sound, while a deeper setting can make the movement more pronounced, offering versatility in how the Reese bass interacts within your mix.


This step is where personalization really shines, as the modulation matrix setup allows for precise control over how the Reese bass moves, ensuring it fits perfectly with the energy and pace of your track.


6.  Make It Expressive with Mod Wheel Assignment

To add more expression to your Reese bass, use the mod wheel in SynthCell's modulation matrix. By mapping the mod wheel to control filter 1’s cutoff frequency, you get hands-on control to change how bright or dark your bass sounds while playing.


  • Assign the Mod Wheel as Mod Source: Navigate to the modulation matrix and select the mod wheel as your source. This links the physical movement of the mod wheel on your MIDI controller directly to the parameters within SynthCell.
  • Select Filter 1 Cutoff as Destination: Target the cutoff frequency of filter 1, typically set to a low-pass filter for Reese bass sounds. This connection means that as you move the mod wheel, you're directly opening or closing the filter, effectively changing the bass's tonal quality and brightness.
  • Fine-Tune the Modulation Depth: The depth setting determines the range of the mod wheel's effect on the filter cutoff. Adjusting this allows you to set how dramatic the change is—from subtle shifts that add a slight variation to aggressive sweeps that significantly alter the sound's character.


7.  Beef up with distortion

The final touch to your Reese bass in SynthCell is adding distortion. This effect thickens the sound, introducing grit and intensity that can make your bass stand out in a mix. Head over to SynthCell's internal effects section and find the distortion effect.


  • Choose Distortion Mode: Start by selecting a mode, like clip mode, which is good for adding a bit of edge without overwhelming the bass.
  • Focus the Distortion: The frequency parameter lets you pinpoint where the distortion will have the most impact. Aim for a range that highlights the bass’s body without muddying the sound.
  • Drive It Up: The drive control adjusts the amount of distortion. Crank it up to push the bass into heavier territories or keep it subtle for just a hint of roughness.
  • Mix to Blend: Finally, the mix knob controls how much of the distorted signal is blended with the clean bass sound. A lower mix keeps the distortion as an undertone, while a higher setting lets the effect take center stage.


Designing a Reese bass in SynthCell is a solid step into the world of sound design. The techniques you've explored—detuning for depth, filtering for character, modulation for movement, and distortion for grit—will serve you well beyond this single sound. These foundations can shape a diverse array of textures, from the softest pads to the most cutting leads. As you continue to build your repertoire, these principles will become second nature. We encourage you to explore SynthCell further, along with the entire collection of virtual instruments available in Pro Tools, to unlock new sounds and enhance your music production. Happy producing!

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