***** 5/5 stars. Format: GIGA
What does a talented bass player do after developing wrist problems? If you're Thomas Skarbye, you use the capabilities of GigaStudio to develop the ultimate bass sample library. Although his J-Fingered and J-Slap libraries have both been available for some time as Nemesys (and now Tascam) products, Thomas has recently relaunched them on his own Scarbee label, in addition to a brand new web site at www.scarbee.com for secure on-line ordering.
The libraries are obviously a labour of love, as between the two they contain 6000 samples of the same bass! The instrument in question is the J Update 4, handmade by Celinder, and based on the classic sound of a late seventies Fender Jazz Bass. Unlike various other guitar-based libraries, the recordings employ no tube amps, compression or EQ, but have been made as cleanly as possible to maintain flexibility.
However, there's more to the new versions than redesigned artwork — the previous releases used Tascam's proprietary lossless compression to reduce sample sizes by 40 to 50 percent, while the new ones use standard wave samples, which increase hard drive requirements to about 1.2GB for J-Fingered and 900MB for the J-Slap. However, this makes conversion to formats like HALion possible, although there are still a few outstanding issues detailed on the web site that will be resolved when a native HALion version is released shortly.
Both libraries consist of three main GIG files — recorded with bridge, neck, and both pickups respectively — and each of these contains 15 sub-instruments that can be quickly accessed by program change messages. All main notes are sampled with four velocity layers, and move from one to another very smoothly, while enough differences have been retained between notes (particularly in the loudest layer) to add character. And there's extensive use of dimension-switching to access various articulations, either using keyswitches or the modulation wheel.
'Jam Bass' is the simplest patch to play in real time and therefore ideal for quickly laying down a bass track. To give you some idea of the incredible realism and versatility available, this instrument provides sustained notes, mutes, and the ability to play various notes in different fret positions. In addition to this, there's a variety of slides with the ability to control slide direction from a foot controller at one of four speeds determined by the modulation wheel, and with the thumb or plucked depending on velocity. 'Jam Bass Trills' add half-note trills on the D or G strings (again selected by the modulation wheel) for more expressive performances.
However, if you want to go the whole hog and create a living, breathing bass-player's performance you need the 'Studio Bass', available in four versions with different fingerings, all complete with string claps for those percussive additions and fret noise for added nuances. Each 'Studio Bass' provides eight keyswitched dimensions, each of which include several of the following velocity-switched playing styles: sustain, mutes, grace notes, legato-tail, slides, staccato release, and trills. For those who want to explore the more exotic exploits of players like Stanley Clarke and Mark King, there are two sub instruments devoted to Fingered Harmonics.
The Composer Bass has all the articulations of the four Studio Bass instruments, but without the added complication of the four different playing positions, and for those with a MIDI guitar controller, or just to add even more realism to your performance, there are four more instruments — each one containing samples from just one bass string, but retaining the eight keyswitched dimensions.
The sound quality is truly excellent, with a wide range of timbres available via the different pickup options, and while the fingered library is ideal for rock, pop, disco and dance, the slap version provides the characteristic hammer-ons and pull-offs favoured by jazz and funk performers. The informative PDF and HTML format help files not only explain all the instrument options in a very clear way, but also provide plenty of examples and tips. Moreover, various bundled MIDI files put each library through its paces, while registered users can download various free 'Groove Factory' bundles, each containing 39 MIDI files (Major, Minor, and Dominant versions in all 12 keys, plus a second position E variation). You can cut and paste these licence-free eight-bar variations into your own songs at will.
Scarbee's J-Fingered and J-Slap libraries are the ultimate Giga bass collection, and both thoroughly deserve the top five-star rating. Light versions are also available with fewer options for more general purpose use. Experienced bass players and composers will take to these libraries like ducks to water, and with sufficient practice will coax a performance from the J-Slap and J-Fingered libraries that would fool any musician into thinking it was played live by a talented bassist, even during an upfront solo. Some of the MP3 demos gave me goosebumps!
J-Slap and J-Fingered £105 each; J-Slap and J-Fingered Light £59.95 each, including VAT.