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Dear Mr. Ed:

I like most of the sounds I get in my studio, but am still struggling with the tight, "phat" and focused bass guitar that drives pop records.

I play a Yamaha active humbucking bass into a Sansamp Bass Driver DI and then direct into the coverters on my 02/R. I have at my disposal the Waves Gold Bundle (I use their Renaissance Comp for most compression chores), a Line 6 POD, and the comps and EQ in the board.

What am I doing wrong? Any suggestions as to gear, amps, mics, compression and so forth? Can you even get that sound recording digitally (24 bit/44.1K)? Thanks in advance for any insight.... (This has also been posted in the GM forum)

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Jim Bordner
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The bass is actually easier to record than most people think. Of course it is imperative that you have speakers that have a fairly accurate low end, and a listening environment that is not experiencing wierd standing waves. Most people work too hard on the bass before they have to. When recording the bass, I typically take a direct, maybe even routing into the recorder flat right off of the direct box (sometimes active, sometimes passive.....depends on the instrument. Same thing with the amp....get a good clear, clean sound coming out of the cabinet (if that's what you are going for). I try to get it recorded as full as I can, then I'll do some trimming with EQ, maybe some compression just to protect the tape from peaks, or to try and even it out if the player's E string, for example, is way too loud, or another string is way too soft. Most people start eq'ing and compressing too hard and too soon......start with the sound out of the ax, get the amp sounding clear and full. The real truth is that the sound originates from the musician. If he (or she) is happening, you are. With most most of the great players that I work with, you basically just have to push the fader up to set the level. Same ax, different player, the bass can be too boomy, scratchy, uneven, etc. It's funny, my engineering got a lot better as I worked with better musicians.

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Thanks for the words of wisdom, Mr. Cherney. You're right... I hit the EQ and the comp too soon, right away in fact. I know how good this instrument can sound through a good amp, so it shouldn't be impossible to get a great direct sound out of it, either. Truth is, the bass tracks I'm talking about are played by Yours Truly (when I am scoring video, I play most parts myself just for speed and cost). So maybe the main problem is my personal "bone tone." I'm going to try a heavier string gauge (I've got 'em pretty light right now) and some different picks... those things made a huge difference in my recorded guitar sounds. And yes, I know what you mean... it was amazing how much better my songwriting and jingle production got when I started working with better singers and players. Thanks...

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Jim Bordner
Gravity Music
"Tunes so heavy, there
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[This message has been edited by Gravity Jim (edited 04-08-2000).]

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Jim,

I'm a beginner at recording but have been playing bass for 20 years. A fat tone comes with a lighter touch, further away from the bridge. try moving your picking hand around and varying your attack -- a havier string gauge and a medium pick thickness should help too. Work on the technique and the tone will come.

For a super quick fix, some people use phase-alignment devices like the BBE sonic maximizer and the SPL vitalizer. I have experimented with these and used sparingly, they can "tighten" a loose low end nicely if EQ and other stuff doesn't do it.

Best,
JES

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Not that this applies to this thread exactly, but it does involve a little experience I've had with some bass players.

Locally we have this very talented guy with good chops (some Berklee schooling) and good ideas, and good gear. His biggest problem is digging in too hard when he plays. (he uses his fingers)

Due to budget constraints when tracking his band I often keep as much of his live stuff as I can and only punch to fix errors.

Well, he gets SO into it when he's playing with his guys that he digs in to the strings really hard when he plays with them and his tone goes to hell, so for him I found that getting him in the control room later to recut all of the bass tracks is necessary... to hell with their budget.

As for how I record him. I really like the sound of the DI built into his Eden head, so I use that and usually go right to tape. Sometimes I squeeze it a bit with an 1176.

Rich...

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JES-
Sounds like good advice. I'm playing fairly light strings now, with a pretty thin pick. AS I say, going to a heavier gauge and a heavier pick really improved my guitar tracks, so I'm hoping this is the right track.

