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How to get a good recorded sound from a bass guitar the really fast way

Squier Jazz Bass

I'm going to note up front that this is written from a guitar player's point of view, but it should serve well for bass players also.

If you're a guitar player that records music at home (which most people do), you've found out that using a keyboard for a bass sound doesn't really work that well. You've also found out that detuning your guitar doesn't really work well either.

The quick-and-dirty way to get good recorded bass tone

Do not use an amp. Ever.

This is a total waste of time if the goal is to record the bass quick. Positioning a microphone in front of a bass amp to get just that right bass recording is not a quick process and never has been. Possible, yes, but not easy and not quick. Save yourself a ton of time and plug in direct instead.

Use the tone knob. Always.

It's probably true that the sound you want is to have the pickup(s) volume all the way up and the tone knob all the way down (or almost all the way down).

Guitar players make the classic mistake of turning everything "up to 10" and expect that to work. On a bass, that rarely works. Turn the tone knob down.

Compress. Don't think about it. Just do it.

Unless you have fingers or a pick strike that can get exactly the volume you want 100% of the time, you're going to have notes that are too quiet with others than are too loud. The solution to this is compression. Use this cheap compressor to get that job done.

EQ bass down, midrange up and treble down

With the EQ "flat", the bass will sound awful and overpower everything else. And if using roundwound strings (which you probably will be), every time you move from fret to fret you're going to hear that "schrrrch" noise, and it will be loud in a bad way.

On a 3-band EQ, set bass EQ to 40%, mid EQ to 60% and treble EQ to 40%. You don't have to use those exact numbers, but it generally works out pretty well where the bass will cut through the mix without being overpowering.

Drive it lightly

Overdrive does work on bass if you use it lightly. Ordinarily, a heavy amount of compression should add in just a hint of overdrive. If it doesn't, you can add it in using an overdrive pedal for whatever you have.

The trick however is that it must be overdrive and not distortion. A distortion pedal even on its lowest setting won't work out that well. Light overdrive however will work.

While true you will probably not hear the overdrive in the total mix of the song later, the point to using it is to ensure every single note gets through with even, consistent volume that cuts through the mix properly.

Order of effects?

Overdrive first, compression second, EQ last.

Other bass recording tricks you can use

Pan hard to a side

If you're having a problem with the bass getting buried too much in the mix of your song, pan it hard. As in pan the bass track 100% to the left or 100% to the right.

The bass is one of those instruments where it is absolutely OK to do this.

In fact, if you pan the bass and the rhythm guitar hard to one side, and pan the lead guitar hard to the other side, that kind of mix really works out well.

Do not be afraid to have your bass be a buzzy, "clacky" mess

Fret buzz and fret clack is something you can get away with on a bass guitar and still have it sound good. Best used with overdrive.

Need a 5-string sound but only have a 4-string?

Tune down to B-E-A-D instead of the standard E-A-D-G. Chances are pretty good you'll like B-E-A-D tuning so much that you'll keep the tuning that way all the time.

Which bass works best for the guitar player?

The "Fender bass sound" is the standard, except of course you don't want to spend a grand on a Fender American Standard bass guitar since you're a guitar player.

Squier to the rescue.

There are basically 2 body styles and 3 pickup configurations.

1. Precision Bass

One split-coil pickup (it's split so it acts like a humbucker to eliminate 60-cycle hum but still has single-coil tone), one volume knob, one tone knob; a good workhorse bass guitar. Commonly known as a "P" bass.

2. Jazz Bass

Two straight-coil pickups. I actually like the Jazz over the P. The J-style body is a bit more comfortable (for me, anyway) and you can get more sounds out of it. It's also the same price as the P. The tradeoff is that the straight single-coil pickups can buzz. This bass is commonly known as a "J".

3. P/J bass

Best of both worlds here, mostly. Same price as the above two, has a P pickup in the middle and a J pickup in the rear. I say "mostly" because it's a P-style body and I prefer the J-style, but that's just me. You might really like the P-style body.

If you are absolutely unsure which bass to get, get a P/J whether it's made by Squier or not. Why? Because it covers all the tones you'd want out of a bass. Both pickups on gives you a modern sound, J pickup alone gives you 70's honk, P pickup alone gives you 60's big/bold fullness, and with experimentation with the knobs, you can get basically any sound you want out of it.

I own a P/J bass currently, but at some point I may get a Jazz Bass even though I know the pickups buzz. The J-style body is just really comfortable, and since I'm used to single-coil pickups that buzz and how to eliminate that kind of interference noise, I could deal with the J's buzzy straight-coil singles without a problem.

BONUS 4. SX Ursa 1

The only reason to get this bass is that it's ridiculously cheap, but at the same time made well. SX is a Rondo brand that compared to other like-priced brands actually delivers an instrument that's fairly good. The Ursa 1 unless specified otherwise is a full-size 34-inch scale proper P-style bass.

Note: Ursas usually sell quick because the price is so good for what you get, so if you see one from the link above, get it, otherwise it may be days to weeks before the link shows any in stock again. You can try this link if the above one doesn't show any in stock, and you might get lucky and find one.

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