Posted tagged ‘Bass Guitar’


February 6, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 49 Mixing Guitars – Bass

We’ve covered Electric and Acoustic Guitars in the mix over the last couple of weeks. This week in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series we’ll look at the Bass Guitar.

Spyro Gyra, Graham Central Station & Sheila E With Dave Koz At The Hollywood Bowl, August 2011.

On a recent visit to Los Angeles I was fortunate to get some great seats for the Hollywood Bowl. That evening I saw Spyro Gyra, Graham Central Station and Sheila E with Dave Koz. I was knocked out by the musicianship of all them.

Larry Graham At The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles.

In particular it was hard to ignore the bassist, Larry Graham of Graham Central Station who was such a driving force. Apart from being exceptionally loud (we were only a few feet away from the PA system and had to stuff our ears with tissue paper to preserve our hearing), I was impressed by his playing whilst he raced around the stage.

Graham played bass guitar with the hugely succesful Sly & the Family Stone from 1966 to 1972 and pioneered the slap and pop bass technique which provides percussive and rhythmic elements to the bass’ sound. He continues to tour and has worked extensively with Prince.

Bassists – Clarke, Bruce, Myung & Pastorius.

Bassists in general aren’t normally given the ‘God’ status that some lead guitarists are saddled with, but that hasn’t stopped some of them becoming legendary – Stanley Clarke, Jack Bruce, John Myung and Jaco Pastorius are just a few that spring to mind.

It’s important to consider that a lot of modern music today, is heard over laptop speaker systems, iPods, TV and radio where bass frequencies don’t get reproduced very well. On the other hand if you think your music could find an audience in dance clubs, you need to make sure your mix can stand up to the scrutiny of a powerful full-range system.

The fact is, it’s difficult to accurately reproduce bass frequencies in a Home Studio unless you have a big budget to spend on acoustic treatment and monitoring.

Getting a great bass sound in a Home Music Studio can be a huge challenge as inaccurate representations of low frequencies are common in many setups. In other words, if you think you’ve achieved a great sounding bass in your home setup, it may not translate to a great sounding bass outside your room on other systems or speakers.

Choose Monitor Speakers Carefully To Be Sure You’re Getting A True Impression Of Your Music.

Your monitor speakers could be giving you a false impression if the acoustics of the room are poor. So it’s important to carefully consider the monitor choice, acoustics of your studio and take steps to make your room as flat as possible, with regards to frequency response. You don’t need to go out and buy a $5000 pair of monitors. You just need to learn to work with the gear and room you have at your disposal and make the appropriate adjustments in your mixing.

When focusing on bass elements (bass guitar and kick) in your mix, you may want to try switching your monitoring through to the smallest speakers you have connected in your setup, to find the best level and EQ. Then, make the appropriate adjustments and compromises on the main/large speakers to reign in any extremes for the bass elements to work in the mix.

Listening to some of your favourite CDs can be useful to gauge how prominent certain instruments and frequencies sound in your room when compared to your own music output.

We delve into room acoustics in this blog. For information on the difference between sound proofing and acoustic treatment check out this article.

Remember, you don’t want to deaden your room completely, just enough to make the monitoring process effective and true without frequency emphasis, dips or colouration.

Before you start mixing the bass guitar and kick drum, you may need to tidy their tracks up with some editing. These two instruments form the foundation of the beat for any song. So, if one or both are out (you may have recorded them both to a click track, for example) they will require pulling into sync with the fundamental beat of the song. Some bass notes may need stretching or shortening.

Pitch Correction – Logic, Pro Tools & Antares Auto Tune.

Tuning is important with all instruments, but if the bass guitar is out it can resonate horribly with other in-tune instruments. So make sure before hitting record, that the instrument is perfectly in tune. If you get to the mix stage and find you have a problem with the bass tuning, you could employ one of the many pitch correction tools that are available to correct any out of tune notes or passages. Check out this article for more information on pitch correction.

Generally, the most important point to consider with the bass guitar is to get it to work with and complement the kick drum so that both can be heard in the mix. This can be achieved to a large extent with the proper application of EQ.

