The Easiest Way to Record Your Bass Guitar

Over the past couple of months, we here at Reverb have gone back to the basics, breaking down the easiest ways for players to record their instruments. So far, we've demonstrated the easiest way for players to record their electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and synthesizers. Today, we've got our pal Jake Hawrylak in the Reverb studio showing us how to do the same with the bass guitar.

In the video above, Jake demonstrates three of the easiest ways that bass players, producers, or engineers can get great, full-sounding bass recordings right at home—by either recording directly into an audio interface, mic'ing a bass amp, or using a direct-in box. Be sure to check the video out and follow along below for gear recommendations and recording tips.


Method 1: Plug Directly Into Your Interface

Two must-have pieces of gear for recording your bass guitar, regardless of which method you choose, is an audio interface and recording software (also known as a DAW). And with the first method that Jake demonstrates, those two things (and, of course, a bass) are all you need to make your recording.

This method consists of plugging your bass guitar directly into your audio interface, which is then plugged into your computer running your DAW . In the video above, Jake is using a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2) and a Macbook running Apple's free DAW GarageBand). Once all of your gear is hooked up and your drivers are installed, you're ready to start.

One of the most important things to remember when you're checking your levels before you start recording is to keep an eye on your gain, specifically—and avoid clipping into the red at all costs. When recording directly into the interface, extra input gain is going to give you the kind of pleasant breakup that you might get with an overdriven tube amp. It just isn't going to sound good.

When your unaffected bass signal is going directly into your audio interface—without being colored by any pedals or effects or even an amp beforehand—you might end up with a tone that sounds thin to your ears. A great way to combat this and thicken up your tone to your tastes is to experiment with plugins, which can be a really easy and cost-effective way to beef up your tone. If you don't want to buy additional plugins, experiment with your DAW's built-in saturation and compression plugins.


Method 2: Mic'ing Your Amp

The next method that Jake demonstrates is mic'ing up your bass amp. This is a great option if you love the sound of your bass amp and want to capture its sonic characteristics. In addition to your audio interface, DAW, and bass, this option will require an amplifier and at least a single microphone with a stand.

1968 Ampeg B–15N

As Jake suggests, it's hard to beat recording with an Ampeg B-15, if you're able to get your hands on one. This amp has been used on countless recordings through all genres of music—in fact, it's the most-recorded bass amp in history—and is noteworthy for producing a full, warm tone with a vintage feel. Jake is mic'ing the Ampeg with a popular go-to bass mic, the Shure Beta 52A, placed directly in the center of the cone about five inches back.

"Feel free to experiment a little bit with the placement of the mic in regards to the speaker. If you move it a little bit off-axis, you're going to get a different sound—basically anywhere you put it is going to change the sound that it picks up," Jake advises.

"But one thing you might want to avoid is putting it directly up against the speaker, hugging the speaker. Due to the proximity effect, you're just going to get a lot of the bass frequency and you're not going to get any of the mid or high frequencies—you're going to lose a lot of clarity you might otherwise have."


Method 3: Using a Direct-In Box

This last option is a favorite for bass guitarists especially and involves recording with a direct-in box (or, DI). As Jake mentions, some of the most immediate benefits with using a DI box is that they provide players with the option of a ground lift, give players a pad to help wrangle in their signal, and some even have tubes built into their preamps, which will add a lot of warmth, depth, and color to your tone.

For the video above, Jake demonstrates using the Radial JDI—a passive DI box with a flat frequency response from 10Hz to 40kHz, perfect for screening out electric humming for a pure, accurate recorded tone. Recording with the DI can be done in a couple of different ways. First, Jake plugs his bass directly into the DI, taking the XLR signal out of the DI and running it into his audio interface.

If your bass signal from your DI is leaving something to be desired, you have a couple of options. You can go the plugin route to beef up your tone, as mentioned in the first method above, or you can use your DI and split the signal so that you're getting the direct sound from the DI and the mic sound from your amp. Here at Reverb, this is our method of choice for recording bass guitar, and it's the method you'll hear in most of our videos.

This method involves running your line signal from the bass to the input in your DI. Then, connect the XLR out to the first channel of your audio interface. Next, plug an instrument cable from the DI's "thru" input into your bass amp and mic up your bass amp so that channel two of your audio interface is getting the mic'd sound. In your DAW, make two tracks—one for the DI and one for the mic—and then check to make sure that they're in phase (look for the phase switch in your DAW if you need to make adjustments).

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