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How to Record Bass Guitar: 4 Top Tips!

Bass guitar: it forms a core part of so much music, especially in any band setting. It might not always get the plaudits it deserves, and you have to live off recognition from music fans ‘in the know’. Making sure your bass recording sounds the best it possibly can, however, will ensure the music as a whole sounds fantastic.

Once you have a decent-quality bass guitar and someone who can play it to a good standard ticked off your checklist, then comes the all-important step of recording the bass guitar properly. Does it need to be an expensive, arduous and time-consuming process, we hear you cry? Absolutely not. 

This Headliner guide on how to record bass guitar gives you several options for the best ways to get the job done, depending on your budget, experience, and what kind of results you’re after. All hail the bass!

Option #1: Direct (DI) into an audio interface

Indeed, recording bass guitar can be very quick and hassle-free. All you need for this microphone and amp-free option is an audio interface. Almost every interface on the planet will have the right connectivity to get a bass plugged in — just check the one you use or purchase has a Hi-Z input or combination XLR/TRS/TS jacks that will accept an instrument cable.

With the considerable advantage of convenience then comes the tradeoff: it’s possible you won’t be able to get the signal as loud as you’d like without accompanying noise levels. This depends on the quality of the mic preamps on the interface you’re using, so bear that in mind. Also, the bass guitar’s pickup may also add a hum that spoils the recording quality.

Don’t become exasperated, though. There are ways around this issue: one option is to do your bass recording with a dedicated DI box, which then plugs into the audio interface. These little bits of gear will convert the signal to produce a much cleaner bass recording. One good option here is the Radial J48 Active DI, which is perfect for recording bass guitars with passive pickup circuitry. (See image below)

The next tradeoff is that, with your DI/direct injection bass guitar recording done, you will probably notice that the recording lacks the warmth and character of a traditional recording via a bass amplifier. This is going to come down to where you fall on the scale between purism and pragmatism, because the solution is to emulate the amp method of recording using digital plugins. An amp will appear on your screen in your DAW (e.g Logic or Cubase), and you can tweak the settings to get your desired sound. (It all depends on how you feel about emulating the real thing versus actually doing the real thing.)

It’s worth mentioning that digital plugins keep getting better and better and really can produce excellent results. So with that said, if budget, time and space are issues for you, a DI bass recording is a great option and/or starting point.

Option #2: Direct recording through a preamp pedal

Recording bass with a preamp pedal is more or less a hybrid method of recording the bass dry and then achieving the desired sound with plugins afterwards. 

A hardware preamp pedal allows you to work on your tone as you record the bass guitar, rather than tweaking in your DAW. 

Purists may feel much more comfortable with this method than option #1, especially if you get yourself an analogue preamp pedal.There are a plethora of options to choose from on the market and these put onboard tone-tweaks at your disposal such as overdrive, EQ and more at your fingertips. 

Some fantastic examples are the Orange Bass Butler and the Darkglass Alpha Omega Ultra V2.

Option #3: Recording a bass guitar amplifier with a microphone

Before the days of DAWs, USB audio interfaces and other such technology, the ‘how to record a bass guitar’ method would always involve a microphone and a bass amp.

However, despite the earlier options being quicker and cheaper (cheaper; assuming you don’t have a bass amp and microphone already), many producers and engineers will always opt for this option.

As touched on already, the reason so many still opt for the amp is to go after that tried and true bass guitar sound and all the analogue warmth and character of both the instrument and its accompanying bass amplifier, rather than trying to emulate it digitally. 

There is much to be said for capturing the sound of "moving air" from a real amp situated in a real room that is difficult to fully capture in the digital realm. 

You’ll likely get the best results with a dynamic microphone – usually the best choice for bass guitars and amps. They have the kind of solidity you’ll need to deal with all the volume and air coming out of the amplifier.

Option #4: Both!

Rather than arguing over whether it’s better to DI or record with an amp, the very best scenario is to combine the two together – these days it’s completely commonplace to record the bass player by micing the amp and then also getting a DI recording of the same bass part.

Pro engineers will advise this strongly. This way, you get all the tones and colour from the amp and the sound of a real space, but you also have a DI recording, which gives you great control and options during the mixing stage. For example, if you decide you don't like the sound captured from your amp, you can always take the dry DI signal and re-amp it later if required using a specialist re-amp box (again, Radial have a good option here (pictured below).

So as you weigh up these options, it’s simply a case of figuring out your budget, what kind of results you wish to achieve, how much studio space you have and other such considerations. If you can’t squeeze in a bass amp, you can achieve great results digitally thanks to some of the amazing plugins that are out there. If you can mic up an amp, you will have a lot of fun recording this way and be inspired by some of the classic band album recordings. Make sure to perfect your bass face along the way, and happy recording!

Further reading:

Best plugins for guitar - including amp simulation

Best microphones for recording bass