For example, look at the EQ curves in the picture above – the bass guitar has been cut severely with a high Q at 50 Hz whilst the kick has been boosted at the same frequency. The guitar has boosts at 125 Hz and 1.5 kHz and the kick has another boost at 5 kHz.

An Example Of A Bass Guitar EQ – The Bass Actually Sounded Good To Start With, But Needed Some Severe EQ Cuts & Boosts To Work Within The Specific Mix.

It’s common for the bass guitar to sound too fat or too thin. Muddiness often occurs in the 200-300 Hz range, so you could leave it flat or cut a little to gain a bit of definition. There’s not much to be gained from frequencies below 100 Hz. But you could try a little boost between 100-200 Hz if the instrument sounds a bit thin. For a bit more punch, add a few dB between 500 Hz and 1.5 kHz. More attack and brightness can be introduced between 2.5-5 kHz.

Each instrument is going to require a different EQ setup, so use these suggestions as guides only.

By applying high pass filters to other instruments (e.g. electric and acoustic guitars) that don’t need their bass frequencies accentuating (as long as their overall sound does not suffer as a result), you can create room for the instruments that do need space in the low-end, like bass guitar and kick drum.

Close Up Sections Of Waveforms – Showing Out and In Phase.

If you recorded the bass via a mic and amp as well as DI, the two tracks could well be out of phase with each other. It would take longer for the signal picked up by the mic to reach the recorder than the DI route, because the signal would have to travel through the air between the mic and amp. The difference may only be a few milliseconds.

To test for phase issues, bring one track up in mono and then the other. If the resultant bass sounds thinner or dips in level, you probably have a phase problem. If you’re working in a DAW or software programme, zoom closely into the two waveforms and sync them together, so that they start at the same time and one peak/trough matches the other.

You should always listen to any instrument in the recording stage with mixing in mind. With regards to the bass guitar, a cleaner sound can be achieved if the player dampens strings that are not in use.

Universal Audio’s LA-2A Compressor.

It’s important that the bass guitar works in conjunction with the kick drum to provide a solid beat (especially in modern music). The kick drum is often compressed. If the bass guitar level fluctuates too much, the force of the kick/bass guitar combination can be severely weakened. Compression can help the bass in the mix as the instrument tends to pump out lots of transients. It will also bring out the pick noise more, if one was used and increase the instrument’s sustain.

Try parallel compression – duplicate a bass part onto another track. Then compress one track whilst leaving the other dry allowing more dynamics to come through. Attack and release settings are critical. A very short compressor attack may squash the attack part of the bass notes. If you make the release time too long you could destroy the groove of the music.

By Using A Compressor And Separate Limiter, You Can Increase The Level Of Quieter Notes Whilst Also Limiting The Final Level Of The Instrument.

A useful technique for rock or dance music, is to employ gentle compression (after EQ). This will improve the level discrepancies of the bass guitar, particularly the sustained notes. Then by feeding the signal through a limiter you can prevent the level going over a certain specified point. The result is that you can have great control over how loud and how dynamic you want your bass to sound.

Another useful technique is to use side chain gating. Essentially, the kick drum when played, opens a gate for the bass guitar signal to pass through. The effect provides a tight bass/kick combination.

If your music is more jazz or acoustic folk in flavour, compression may not be necessary. Nevertheless, judge each situation on what you want and what is needed to make a mix work.

With regards to panning the bass guitar – it’s usually placed in the centre along with the kick drum. This means that no matter where the listener is, whether they’re in a home setting or a club, the combo can be heard at its best.

If it were placed off to one side and the kick left in the centre, you would lose impact from the two acting in combination. Besides, if there’s any chance your music will one day end up on vinyl (it’s becoming more popular with some consumers, just as analogue is a favourite of some musicians), you really need to have the bass section in the middle.

The Boss GT-10B Bass Effects Processor Optimised For The Low-Frequency Domain.

