„Synthesizer“ – this word and everything associated with it give shivers of horror to many guitarists and bass players. Instantly, the horrible sounds of the 80s come to one’s mind and the keyboarders actually have never been the popular members of a band.
But although many musicians do not want to here it: In fact, synthesizers, especially the analog ones, do not differ this much of a bass and sometimes even guitars.
How they work
While the tone of a guitar or bass is produced by the attack of the strings, a synthesizer uses oscillators to produce a constant tone. The tone pitch can be controlled by a keyboard which opens a gate while a key is pushed down and thereby makes the tone become perceivable.
After the signal have passed some filters, it will be modulated by Low Frequency Oscillators (LFOs) and finally be amplified by the amplifier.
Strictly speaking, as soon as the sounds of a guitar or a bass have been picked up by pickups they are nothing more than electric voltage that can be formed via effects and finally amplified by the amplifier.
In my honest opinion, playing a bass is closer to playing a synthesizer than to play a guitar.
Therefore, you should rather ask a bass player if he/she also plays a synthesizer instead of asking him or her if he or she is also playing the guitar. The bass player of my band is not afraid to confess, that he is unable to play the guitar.
The signal of a guitar or a bass corresponds to a sine wave. As soon as the signal reaches the headroom, the peaks will be clipped though a square waveform is formed. This process leads to the overdriven sound.
Synthesizers as well offer sine as well as square waveforms.
Actually, the sound of an analog synthesizer does not differ much from the sound of an electric bass guitar. In many songs both instruments are doubled to create a punchier sound.
Doubtless, synthesizers – especially the polyphonic ones – are able to produce soundscapes and sounds that are totally distinct from bass sounds, but the sound of bass synthesizers like the Moog Taurus or the more actual Moog Minitaur get pretty close to the sound of a bass guitar.
All of the effect pedals that are used by guitarists work also in combination with synthesizers. Especially the ones that are typical for bass playing like octave effects, auto wahs or overdrive pedals can also be found in the world of synthesizers.
But delay, reverb and tremolo as well have not been invented only for guitarists. They are also able to conjure up soundscapes from a monophonic synthesizer.
So, don’t be afraid of using a synthesizer. Many current bands rediscovered this special instrument and to me, they sound pretty good…