If you take the same approach to mic a bass amp as other guitar amps then the chances are you won’t get the best results. Bass is, in many ways, quite a unique instrument. When it comes to recording, it is rare that you will need to capture such low frequencies in detail so the approach for an acoustic or electric guitar won’t do the job.
So, how should you mic a bass amp? What equipment should be used when it comes to capturing the low end and ensuring a high fidelity recording of your bass amplifier?
The two biggest aspects to consider in getting the right bass tone and micing the amp correctly are both positioning, and microphone choice. Mic positioning can be used to create different tonal qualities. Ensure it is around 6-12 inches from the cone to get a thick and full sound, but you can also adjust where on the amp your mic is pointing for different tonal qualities.
Arguably, the mic choice is even more important. Some microphones will leave your bass recordings lacking. They can feel empty and flat and not give that satisfying low-end tone you are looking for. This is because a lot of microphones are not designed to adequately pick up low frequencies. Choosing a microphone with a specific focus on bass (often used for kick drums in a drum kit) can make all the difference.
Of course, there are even more methods to explore and different producers use different methods altogether, some even bypass the amplifier (more on this later). So how do you utilize the variety of techniques and make sure the bass sound you are looking for is achievable?
There are a number of different schools of thought when it comes to the placement of the microphone. It is generally accepted that pointing at the center of the amplifier or cabinet will provide the fullest tone, with a sharp attack and a real bassy “thud”. This sound might be preferable for some of the harder genres of music or if you want a driving bassline.
Some people opt for micing straight, at a 90 degree angle from the amplifier. This is probably most common, especially in a live environment as it helps to avoid bleed (the sound of other instruments or background noise entering the mic).
A 45 degree angle is also possible, though, with some producers swearing by this to get more of a “fuzzy” tone overall.
The microphone should be within 6-12 inches of the amp. This means that you are picking up all of the sound you need but also that you are avoiding getting too close and falling foul of the proximity effect and other issues around overloading the microphone.
Some people also like to experiment with “off-center” microphone techniques, so pointing toward the corner of your amp, for example. This can be tough to master in a live environment. If you get it right, though, results can sometimes be smoother and more mellow sound, without any of the brightness of the attack of the sound.
As with anything there is no ‘correct’ answer. Try testing a number of different mic placements, move the mic closer or further away, on the edge of the speaker or in the middle and see what sounds good. That is part of the fun of recording at home!
Live vs Studio
Inevitably, this needs to be considered. In a live environment your main priority is ensuring that you get a solid overall tone and that nothing else is interfering. Micing in an experimental way might sound good when you are soundchecking the bassist, but once other instruments kick in the bass might go missing or you might find that your incredible tone just doesn’t hold up.
In live environments, using a DI box is always recommended even if it is not used (more on this later).
In the studio, there is more room for experimenting and flexibility, especially if you are able to record the bass away from other instruments or you are recording your bassline separately before layering on top.
Some studio techniques are possible that you wouldn’t see in a live environment. As with a lot of the different aspects of choosing how to record and mic a bass amp, there is a chance to experiment and play around. Finding the tone that is ideal for your instrument is part of the fun of studio recording. Some of the things that people find helpful in the studio include:
- Taking a DI recording in order to give a full tone and ensure that you are getting all of the frequencies of the bass guitar. This allows you to not have to worry so much about whether any frequencies go missing in the recordings.
- Using a room mic. A room microphone can pick up more of the ambience and acoustics of the space, giving a more natural tone to the bass, this is a great way to combine a bit more ambience with the clearer tones of a DI, for example.
- Using a mic on the instrument itself. This is something that is relatively common in certain genres, and with some styles of playing such as slap guitar. It helps to pick up the nuanced sound of the playing, again providing a more natural overall tone and giving the sound of a musician playing the instrument as well as the instrument itself. This can be very subtle.
If you have time when making a home recording or within the studio, you can play around with some of these techniques. It is a good idea in a studio environment to set up multiple microphones and give yourself more to work with when it comes to mixing the recording. You can blend multiple sources together for the best overall sound.
DI stands for “direct injection”. A DI box or unit allows you to boost the signal of your bass enough to take a clean recording straight into your mixing desk or audio interface. Having taken this recording (before the signal has ever entered the amp) you can ensure you always have a clean and high-quality basis to build the rest of your tone on.
