Use bass amp as a subwoofer?

Most of the music I play along with is going through studio monitors. I’d like to buy a subwoofer, but that’s gonna have to wait (the one I want costs 3x what my monitors cost).

All I want is to get those low frequencies from the kick drum and bass that aren’t really coming through the monitors that well; it’s hard to keep good time without them. I’m not looking for great, pristine sound at this point.

Now I also need to replace a bass practice amp, so… Cheap and dirty, granted, but would it work to put the practice amp between my AI and monitors in the chain and have it function as a subwoofer?

…Practice amps don’t have lots of features; typically just one 1/4" in and one 1/4" headphone out. I know I’d have to use splitters going into and coming out from the amp, so I’m guessing I’d end up with a mono rather than stereo signal in the end. But again, this wouldn’t be for mixing, just jamming, so I could live with that.

It wouldn’t be flat or anything, but you already figure that.

The Mackie Big Knob monitor controller would work – it’s got buttons for A, B, and C monitors, and they can be on one at a time or in any combination. The Presonus Central Station controls an A, B, and C monitor: A and B toggle each other (one at a time only), and C can be on or off independently. The controller is designed to let C be a subwoofer. Both of them come up regularly on the used market. The outputs are 1/4" TRS/TS (works with either) in pairs, which is pretty typical.

I’m not sure this will give you the results you want, if you’re having trouble keeping time, play to a click or program something in the drum part that’s in a higher more audible range.

There’s a reason a click track is usually a beep, a shaker, a clave, a woodblock and not a bass drum.

To put this another way, I feel like if you’re having problems with audibility of key elements, adding a load of sub frequencies into the room is probably not the way to go, even with a dedicated subwoofer, nevermind a bodged placeholder.

This maybe depends a bit on the nature of your space so if it’s a large room with great acoustic treatment and a high ceiling you might have more leeway with sub lows.


I was really assuming that the monitors were pretty small and by “sub” the O.P. really meant “below 80 Hz or so.” There is some information that can pretty much be below that kind of rolloff. It really depends what you’re working on. 808’s and sub basses can really pretty much disappear in those speakers (in fact, mixing them usually means checking in smaller speakers and driving something to distort so some upper partials start to appear). A subby electric bass, especially a 5 string, can do the same thing.

I agree with the reply. Really, I’d be more clued into what the subs are doing pitch-wise, since those big low waves (bass) really set the root of the tonality. Intonation, to me anyway, always seemed like a “bottom-up” phenomenon.

The timing thing happens across the spectrum, but, like the reply says, there are reasons for click references being in the mids and up. One of the reasons that gets overlooked is that subs aren’t going to be immediately recognizable as a wave, so there is a blur in timing. If you don’t buy this, put a LPF on a kick sample – set the slope as high as possible (24 dB/octave or more), and take it down to 50 Hz or so, so you ONLY hear the fundamental. Chances are, you’re STILL getting your timing from the little bit of upper harmonics bleeding through.

A 50 Hz wave, for instance, takes 20 ms to complete a full cycle (50/sec * sec/1000 ms). If you’ve ever done timing edits on a DAW, you know that 20 ms is an ETERNITY when you’re moving drum hits, vocal words, or whatever. And, by the way, that 20 ms is for ONE cycle – psychoacoustically, your brain probably doesn’t even really know what to do with it yet (without something higher in the spectrum to associate it with) – is it rumble or wind, or is it musically relevant – is it steady pitch, or is it going to drop?

So really, I was translating the question in the original post to, “I wanna hear some thumpy low end so I can at least feel like there is a bottom octave there, even if the frequency response is all over the place.”

Yes, if it really IS just timing, especially if you’re on guitar, the track should be enough, or demo tracks plus clave, or whatever. If your tracks are moving around, then you have an unsteady foundation and won’t be able to do a whole heck of a lot about it without fixing/re-recording.

What I will say about timing with subs that is relevant is really more of a bass thing. There is magic in putting big, fat bass notes RIGHT behind a hard-hitting kick drum, timing-wise. And that DOES resolve itself at the millisecond level. But it’s not because you feel the punch of the “note” when the kick hits or something. It’s more because the bass note can take over that wide swath of dynamic range as the kick is decaying – at least, that’s the way I think about it, when playing or editing. This is more something that happens at the 5-10 ms level. If you want to have some fun with it, program a kick and snare in quarters at midtempo, maybe 100 bpm, 1-2-3-4, then hit one SINGLE note on a bass or a good sounding subby synth bass. Zoom in and move that note so it EXACTLY (to the millisecond) matches where the drum hit happens. Then loop the bass note and kick/snare for two bars. Listen to where the bass “sits” in the pocket, and zoom WAY in (again) until you see those big, beautiful waveforms at the millisecond level. Then slide this bass line back in a range of 1 to 10 ms (or more to taste) and listen to how it shifts in the pocket. For all those who say that this kind of editing is “cheating,” first of all, “Rust In Peace” was tracked on an Otari RADAR system, and Mustaine, in interview on MTV, was excited to be able to edit tracks to perfection. But moreover, in my experience, this kind of editing will TEACH YOU HOW TO PLAY to a session-quality level, if you let it. The chain is: play part, fix part, then re-play part in a fashion that incorporates the positive differences in the fixed part.

