Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by retrobob, Aug 22, 2006.
Whats the best way to get a punchy bass tone on recordings??
Good sounding bass, good playing technique, for starters. If you record the amp, you might want to get a mic made for the bass & kick drum, which isn't expensive, and use a good amp and cab.
If you record direct, get a good direct box; I found the Avalon U5 and Demeter Tube Direct to be the best bets for my bass. I have tried lots of direct boxes, and IMHO, most aren't very good, so listen before you buy.
I don't like to compress the bass going in; I'd rather add compression, if needed at all, during mixdown.
Finally, a lot of engineers will mix the direct bass with the miked up bass cab. This can add a lot of juicy fullness.
Starting with good tone from a bass that has fresh strings is essential. No amount of mixing or processing can rescue dull tone. And as Les said, a solid musician's technique will go a long way towards getting punchiness. Even something as simple as pick attack can play a major role tone.
And I'll 2nd the Avalon, especially for the tone you're describing. It's not the ballsiest of tones, but it's substantial and weighty enough and, yes, it can be punchy.
Anything that you'd call "growl" could help get you on your way towards punchiness in the mix. So as you're setting up the bass, and signal path, if you stumble across something growly you'll probably want to remember what you're doing to get that sound. These types of tones will cut through. Just don't overshadow the fullness of your tone as you're seeking punchiness. There have been a few times where I focused so much on "punch" that I lost the warmth and fullness and it no amount of mixing could save it.
Interestingly enough, Duck Dunn said that he bought a P-Bass in the late 50's, never changed the strings except the "D" which broke in 1964. <G>
Which supports your second point - the player has the most to do with it. If you then add something that has 4 strings and says Fender on it, it's hard to miss.
For amps, I've never heard a bad sound come out of anything that said Ampeg.
I like to go in the DI on an API 312, through a Purple MC77 at 4:1, set for a few dB of GR and let it fly. If it's needed, I'll Reamp it, usually using a Soundelux E-47, BLUE Mouse or an ATM-25 a foot or so off the cab, thru either API or GR MP2-MH and a little of the Purple. Make sure to nudge the amp signal back, so it aligns w/the DI'd one.
Right hand technique. I'm relatively new to bass recording, about 2 years under my belt in a home studio environment. I've tweaked numerous signal chain variables in that time, and none have made a greater difference than honing my right hand technique.
Also, may want to tweak eq around 700-900 hz and again at around 2-3 khz with mild boosts. The 700-900 boost doesn't always work, but can work well with certain tracks, depending on the surrounding mix.
I don't compress when tracking, instead try to control dynamics with my right hand (see above). But then again, I'm not slamming the bass hard on the stuff I record, so YMMV.
Loudboy that's a killer setup, but a few more bucks than many of us have tied up in our basement studios! I've gotten good results combining a direct track thru a decent direct box with a preamp track (right now I'm using a Groove Tubes bass preamp, which is essentially the preamp from an SWR and has a nice parametric EQ and some smooth compression but won't distort much).
Here are my two favorite setups, FWIW.
1) Ampeg B-15 S. Usually miked with a re20 or md421 but a decent dynamic mic in any case. Preamp is either a BAE 312 or Buzz Elixir.
Sometimes I'll also send the line out on the back of the amp to another mic pre. Depending on how hard you push the amp, the mic & line out can be pretty close. The line out kills every direct out I've tried because it goes through a bunch of tubes.
Usually no compression used for tracking.
2) For more modern bass sounds, my secret weapon is a box full of EMG preamps called The Box. I assume it was meant as a dealer demo type of thing so good luck finding one. I insert that between the bass and mic pre for direct recording.
For this setup, sometimes I'll use compression, sometimes not. Usually using compression here depends on if I want method 2 to approach method 1 and how motivated I'm feeling at that moment.
I use a Buzz Mia 1.0 for re-amping but it's also a decent little active DI. That might be something to check out if you plan to do any re-amping. Radial and Little Labs also make a DI plus reamp box (passive, IIRC).
I've found the tone of a bass recording is dramatically effected by EQing, like Greggy says. I usually cut the hi out of a bass track, but I don't know if that's standard practice.
I love this topic! I'll post a detailed response when I have more time...
For my typical "rock toned" stuff, however, the strings should ideally be a day or two old (brand new can lead to squeaks/unstable tuning).
For deep dub tones, often the older the beter. (Robbie Shakespeare would only ever change a string if one broke!).
A buddy of mine has one of those - always sounded better than great, definitely hard to beat...
OK, here I go, just my observations in what's been a very difficult and elusive quest for great bass tone (my own, that is - "real" bassists seem to have no problem). Tone that sits right, is clear and audible in the mix and doesn't turn everything to mud.
