The bass guitar is one of the most difficult instruments to record, much to the surprise of many first-time home producers. Miking bass cabinets is one way to go, but certain songs and certain bassists may find a direct input, or DI box, a better option to get the sound that they’re looking for. Here’s a guide on how to correctly use a DI box on a bass guitar, and how to mix the resulting signal in your overall song for maximum clarity and strength.
1. Connect everything. If you use any long leads, keep them untangled and neat. Pay attention to the proper ins/outs on the direct input box. If you’re running everything directly to your computer, go into your computer’s line-in rather than the mic jack.
2. Check the levels. You’ll want to tell the bassist to play as loudly as he plays in the song that you’re recording, maybe actually louder, and zero that signal out (bring the average strength of the signal to around 0db). You’ll especially want to listen for any distortion or other nasty effects that may come from having the bass and DI box set too high, but if you go too far in the other direction you’ll add a lot of unnecessary high end sound and your bass will sound thin and quiet. Be sure to listen for any electric sounds that may be coming from the DI box, as these will indicate that the DI should be replaced.
3. Listen to a sample playback. The tone of the bass may be fairly odd sounding at first, because you’re used to hearing bass guitars through amplifiers. Listen for any bad artifacts, and check your connections if you do notice any. Show the bassist the early sound that you’re getting, and ask him if he wants to adjust his tone knobs to make any major adjustments.
4. Mix carefully. Usually, you’ll want to mix the bass guitar with the kick drum to help make sure that the two are isolated from one another. Add a decent amount of compression to the bass signal, apply EQ cuts in the higher ranges, and maybe even a light touch of reverb if the other instruments in the room sound far more distant than the bass guitar. If the bass simply doesn’t sound natural, you may want to feed the DI signal back out to an amplifier, mike the amplifier, and then use a mixture of the two signals for your final bass tone.
Do you have any tips for recording a mixing a bass using a direct box? Share your thoughts with other home recording aficionados by posting in our comments section below.