Choosing the right bass for a great DI sound – Nick Kozuch
Low-end excites me more than anything else in the studio. Productions that lack the right amount bass feel weak and lifeless but so many people struggle to get it right. To get a good bass guitar sound it is important to know about the instrument you are working with. Is it Active? Are the pickups single coil? Is it hollow-bodied? These are all important questions that will make a huge difference to the final sound. Get to know the instrument and you will be in a much better position before you switch on the red light!
– – – –
Much like recording guitar, we usually decide on what tone and character we are setting out to achieve before recording begins. Our decision is always governed by the style of production we are working on and this will help us decide whether we should reach for the amp or a DI ‘direct input’ box.
At Unit Studios, we often find ourselves DI-ing the bass directly into the DAW and then re-amping and adding additional processing afterwards.
Here’s are our usual DI chain.
Set Up 1 – Klark Teknik DI box – Neve 1073 – Distressor Compressor – Neve 8803 EQ – Apogee Symphony
Set Up 2 – Avalon 737 (DI input / Filter / Compressor / EQ) – Apogee Symphony
If we decide we don’t want to colour the sound with additional amplifier circuitry, the bass may remain in the track having never been re-amped. However, we do usually process the bass ‘in the box’ with EQ, compression and some sort of saturation at mix-stage.
Whether you are amping or ‘DI-ing’, the importance of having a great sounding bass, which has been set up correctly, is key. So with this in mind, we will consider some important factors when selecting a bass guitar including the differences between body density, neck structure and pick up selections.
Solid Body vs Semi-Hollow Body
Solid body bass guitars, like Unit Studios’ Fender Jazz Bass are the more commonplace bass guitar body type. A solid body offers greater sustain and is less susceptible to feedback than a hollow, or semi-hollow, bodied bass. Moreover, as the body resonance plays less of a role in its sound, solidbodies are available in a spectacular variety of shapes and designs with less of an impact on the tone, which is often quite neutral and responsive to processing that is applied afterwards.
As you might expect, Semi-hollowbodies, such as the Ibanez ASB180, generate a more acoustic-like tone. The use of the resonance chamber creates greater harmonic richness and a woody, warm sound full of pleasing overtones. This warmth comes at the expense of the ability to crank it up into an amp without risking feedback and often, in a studio environment, means that spill from other instruments and studio monitors can be picked up by the bass’ pickups.
Bolt-on Neck vs Neck-Through-Body Construction
Some basses, including the ESP LTD5 are constructed with a neck-through-body design. In these cases the bass guitar’s neck wood spans the entire length of the instrument. Neck-through bodies tend to provide greater sustain and and response and are often made of a very high quality wood, which in itself increases the quality of the instrument.
As they are easier to adjust and maintain, most bass guitars have a bolt-on neck, in which the neck is a separate piece of wood that’s bolted onto the body. This design often reduces some of the bass’ sustain and means that the body of the guitar does more of the donkeywork when it comes to generating tone.
Active vs Passive Pickups
The terms active and passive refer to the preamp circuitry of the bass. The preamp boosts the pickups’ output and provides tone-shaping and volume controls. Passive pickups, which have been around since the beginning of the electric bass, provide you with a dynamic sound and a warm, full tone which, owing to their simpler construction is marginally more lo-fi than their active-circuitry counterparts. The downside to passive pickups is that they give you less overall control over the tone of your instrument. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if you like fat and punchy, passive pickups are the way forward.
Active pickups are a much newer development than passive pickups and need power, usually from a battery, for their preamp. These pickups produce a much higher output level, which will drive amps and preamps harder, creating a tone that is percussive, bright, and clear.