Recording bass & guitar

On Eavesdropping...
When recording bass, guitar, the first thing you need to consider is how you are going to deal with "spill".
Spill happens when an instrument microphone picks up sounds from other instruments. Try to reduce this as much as possible: the cleaner each track is, the easier it is to work with for editing.
For example: If your guitar mic picks up the sound from the bass as well, you cannot easily move a badly timed guitar note without introducing a false bass beat.
How to reduce spill? Aim mikes away from other instruments and use acoustic screens. These can be made from customwood and foam, and may only need to be half height since most of the sound is produced near the floor.
If all else fails, you can always resort to DI (direct input) the guitar or bass - zero spill. Many engineers use a combination of mic and direct input for more control over the mixed sound. More on those techniques in the following tips.
careful with that ax
Many ingredients go into getting a great bass sound - here are a few hints to get good results:
  • The quality of the bass, the bass player and the strings are the most important. But once you have decided to go with bass player, these qualities are a given. Now it is your job as the recording engineer to make the most of what you've got.
  • Check the settings on the bass. Often the treble is turned down - which allows you too little frequency bandwidth to play with. Occasionally the bass end is not turned up enough. Give gentle feedback to the bassist - it saves you over-EQing later.
  • Also check for rattles and buzzes - fixing these in the mix is next to hopeless.
  • You can record "direct in" or via a microphone placed in front of the amp. Or a combination of these - the warmth and realism of the room sound, combined with the precision and definition of the direct signal.
    **Miking: Tube amps are wonderful, if expensive. Experiment with mic distance. Watch for "bleeding" if you record other instruments in the same take.
    **Direct: Place a compressor inline to prevent running into the red on your input volume meter. Alternatively, keep the volume in the safe zone and compress later.
  • During editing, play around with the bass sound. Compression is usually needed (see the GarageDoor Editing & Effects page). Equalizing can now be a lot of fun - boosting the low end for a solid oomph, adding some higher midrange to bring out the solo, boosting the very top to highlight the fret sound, etc.
Recording bass
big bottom
As we have discussed elsewhere on the GarageDoor, it is usually a good idea to add compression to the bass track.
The trouble is, compression may mask the subtleties of the instrument's tone along with the reduced dynamics. Make sure you add EQ after compression. Try boosting 100Hz and 3.5kHz to restore the tone. For a really fat sound, dip the frequencies around 2-3 kHz. This is a little counter-intuitive, as we tend to want to boost things - but it works.

Bass is usually played with no other effects than compression, but don't let that stop you experimenting - especially during the intro or solo. Chorus is perhaps the most common special effect on bass. A strong effect on an entire bass track can sound tiring and muddy.

Be careful to check that the song is not too bottom-heavy on smaller systems, like a car stereo, an iPod or portable Cd player. If they don't handle the bass well, you may need to suppress the lowest frequencies of the bass track.
GarageBand's parametric equalizer is ideal for this; you will find it in the pull down menus at the bottom of the Track Info window, under Audio Units.

A great guitar sound
give me some room
This tip is a brief overview of how to get a great guitar sound by recording the amp sound with microphones. (Direct recording is covered elsewhere)
  • Place a mic very close to the amp's grill cloth, pointing to the speaker. A Shure SM57 (or the SM58 vocal mic if you don't have one) is ideal. This gives you that close, in-your-face-sound that you will hear on many modern recordings.
  • Place a condenser mic (like the AKG C900 or the Shure SM86) a little further away, about three feet.
    This mic will give you a warm room sound with some natural reverb but not the muddiness you would get if you miked any further away. (Although that would give you an ideal heavy metal guitar effect)
  • Some compression, either in-line or later in GarageBand, will be necessary - but don't overdo it - you don't want to "sit on" that great guitarist in your garage. More on compression on the GarageDoor Editing & Effects page.
  • Now you can have fun blending these two signals by carefully editing their relative volume, while adjusting reverb, EQ, compression and other effects.
Recording The Acoustic Guitar
sweet spot
There are a few tricks to getting a great acoustic guitar recording - here is a brief overview:
  • New strings always make a big difference. Allow time to let the tuning settle though....
  • Microphone placement: there is only one rule: there is no rule. Well, on reflection, there is: use your ear. Just get down on hands and knees and move around until you find the "sweet spot" That's where the microphone goes.
    Pointing it toward the sound hole will probably give you a boomy sound, so aim the mic slightly toward the fretboard
  • Type of mic: use a condensor mic if you have one. If you don't, or if you have "bleeding" problems (it picks up other instruments or noises in the room), use a dynamic mic - but get it very close to the guitar. I have sometimes unscrewed the top of a vocal mic (the Shure SM58) to get close enough to an instrument when an SM57 wasn't available.
  • Adjusting the EQ and compression will now give you a whole range of style choices, from metallic to jazzy etc. Add a little reverb, pan carefully against piano and electric guitar and: Voila!
  • You can combine the above techniques with the direct output from an acoustic guitar pickup. It is important to avoid low quality pickups, as the recorded sound can be rather nasty. The Dean Markley's ProMag Plus acoustical pickup is an industry standard and will give you a clean signal with warm, bell-like overtones.
    For a high gain output which allows for lots of tonal control, the DiMarzio DP138 Virtual Acoustic Pickupis very popular. It is designed only for steel string guitar.
We'll fix it in the mix
GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out
Fixing mistakes in the mix should only be done as a last resort. It takes an awful lot longer to doctor a faulty track than to lay it down right in the first place, and a successful mix can only be done with good tracks. Sure, it is possible to mask unwanted noises or dud notes, but only at the expense of the clarity of the final song. And who wants to leave the garage with their fingers crossed, hoping that listeners won't listen too closely?
Recording Hand drums
Hand drums Bongos, congas and other hand drums tend to sound a little "tubby" when mic'ed. It helps to use EQ to reduce the lower frequencies and add some treble.
Additional resources:

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