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Techniques for Recording Bass Guitar

Transcript
Warren: Hey, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope that you’re doing marvelously well. We’re back with Alex from Recording Connection. How are you?

Alex: Fantastic, how are you?

Warren: Really good. So why don’t we do some bass? We’ve done some drums, done some guitars, I think we’ve done all kinds of schnizzle. Let’s do some bass.

Alex: Let’s do some bass.

Warren: We’re going to record a DI, record a mic, do a rough mix of the bass sounds, and just kind of see how it works.

Alex: Sounds good.

Warren: Create some rock and roll history.

Alex: Yeah.

Warren: Okay, so I’m not using a cheap DI. This is a really beautiful DI. It’s an ACME, it’s the Motown DI. You can plug straight into the front of your interface. You don’t have to go through a DI box. This one is special. It really is special. It has a huge transformer in it, and it basically adds a lot of weight to the bass sound. We’ll hear it in a second, the DI just has caught so much bottom end, it’s fantastic. It is a noticeable difference. This is not one of those — I’ve got a lot of different DIs, and I like them all. I’ve got the Rupert Neve one I love, I’ve got the Radial I use all the time, I have the BAE, I have DIs. I even have somewhere a Demeter Tube DI. So I’ve got all of the ones that people love and more. Whirlwinds…

This is my favorite on bass by far. It’s huge. It just has so much low end. I could really just use this on its own. However, it is not cheap. It is not a $100 one. It’s like, 500 bucks.

Alex: Oh wow.

Warren: But it’s one of the only DIs that I could literally just plugin to and just use with nothing else. We brought this to Sunset sound the other day, and the house engineer was freaking out at how good it is. It really is a wonderful piece of equipment. I’m not paid to sell these things, I just really believe strongly in it.

So what they did is they took one of the Detroit Motown DIs that James Jameson recorded with, because he didn’t go through an amp, he just went through one of these.

Alex: Oh, wow.

Warren: So the classic Motown sound is this thing. It’s not cheap, but it’s a very sound investment. It’s got a ground lift here, which is working, as you can hear. It’s got attenuation, which basically means you can turn it down, but I’m just going direct and just going straight through it and using the transformer. It’s fantastic.

So mic wise, we’re using this Sontronics DM1B. I’ve got it slightly off-axis. It’s not right on the cone, but it’s on the center of the cone it’s at its brightest. As you move it to the edge, it’s darker. So I’ve got it somewhere in the middle.

Alex: What kind of mic is that?

Warren: It’s the Sontronics DM1B. I’ve been using it a lot recently, it’s kind of — it’s a really, really good bass sound, and we’ve just ended up using it. We’ve been swapping out different mics, but that seems to be our favorite.

Alex: So what kind of mic is that?

Warren: It’s a condenser. It’s — they sell it specifically for bass guitar and kick drum. We’ve had it on the kick drum, we’ve now got the Lewitt on there, and we use this now currently on the bass, and it sounds freaking awesome. I don’t think they’re that much. I’d have to look it up again, but it didn’t cost very much, and it sounds really great on bass.

Alex: Cool, so you just point it directly in the cone?

Warren: Yeah, but I’m doing not right in the center, just to the edge.

Alex: To the edge?

Warren: Yeah. It’s somewhere in the middle, so here’s the center where it’s the brightest, here’s the edge where it’s the darkest. I’ve got it somewhere, you know, relatively bright. I actually use my amp for the personality, and my DI for the warmth. You’ll hear what I do. Go in and check out the tone.

So I’ve got a song open here. Go over to the side of the song here. I’m going to print.

[bass]

Nice long note. Cool.

So the DI could be a little hotter. We can turn that up just a shade. Okay, so what we’ve got — the phase isn’t too bad. This is really what it comes down to is like — that’s actually quite accurate in some ways. It really depends. See, what you could do is I might look at that being as this, so I could flip the polarity of this top one, so if I do this, flip the polarity, so what I’m doing is I’m taking that top waveform, and I’m lining it back up there, and then I’m going to drag it back 140 samples. So what I’m doing is I’m just — let’s see if we can hear a difference in the low end.

[bass]

Bypass it.

[bass, no time adjustment]

Oh yeah.

Alex: Yeah. I hear it, yeah.

Warren: That’s nice. That’s beautiful. So what I’ve done is I’ve time adjusted, I’ve taken the DI, and I’m now listening to it. Not printing it, but listening to it a little later.

Okay, let’s just for shits and shniggles, because we were talking about the DI, let’s listen to the DI on its own.

[bass DI]

So much bottom end from a DI. This is a Mexican Jazz Bass with a badass bridge. I do have single Duncan pickups, but I haven’t put them in yet. Sorry, Seymour.

[bass]

Beautiful DI. Just… No EQ. Really fat.

So what I do is I will do this. I’ll use my DI for the bottom end, because it’s clean, it doesn’t have as much personality, and distortion potentially an amp does. That becomes my low end sound. It’s just beautiful.

