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Is a preamp basically the best thing to use to get a good tone when recording?

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by wriggz, Dec 23, 2016.

  1. wriggz


    Oct 5, 2016
    I'm new to recording, so dont kill me.

    Basically, I had a Fender Mexican Standard P Bass and plugging it directly into my audio interface, it doesnt sound the best. So do I need a good preamp to get a good tone? Just want some insight before i actually buy one.
  2. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    A tube preamp can help warm up the tone. But "good tone" is a rat's nest of an idea because there are so many opinions on what it is. And there are many elements in its composition. The bass itself is crucial, including quality of pickups, possibly tuners and bridge, possibly the wood, definitely the string type and condition. Your playing technique is crucial. Then for tracking, the quality of your audio interface is very important as are the configuration settings you use to record the sound with the DAW or other tracking device. In many cases, choices made during post-recording in your DAW will determine the final tone such as EQ and compression. Finally, the tone of some of the best basslines I ever heard in a song sounded like crap when listened to in isolation. Which means "bedroom tone" is not always what you need to aim for - it all depends on musical context. Hope this helps!
  3. MCS4


    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    No, but it might make it easier to get a good tone with less manipulation through your recording software and other means. You could try a bass-specific preamp plugin as well.
  4. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    There are a number of pro and con arguements.

    One approach is to have a good digital interface and use DAW preamp plugins to add tone and harmonic richness to beef up the quality of the signal. You don't get a great sound by just recording your bass. Plugins often are designed to emulate classic hardware. They can be used to improve your recording. Using them is the most cost effective approach. You can run your signal through classic mic pres, equalizers, compressors, echo chambers, etc. It isn't just about creating a good sound, you need one that also fits well into the mix with the other instruments and vocals.

    Be warned, buying plugins can get expensive fast. Better plugins can cost more. At the same time, there are a lot of free ones out there, as are great deals throughout the year. Visit waves.com and watch their videos to see what is available and how they can help. You can download plugins for evaluation without buying them. There are many other companies that offer products. Also search on YouTube for how to record bass. You'll find a lot of good pointers.

    Another approach is have a good quality mic preamp, the real thing, that will add richness. Mic pre's can have both a DI and microphone input. Some argue that a DI is superior, others believe that a mic'ed cabinet sounds the best. When you can afford it, two really nice things to have are a top of the line mic preamp and microphone. These can cost in the thousands each.

    But you have to take it one step at a time. Start simple and experiment.
  5. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    What audio interface are you using and can you post a clip or two of audio of the tone you don't like?
  6. silky smoove

    silky smoove

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    I'll answer your question exactly as you've asked it: Is a preamp basically the best thing to get a good tone when recording?

    No. Not at all. Not even close. It barely cracks the top 5. If you want good tone in a recording all of the following will VASTLY outweigh any benefits from some swanky preamp. Give me all of these things and the cheapest Radio Shack preamp you can conceive and I'll give you back better tone than if you'd given me a top shelf preamp and none of the items below.

    1. Tone and to a larger degree the mix are defined by the arrangement of the song. If you have a good arrangement (what parts are played when, what notes are played for a given part, when you should lay back or lay out entirely, etc.) it's very hard to not get a good tone. The good news is that this is free, but takes a long time to properly learn.

    2. Technique determines individual note tone more than any piece of gear. Learn how to play in a way that gives you the tone you're after. Again, this one is free but takes a long time to properly learn. Also realize that the concept of "technique for tone" when used in a live setting versus a studio setting are completely different. What works well live may, or often times may not work well in the studio.

    3. Set your bass up for the studio. This may be very different than how you want it setup for a live setting. Figure out what you want out of your bass before recording and make adjustments that reflect that. If I'm tracking a rock album I tend to like moderately high action and pickups adjusted correspondingly high. If I'm doing anything that requires a light touch (jazz, RnB, folk, etc.) I'll do the opposite. Sometimes I'll end up with a setup that I would NEVER use in a live setting, but it's just the thing for getting good tone in the studio.

    4. Strings strings strings strings strings! This is the first one that actually constitutes "gear." Use the right strings for the tone you're after. Understand the difference between types of winding shapes, winding materials, core shapes, etc. and make sure to use strings with an appropriate amount of life in them. Don't use brand new rounds for something that would better with some slightly dead rounds, or flats. More than any other piece of gear, strings are the most important in the studio. Not free, but pretty darn cheap compared to the cost of a preamp.

    5. At this point you're left to all things in your signal chain, not just your preamp. For most folks I would advise getting as neutral a preamp as possible and just going with it. It'll be the most versatile for a variety of settings. The preamps built into even modest consumer grade interfaces these days are more than adequate for most people's needs. If you can't plug into a generic Focusrite, Presonus, Mackie, etc. interface and get a good tone for a given tune, the problem is not the preamp. The problem at that point is one of the first four items I listed above, or a lack of experience when it comes to post-processing of the recorded signal.
    seang15 and bass12 like this.
  7. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    Get a good clean raw recording. Finger noise and all.
    Then run it through some effects, amp and cabinet modeling.
    In the music production world there are many high cost "sample" libraries and they are generally recorded clean and raw and rely the user to run them through signal processing to add "extra" tone.
  8. DigitalMan

    DigitalMan Wikipedia often mistakes my opinions for fact Supporting Member

    Nov 30, 2011
    I am a believer that somewhere in the signal chain there should be a preamp of some sort. It could be as simple as a channel strip (virtual or physical) or as complex as you want it to be including physical or modeled preamps/amsp/cabinets/effects/etc.

    What you can accomplish will vary depending on the preamp used. For example, I have an Avalon U5 and a SansAmp VT Bass. Both sound great. Both sound nothing alike.

    Starting with a clean tone direct to a channel has its merits. However, some performances need to have the grit of an OD producer present (preamp, stompbox, VST) while playing in order for the player to achieve the performance desired. If you can, capture the unmodified as well as effected performance at the same time on separate channels. You can always reamp later if you want to. Many folks are cautious about putting too much processing in line at the time of recording. In some ways that makes sense, and in some ways it is simply fear of commitment. Recording clean and processed together is like getting married, but with a really really good prenup.
  9. IconBasser

    IconBasser Scuba Viking Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2007
    Fontana, California
    To expand on what Smoove said:

    Playing your lines for a recording needs to be much more deliberate when recording than if you're playing live. Especially if you're going into a preamp or DI, each and every note needs to have a precise and clearly heard attack, with no buzzing out at all. Depending on what you're playing, this can often mean that you have to play each note harder than you would otherwise, which is difficult to pull off cleanly.

    Unless you're a master player or some sort of wizard, this always translates to doing more difficult sections over and over again until you get that perfect take where you can easily hear every note and inflection screaming out at you. Anything less simply will not be heard when you start playing back every other instrument. You will be left with inaudible mud.

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