How to record electric bass

Part two in 'how to' the series

How to record electric bass - Part two in 'how to' the series - by Simon Campbell

This one is all about bass and very important as my wife Suzy is a bass player! It's all very straightforward and will explain why you don't just DI it.

Along with drums, bass is crucially important in virtually all modern music and a track lives and dies by the playing and the sound!

I use a pretty standard technique and of course, its horses for course, but we generally start here :)

Skip to bottom of this post is you want to see the video where I explain in person.

Compression & Limiting

Bass is one of the only instruments where I always use compression/limiting, even when tracking (only in the monitor path) but never commit this, or any EQ to Pro Tools and leave it till the mix.

There is an awful lot of energy in a bass guitar and if you a DI it's almost certain that during a session the player will just 'unplug' when you least expect and I have grown quite attached to the drivers in our ATC SMC25A monitors!

There is a massive variation in output level between the strings and in different positions on the neck. So it makes real sense as really you need to maintain a relatively consistent level throughout the track.

As the compressor/limiter is in the monitor path, it's very easy to overload the channel, so a trick that I learned from the wonderful George Massenburg, who I spent some time with at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, is to split the incoming DI signal and record two channels of bass in parallel, one 10dB lower than the other so if there is a peak and it's a stellar take, you have a backup.

Valve amps do by their very nature compress naturally and tend not to peak as easily as a DI, so we only parallel record this input.

Reamping

Of course you can get away with just recording a DI and reamping later, which we did to some effect on our latest record, Blueberry Pie.

Rather than use a fuzz on 'You're So Good For Me', we decided to go for some good old valve amp overload and reamped through our Germino Classic 45 head running the Bergantino NV620 using a very excellent Little Labs MultiZ PIP. Take a listen to the solo passages where Starlite is breaking free :)

Naturally, you can also re-amp the DI signal at any time later in the process, but I kinda like the old school thing where we all record together without headphones...

Microphone vs DI

As you will see in the video, I generally use an Avalon U5 high-voltage DI-preamp, Neumann U47 FET (vintage 1978) and Sennheiser MD421 II to mic Suzy's vintage HiWatt DR201 and Bergantino NV610 speaker cabinet.

There is no doubt that fucking big British 200W valve head fitted with KT88's sounds fabulous and in my opinion, far better than the US counterparts (such as an Ampeg SVT).

The 10" speakers in the Bergantino cabinet adds richness and punch which you don't tend to achieve with a vintage cabinet, although we do use these if a 'slacker' sound is required.

I tend not to use the DI at all except to re amp in an emergency or use as a 'clean' source for effects on the bass. The blend between two microphones is perfect for me and does give you a lot of options as to where the bass sits in the track.

One think most people neglect is the input impedance of the DI. A non active bass has a high impedance output and really needs to see an input impedance of at least 1MΩ (megaohm) or you will load the pickup and the sound will be muddy.

A cautionary note here that even the top line rack and 500 series modules available from Rupert Neve, Neve and API usually have an input impedance of around 500KΩ (kiloohm) which will certainly load the pickup (rolling off a lot of the high end) and should only be used with Active Basses and Keyboards. This same problem will occur with non preamped piezo pickups and standard magnetic guitar pickups.

Rather than explain more, take a look at the video the video which give all the detail re positioning.

Phase

What I don't mention on the video is the mic preamp selection and issues around phase.

Of course using three sources will almost certainly give phase issues which can be addressed by listening to the different combinations of sources at the same level or a quicker way by recording a bit and taking a look at the waveform on screen.

We do not use automation or plugins with our system, but we do edit in Pro Tools and the ability to zoom into the waveform microscopically is great when checking phase.

Anyway, thats it so finally, take a look at the lighthearted video on how we do it at Supertone!

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