Also, as to "digging in too hard", I'm probably doing this, too. I have a pretty light touch on guitar (my primary instrument), but tend to try to "push" bass parts by playing hard, I think. Thanks for all the input. I'll be putting it to work first thing tomorrow, retracking a bass part that has been giving me a particular fit.

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Jim Bordner
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Also- very few pro bassists I know ever use a pick. The only time I see it is on alt-rock sessions- and it is very difficult to get those bass sounds right later in the mix. If this sound is your bag, ignore this posting.

More than any other instrument in the studio, the bassist is the originator of the bass sound. The Phat, warm, great bass tones come from the guy's hands- Actually, his fingertips. The tick-tick off a pick ruins the attack and lowers the amount of low end comming to tape.

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With all due respect Mark, plenty of the best non-alternarock bassists playing use picks. Carol Kaye uses picks exclusively, as does fellow jazzer Steve Swallow. Anthony Jackson -- probably the reigning king of session playing, uses a pick as well. It all depends on what you want to do with a bass tone. If you want a fat "thump thump thump" you'll be talking fingers. If you want to cut through a wall of distorted guitars, or want a singing, attack heavy, growling tone, a pick is just great. But picks also work nicely for a focused attack when combined with a mellow tone. Kaye uses a pick and flatwound strings for a nice tight attack and round tone. Jackson's pick work is simply amazing. So picks can work with jazz, country, ballads, fusion, latin, whatever. It all depends on context and the player.

Best,
--JES

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The pro players I know play with either fingers OR a pick, dending on what they want to get going in terms of feel or tone. It makes sense... I know my strummed acoustic guitar parts, for example, take on radically different character depending on whether I strum with a light pick, a heavy pick, or fingernails.

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Jim Bordner
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I agree with your posts...

I was wondering, what do you guys do to determine if you're going to use an active or passive D.I.?

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Um... yes! My apologies. I was just remembering all the sessions I've been at where the pick thing didn't work and the bassist hadn't got his finger technique together. I'd forgotten Carol Kaye.

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Curt,

It's all in the ears. Depends on the bass player and the tone. A really good passive DI will smoke a really poor active DI. _Bass PLayer_ gives SansAmp's bass DI driver a good rating, as well as the countryman passive box. the SansAmp is a little compressed to my ears but some people love it. I suspect the bass POD will turn out like the guitar POD -- some will love it and some will hate it.

Another consideration is the relationship between bass and kick drum -- loose-loose vs. loose-tight. Experiment and see what you like. (also see the other "tight focused bass sound" thread on here)

Best,
JES

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Thanks Jes... I only have a few passive DIs right now...

I've been wondering what an active one would do for me. I have a good knowledge of gear and recording, but somehow I have a "hole in my knowledge" regarding active DIs. I suppose I could just buy one...

And I'll second what others said about the player. The other night, just having fun, a good friend of mine and the most gifted bass player/musician I know layed down a track. P-bass> active pickups> DI> compression. One of the best, if not the best bass sound I've recorded to date (over 10 years). Full, beautiful tone.

Same night- another talented friend, but not as naturally gifted, layed down a track on another song - same bass/signal path, both played w/fingers. It was my average DI bass sound.

Anyone else on active DIs?

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I have the Whirlwind Director active DI. I've never been particularly pleased with the sound of it, but then I've only recorded average players with it...



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Jim
Like you I use a sans amp DI on bass.
Recently I tried a path with two compressors in line. The first with moderate attack and 1.5 2.0 sec. release pulling about 6 db or so. The second with very fast attack & release and a higher ratio ( almost like a limiter). I set the threshold on #2 so that I get the right amount of pop coming through.

i know that some folks suggest no compression at all - others have mentioned such a two compression configuration in articles /threads I've read.

In this case, even though the bass lines in question are fairly consistent in terms of levels, I feel that this has improved the sound. Of course, all this is dependant on the setting of the DI tone an presence controls. But Im not going back.

Any other folks with experience using two compressors in series?