So what I’m doing is I’m going up to 136 and I’m sloping it off. I’m low passing, which means I’m letting the low end pass through. If I go to my amp here, which is noisy.

[bass amp]

That’s all my personality. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to do the opposite.

Alex: Oh, okay. So high pass then?

Warren: High pass it. So no bottom end to speak of for that. Put the two together.

[bass]

Get loads of bottom end, it’s clean bottom end with little distortion because it’s from the DI, but once again, if I wanted to, I could just use that DI on its own, take off the EQ…

[bass DI]

I mean, that is a great bass sound. It’s almost like — I know it’s an expensive DI, but you can turn up to a session with just that DI.

Alex: Yeah.

Warren: It’s the most impressed I’ve been with a bass DI ever.

It’s really good. It’s a great tool. As an engineer, the guy turns up with that kind of gear, it makes me impressed.

Okay, so next up, Decapitator.

[bass]

A bit of distortion.

Alex: So you’re kind of giving it that growl-ish kind of?

Warren: Yeah, a little extra growl.

So it’s open, I’m not EQing it, but I’m driving it.

Alex: Do you just bump up a drive?

Warren: Yeah, I’ve got the drive, you see them mix is — if I go there…

[bass, adjusted mix]

Alex: Okay, yeah.

Warren: So I put it back to about 50%, so it’s the dry signal mixed in with the distorted.

Alex: Wow.

Warren: I just like a little bit of saturation. I mean, that’s what old gear used to do for us.

Okay, so a little 110 bump. A little 8kHz, 9kHz there, and a little bit of that 850 here for the mid-range. It just gives us that honkiness that I love on the bass.

Then our old friend R-Bass. Huge amount of bottom end, but it’s going into the C4, which is a multiband compressor. So it’s getting squashed. Evenly compressing it.

Alex: Yeah. So did you take out the lows on that one then?

Warren: I’m not taking out the lows, it’s squashing it very, very aggressively, as you can hear.

Alex: Yeah. Yeah, you can see it too.

Warren: It’s got like, six dB worth of gain reduction. It’s squashing it back, it’s super even.

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Alex: This is the C4? Okay, yeah.

Warren: I like it. Release a little faster, if we come in around here. That’s nice. Yeah, I like that. Okay, and this is my last and favorite secret weapon is the Waves MV2. The MV2 is just great. What it does for a bass — not so much on this bass, but depending on the performer, a lot of people play super hard with the pick, it’s super dynamic, it’s loud, quiet, whatever. The great thing about the MV2 is it takes the low level and the high level, and compresses them independently. So it brings up the low level stuff…

Alex: Yeah, it gives it more of an even… yeah.

Warren: Yeah. Far more even. It’s great.

I love that. It’s really good. So that’s one of my favorite plugins ever. Any manufacturer. Everybody has great plugins, but that’s one of my favorites. I use it on pretty much anything. It’s like a mix solver. I shouldn’t say that out loud, but it’s great. Everyone will disagree with me, but it solves a lot of problems.

Okay, so let’s just play this verse.

[mix]

Cool. So basically, I was just pretty much following the kick. The kick was doing a kick, just a kick on every bar, and then on the second bar of the F it was doing a double kick, and I just put in a couple of fills. It’s pretty attacky on the bass amp there. A little aggressive. So we could probably move the mic if we wanted, because we’ve got some super peaks there. It’s not the end of the world, let’s see what it sounds like now that its been recorded.

[bass, then mix]

Alex: It sits really well.

Warren: Nice. That’s interesting, I hear that tone, there’s something — it’s a very close tone to what I would record with tape, but because I would’ve hit the tape so hard, some of those transients would’ve been eaten up. I mean, that’s just those extra transients of me digging in on the bass amp. We could definitely control, but yeah, that’s basically the sound. So what I’m doing is basically moving between thinking about playing the same kick pattern, but also trying to fill it in and make it exciting, so if I listen to the drums and the bass together…

Alex: I mean, that’s usually what you do right? You follow the kick and the bass?

Warren: Yeah, I’m following the kick, but it doesn’t have to do it every nanosecond, but if it follows the general feel, it will lock the two together, but I’m filling in as well.

Alex: Yeah.

Warren: Super simple. C, G, F. So one, five, four, then six. That’s it. Really, really simple. But yeah, I’m playing down, playing to the kick, but then also just kind of filling it in with a riff. You know, after that A Minor. You know, I find most of the bass players, especially playing with these kind of chord sequences, I’m just kind of playing blocks. I’m playing pentatonic majors. It’s like this…

[bass]

I’m on C… Doing these little pentatonic runs. Just hitting the major third. Super, super simple stuff, but the simpler is kind of the better, because it’s not going to get in the way of any guitar lines.

[music]

Alex: Yeah.

Warren: Kind of a less is more approach, but again, let’s listen to that DI, because it’s pretty awesome.

[bass DI]

That’s not EQ.

Alex: Yeah, wow.

