Recording a DB with a microphone or plug in through a pickup?

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by RiseOfTheWooten, Jan 13, 2006.

  1. hi all,

    How do you guys and gals prefer to record your DBs? What microphones do you use? I've read about purists (eg. Wynton Marsalis) who abhor the use of DI or pickups for the DB.

    A friend wanted to bring his DB around to play around with my GarageBand setup at home but neither of us has recorded with the DB before.

    I have a Mann M21 condenser microphone, I don't know if that is a suitable microphone for picking up a DB. I would normally record vocals and other instruments via a pre-amp as well, does anyone do that for the DB?

    Or would it be much easier to plug the DB via a pickup?
  2. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Yes, it's easier, but I personally don't like the way mine sounds recorded that way. I get to use a Telefunken 251 to record my DB, and it sure enough sounds like a DB on recordings. I'm not familiar with the mic you mention, but I imagine with a little work it'll do fine

    Since so much of a DB's tone is made up of sound waves that take up a ton of space (there's a better way to say that, I'm sure), the space around the DB makes all the difference when mic'ing it up. For instance, after much expirimentation, we found that my DB sounds best pointed at a corner (a particular corner in the studio that isn't cluttered with stuff) with the Telefunken on a figure-8 pattern. YMMV, and expirimentation is the key.

    It's easier to go with a pickup, but we just wouldn't have been able to get the same blend of highs and really low lows had we not mic'd up the DB and spent an afternoon messing with placement and polar patterns. Of course, you could always record both DI and mic and blend the two, but IME this tends to make your DB sound like a bad electric. Once again, YMMV.

    Yes. At the least, people use the built-in pres on their board. Otherwise the microphone would never be heard :)
  3. larry

    larry Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2004
    Get ready to pull your hair out.

    I have yet to hear a pickup that sounds anywhere close to natural (or good for that matter) when recorded. (Try it for yourself, though, I may be hearing a different sound). Mics are troublesome because the ambient sound from other instruments usually take over the bass mic (bleed), leaving you with a muddy, hard-to-use signal. The mic you have may work - you just have to try it.

    Things to try:

    Use as much physical isolation as possible.

    Use a really good cardiod dynamic mic like a EV RE20, Sennheiser MD421, etc. If you don't have one, try a Shure SM58. It may work, it may sound like crap. You gotta try different things.

    You can try a condenser, but it will be more sensitive and pick up more ambient sound.

    Blend a pick up and mic, that MAY work.

    Remember - when using a cardiod mic, the closer it gets to the bass, the more bass and less bleed you'll get, BUT the more "proximity effect" you'll get too (artifical rise in bass frequencies, causing a boomy sound). If the player moves around, it makes it harder to control with EQ. I always try to use small mics attached to the bass.

    Omni mics pick up more ambient sound, but present it in a more natural way. They also do not have proximity effect. With enough physical separation and a good sounding room, that will sound best - but if the room sounds bad then omni is your worst option.

    Why don't you list what other gear you have and we can suggest how best to use it?
  4. Thanks for the responses guys, I'm learning a lot.

    What's "YMMV"?

    I don't have much in terms of recording gear, I only have a small home setup with my iBook G4 and GarageBand, the Mann M21 condenser microphone which I plug into the computer via the Digidesign MBox. I usually connect everything I record through the mini-pre but that's about it. I'm new to the recording thing and am trying to learn as much as I can along the way.
  5. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Your Mileage May Vary

    If that's the mic you've got, and that's the pre you've got, then great! You have the oppurtunity to use the @##$ out of that mic by moving it around, adjusting the position relative to the bass and the room, and working three times as hard to get the sound you're looking for :hyper:
    In the process, you'll learn the nuances of your recording space and that mic 10x faster than you would otherwise. Mic placement is just as important as freq response and quality, and the only real way to learn about mic placement is by placing mics. This is actually easier if your mic choices are limited.

    Of course, if you've been trying for days and still can't get it to sound right, DI may be the way to go, but you'll be all the better at engineering by learning to use what you've got to its fullest. Have fun!

    EDIT: Part of the fun in recording is getting a little wierd, so don't be afraid to try crazy stuff like pointing the mic at a corner and then playing bass into the corner, or hanging the mic 3 feet above your bass's scroll. Chances are that you'll get the best sound from a more normal position, but you never know, and expirimentation is both fun, and occasionally offers insights into sound that you can use at a later date.
  6. Thanks for the ideas! If worst comes to the worst, I might try recording via pickup if I can get my hands on one.

    How do EUBs sound as an alternative? I assume since they are made to be used with pickups, that they would sound much better than a DB would with pickups?
  7. larry

    larry Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2004
    jabberwock is right on. You learn best and fastest by making the best of what you have. Also check out

    There is a lot of good info if you have the time to sort through it all.
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Check it out, but at your own peril. It's turned into a bunch of retarded "Rep Point" cliques. :rollno: Look for posts by Harvey Gerst on mic technique with the search function - he got me straightened out pretty quick, and thanks to Harvey, I'm getting a pretty decent recorded sound these days. Good luck!
  9. Use a good condenser microphone with a flat frequency response in a good sounding room.

