If you want to know how to record bass guitar, then this is the article for you. Fidlar will show you how to get a great bass sound in the studio. We also cover everything from miking techniques to EQ and compression tips. So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, read on this post immediately.
This is the equipment you’ll need to record bass.
- Interface for audio
- Speakers or headphones?
- microscopic (optional)
- Amplifier or amplifier simulator
- DI container (optional)
- 14-inch cable
About the DI
The DI’s signal contains essential information, such as the assault and middle- to upper-range frequencies. In some circumstances, you’ll be going straight into the console, while in others, you’ll be going straight into a preamp.
A preamp raises a shallow signal — millivolts — to a level that can be used in a consumer or studio setting. You can’t just connect your headphones to your bass and expect to hear anything; an amplifier is required. So a preamp raises a shallow sound to a very high one.
“You’ll want to use a direct box if your preamp doesn’t have a quarter-inch input built to be a line-level input for bass,” Jon recommends. “The XLR connection on your DI connects to your mic pre.
Many people prefer the sound of the bass connected directly into the line input to the sound of a DI going through a mic pre. It’s a unique sound that is influenced by a variety of factors. It depends on the mic pres you have and if you’ll be plugging into a $200,000 Neve console or a TASCAM board at a friend’s project studio.
If it’s the latter, you’ll probably want to use a preamp right away. If you’re dealing with a quality board, you’ll probably want to use a DI to bring the signal into the control room for processing.”
About the Microphones
Most mics used on a bass or guitar cabinet are dynamic mics, which can handle high sound pressure levels (SPL) and are more focused on the instruments’ tones. You can use a condenser mic on a bass cabinet in specific instances; the Beatles, for example, frequently used a Telefunken U47 condenser on the cabinet.
However, a microphone like the AKG D12, one of the first kick drum and bass mics ever made and has a wider diaphragm optimized to pick up low frequencies, will be more popular.
The type of bass, amp, and cabinet you use, the mic, the area you’re in, and the mic’s positioning all play a role in getting tone from a miked amp.
“You’ll want to be closer to the amp with your mic, just slightly off-axis with the speaker for a punchier tone,” Jon explains. “The trick is to put your headphones on and have the bass player play something extremely simple and constant, like eighth notes, while moving the mike around until you get the tone you want.”
It’s a combination of the distance between the amp and the speaker and the angle at which you’re looking at the speaker. Are you in the middle of the speaker, on the cone, or the outside edge? They’re going to make a lot of various noises.”
“I’m thinking of using the AKG D112 around 6 inches off the cone for jazz.” You might want to move the mic back a few feet if you’re aiming to capture the bass’s low frequency. You’ll need to be approximately 30 feet away to properly hear a low E on the bass (ed. note: a bass guitar playing a low E produces a sound wave roughly 27.5 feet in length).
Have you ever wondered why, when someone drives past your house with a massive subwoofer blasting, the dishes in your kitchen cupboard begin to shake, and you assume the guy’s skull is rattling — it sounds like the car’s nuts are coming loose? In reality, you’re hearing the low frequencies, and he won’t even get in the car because he’s too close.”
If you can’t go DI, using several mics on the cabinet is a decent alternative. For example, if a bassist won’t use that signal because the tone is different from what he gets from his amp, using many mics on the cabinet is a good alternative.
Experiment with placement and mics: for the low end, use a dynamic mic up close and a condenser mic anywhere from 2-10 feet away. Patience and imagination, as always, can bring exciting results.
“I’ve seen instances when folks will pitch a tent,” Jon explains. Take a boom stand, place it on top of the amp, drape a blanket or thick mat over it to create a tent, and then place a shotgun mic inside. That does some impressive feats. When you truly want to shake the room, it’s how you achieve that ultra-low bass sound.”
Bass mics that are commonly used
- AKG D12 or D12E. The D12, which has been available since the 1960s, features a bigger diaphragm specifically designed for bass instruments. Because these are no longer manufactured, you’ll have to look for them used (a D12 VR is available for $499).
- AKG D112. AKG released a replacement for the D12E in the 1980s. The egg-shaped D112 ($199) has a higher presence peak, producing a more articulated sound similar to that heard on many modern rock recordings.
- Sennheiser MD421, a microphone by Sennheiser. The MD 421-II ($380) has a very high peak and a low low end, which creates an interesting dynamic contrast, especially when utilizing multiple microphones.
- RE20 Electro-Voice The RE20 ($399) has a smooth frequency response across a wide range of frequencies.
With the bass, there’s always a lot of noise swarming about 250 Hz. Engineers almost always notch back, pulling that frequency out, because it is the go-to frequency. The muddiness of the bass is one of the most common causes of muddiness in a mix.
Best Way To Record Bass
Into An Audio Interface Directly
We weren’t joking when we mentioned that recording bass could be straightforward. Plugging directly into your audio interface is the simplest way to do at-home bass tracking.
