Miking Basses, Revisited

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How do you get a good bass guitar sound in the studio? Learn some techniques in this article.

This is a re-write of an article that was over 4 years old. While much of the content and theory remains the same, it is hopefully a little clearer and perhaps some new ideas.

Bass guitars, more often than electric guitars, are recorded at least partly, if not completely, directly. However, you may want to mic a speaker as with a guitar and mix the two sounds to get a fuller sound, it all depends on your personal taste. I prefer the direct method for basement/garage recordings because it eliminates the problem of sound bleeding into the mic, and still provides a good solid bass sound that sometimes an average-quality mic might not pick up as cleanly. Also, modern bass guitar amplifiers, unlike guitar amps, have multiple speak sized in their cabinets, or multiple cabinets each with different size speakers. This is more common in bass guitar amps due to the extreme lows bass guitars produce, and some bass sounds really just wouldn't be the same without some of the high end sound particularly notable in slap and pop style playing as well as players that play with a pick.

That type of amplification would require the miking of two, or maybe more, different speakers to attain the high and low response of the instrument. Recording direct eliminates this problem.

Another not widely used technique in the home studio environment, but very effective technique for getting a good high end sound from the slap n' pop or picking styles is to put a mic right in front of the bass aiming straight at where the neck meets the body. It will give a good solid, sharp sound when mixed with the direct or miked bass sound. Line 6 also makes a great version of the "POD" (mentioned above) for the bass as well as Sansamp making their own fabulous Bass Driver DI

The basic miking techniques for the speaker itself are the same as with a guitar as far as placement is concerned.

The classic "Dead Center" miking position, this is the most obvious and most common positioning. Sometimes, with certain mics this may want to be avoided because it does put a huge amount of pressure on the mic because the sound is coming from right in the center of the cone, especially when talking about the low end power of a bass instrument. It does give a clean, pure representation of the speaker, but is sometimes prone to overdrive the mic.
Placing the mic on the center of the cone. I have seen many live sound engineers use this method with, some say, less pressure put on the mic. Still, it is a nice, close-proximity option for you to try with you amplifier.
Putting the mic at a 45 degree angle with the cone centered on the cap. I have seen this method used more for the second mic on a cabinet rather than the first, but none-the-less, it is an option. Used further back from the amp it can be good for grabbing extra bass. Theoretically, the highs will just shoot right past it and the booming bass will the picked up more with this position.
Putting the mic perpendicular with the speaker. This is even a more radical approach to getting more bass in your sound. Same theory as above, just a greater angle to let more highs zip past.

Though the direct method is probably the most common, as stated above, but a miked speaker can add some very big fullness to the sound. Quite often the mixture of miked and direct recording can create some very rich bass sounds.

Part of the fun of this hobby is experimentation. Try to mix and match the miking styles mentioned above, try a couple of them together, have a mic a few feet back to catch the bass wash from the speaker. With many bass speakers, 15" or bigger, the full bass waveform doesn't even fully develop for many feet, which is why some of you performers may notice that the guitarist on the other side of the stage hears your bass better than you do standing right next to the amp. So having a mic a ways back can help as well.

Last, but not least, the engineer has to be aware of the basses pickups. There are active and passive pickups. Passive pickups are the standard, simple magnetic pickups that most instruments come with as standard equipment. Higher end instruments, or a frequent customization bass players do is add active pickups. Active pickups are battery powered magnetic pickups that act as a type of preamp in the pickup itself. It tends to add nice power and punch to the sound and sometimes makes getting a good tone recording much easier, especially when going direct. So, when experimenting techniques, take note of what you see working better for not only each playing style but also for each pickup style.

Many home-recording artists approach bass as a "back-end" instrument, so a "good enuf" take is used. Don't fall into that trap. Personally, even with all I have said above, I still prefer recording direct, it seems to give me the best sound with the least amount of hassle, but there is certainly a strong case for going to more effort and trying for that "perfect sound".

Rock on, and don't get lazy on the low end.

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