Effects can add interest to a bass part. Some can even improve audibility. The best effects used in moderation are – distortion, fuzz, chorus, flange, phasing or wah-wah. The only way to see what works for the song is to try them out. Reverb and delay/echo can confuse and muddy the sound from the bass, so use with caution. A very short verb might work. You could also try a predelay which might help to separate out the reverb from the source signal. And always monitor an effect (on any instrument) within the context of the whole mix – never in isolation.

Next week we’ll look at how to treat the Piano.

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January 23, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 47 Mixing Guitars – Acoustic

Over the last several weeks in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series, we’ve looked at Vocals, Drums and Percussion in the mix stage. This week and next we turn our attention to Guitars – Acoustic, Electric and Bass Guitars.

Recording Classical, Electric & Bass Guitars.

If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish, check out the TCM Mastering site. Or contact us with your questions by clicking here. For more information about all the services that the TCM Music Group provide, click here.

A guitar sound or riff can make or break a song. Think of the beginning of ‘Layla’ or the infamous ‘Stairway To Heaven’ – attempted by hoards of potential guitar buyers in music shops around the globe.

Eric Clapton & Jimmy Page.

Consider carefully the guitar arrangement and how it interacts with the other instruments and vocals. Each instrument should have its own space in the mix. So if there are lead vocals in the middle of the stereo field, pan guitars slightly off to the left or right unless it’s a guitar solo (vocal not present), in which case it can take centre stage. As mentioned in an earlier blog, the bass guitar tends to take centre stage to work with the kick drum. But none of these suggestions are written in stone.

If you have a particularly busy mix, there could be a bass guitar (possibly two tracks – DI and amp recordings), a couple of acoustics, a couple of electrics and more. But just because you have all these guitar tracks, does not mean you should necessarily use them all the way through a song. A strummed acoustic could be brought in for the choruses to add some energy to them. A picked electric could be used in just the verses. Think how each instrument adds and contributes to the overall sound.

Every instrument has to find a place to sit in the mix and be heard. If the electrics are using a lot of sustained and distorted chords, you’ll use up your mix space very quickly. Adding too many effects to lots of different instruments can soon muddy the mix, so tread carefully down the effects path.

Acoustic Guitar

There are several different types of acoustic guitar – classical, flamenco, steel string acoustic (6 and 12 string), dobro (resonators) and more. Each type has its own sound and is favoured by a certain genre of music. We discussed recording acoustics in this blog.

Steel String Acoustic, Classical & Acoustic-Electric Guitars.

One of the most annoying sounds captured when recording an acoustic guitar is the squeaking from the fingers as they move up and down the fretboard. You can try to remove or reduce these sounds by using your automation to pull down the level at the precise time of the squeak. However, this is sometimes difficult or impossible without affecting the musical level too.

Pro Tools – Showing Problem Snap Or Squeak To Be Removed.

Showing Close Up Of Problem Audio.

Fixing Problem By Using Pen Tool To Draw New Wave Form.

Showing Result After Pen Tool Has Fixed Problem Audio.

Most good DAWs allow you to fix mistakes in the signal’s waveform by drawing them out with a ‘pen’ or ‘pencil’ tool (Pro Tools is one such DAW, see the series of 4 pictures above). This last method is destructive in some DAWs, so make sure you keep a copy of the track prior to working on it.

Zeroing In On An Annoying Finger Squeak, Using The Waves Q4 EQ Plug-In.

An alternative is to set up an EQ plug-in on the track so that the offending frequencies are ducked at the appropriate point. The plug-in can be automated to cut specific frequencies at specific times in the mix. This way you’re not removing the whole signal at a particular time but just a particular frequency in the signal, making it a less intrusive or severe solution to the problem.

We covered recording the acoustic guitar in this blog. The sound you capture depends on several factors including the quality and construction of the instrument itself.

But even if you were to record the same acoustic guitar for a few songs, chances are the recordings would sound different. One song may dictate a different approach over another – an acoustic guitar in a country song might require a different EQ to one in a rock song. Mic type and placement has a huge effect on tone as does the room, the player, the strings, whether the player used fingers or a pick, as well as the key of the song. Recording to digital or analog will contribute to the final sound too.