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To all who replied:

Thanks so much. I finally had a chance to put some suggestions to use while retracking a jingle demo yesterday. I increased the output on my SansAmp DI, so that if I played "too hard," the board meters would jump into the red. By simply playing with a lighter touch, the resulting bass tone is vastly superior to anything I've recorded with this instrument or any other. In short, it sounds great!

I can't wait to further this investigation by going to a slightly heavier gauge of string, which I think will make this new approach to playing even easier to achieve. Thanks to everyone who put me on the true path, and especially to Mr Cherney for taking the time to moderate the first forum I've run across that gets users to the real info.

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Jim Bordner
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This is so true. I am a "chops" bass player and I know that if you play the same way direct as you do through an amp your result will not be very pleasing. I finger pick harder than anybody I have ever heard when I'm playing live. When I record direct, I tone it down a lot. I usually turn my bass knob down to havf way. This lets me control my dynamics well enough so that I don't need any compression. It took me years to figure this out.

Quote:
Originally posted by Richard V. Wielgosz:
Not that this applies to this thread exactly, but it does involve a little experience I've had with some bass players.

Locally we have this very talented guy with good chops (some Berklee schooling) and good ideas, and good gear. His biggest problem is digging in too hard when he plays. (he uses his fingers)

Due to budget constraints when tracking his band I often keep as much of his live stuff as I can and only punch to fix errors.

Well, he gets SO into it when he's playing with his guys that he digs in to the strings really hard when he plays with them and his tone goes to hell, so for him I found that getting him in the control room later to recut all of the bass tracks is necessary... to hell with their budget.

As for how I record him. I really like the sound of the DI built into his Eden head, so I use that and usually go right to tape. Sometimes I squeeze it a bit with an 1176.

Rich...

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My favored bass signal chain:


M149 Focusrite 215 L SSL Compressor L to tape
DI box (studios, whatever) 215 R, SSL R to tape

Note the channels are linked, unlike the Alan Smart versiomn, the Plain old SSL is a fixed, locked stereo action.

I want an 'evil twin' di box, I've heard they are great...and a Precision and an Ampeg B15 to have if they turn up with sh*t gear

Reading interviews of top engineers, time after time I see them say 'I just record it flat, hardly any compression". This, (I dont know if anyone out there agrees) seems to be some sort of cruel joke!
I have yet to find a bass where the bottom E doesn't boom out like f**k, And where there is a ton of low mid garbage that needs bringing out!
Pehaps these acts have Chip, Chucks, Tads and Brads as guitar tech who spend all day monkeying around with pick up and string combos etc!

I work with young acts, most havent a clue. I coach them somewhat but I havent got time for style overhauls!

Anyhow, bass, the final frontier!

JULES


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Jules,
I am here to attest that recording a Bass "flat" is a possibility.
My so called normal bass gtr. path would be:
DI (my own design)-Neve pre-Distressor-Tape. No EQ! For bass recording I may use a light compression in a LA2A syle, pulling down about 3dBs at the most. You can get there with good musicians. I have found out that good musicians and their technics make my job easier...


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I also love bass flat to tape (or whatever we record on nowadays...)

Typical path- direct to a countryman then to my Neve 1272 OR direct to my Neve 1272 Hi-z input. If this isn't clean enuf, the GML pre is also an excellent choice. From there to the media of the day.

Thanks, GM, for the real good gear!! I swear by the GML EQ, and dream of the GML compressor- but probably not for bass...

The real trick is getting a player who has the technique. A few pros I record actually check with me to be sure I'm NOT using compression or EQ. When those guys tracks get to the mix, no EQ can improve their sound, try as I might.

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For bass I use an Ampeg SVP Pro preamp, a '62 Jazz bass (reissue) with GHS Brit Flats. I don't use compression when I record I watch the meter on the 02r. I use both fingers or picks. For picks I take Velcro (the soft part) and cover the tip of the pick on both sides (I use Fender Home Plate medium picks). This gives me the best of both worlds-the clarity of picks and the soft attack of fingers. BTW, Berry Oakley (Allman Brothers Band) used picks only.
Buddy


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