Recording bass guitar is very similar to capturing the sound of the electric guitar. Along with the drums, the bass forms the backbone of most songs and productions, so getting your bass sound right is a vital part of producing good music.
Combined with the kick drum, when it’s used the bass guitar creates most of a song’s low-frequency content. The bass is a powerful instrument, and the general aim when recording it is to capture the full weight and body of the instrument’s low frequencies, along with the mid-frequencies that give the notes their attack and definition.
There are a few different bass guitar recording techniques to think about:
- Through an amp
- A combination of the two
How to Record Bass Directly
Capturing the direct signal of the instrument is important when recording bass guitar. Having to use a DI-box depends on whether the instrument you’re using has passive or active pickups.
- Active: the bass can be connected directly into your audio interface or mixing console
- Passive: the bass must first be connected to a DI box (helping to match impedance levels)
Recording direct helps to capture the low end and the note definition of the bass guitar. But it doesn’t really catch the sound’s body – this requires an amp.
Ideally, the bass should be recorded both directly and through an amp at the same time to give you the best sound and tone possible. If you only have the option of recording directly, then you can use one of the many guitar emulation programs out there – Guitar Rig and Amplitube are two examples.
Bass amps and cabinets will have better low-end response compared to normal guitar amps, to cope with the low notes of the bass guitar and to give the instrument it’s punch. Buying separate amps and cabinets can be expensive though, and isn’t usually near the top of essential items for a home studio.
A lower-budget option is the combo amp, which combines the amplifier and the cabinet speakers inside one unit. These days you can find small practice combo amps for bass guitars starting around the $70 mark.
But these amps won’t be very powerful and so are best recorded at a lower volume. If you’re looking for an amp that you can crank up and record at high volume, amps of at least 50 Watts are recommended.
The other option for recording bass guitar is to use a guitar amp. But caution has to be taken when doing this – if the amp is driven at high volumes, the low frequencies can damage the speaker. The best way forward is to record the DI signal for the low-end, and the amp (at a low volume) for the body of the sound.
Microphones for Recording Bass Guitar at Home
Dynamic mics are definitely the best option, as they can handle the loud volumes of a guitar or bass amp. A dynamic mic I always recommend to have in the home studio is the Shure SM58, and you can get pretty good results using it on a bass amp.
There are mics out there that are specially designed for recording low-frequencies, with kick drums and bass amplifiers being the main two sources.
The AKG D112 is probably the most popular of these mics – it’s a large-diaphragm cardioid mic that can handle very high sound pressure levels, and it’s frequency response is geared towards capturing these low frequency sounds.
When recording bass guitar with an amp, the best place for the microphone is between 1-3 feet away from the amp’s grill. This will give you a solid tone with plenty of body, as well as nice definition of the notes played. Moving the mic further away will give you more body and less definition.
You can get good recordings with both cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns. Directing the mic towards the centre of the cone will emphasize the higher frequencies and give you a more aggressive sound. Moving the mic towards the speaker’s edge gives a softer sound.
The Bass Guitar
The way the bass is set up and played can have a big impact on the sound produced. The range of tone that can be generated can vary between the sharp, aggressive style of rock and metal all the way to the softer, gentler tone of reggae and dub.
If you’re after a bright, aggressive tone with more note definition, try these tips:
- Use newer strings
- Play the bass with a pick
- Play the strings nearer the bridge
But if you’re after a rounder, more mellow tone try these tips:
- Use older strings
- Play the bass with your fingers
- Play the strings nearer the neck
You’ll be able to produce a whole spectrum of different bass tones by mixing and matching the setup and the style of playing. Choosing how you want your bass recording to sound is a creative decision – it depends on the direction that you want to take your production in.
Recording bass guitar can be easy when you follow a few simple guidelines. Whether recording directly, through an amp, or a combination of the two, capturing a great bass sound can give you a truly solid foundation for you to build your music and your productions on.
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