A Large & Varied Selection Of Mics To Record Acoustic Guitar.

So to get a great sounding acoustic in your mix, you need to have a good recording to start with. Remember the specific mic technique you use has a profound effect on the sound you capture. The closer you mic anything the more the bottom end will be emphasised. Ideally you want a full, rich sound without too much boominess – don’t make it sound too thin though.

Rolling Off The Lows & Adding A Little Hi-End Sparkle.

Acoustic guitars produce a surprising amount of low frequencies. So in the mix, filter out the low-end picked up by the mic to get rid of the boominess. Anything below 60 to 80 Hz can usually be cut. Some instruments may need you to roll off higher frequencies (up to 400 Hz), just exercise caution the higher you go. You don’t want to take all the guts and body out of the recording.

The low-mids are often where the core sound of an acoustic resides. You have to experiment to find the exact frequencies that need cutting or boosting for each guitar. Acoustic instruments vary in tone dramatically between different types (classical or steel string), makes and models. Even two instruments of the same model can have very different acoustic qualities.

Cuts Centred At 100-300 Hz & 1-3 kHz.

Some guitars may need a very specific cut at 200 Hz, whilst others may need a wider roll off between 150-300 Hz. Conversely, if the guitar needs more warmth or body try boosting between 150-250 Hz.

Adding A Few dBs Around 5-7 kHz Adds Presence.

Some acoustics will benefit from a cut between 800 Hz-1 kHz. If you want more attack to the sound, try adding some 3-5 kHz. You can often add presence by adding a little 5-7 kHz. Whilst adding some 7 kHz will deliver a brighter sparkle.

Some producers like to marry a steel string acoustic guitar with the hi-hat. To facilitate this effect, add 10-15 kHz to the guitar until the two merge into one.

Two EQ Curves For Acoustic Guitar.

Always do a comparison between your EQ’d sound and the original, to ensure you’re getting closer to the sound you want. And switch between listening to the soloed instrument and the rest of the tracks to see how well it sits in the mix. Never EQ in complete isolation. If you want more information on the use of EQ, check out this earlier blog.

On the subject of EQ, if you have to add more than 5-6 dB of any frequency you may have a problem with your recording. So you may want to re-record or consider something other than EQ to ‘fix’ your problem sound. Also, adding EQ invariably adds noise, which is why so many engineers use subtractive rather than additive EQ.

Gentle 2:1 Compression With -15dB Threshold.

With regards to the use of compression on an acoustic, it depends on how prominent the guitar is in your mix. If your song is based around the acoustic guitar and a vocal, for example, I’d suggest no compression at all on the guitar. Unless the performance is so uneven that a little gentle compression may help it to sit more comfortably in the mix.

But remember, you may apply some compression at the master fader and there will most likely be some compression applied in the mastering stage.

Gentle Compression Used For Acoustic Guitar.

If the acoustic guitar is just one small part of a much busier mix with lots of instruments, then some light compression (ratio 2:1 to 5:1) may help it to be heard amongst everything else. If the acoustic is being strummed vigorously, compression can produce a more consistent level in the mix, it can also bring out the pick noise rendering a more choppy, rhythmic, percussive quality.

Compression can help to bring out the harmonic content of an acoustic buried in a mix and increase its sustain if needed. Don’t forget, compression raises the room noise too. So in a home studio setting that could mean raising the volume of computer drives, background traffic, air conditioning etc.

A Multiband Compressor Controls Tonal Balance & Dynamics.

Use your discretion and again A/B compare between compressed and original sound. Click here for more information on compression and other forms of dynamic processing.

In a busy mix, the attack portion of an acoustic rhythm guitar strum is often more important than hearing the sustain which gets overshadowed by other instrumentation. If you want to achieve more attack on strummed acoustics, try this. Use a gate or expander to pull down or ‘duck’ the level of the sustain. By employing short attack and release times, this will catch the attack of the strum but will apply gain reduction between the peaks. It doesn’t have to be too severe to produce improved punch. Check out this blog for details on gates and expanders.

