How to tune 808’s and why?

808’s are incredible sub sounds that are used heavily in hip hop since the 80s. The whole dirty south and trap genre is based on 808’s, as was Rick Rubin’s style in the 80s (Beasty Boys, LL Cool J etc). 808’s can be used to replace basslines cause no other sound so far can compete with the sub of an 808. No wonder is still so relevant.
808’s can be used to just fill the space on the one. But they got a tone/note to it so you need to tune them to the track. And because of this you can (re)play entire basslines using 808’s. There are several ways to do this.

808s pic002
You can run your 808 thru melodyne to see what note it’s played in. Once you know that you can pitch shift the 808 up and/or down till it’s in tune with the song.

808s pic001

I usually don’t do this in Melodyne self but I rather use the Pitch Shift tool in Pro Tools. I always make sure that “Time Correction” isn’t selected cause it muffles the sound. Also I don’t like to pitch the 808’s too much so when (re)playing/programming basslines I use at least two 808’s; one that’s played in/around “C” and one that’s played in/around “G#” so I never have pitch up/down more than 6 semi steps.
FL Studio
FL Studio is pretty good for tuning 808’s. Real easy to use too.

808s pic003

After you loaded your 808 sample you right click on the wave form and select edit.

808s pic004

Once you’re in edit mode you click on the symbol that appears to be a flag and click on “Detect Pitch Regions“.

808s pic005

Now you exit edit mode and go to “Miscellaneous Functions” . In my example you see that the 808 I’m using is played in the key of C so we right click on “C2”. Now our 808 is in tune with the key of C2 on our MIDI controller so we can actually play the 808 like a melodic instrument on our MIDI controller. If we would have used an 808 that was in the key of let’s say “F” then we would have assigned it to F2 in the miscellaneous functions.

808s pic006
If we want to let our 808s glide like they do a lot in Trap music then we select Porta in the miscellaneous function Polyphony and turn the slide knob way up. Now if you play the 808 on your MIDI controller you will hear it glide up and down.
Mixing 808s:
808’s usually sound great from itself so you don’t have to really do too much to it in the mix. You can compress it if you want the tail of it to go on a little longer. Or you can add an RBass to it if you want some more low end. I like to put a little bit of distortion on 808’s sometimes to make them cut thru the mix some more and then they’re also more audible on smaller speakers that got less to no low end.


by Shroom

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  1. Unathi · January 23, 2017

    Hi. What if the 808 kick you are tuning does not have one but two keys to It. So in your example the 808 is on C2. Mine has F2 and D2 after it. What do you do then?


    • beatplug · February 17, 2017

      Chop them up and tune each note separately


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