These days, almost every interface provides a dedicated Hi-Z input for recording line-level instruments like bass or electric guitar directly or a hybrid XLR/TRS/TS connector that accepts an instrument cable.
You may or may not be able to drive the signal loud enough with minimum noise depending on the quality of the mic preamps in your interface. The only drawback of recording this manner is that it can be noisy, especially if the mic preamp isn’t very good and adds additional noise to the signal.
There may also be hum from your bass’s pickups, which degrades the recording’s quality.
One solution is running your bass into a dedicated DI box and out of the DI box into your interface. A DI converts your bass guitar’s high-impedance (Hi-Z) signal into a low-impedance balanced signal for recording at the interface stage. This translates to the low-noise bass recording!
You’ll undoubtedly notice how dry and boring a direct signal is once you’ve recorded it. Using amp simulation plugins and other in-the-box effects to obtain the tone you want is an easy method to spice up dry bass guitar tones. The simplest technique to record bass guitar is to record it directly and then use plugins later.
Using A Preamp Pedal, Record Directly
It’s almost like doing a hybrid of recording dry into the interface and then using plugins to create a tone later. A hardware preamp pedal is an excellent method to modify your tone before you hit the stage, and there are many dedicated bass preamp pedals on the market.
The concept is almost equivalent to recording directly into the interface using a DI box. The preamp pedal takes the place of the DI in this case, but it also has onboard tone-shaping features, including EQ, overdrive, and more.
This method works similarly to recording an amp with a microphone in that you commit to a sound on the way in. Darkglass Electronics’ Microtubes B7K bass preamp pedal is a superb example of a great-sounding bass preamp pedal.
Amplifier and Microphone
The next option for recording bass is to use a microphone to record an amp.
A dynamic microphone is your best bet. Condensers can’t withstand the sheer loudness and dynamics of bass amps.
Bass guitars and kick drums have their dynamic microphones. A selection of my personal favorites can be found below.
Mics with Bass Amps
Many of the concepts for miking an electric guitar amp apply to miking a bass amp. Similarities include positioning, with a brighter sound directed straight at the speaker cone and a darker sound controlled off-axis or to the side of the cone.
Because dynamic mics are tough enough to bear the loudness and air a bass amp pushes, they’re the best choice for bass guitar. But be careful with the proximity effect because there will already be many low-end! The same mics that work well on kick drums also work well on bass amps.
Recording The Bass Amp And The DI
Professional engineers will always advise you to use a DI in conjunction with your amplifier. DI boxes simplify splitting a signal into two channels, allowing you to capture the color tone that the bassist spent time dialing in and a dehydrated tone that may be used for re-amping later (if needed).
Why not record both if you have the ability and equipment to do so? Learning how to record bass guitar is as much about the technical aspect up front as it is about having the foresight to offer yourself options to construct the finest possible sound for later mixing.
Maintain Your Bass’s Playing Condition
You can get all of the other details right regardless of the method you use to record bass guitar, but it will be challenging to record if the instrument is in poor-performing condition.
Bass strings survive a long time; however, you should consider replacing them before recording. You’ll want to make sure the instrument is properly set up and intonated, so it’s simple to play and maintain in tune. Ensure there are no scratchy pots, that all of the pickups function, and that the thing is always ready to go!
10 Quick Tips & Techniques For Getting Ahold Of The Low End
Slightly out-of-tune strings on bass may not stand out as much as slightly out-of-tune strings on a guitar (especially in chords). Still, when that bass line is buried beneath other parts in the mix, even slightly off-pitch notes will make themselves known and can be difficult to locate (why does this song sound a little “off”?).
I’d use a tuner (h/w or s/w). Still, I’d always double-check tuning by ear before pushing the record. I’d double-check occasionally tuning throughout the session—just like drums, hard musicians can quickly wear out an instrument after a few frantic takes.
Prepare ahead of time by putting in new strings.
Apart from tuning concerns, fresh bass strings, particularly roundwounds, can be quite bright, resulting in a lot of finger noise and fret buzz. There may be less troublesome sounds if they’re changed a day or two before the session, and the bass is used a little to break them in.
While many players consider flatwounds to be old-school, they might occasionally be the greatest option when a big, deep bass sound is required—worth it’s considering.
Amplifier and DI
The simplest way to record bass is to connect it to the console/interface—provided that you use an instrument-level input or dedicated DI box rather than a regular line input. This will give you a great, clean, deep tone, but it won’t have the growl and grit you’re looking for—you’ll need an amp for that.
While you can always utilize a bass amp sim plug-in in the mix later (see below), nothing beats the pants-flapping wall of low-end sound that comes out of a real bass amp if one is available. On the other hand, most engineers will record both a DI’d signal and a miked-up amp.
Later on, they can be blended for the best of both worlds—the DI’s clean, round depth paired with the amp’s edge and middle punch (but see below for a caveat).