There are numerous effects you can use on acoustic guitars. We’ll briefly look at reverb, delay, double tracking and chorus.

A Selection Of Effects Plug-Ins.

Reverb is a great way to create ambience in your track. It’s generally pleasing to the ear. The use of an effect like reverb depends to a large extent on what the instrument is doing. Is the acoustic being strummed or picked? Is it being used as a solo or backing instrument? Short reverbs, like some room settings, can give an interesting and unusual quality to the instrument. Longer reverbs will make the guitar sound more distant in the mix and can muddy the sound if too long. Don’t forget to EQ the reverbed sound to get rid of any boominess. The reverb can either be panned to join the dry guitar or split with the dry signal left and right.

On a lead acoustic, a delay timed to the tempo of the track can be very effective especially if used in conjunction with a sprinkling of reverb too…..John Martyn used delay and echo to great effect on some of his recordings. Timing the delay to match the track tempo is important to keep the sound clean and uncluttered. Try panning the delay(s) away from the original clean sound.

Double Tracked Acoustic Guitars – Note The Slight Difference In The Waveforms.

Double tracking is a popular recording technique where a performer sings or plays along to a previously recorded performance, matching phrasing and melody as closely as possible, resulting in a thicker sound. It’s used extensively for vocals as well as guitars. The effect is produced from the two ‘identical’ performances being ever so slightly different in pitch and timing throughout the length of the performance.

If the guitarist cannot match their performance well enough to produce the effect the result can sound quite confusing or cluttered. If this is the case, there are electronic plug-ins that emulate the effect, although none give exactly the same result as the ‘real thing’.

A chorus effect applied to a 6 string can sometimes come close to emulating a 12 string acoustic guitar. It’s a shimmering effect produced by combining two or more slightly different pitched signals. Experiment with the speed and depth of your chorus to get the effect you want. We discussed effects processors in this blog.

As with all effects be judicious in their use…..a little goes a long way! To find out more about the use of effects processors, click here.

Next week we’ll look at Electric and Bass Guitars in the mix.

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May 2, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 9 Recording Electric and Bass Guitar

If you’ve been following TCM’s Home Music Studio blog, you’ll realise by now that there are no hard and fast rules to recording your instrument’s sound. We have discovered that, recording the voice and the piano involves trying various different types of microphones, using different polarity patterns and finding optimum positions to place the mics.

Today we’ll consider how to record electric and bass guitars.

Before you start to record anything make sure the guitar is in tune. You may want to put on new strings before an important session…..make sure they have time to stretch before recording. Also check your tuning between takes, especially if you’ve been using a vibrato arm on the guitar.

The electric guitar can be recorded in various ways. You could connect your guitar directly into your mixer, your audio interface (of your computer) or you’re SIAB (studio in a box) system.

Drum machines and synthesizers/keyboards can usually plug directly into your instrument input, but electric guitars and basses will often require a DI (direct inject) box.

The DI method will result in a sound which has little colouration and lacks the power that many electric guitarists like so much. But you can alter your sound by using one or several plug-ins, of which there are numerous to choose from. Everything from distortion (of various kinds) to chorus or delay effects. There are also many amp simulator plug-ins out there which can replicate your favourite amp sound. If you can, record the clean sound onto one track and add the effects to a separate track on your recorder, this allows you to keep your mixing options open.

An alternative technique is to use a splitter box. It allows you to send the guitar output to a few different amps or FX chains simultaneously. Record the different outputs to different tracks. Let’s say you have three splits. Then, for example, you could use a clean feed for the verses, a more raunchy sound for the choruses and the third feed for the middle eight. In other words, it can give you several different sounds from one performance. When recording multiple guitar parts, try varying your sound so that they can be heard better in the final mix.

Another technique… could choose to record by connecting your electric guitar to an amp and then taking a feed out of the amp’s line output to your instrument input on your recorder. This method gives you the sound from the amp without having to use a microphone. You will need to determine the best volume levels at the different points in the chain…..the electric guitar volume (and pick up setting), the volume and settings on the amp and the input volume level to your recorder. There are various combinations you could try out to get a clean or dirty sound.