When the signal reaches the DI, it can be split, so a recording is taken, but a cable connecting the DI to the amplifier can ensure that you still amplify the bass and this can allow you to still make use of an amp and create the signature tone you want. Blending these different tones is sometimes referred to as “Hybrid DI” recording.
It might help to think of a DI as a backup. Technically, you’re not recording the bass amp, you are just recording the signal straight out of the bass guitar. This dry signal can be blended with other tones. You might not even use the DI recording if you get a lovely clean recording from your amp, but it is always better to have it just in case.
In live scenarios, DI signal can often be a good way to ensure a clean sound with no bleed from other instruments. In the studio, it is another tool to build your ideal bass tone.
Mixing and Effects
Once you’ve created a recording then there are certain things you can do in order to improve the tone. If you are recording with a studio engineer then this may be down to their preference but a lot of people are opting for home recordings.
There are certain tips to allow you to get the tone you want. Ultimately, the bass guitar is not the sort of instrument you will want to put loads of effects on. It underpins the other instruments within your mix and therefore a clean sound is often best. However, you might opt for a few subtle effects:
- Compression. This is very common and creates a consistent tone and volume as well as allowing the bass to cut through the mix nicely if it is used right.
- Distortion. A small amount of distortion giving the bass a “fuzzy” tone can be good for certain genres and styles.
- EQ. This lets you tweak the frequencies of the bass. You can either use a pedal when recording, or use EQ in post production. For example, if the sound is a bit too bright and there is too much high-end in it, you can use a low pass filter.
You could spend decades perfecting a bass tone, but a few basic rules will help you to create a solid tone. Ensure that you don’t use reverb as this will likely just make your bass sound muddy. Also, don’t “pan” your bass. It sounds best mixed centrally rather than just coming out of a left or right speaker.
Microphone Options for Bass Amps
As we’ve already mentioned, there are certain types of microphones that will do a far better job on the bass guitar as they will pick up the lower frequencies. These microphones are designed specifically to do this job.
There are two main types of microphones you will come across, dynamic and condenser, which I explain in detail in this article. For bass a dynamic microphone will probably be what you need. A condenser microphone is designed more with vocals in mind and to capture the full range of the frequency spectrum. By all means, give it a go if you own one but a dynamic mic should be fine.
Shure SM57 or SM58
The Shure SM57 or SM58 are very versatile and common dynamic microphones. They have been used in studio and live settings as the ‘go to’ microphone for decades.
The SM57 is designed more specifically for the job but you can use the SM58 as it is basically the same microphone, as I explain in this article.
These microphones should do a fine job and you should be able to pick them up fairly cheaply. However there is a chance they may not pick up the low-end sounds as well as you would like, and something might be lacking. Combined with a DI recording it might sound fine, but this is not guaranteed.
The D112 is a very common microphone for recording low-end frequencies. It is often used on a kick drum or even situated inside the kick drum while it records the thud of the deepest drum.
It has a brilliant ability to capture the low-end punch of a bass guitar. The D112 is a dynamic mic which helps it to cope with high volumes, too. It’s not overly expensive, so provides a good option for home recordings, studio recordings or even in a live setting.
Shure BETA 52A
Another microphone with a focus on the low-end. This is made by Shure, one of the biggest microphone manufacturers in the world. It is very similar to the AKG D112 in many ways, and has a similar pickup pattern. This means that the attack and the deep punch of bass gets captured, when some other microphones would really struggle with this.
It is hypercardioid and this means it rejects lots of the potential bleed you could get from other instruments.
The 180 degree rotation facility also makes this a very good choice for experimenting with new mic positioning. It’s a rugged dynamic mic and can take a beating if required! This makes it a great, rugged mic for use in the studio or in a live environment.
Microphones are another area that you can experiment with. As we mentioned already, you can use room mics and other ambient mics to pick up the sounds of playing the instrument as well as the tone of the output of the instrument. Things like fret noise can be recorded with virtually any microphone and you can choose whether you wish to use them or not.
So, how do you mic a bass amp? We’ve answered with many of the simple basic techniques that can be used, but also with techniques you can use to experiment and play around with getting the right bass tone for your own preference. Different genres and playing styles call for different recording techniques.
Once you’ve nailed the basics of recording a bass amp you can start to experiment a bit more with the sound and tailor your bass sound for each album, song or performance. The possibilities are virtually endless for creating interesting and nuanced bass sounds.
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