Getting a quality recording of a bass guitar can be more of a challenge than a lot of other instruments. Are you wondering the best ways to record? Should you mic a bass amp, or use another method of recording? I’ve recorded bass guitars in pretty much every method you can imagine, and share more about the techniques I’ve found useful in this guide.
It is usually a good idea to record the bass amp. There are numerous methods to record bass guitar, but capturing the amp helps to recreate the exact sound of the instrument and any effects that have been applied. However, getting as much detail, and as many audio sources, can be a good way to give yourself more tools to work within the audio mix. A bass amp recording alone might not be ideal.
It is very easy to get things wrong when you look to record a bass. The low-frequencies of the instrument can be hard to record. Using certain techniques and microphones can be one of the best ways to get a full sound. Even then, there are other recording methods you might want to use as a failsafe. We explore more below.
Firstly – What are the other options?
If you are asking whether or not you should mic a bass amp then you are probably aware that it is not the only option to record your bass. There are commonly-used methods of recording bass guitar besides a bass amplifier.
A DI (sometimes called a Direct Injection or Direct Input) box can be used to boost the signal to a loud enough volume whereby it can be recorded straight into a mixing desk or a recording interface.
Alternatively, some recording interfaces, such as an audio interface, will allow you to take the signal straight from the bass guitar, and feed it into your computer or even other devices such as an iPad. This is one of the most straightforward ways to get a decent sound.
So why do we recommend that you should mic a bass amp? We need to understand the signal chain, and what happens to the sound that is being created and recorded. If you plug directly into a recording device then you will be losing a lot of character. The sound is taken straight from the pickups of the bass guitar. Even if the recording retains its high quality, you can lose so much of the character that comes from the amplification.
In direct input recordings you definitely do not get the benefits of the bass amp, or of any of the other effects that you are using to play the bass. If you want to add distortion, compression or other effects, you will miss out on the characteristics they add to the sound. A lot of guitarists (and bass guitarists) spend a lot of their time tweaking and perfecting this sound during practice. It’s a shame to lose it all when it comes to recording.
The arguments against micing a bass amp
So, having said that micing a bass amp is the best way to keep the character and authenticity of the sound, we’re almost going to make a contradiction by singing the praises of DI recordings.
Recording through a microphone instead of taking the signal direct from the pickups can give more opportunities for sound to degrade. There are more chances for things to go wrong, and therefore far more to monitor.
Yes, you will capture the sounds and echoes of the room within which you are recording, which is great if that is what you want. But many people find with bass it is much simpler to record a clean track and add any effects afterwards as it gives you more control over the final sound.
Getting the correct microphone positioning
You need to get the mic positioning, selection and levels right when you are recording. This means that it is vital to ensure that you know what you are doing before you go ahead and make a recording.
If you already own an audio interface you can plug your bass in and record straight away but if you don’t already own a suitable microphone, you will have to factor in that extra cost.
A DI recording gives more of a simple and basic setup, and though the sound might not be as nuanced, it is more reliable. Modern technology also means that you can use your DAW (digital audio workstation) to add effects like distortion in post-production, so they don’t have to be totally lost.
DI recordings are also better than a lot of microphones when it comes to keeping the rich bass frequencies. Using a microphone can lose a lot of these, especially if you don’t have a specific microphone that is used to pick up bass frequencies.
A lot of people see these recordings as more of a blank canvas. Many guitar interfaces come with amp simulators, for example. You can use these to “rebuild” the sound you would normally get from your amp. Actually, it can open up a lot more possibilities. Using software like Guitar Rig can allow people to use simulations and recreations of loads of amps, including classic amps that you wouldn’t possibly be able to afford normally. I wrote an entire article about the various methods for recording bass without an amp here.
So what is the answer? Both DI recordings and microphone recordings have their merits. So, this brings us to the recommended technique…
It sounds a lot more complex than it is. A hybrid recording is simply a recording of both a microphone, placed in front of the guitar cab in the normal way, and a direct input. They’re not mutually exclusive. You can then either choose which of the recordings you want to work with, or blend the two together.
As we stated very briefly in the intro, it is vital that you maximize your source material. Think of it like shooting a film, if you have more cameras filming things then you will have more choice when it comes to the edit.
Blending a DI signal and a mic recording can be challenging, even for music tech lovers, but once you work out a formula for yourself then it is pretty easy to recreate.
If you are using an audio interface to record, make sure you have multiple inputs, this way you can connect both a DI input and a microphone input and use them both simultaneously with your DAW. Because you’ve recorded at the same time, you shouldn’t have any issues with the recordings being different, and an untrained ear would never know that you had blended the two signals.
Best mic for bass amp
Without going too far into the specifics of bass amplifier microphones, there are a few criteria to look for when you are choosing a good microphone for a bass amp.
Dynamic microphones can usually handle the sound better, the sound pressure level, often called the SPL, refers to how much volume the mic can handle. The sound level of a bass amp will probably be quite high, so you need a mic that can cope.
Also, a microphone with a large diaphragm can usually handle low frequencies better, meaning it is a good choice for a bass amp.
There are a few microphones that are very popular. These microphones tend to be good for using with either a bass amplifier or for a kick drum, also called a bass drum.
The AKG D112 is probably the industry standard choice for recording this type of high-volume, low-frequency sound. The current generation of this mic is called the “AKG D112 MKII Drum Microphone”. It copes with very high volumes with a 160 SPL.
A lot of people use condenser microphones or affordable dynamic mics when getting started, but they might not be suited to picking up bass frequencies.
Bass amp mic position
This is an area that you can experiment with to some extent. You should point the microphone at the speaker cone of the cabinet. You can usually see the cone easily.
A lot of people mic at a different angle, rather than pointing directly at the cab. A 45 or 90 degree angle might allow you to pick up the mid frequencies with more strength, and can really capture the bite, or mid-range of the sound.
In terms of distance, somewhere between 6-12 inches tends to be suitable. Once again, this is something that you can experiment with.
Mic positioning is a subject of some debate. For first-timers, sticking to the tried and tested, but as time goes on you might want to experiment a bit more and see what works for you. Everyone has a slightly different setup, and how you choose to record your amp can help you to build up your signature sound.
We definitely recommend using a mic on your bass amp. This can help you to get a quality recording of your amplifier, and pick up the sound of your amp and pedals as well as your bass guitar. There are a lot of different aspects of the sound that don’t come directly from the instrument.
Once you’ve picked up some of the basics to allow you to get a quality sound, you can start to experiment with multiple mics, DI inputs, post-production and more to enable you to build a bass sound you are happy with.