But remember, if you are recording into a digital recorder peak your recording level no higher than about 6 to 8 dB.

Analogue recorders are more forgiving with high input levels, but digital will simply clip (distort) if the level is too high.

A traditional method to record the electric guitar is to connect to your amp of choice and place a mic to pick up the speaker’s sound. If you use a close mic set up, the room you record in is unlikely to contribute much to the sound. Place the mic a few inches to a foot from the speaker cabinet, directed towards the centre of the speaker cone (or slightly off centre). If you’re recording a rock guitar sound a dynamic mic (eg. Shure SM-57, Sennheiser MD421 or Electrovoice RE20) will be a good choice.


You will get different tonal qualities from your amp

depending on which mics you use and where you place them.

Small diaphragm condenser mics (eg. Neumann KM84, Shure KSM 137) will render a cleaner, flat response. Whilst large diaphragm condenser mics (eg. Neumann U87, Rode NT-1) produce an extended frequency response, particularly at the low end giving a warmer, softer sound. Despite their fragile nature, ribbon mics ( eg. Beyer M160) can also used. You will need to place these mics (and the condensers) a little further away than the dynamics, as they are more delicate and the high SPLs (sound pressure levels) could damage them if they’re too close to the speaker cone.

As with all mic positions, try altering the distance and angling the mic in various positions until you achieve the sound you like.


Close and Ambient Mics on Guitar Amp

You could also add an ambient mic a few feet away from the cabinet to give you more room sound. If you have the tracks available record each mic onto a separate track, so that you can mix and blend the sound from each one…..listen for phasing problems if you end up using more than one mic (check out this blog for more on phasing issues).

Try recording your sound in the garage or bathroom. As well as a close mic, you will need to place a mic some distance from the amp in order to get the effect of the room you’re in. Each room will provide different acoustics… may hate the result. But you just may end up with a unique sound that hasn’t been heard before.


Altering mic position just an inch or so

can give a crisp or mellow sound.

You can try the same techniques for bass guitar that I’ve outlined for electric above. The DI approach works particularly well. Be aware that when miking a bass guitar amp, it can easily sound muddy (thick) and thin at the same time. Sounds impossible, but true. Record in a room that is quite dead (no reverberation). Reduce sound reflections by covering windows with curtains, floors with rugs and removing that hi-tech reflective furniture if necessary.

A dynamic used close up or large condenser mic is best suited for the bass response. But again, experiment until you like what you hear in your studio monitors. If tracks allow, record a DI and a miked version of the bass performance simultaneously. That way you will have the flexability to mix between the two in the final mix.

Ambient miking rarely works on basses,

it just tends to add to the muddiness of the sound.

If you’re recording a solo, you might want to record it several times on different tracks (if you have the tracks available). Then edit the best parts of each track together to form the take to be used in the final mix. If you’re going to use this approach, edit the takes before adding echo, reverb or other effects like chorus and flange. It will be easier to edit and result in a better sounding track.


To give a thick sound, I like double tracking guitars in real-time as opposed to using an electronic equivalent effects box. It can sometimes require a few takes to get the separate guitar parts to sound as one, but I personally prefer the result to the ADT (automatic double tracking) effect.

If you find that you’re getting a hum or buzz from your bass guitar or electric, it could be because some of your equipment contains transformers. Move away from the interfering piece of equipment as much as possible to reduce the problem. Computer monitors can be guilty of this. So turn them off if not in use, or distance yourself from them.

Compression can be a useful tool when recording an electric guitar. It will help the sustain and even out levels. Try it pre and post EQ to see which you prefer. It’s especially useful on bass guitar as there are often large transients from bass players. If you don’t compress a bass you risk overloading the input to the recorder. I’ll discuss compression in greater detail when we cover signal processing in a later blog.

Next week we’ll discuss recording acoustic guitar and it’s close relations.

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If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish. Check out the TCM Mastering site. Or contact us with your questions by clicking here.