Review: Native Instruments Scarbee MM-Bass
After Native Instruments announced a collaboration with Scarbee earlier this year, they have been steadily adding Scarbee’s existing products to the Kontakt powered product line.
MM-Bass is the latest addition to the collection of Scarbee bass instruments that is now available as a self-contained instrument for Windows and Mac.
SCARBEE MM-BASS is based on the highly-regarded Scarbee Black Bass created by accomplished bassist and producer Thomas Hansen Skarbye and inspired by the sound of Bernard Edwards (Chic). Bringing you the warm and creamy fingered bass sound of the 70s known from countless disco and funk recordings, SCARBEE MM-BASS is an outstanding addition to our series of “Powered-by KONTAKT” instruments – ready for use with the free KONTAKT PLAYER or KONTAKT 4.
All four strings of the MM-Bass were fully sampled, recorded through a DI (direct input) box so you can shape the sound to your preference with some additional sound processing.
The MM-Bass includes a multitude of features to create a bass instrument that sounds and plays like the real thing.
It features an extensive set of playing techniques including sustains, mutes, harmonics, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and more. And thanks to some sophisticated scripting, SCARBEE MM-BASS comes vividly to life with features such as a dynamic fretboard display, chord recognition, random alternation between varying release samples, random insertion of pickup hits and realistic vibrato – all to put the swagger into your groove.
Too good to be true? Let’s have a look.
Installing the Scarbee MM-Bass is easy. Unpack the download, launch the setup and click through a series of next, next, finish dialogs. The installation includes a well written manual which is well worth a read since it explains all MM-Bass articulations, playing techniques, etc. in detail.
The library needs to be activated in the NI Service Center, which you can launch manually or from the Kontakt (Player) library box panel.
Playing bass like you know what you’re doing
It is one thing to have a sample library of quality bass guitar samples and another to use those samples to produce the sound an actual bass player would. MM-Bass uses some powerful KSP scripts (by KSP guru Nils Liberg) for detailed control over many things, including automatic string selection.
When playing certain notes a bass player can choose which strings to use. MM-Bass can automatically pick the string which would make most sense — including articulations — in order to get a realistic performance.
Manual string selection is available as well and a number of key switches can trigger playing positions & techniques and articulations for complete control of how the bass is played.
I am no bass player but it seems to me that pretty much all articulations you will ever need are included. Hammer-on/pull-off, sildes, trills, mutes, harmonics, etc. The default articulation is sustain.
MM-Bass also includes 43 different pick-up hit noises and three sets of release samples (loose, tight 1 & 2) to create an even more realistic sound.
Get the bass sound you like
MM-Bass features an advanced Kontakt interface with a lot of options readily available for your instant tweaking pleasure.
I will list a brief description of the various panels available.
- Player Profile allows you to set your playing style. Pop & Country, Soul & Funk, and Rock & Retro each use different automatic string selection and playing positions (which can be overridden manually).
- FX Presets includes a number of factory effect presets like Old School, New Wave, and Spacy, to spice up your sound. You can modify presets and save your own.
- EQ includes controls for bass, middle and treble.
- Vibrato speed and the volume of fret noise it causes is adjustable. Vibrato intensity is controlled by MIDI CC#1 or Aftertouch.
- Pickup Hit can be on or off by default and triggered with a key switch. A knob sets the change in percentage that a pickup noise will occur (or not).
- Release samples can be selected (loose, tight 1 & 2) and some controls are available to determine the chance of certain release samples to be triggered. A decay parameter sets the volume envelope for the release (the rate at which a release note becomes silent).
- Chords can be detected by a KSP script. The sloppiness controls set the amount of time (in ms) for notes to be played apart for the script to still be able to recognize them as a chord. Normally you would like to keep the sloppiness at a low value since it introduces some latency.
- Alternation between fingers can be manipulated by setting the amount of time that is considered to be fast playing (triggering automatic alternation).
- Noise Levels can be set individually for release samples, fret noises, pickup hits and clap.
- Controllers allows for setting MIDI #CC to control playing position, slide mode, release (loose or tight), sustain, and pickup hit chance.
- Help is available directly from the Kontakt performance view (documentation for articulations, playing techniques, etc.)
That’s quite a bunch of options, but they are all pretty easy to understand and you can simply turn some knobs to find out what happens if you’re not sure.
For a quick demo I tossed a Midi of Continuum by Jaco Pastorius (sequenced and re-arranged by Reinhard Bock) in Ableton Live to see how the bass sounds without doing any tweaking. Note: I selected a nice effect for this bass sound. And yes I know it would’ve made sense to do a funk track and I really need a fretless for Continuum, but I just love this song.
On the Native Instruments MM-Bass product page you can listen to a number of audio clips in various styles to get a good idea of what MM-Bass sounds like. There’s also a nice video on the history of this instrument and an overview of its features.
So what do I think?
Format: Kontakt Player Instrument (PC/MAC) – VST/AU/RTAS/Standalone
Price: $89 USD / 79 EUR
Like I mentioned earlier, I am no bass player. That said, MM-Bass sounds pretty convincing to me. It sounds and feels very expressive and natural.
The Kontakt scripts for automatic string selection and fret position, alternate fingers, and articulation all do wonders for the instant playability of MM-Bass. You really don’t need to put in a lot of work to make things sound real, but if you want you have complete control of these parameters as well.
I am well impressed with both the sound quality and ease of use of MM-Bass.
Note: For those who don’t like DI recorded instruments, MM-Bass is also available in an Amped version featuring 4 instruments with different amp setups. A whopping 12.5 GB library for $119 / 99 EUR.