If you want a trick for playing your parts, hard pan your current take to one side. That will help you locate it in a dense mix. I’ll go so far as to physically look at the speaker it’s coming out of. Your ears and brain are very much designed to help you focus on what is dead-straight ahead.

I know this is a “guitar” board, but I gather that a lot of people here are recording, so I am trying to pass along the good stuff to the folks on the board who are maybe not as far along with the recording thing.


Thanks for those replies. My monitors are 5" JBLs, so I feel like the beat’s not coming through like it did back in the day when I was in garage bands and I could lock up better with the drums. But I’m in a 8x10’ room, so I hear the point that lots of low frequency could just make things worse.

Btw, it’s not so much about recording as just playing along to songs I’ve downloaded.

Guess I’ll look for a way to play with EQ and find more rhythm in the mids.

Are you practicing through your monitors or with a practice amp?

What songs/bands/styles are you playing to? If it’s hard-hitting at all with solid timing, the only things that I can think of that would realistically be different would be the volume and the visual element (seeing the drummer, etc.). How is your balance? I’ve recorded some very good guitar players, and the balance is always at least close to being a mix perspective – if you’re cranking yourself above the track, it will be hard to really find the pocket. Really, this seems to be more of a problem with singers – they tend to push for you to turn up the “more ME” knob. As for the raw volume, I’d vote for training yourself to work at reasonable volumes that won’t give you (or your engineer) ear fatigue within 20 minutes.

It’s not an easy transition if you’re not used to it (dropping the volume), but, if you’re used to working with a metronome or anything, it’s really more of a mental block than anything else.

The only other thing I can think of is latency or tone if you’re playing through the monitors – I mean, if your buffer is all the way up or you’re getting 10 ms latency or something, it will mess with you for sure. And if your tone is set to really-super-extra-high gain, the squash will definitely make it harder to tell where you are in the mix. But these might not be issues. It really might be something psychological where you just have to deconstruct the process a bit and rebuild it and then have it come together pretty quickly. If it’s just a click or a drum loop, do you have trouble getting timing from that?

Actually, there’s one more thing I can think of, which is that maybe you feel the timing in an elastic way that works when a live drummer is moving the beat along with you. I don’t want to pre-judge your situation, because I don’t know where you’re at with it. But I have seen students say things like, “I think my metronome is off (timing-wise).” If that’s where you’re at (and I’m not saying it is), one mental trick is to subdivide the beat. So if you’re hearing quarters (single clicks) at 90 bpm or something, try to think the eighths or sixteenths in between the beats. If you get this solid, it’ll make it easier to nail the “1” coming back in after a drum fill or whatever.

Thru a practice amp. Don’t think latency is the issue either. I actually play fairly quietly, sometimes even with zero volume on my electric.

Listening to songs more closely through my 5" speakers, I can definitely hear plenty of bass - most of the bass and even kick drum frequency is being reproduced. I just know that with a sub, all that real low rhythm would be coming from one place - the sub - and I wonder if that would simulate a live situation more.

Tough when you’re a guy in his 50s playing alone in the basement;)

Sub sounds cut through walls, but you probably already know that. So a sub is the worst thing if your neighbors/roommates are easily annoyed or whatever. But a basement – you can turn up a little more than in an apartment or something, right?

“Practice amp” means there shouldn’t be any latency. I suspect that modeling amps have just a touch, though, but it seems pretty negligible.

The traditional way is to count “1-and-2-and…” for eighths and “1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a…” for sixteenths. If I hear a metronome and I’m playing straight (not swing), my internal rhythm is doing one of those, preferably the sixteenths. It’s a lot to focus on, but it becomes instinctive after a while.

If you want an exercise just for that, set your metronome to the lowest setting – 30 or 40 or something, and find a subdivision of the beat that gets you to be able to nail each click, just tapping on the table or whatever. If you’re not used to it, it’s harder than it sounds – 30 bpm is a whole bar at 120 bpm, so the challenge is whether you can nail that downbeat every time. A lot of the rhythm thing is about calibrating your mind, so getting the guitar out of your hands to focus on nailing a click might get you out of a rut or old habits. Playing to a click isn’t so much reactive as proactive – it becomes a matter of locking your internal subdivisions in to hit the beats (mentally), then anticipating the beats before the metronome hits, then “sitting” yourself in the groove so that there is VERY little “course correction.” Otherwise, you’re stuck overthinking and course-correcting every time a click hits. It’s hard to explain, and I’m definitely not saying that it’s easy, but if you play in a style that’s rhythmically-oriented (like, most styles that we might like), “internal meter” is really kind of the foundation on which the other facets of playing stand.

