6 Tips for Bigger, Better Bass in Your Recordings

Spend six hours setting up the drum kit and nobody bats an eye. Ask the engineer to put a second mic on the bass cab and everyone loses their minds. Poor bassists...

For one of the foundational elements in almost every rock song, the bass guitar rarely gets the respect it deserves during the recording process. All too often, recording engineers just grab the closest DI box or throw whatever mic they used for the kick drum on the bass cab and call it a day.

Thankfully, there are a few simple steps you can take to improve the quality of your bass recordings—no matter what genre you're playing.

Use a NICE DI Box

All DI boxes are not created equally. The cheap ones are cheap for a reason. Quality components are expensive, but they make an audible difference. In particular, DI boxes with Jensen transformers are seen as the best of bass DIs. These unique transformers deliver extended low frequencies and offer immunity to hum, buzz, and RF interference.

It's also recommended that you use an active DI when recording a bass with passive pickups and vice versa—otherwise, you may be introducing noise into the signal. It may seem inconsequential, but every single link in the signal chain counts. Upgrading your DI could result in cleaner, clearer, bassier recordings.

Use a Small Cab

Generally speaking, amps and cabs with large drivers will provide more bass response. Lots of low-end may be great for rehearsals and live performances, but sub-heavy bass guitars can quickly disappear in busy recordings. In order to hear your bass tracks on laptops, cell phones, and ear buds—and for better note articulation on speakers of any size—try tracking with a smaller amp, which will offer a more pronounced midrange. Remember, people are only hearing the sub frequencies if they're listening with a subwoofer.

Amps or cabs with 8", 10", or 12" drivers can offer an edgy tone that shows up on any system. Countless rock records have used 4x10" cabs for their rich, meaty tone, but don't be afraid to reach for something even smaller. Even a cheap practice amp every now and then can provide a unique tone that really cuts through a track.

Mix and Match Your Mics

Many engineers use large diaphragm dynamic mics (like an Electro-Voice RE20 or an AKG D112) specially designed to capture low frequencies. These mics typically provide a deep, powerful bottom end, but can lack clarity and definition.

Condenser mics, on the other hand, are great at capturing detail and the higher "air" frequencies. Large diaphragm condensers will have a slightly more pronounced low-end, which makes them a great choice if you're only using one mic .(Be careful about placing condenser mics too close to a speaker, as the sound pressure can damage them.) But pairing a small diaphragm condenser with a large diaphragm dynamic mic can make a very powerful combo.

For extra bite, edge, and attitude, try a trusty SM57 to help bring out the midrange.

Split the Signal

For the best of both worlds, try using different microphones on multiple amps or cabs. There are three basic ways to approach this method:

  1. Daisy-chain two cabs together—one with a large bass-heavy driver, and another one with smaller midrange drivers.
  2. Use a simple signal splitter to send an identical signal to two different amps, each with different cabs.
  3. Record a DI track and re-amp your bass with two different amps. If you only have one amp you can just use different tone settings.

Phase Alignment

If you're combining multiple bass signals there's always a chance for phase issues—especially if you're trying to blend in a DI or re-amped signal. Take some time to properly phase align every bass track in your DAW (either by hand or with a plugin like Eventide's Precision Time Align) to instantly open up your bass recordings.

Start by zooming in on your bass tracks and determining which track is out of phase. Each waveform should push and pull at the same time—even a few milliseconds can cause problems with the low-end. Determine which tracks(s) start at the wrong time and simply nudge them into place.

Ditch the Amp Altogether

You want the real dirty secrets of recording a killer bass tone? Sometimes you don't even need an amp.

Some active DIs feature advanced tone controls comparable to high-end amps. For instance, Tech 21's SansAmp has been a go-to amp replacement for bassists for decades due to its warm, all-analog tone.

Similarly, digital bass amp simulators like the Kuassa Cerberus or Softube Bass Amp Room can be a great way to dial-in perfect tone. Most modern plugins allow you to audition multiple amps, cabs, mics, and more with surprising accuracy. For the best results, try recording your bass with the tips above, then running the DI signal through an amp simulator to add in whatever color and character you weren't able to capture.

Now that you know all the secrets to getting great bass recordings, the only thing left to do is lay down the low-end.

Cerberus Bass Amp
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Bass Amp Room
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What are some tips we may have missed? Leave your favorite trick in the comments.

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