Warren: Kind of bratty the way I’m overplaying it. The bottom end is fantastic for a DI.

Alex: Yeah.

Warren: It’s huge bottom end. Yeah, pretty remarkable. Put our EQ on it, and with the Time Adjuster, it’s so much more low end. Not adding bottom end, just wiping off the top. Really good. It takes some mystery out of it, because a lot of the time, you can just plug into your interface and you’ve got a good bass sound. You know, most of it is in the performance, like I said, you know, I can see there’s what some mastering engineers call fish tails when you get the attack in there. I think we could set some compression to sort of catch some of that, but ultimately, those high transients are being hit by the Decapitator first, and sort of adding to some of the grit on the amp. It doesn’t bother me, but I could also move the mic a little bit away from the cone and not get quite so bright on the amp there. That would also help it.

But you know, often with the bass performances, you get that slappy…

[slappy bass]

Alex: Yeah, just that little thing at the beginning.

Warren: Yeah, that’s why some of the really great guys play so soft. You know, I’m a bass player fifth, I’m a guitar player mainly.

[bass]

You know, the great guys play like this.

Alex: Yeah, you don’t have to do much.

Warren: And you get so much bottom end out of it when you play that soft.

[bass]

As opposed to…

Alex: The buzz.

Warren: Yeah, that’s the string slapping on there. The great guys stroke it.

Alex: It’s a lot more clean.

Warren: Yeah, when I was working with Sean Hurley, he plays so soft, he’s — gets this beautiful fat tone. Also, the other thing about not playing super hard like that, it’s not just the distortion, it’s the string is going to move a huge amount, and it’s going to sound like it’s out of tune. It’s going to go, “bwah.” It’s going to — when it’s moving that much, just that, “bwah,” but if its…

[soft bass]

Alex: So it’s probably just an advantage of a pick too?

Warren: Yeah, if you’re going to play the pick super hard, like really banging heavily into it, you should probably tune to the transient. To the first hit. When you’re playing super, super hard, like if you…

[bass]

Every single one of those eighth notes is going to be sharp, but if its… But you might want the attack because it’s part of the sound. You know, driving the amp really hard. That might be the sound, especially in rock of just that kind of attack. However, playing that hard, every transient, that initial transient and the sustain of the bass for a nanosecond is going to be sharp. So when you’re tuning, you’ll be tuning for the initial hit, not for the decay.

Alex: So you’d have to essentially detune it then?

Warren: Yeah, you’re basically tuning just for that initial hit, because you’re playing eighth notes, but if you were playing long subtle…

Alex: Yeah, like soft ones, you wouldn’t have to get rid of it, because it already has attack on it?

Warren: Yeah, well, basically, if you play a long slow note like that, it’s where it settles and stays is where you want to be in tune, because it’s like, one, two, three, four, as opposed to…

It’s no use tuning for the decay going, “Oh, here it’s in tune,” because you’re only playing notes this short.

Alex: Yeah, makes sense.

Warren: If you’re — some guys are digging underneath. So it’s a combination of performance, but even then, I’ve worked with bass players that don’t have very good technique on the right hand, and I tuned the bass so they play in tune. So other people when they’re young will grab the bass really hard, and sort of… You know.

Alex: Yeah, so bending it like that is also out of tune.

Warren: And strength, playing chords like, you know…

Guitar players do the same thing, they sort of grab the strings. You don’t have to, but it’s really useful to have a good understanding of how all of the different pitfalls in performances, so that when you’re with the artist, you can guide them, you can tune the instrument for them.

Scott Shriner, good friend of mine is the bass player for Weezer, tunes in the middle of the bass. He doesn’t play an open string. Because unless he’s literally playing…

[bass]

Most of the time, he’s… So why would he tune this open E the whole time when he’s always playing around here? So he tunes in the areas that he plays 90% of the time. Because intonation is always an approximation, it’s equal temperament, so finding somewhere that works for the bass is really where to go.

Excellent. Alright, well hopefully that helps.

Alex: It does, yeah.

Warren: Marvelous.

Please leave some comments and questions below. I love talking bass recording, bass playing, bass anything. It’s one of the most fun things. It holds the whole song together, because it’s your job to tie rhythm, melody, and harmony all together. It’s probably — along with the vocals, the second most important thing. You can have a great drum track and you can have a great vocal track, you can have some cool fun guitar tracks, I love having fun with overdubs and stuff, but the bass can hold the whole thing together.

Alex: Yeah, it’s like icing on the cake, just a really good…

Warren: I think it’s the glue.

Alex: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Warren: The guitar can be the icing. This connects everything together when it’s done well. Sometimes, it’s just playing roots and being super simple, and other times, it’s like getting and grabbing…

[bass]

Alex: Yeah.

Warren: You know, playing a little bit of melody, like, [imitates bass and plays bass].

Alex: Yeah, because it brings out the tone of the other instruments.

Warren: Yup. Exactly. Well, wonderful. Leave a bunch of comments and questions below, have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and we’ll see you again very soon.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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