I don’t know about you, but if I play too much at zero volume hearing just the strings, I tend to overplay (hit the strings too hard). A lot of what electric playing is about is working with a lighter touch than seems necessary – left and right hand both – for a few reasons. Heavier touch (either hand) can drive a note sharp, so that’s one reason. But also, lighter touch leaves room for the heavier touch (right hand) to kick in. This becomes a very expressive tool with some overdrive going, since the touch then controls the distortion level of a note.

That’s true about zero volume. I don’t do lots, and those are good reasons not to.

It’s funny about rhythm… The greatest players are all lauded for how “in the pocket” they are - but then people criticize heavily-produced music that quantizes a lot as being ‘too perfect.’

I think my own internal sense of rhythm is okay. Even still, you’ve got to be able to clearly hear what other people are doing to keep good time with them. That’s why I’m searching for a way to hear the beat better in recorded/released music, since those are my jam buddies for now.

You can’t quantize something into the pocket.

In my experience, a stiff, overproduced groove only really comes about when someone is trying to overcook something that isn’t working to begin with, or maybe if the production hasn’t yet discovered what’s going to make it work (maybe it’s a matter of changing the blend on the drum machine pieces or adding a shaker to “glue” it together). It could be a matter of a tempo choice being too slow or fast to make the groove “sit” right – no one said the process of getting a magical groove was easy! But realistically…“what’s wrong with that groove…” “oh, it’s overproduced” <-- that’s usually an excuse of a response. Maybe it means, “we didn’t try hard enough to find a kick pattern and a tempo that really breathes, so we piled on some quantized stuff to compensate.” Production is an art.

Is there a better place in some instances for drum hits to sit than bang-on the grid? Sure. My first look a lot of times (on a gridded track) is to delay the snare by 5-10 ms, just to lay back the snare and see what it does. I know there may or may not be a lot of Donald Fagen fans here, but they did a lot of this sort of thing on his stuff around 1980, with early digital and drum machines – working out timings on drum patterns to find swing in between “straight eighths” and “absolute triplet feel swing” (as in “DUH [rest] duh DUH [rest] duh DUH…”). And that sort of thing is tradition in the MPC drum machine era, i.e.: rap’s golden age (programming swing percentages and delaying snare hits). But they’re really just going after the same pocket that a J.R. Robinson or Jerry Marotta would have maybe played in, as far as where the pulses hit relative to the beat and the relative size and timbre of the pulses. The tools change, but musicality is eternal – and musicality crosses all kinds of barriers (production and idiomatic).

So let’s say you give me kick-snare-kick-snare at 104 BPM or something, gridded or maybe with the snare laid back just a hair. Is that “pocket” or is it the beginning of overproduction?

So this has that as a tape loop, and everyone is playing/singing to the loop. Not everyone here might be disco fans, either, but you have to admit that’s a monster groove with a heck of a pocket. So the idea is that the pocket here is coming from a synergy of the elements but also from the solidity of the kick/snare. Is that open hi-hat at the end of every two bars in the verses swung back? Are the vocals laid back off the beat by a bit? Is the classic guitar hook in the choruses laid back behind the beat?

So, for instance, you could program a kick and snare in that pattern (gridded or with laid back snare), and then try to play that classic line to get that greasy disco feel. At that point, YOU’RE the part of the groove that has leeway to discover the pocket or whatever – and I 100% guarantee that it’s there to be found, and it involves putting the phrase generally behind the beat a bit and swinging the timing and the volume of the offbeat notes, but other than that I can’t really tell you. Tone definitely has something to do with it, too. But you can probably hum it or “think” it through – like, imagine it in the way that it’ll “sit” the best. Can you play that or record it in that way? If you play it, how satisfied are you with the results? Is it the best that that element of the groove can be? I’m not talking about some all-day micromanaging, but I am talking about taking 5 minutes to “sweat” one element and really get it happening. I guarantee you any decent session player, just with that info (kick, snare, and you humming the hook to him/her) could pocket it to the point that you’d see people tapping their feet and/or nodding their head.

Now, I grew up on some grimy forms of music, too – punk and proto-grunge. And, you know, “U2’s ‘Bad’ speeds up a lot – what about that?” Of course, this stuff gets more complicated. I would say some of that comes down to “internal meter” – like, if there’s an accelerando happening in the anthemic rideout, OK, but is the kick on the “1” still falling in the right place relative to everything else that happened for the last couple of bars? Taste is important, and developing taste is important, but if you aren’t deeply familiar with where the “1” is expected to fall (metronomically), how much confidence can you bring to the table in elastic situations, or are you just kind of along for the ride and playing reactively?

“Johnny Thunders and Sid Vicious RULE!” OK, you gotta choose your idiom you’re going to explore on whatever day. If you’re itching to hear “Chinese Rocks,” you have to figure that ANYTHING is going to sound “overproduced” in comparison. It’s just a different aesthetic.

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