The bass synthesizer (or "bass synth") is an electronic instrument capable of producing a variety of sounds by generating and combining signals of different frequencies. A modern digital synthesizer uses a frequency synthesizer microprocessor component to generate signals of different frequencies. Bass synths create sounds in the bass range that range from simulations of the electric bass or double bass to distorted, buzz-saw-like artificial bass sounds. While most bass synths are controlled by electronic keyboards or pedalboards, some performers use an electric bass with MIDI pickups to trigger a bass synthesizer. Bass synth patches incorporate a range of sounds and tones, including wavetable-style, analog, and FM-style bass sounds, delay effects, distortion effects, envelope filters.
Early synthesizers from the 1940s and 1950s used technology derived from electronic analog computers, laboratory test equipment, and early electronic musical instruments. In the 1950s, RCA produced experimental devices to synthesize both voice and music. By the 1960s, synthesizers were developed that could be played in real time but were confined to studios because of their size. Robert Moog created a revolutionary synthesizer that could be used by musicians. The Monkees bought one of the first three Moog synthesizers and recorded the first commercial release to feature a Moog synthesizer in 1967. In 1970, Moog designed an innovative synthesizer with a built-in keyboard and without modular design - the analog circuits were retained, but made interconnectable with switches in a simplified arrangement.
In the 1970s miniaturized solid-state components allowed synthesizers to become self-contained, portable instruments such as the Moog Taurus, a 13-note pedal keyboard which was played by the feet. The Moog Taurus was used in live performances by a range of pop, rock, and blues-rock bands. An early use of bass synthesizer was in 1972, on a solo album by John Entwistle (the bassist for The Who), entitled Whistle Rymes. Stevie Wonder introduced synth bass to a wider audience in the early 1970s, notably on Superstition (1972) and Boogie On Reggae Woman (1974). In 1977 Parliament's funk single Flashlight used the bass synthesizer. Lou Reed, widely considered a pioneer of electric guitar textures, played bass synthesizer on "Families", from his 1979 album The Bells.
By 1976, the first true music synthesizers to offer polyphony had begun to appear, such as the Yamaha GX1, CS-50, CS-60 and Yamaha CS-80 and the Oberheim Four-Voice. Since the early 1980s, most new synthesizers have been digital. Japanese manufacturers Yamaha and Casio both played a large part as manufacturers of digital synthesizers during the 1980s and 1990s. Synthesizers became easier to integrate and synchronize with other electronic instruments and controllers with the introduction in 1983 of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), which allows for the transmission f real-time performance data from one device or instrument to another. When the programmable music sequencer became widely available in the 1980s (e.g., the synclavier), bass synths were used to create highly syncopated rhythms and complex, rapid basslines. Bass synth patches incorporate a range of sounds and tones, including wavetable-style, analog, and FM-style bass sounds, delay effects, distortion effects, envelope filters.
In the 2000s, several companies such as Boss and Akai produced bass synthesizer effect pedals for electric bass players, which simulate the sound of an analog or digital bass synth. With these devices, a bass guitar is used to generate synth bass sounds. The BOSS SYB-3 was one of the early bass synthesizer pedals. The SYB-3 reproduces sounds of analog synthesizers with Digital Signal Processing saw, square, and pulse synth waves and user-adjustable filter cutoff. The Akai bass synth pedal contains a four-oscillator synthesiser with user selectable parameters (attack, decay, envelope depth, dynamics, cutoff, resonance). Bass synthesizer software allows performers to use MIDI to integrate the bass sounds with other synthesizers or drum machines. Bass synthesizers often provide samples from vintage 1970s and 1980s bass synths. Some bass synths are built into an organ style pedalboard or button board.