Bingo. And when I've gotten it right, it needed very little processing at all. I've found that one of the most important components of good "punchy" bass in a mix is not the bottom end, but what happens at the mid/top end. There has to be presence, around 1K depending. If there's too much emphasis in the low end it might feel deep and wonderful solo, but it won't stand out in the mix. With tone like that, if I crank the fader to the point where I hear it, there's already way too much bottom and the mix is shot to hell.
I had a lot of problems with the bass on my band's first CD. The mastering engineer (now Chief Engineer at his place, formerly a session player for years) very graciously talked to me for a long time about how to record bass and the need for good tone and good compression up front. He said that low frequencies hit compressors very hard, so some people shelve down the low end before compression then bring it up again after. Also, some people use two compressors in series: a gentle program type like a LA2A to shape it a little followed by a more aggressive type. I've tried both techniques but so far I've not nailed either one.
The first step I took to fix my problem was I sold my G&L SB-1 and bought a swamp ash L-2000. It sounds great, extremely versatile, tons of tone options. Instrument problem solved. Next I started playing it - a LOT. I'm just now breaking out of "heavy-handed, weak-fingered fret buzzing amateur" and starting to sound more like "hmm, that might work."
I have 2 DIs, an Avalon U5 and a SansAmp Bass Driver. Basso suggested tracking both at the same time and blending them, which has given me the best results I've had so far. The Avalon is very clean and has a ton of headroom, but after two years with both of them I feel the SansAmp is in many ways a better DI for bass (IMHO - I know someone's gonna disagree). Elambo mentioned "growl" and I feel he's absolutely right. The SansAmp really delivers terrific simulated amp tone and has a LOT of versatility. Recorded together and blended dead center – or panned just slightly apart from each other – the combination is more aggressive and "menacing" than either one alone. It reminds me of the Smithereens' bass tone, which I've always admired. That was Mike Mesaros, strictly an Ampeg guy.
I run the U-5's line level out directly to Ch. 1 of a Focusrite Compounder (compressor), and the "thru" output to the SansAmp. I run the SansAmp at mic level (it has no line level out) to an Avalon VT-737 preamp. I use only the preamp section of the Avalon and run it into channel 2 of the Compounder. I set both channels of the compounder identically but NOT linked, because when linked they work in tandem, following whichever side is hardest hit.
The difference in the way each Di signal triggers the same compression parameters is really interesting and the resultant waveforms on ProTools are very different. At some point I'm going to mess with two different compression settings, see what happens as I play louder and softer, with more string attack and with less.
I wouldn't exactly call his tone punchy though.
As far as amps/preamps go, I nearly always use an Ampeg SVP-CL, which is a preamp with line-level output so I can run it directly into ProTools (although I run it through a Neve 1272 just for some added balls and vintage goodness). This box generates the tone of the classic Ampegs as well as some newer takes on the Ampeg sound, but it doesn't have the amp, which, in my case, isn't necessary.
It has a four or five settings, two of which are EXTREMELY punchy. The best tones I've ever been able to capture have been with this box. I didn't realize you were looking for amps/preamps - if so, this Ampeg will have few, if any, competitors - only other Ampegs perhaps.
I'm kind of astonished at the number of people that jumped in with answers here, since, to my mind, punchy is one of those buzz words that lacks real definition. So the first part of how to get a punchy tone is to reach a consensus on what that means. A great deal of what I regard as punchy isn't about tone, it's about how the bass works with the drums and, to a lesser extent, rythm guitars.
I don't think it's necessarily that vague. Sometimes words like that can be effective communication tools for sounds that are hard to describe otherwise. Like "crunchy" rhythm guitar, "tight" snare or "awesome" breasts.
I think of "punchy" bass as meaning a strongly defined attack with a satisfying dull short "punch" to the gut and a clear well-defined fundamental. Obviously that can still mean a lot of things, but if I tell a bass player or an engineer I need a more "punchy" feel they'll probably both know what I mean.
I never really thought much about it because, having only seen it "on paper" and never in the flesh, it only seemed like half of the equation. But I can see how you could be right. That could be the ultimate no-amp bass DI for what I'm into.
Maybe another on my (surprisingly) short list of "really should do it this year" gear.
Got one for sale?
MichaelK or anyone interested, you might want to check out basstasters if you haven't already. There's a bunch of clips of the svp plus other awesome sounding bass preamps.
...or "tremendous" farts...
Nickel flatwound strings.
I bought this preamp before ever hearing it, which isn't something I like to do, but I had faith. And it paid off because it's NOT just half the equation, it's the real-deal Ampeg tone that everyone's trying to get.
The clips that Denyle pointed to sound pretty accurate to me. I'm not crazy about some of the basses they included, but by including those basses it does show variety.