    No way I would record with a pickup.
    Might as well DI a Fender Precision, it'd sound better.
  10. Thanks guys, I've been mucking around recording the db with my Mann condenser mic, seems to work fine for me. The problem now is mixing it later with crappy factory Garageband effects..!

    I found this 'interesting' interview with Ron Carter from the Bass Player magazine website:

    They depend on a lot of factors—the room, the equipment, the engineer being familiar with my sound, the engineer having recorded upright before, how my hands feel, how the bass sounds. I consider all of those things when I go into the studio.

    I always go direct. I use either the David Gage Realist or the Kurmann that’s built into my soundpost. The Kurmann is very expensive, but it’s got a great sound in the studio. If it’s a large room, I prefer to be in some sort of booth so the bass doesn’t try to fill that space around it. In a huge room, like the ones for orchestras and film scores, the bass sound will go until it bounces off the nearest wall—and if that’s 40 feet away, by the time it gets back, there’s no sound. It’s dissipated by then. So I prefer to have a baffle in front of me to keep the sound from going so far before I hear it. Occasionally I use a microphone to take some of the edge off the pickup, depending on how my hands feel that day.

    From what I have heard, I’ve been a little dismayed at how many bass players haven’t matched a pickup with their instruments. You don’t just go out and buy a pickup that works; every bass responds differently to different pickups. I’d like to see bassists invest the money to get the best sound. Same thing with amplifiers—what’s the best amp for the sound you’re looking for, or for the pickup you’re using, or for the strings you have on? It should be a real laboratory mentality, but many players just buy an amp or a pickup that somebody else uses, and they plug it in and they’re comfortable with that.

    I think they are making a mistake. They want to sound like we did in the ’50s, but I don’t know any bassist who played back then who would want to go back to that setup. They had no chance to be heard—and 50 years later, bass players who prefer that setup still can’t be heard. Once the drummer picks up some sticks, the bass player’s sound is inaudible. How can that be acceptable to him? Or to the bandleader’s manager, or to anyone who’s concerned with the group’s sound? What’s wrong with that picture?

    I’ve never recorded with an amplifier, and I’ve made only about four records without using a pickup. While those results were musically pleasing, the bass presence needed to be altered to ensure that it had more impact on the music.

    It’s still trial and error for me. I’ve done dates where the bass sounded so boomy I had to borrow masking tape from the engineer so I could tape up one of the ƒ-holes; that way the sound wouldn’t escape so quickly and I’d be better able to control what came out. That doesn’t always work, but it worked for three days during that particular session.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    That all makes sense to me - although I've heard people saying on the board that they don't like Ron Carter's sound - but I'm not one of them. I think you can strive for some mythical "ideal" from the past, or do the best you can with what you have.

    I agree that I'd rather the bass was heard clearly and not "boomy" - but then Jazz is always better live and in the moment, not necessarily meant to be endlessly analysed in demonstration-quality recordings...?
  12. Well, I am using a mic only, and I do not want to sound like they did in the 50's... With all due respect, I think Ron Carter is oversimplifying things here, since both mic and amp technology have evolved considerably since the 50's, making it possible to be heard while using a mic only, even in loud situations and with less than subtle drummers using sticks. Really.


  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Do you get more and/or better gigs than Ron Carter....have you been on more, or better recordings than Ron Carter....? :p

    I know who I'd rather have lessons with.....:)
  14. No, no, and no. But do you know for sure that Carter, who indeed is one of the greats - whereas I am more of a bass midget - knows about and has tried out the mics and amplification that are available to today's bassists? It might as well be the case that Carter has decided not to try these options, because the pickup works for him.

    Besides, if I, with my limited bass playing abilities, can be heard while using a mic, imagine how Ron Carter would sound! So, the fact that I am a lesser player, in fact proves my point!


  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well yes, he says :

    "Occasionally I use a microphone to take some of the edge off the pickup, depending on how my hands feel that day."

    I heard he has done clinics about this recently...anybody else got more details?
  16. Dave Holland blends a realist with a mic - the former to get bite, cut and an element of finger niose as I remember it. He uses a mic hidden behind the tailpiece blended with a pick-up live. I would imagine that in the studio it's further away.

    Guitarists have a rule of thumb that the mic should be half a wavelength of the longest wave away from the instrument. Howevever that could reuslt in a mic 10' away.

    To think that lots of classic jazz was recorded with just one bad mic. in the middle.
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I've got a lot of those and while the overall sound and performance is great - it's often very hard to hear the bass as anything more than a vague, percussive, background noise...:meh:
  18. I went to a jazz concert last night. Greg Osby on alto, accompanied by an Australian trio Graham Wood Trio (pn, bs, dr). I thought it was great! They played a combination of Osby's compositions, others' compositions, as well as a couple of standards.

    I noticed the db player had some kind of pickup going through a Gaelin-Krueger acoustic amp. The sound coming out of the PA was pretty damn good though. I don't know how to explain it but he had a cross between a natural woody sound and an artificial miked amplified bass sound. But either way the very warm bass sound came through and I was more than happy with how it projected. My personal opinion of course.