For bass, use a suitable microphone.
Suppose you’re recording a bass amp’s output; attempt to use a mic that captures more low-end than a conventional stage mic. Although an SM57/58 will suffice, a mic with a more extended low-frequency response might be preferable.
Sync the phase of the DI and mic’d-up bass tracks together.
You’ll want to pay attention to the relative phase of the two tracks if you record the bass both via DI and a miked-up cab, then merge them afterward, as mentioned above. Even if the mic is placed very close to the amp’s speaker (an inch or two), the track will be slightly delayed (on milliseconds) compared to the DI track due to the small distance.
When the tracks are mixed (at nearly equal levels), little delays like this might generate comb-filtering, which causes cancellations and reinforcements in the frequency spectrum, lowering the tone and imparting a nasal, hollow, or slightly “flangey” sound.
If you line up the waves in the DAW and zoom in, you can see the timing difference. You may either advance the amp track (through editing) or delay the DI track (by editing or a plug-in) until the two ways match up—the result should be a broader tone that sits better in the mix, with a more solid bass end.
Restriction and/or compression
If there was ever a contender for compression, it’s bass. Although this instrument has an extended dynamic range (especially when slap techniques are used), it usually needs to be kept low in the mix.
Should compression be used when recording to keep the levels from dropping too low, or should it be used later, during the mix, to ensure the optimum track blend? The answer is most likely both, but with possibly distinct techniques to suppressing the signal.
Using a Limiter during recording can help transient control peaks overload ADCs, resulting in pops and spikes that can spoil a take. To handle peaks, a traditional fast VCA compressor/limiter (like the dbx 160) might be used without substantially decreasing the player’s dynamics at this stage.
When mixdown arrives, extra light compression (such as the smooth squash of an optical compressor like the LA-2A) can be applied to tighten up the dynamics needed for that specific mix.
At all stages, using the right sort and amount of compression/limiting will ensure that you receive excellent clean recordings that can be properly squeezed into the mix when the time comes.
Don’t over-compress or limit yourself.
On the same note, if you use compression during recording, be sure you don’t overdo it. You don’t need to hear any effect at this point; it should only transparently regulate peaks. If you apply the amount of squeeze required for the mix while the section is being played, it may cramp the player’s style; it is better to do it later.
Furthermore, if the signal is over-compressed here, it may bring out the natural squeaks and finger & fret noises to the point where they are impossible to remove later—this is especially true if the performer is a guitarist who also plays bass.
The small playing noises I mentioned and distracting undamped harmonics can wind up overwhelming the audio if excessive limiting/compression brings them up (I recently struggled mightily to deal with a bass track that suffered from this flaw).
Don’t print effects without also printing a dry version.
This is a kind of follow-up to the DI+Amp suggestion. While bass effects aren’t as widespread as guitar parts, some bassists may show up with large rigs of effect boxes and want to capture “their sound,” which is frequently overprocessed for the song.
Rather than debating the subject, let the musician hear the sound he’s used to during tracking, but get a beautiful clean signal first, usually directly from the bass via a DI, before adding all the effects.
If your fears come true during mixdown, you may go back to the dry track and use studio equipment to reproduce your favorite sounds to a more acceptable degree.
Even though the altered bass sounds nice to you, many pedals and MI effect boxes are noisy, and you may need to reproduce the sound to avoid buzz or hiss from the player’s dirty toys.
Enhance your recording using plug-ins
Even if the bass track(s) are well-recorded and sound nice, you may want to use your favorite bass-friendly plug-in processors to improve the bass tone for mixdown. Aside from the obvious EQs and compressors, there are a plethora of distortion processors and amp simulations available for bass.
A modest tube-warming effect, such as the many plug-ins that approximate mild tube drive or tape saturation, might sometimes be all you need to add a little subtle fatness. On bass, I’ve always preferred the Tech 21 SansAmp, and Pro Tools has a well-modeled plug-in version. Most popular guitar amp modelers include Softube’s Bass Amp Room and Logic’s built-in B.A.D.
Do Not Be Afraid of the Upright
I’m going to switch gears for the final tip/technique and talk about recording acoustic—upright—bass. Although this may appear more difficult, many of the same techniques apply—I’ll discuss a few quick points that are unique to the big box.
While the dynamic mics I stated earlier might work nicely (especially on stage), in the studio, a good large-diaphragm condenser would be better for capturing the acoustic instrument’s high end and air, as well as the lows.
The instrument’s low acoustic volume may prevent different mic placement on stage. Still, you can squeeze a small (pencil-type) mic into the bridge with proper foam padding, and this can frequently offer superb sound and much better isolation.
The simplest way to record bass guitar at home is straight into an interface with tone plugins or directly into an interface through a dedicated preamp pedal. It’s truly that simple! It’s also feasible to experiment with a classic amp/mic setup if you have the resources, but most of our home studios can’t manage those SPLs!