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Recording bass guitar - Putting the perfect sound together

The ultimate guide to audio recording - Part 55
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Okay, now that we've settled once and for all the question of phase correlation, the time has come to mix our bass tracks.

View other articles in this series...

Goal

I’ll begin with a brief recap: so far we’ve direct recorded the bass line and we’ve also recorded a bass amp with different mics placed several ways. Each recording has its own sound character, both from a frequency and dynamics point of view. Yet, sometimes nonce of these takes is good enough for what you are looking for. For instance, you might love the smoothness of an off-axis amp recording, which nevertheless lacks some attack; or you might love the definition of the DI take but you wish it had more “fatness.” Instead of trying to get the perfect result resorting to compression and EQ, which will obviously damage the natural quality of the recordings, you could always mix several tracks in order to get the best out of each of them and get the sound you are looking for.

That’s how the theory goes, let’s see how it translates into practice.

On track

All the following audio clips are based on five of the recordings we made the last couple of weeks, namely:

  1. Direct recording of a Fender Jazz Bass played with a pick, the bridge pickup off and the tone knob set to minimum.
  2. Amp combination (Ampeg SVT-CL and Ampeg SVT-810E Heritage cab) recorded with a Shure SM57 on axis and almost glued to the grille;
  3. Same setup but this time with the SM57 pointing towards the outer edge of the cab;
  4. Amp recording with an AKG C414 on axis, 8 inches (20 cm) away from the cab;
  5. Same setup with the C414 towards the edge of the cab.
01 DI Bass Pick Bridge N Tone Off
00:0000:23
  • 01 DI Bass Pick Bridge N Tone Off 00:23
  • 02 sm57 0 Center 00:23
  • 03 sm57 0 Edge 00:23
  • 04 414 20 Center 00:23
  • 05 414 20 Edge 00:23

With these takes and limiting the mixes to two tracks you get up to 10 possible combinations. But we will limit ourselves to four scenarios here.

The recording that is closest to what we want to achieve is that of the SM57 pointing towards the outer edge of the cab, very close to the grille. But I would like to add some definition to the bass line. Adding a bit of the DI take I got this:

00:0000:00

For a similar result, but with a more “airy” touch you could take the C414 (placed 8 inches from the cab right on axis):

00:0000:00

On the contrary, if you wanted to reinforce the smoothness of the on-axis SM57, you could go for the off-axis C414, which results in a radically different sound:

00:0000:00

However, if you prefer the sound of the off-axis C414, you might want to add some low end to it. Profiting from the proximity effect of the on-axis SM57 placed very close to the speaker you get this:

00:0000:00

I hope these examples are enough for you to get my point, which is basically that, in order to get the ideal sound, you need to get as close to it as possible right from the get-go, i.e. the recording. And if you are missing something you can always take another take and add it to the first one to get the perfect combination. The only thing about this method is that you obviously need to know more or less what you want to achieve beforehand.

Next week we’ll continue with this chapter dedicated to recording bass discussing the use of effects during tracking.

 

Download the audio files (in FLAC format)

← Previous article in this series:
Recording bass guitar - A matter of phase (Part 2)
Next article in this series:
Recording bass guitar - With or without effects? →

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