Studio bass player, what should you bring?

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Although most of us have seen our fair share of stages, the studio isn’t familiar territory for a lot of us. Where in a live situation we are able to shrug a lot of things off in the name of rock ‘n roll, playing in the studio is a whole different ball game. This article prepares you for a great studio experience by making sure you are fully equipped to deliver.

Different sounds/basses

On stage it is preferred not having to switch between basses during a set because it just take too long. In the studio however, you have this great opportunity to use a specific tone for every tune. Having a diverse pallet of different sounds can give each song their own unique personality and feel. This helps to keep the listener interested throughout an album and (if done right) it contributes to the story telling.

There are a lot of different facets to consider when choosing the bass sound for a specific song. I always ask myself questions like these (and many more) when determining my tone:

  1. If this was already recorded by another band what kind of sound would they use?
  2. What kind of sound does it need/what is the function of my sound in the arrangement?
    1. Am I “underneath” the band, carrying them and “smearing”? Or am I punching through the mix? Do I need presence? Does my tone need clarity?
    2. Is this a modern tune and does it need a modern sound? Should I use an active bass with lots of highs and lows? Or would I be better off using a bass that sounds more vintage?

Try to listen to a lot of different productions and determine what kind of role and sound the bass has. Next to determining what gear is being used, also be aware of how the gear is being played. For example, are the notes played with a lot of attack? Is the bass played with fingers or a pick? Is the sound open or muted? The position of the plucking hand also influences the tone a lot.

Pro tip: It’s recommended to decide which bass and sound will be appropriate before you go into the studio. Studio days always take longer than expected. By determining how you want to sound before you go into the studio, you save time. This way you also make sure you bring the right gear along.

The thought process

I recently did a recording session where I was part of a band, backing up 16 different singers who all recorded a cover song as a final product for a singing workshop. I’ll take you through my thought process for two songs.

Holy Ghost Fire by Larking Poe

I used a Precision Bass with roundwounds because I felt it needed the “Oomph” of a P-bass. Thick and underneath the band, but with clarity. Instead of the dull highs and boosted low-mids flatwounds would give me. I used some drive on the bass because it needed some grit like the guitar player had.

Pro tip: If you are using drive, opening your tone-knob and using roundwounds makes it usually sound loads better. For clarity you really need the upper harmonics of your bass. Also attacking the strings harder can give you a more aggressive sound which usually works great with tunes like this.

Up To The Mountain by Patty Griffin

I used a Precision Bass with flatwounds because I really wanted to carry the song, and focus on putting in low end. The flatwounds have this bump in the low mid that gives it a lot of presence. The song needed a bass sound with a lot of presence because we played the song without a drummer. I rolled of the tone quite a lot because I didn’t want too much clarity in the sound. I also positioned my fingers above the pick-up. Placing them further to the neck would make me lose definition.

Pro tip: Try not to exaggerate and use the combination of flatwounds, tone-knob closed and playing over the neck at the same time. All three of these variables (which are used to have a similar effect) in combination are usually too much and make your tone unusable.

Delivering a good sound to the table

Every time I have a studio-gig, I bring my Aguilar Tone Hammer preamp. Even when I’m recording in a high end studio that has ten thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

Using a preamp will give me enough control over my tone to deliver a nice sound to the table. A tone that is usually more preferable than sticking my bass straight into a DI-Box (a direct-in box uses the dry signal coming from your bass). This way the engineer can focus on other instruments that take more time setting up.

The particular preamp I use has a circuit which enables me to add drive to my sound. This is a great option to have.

Adding a compressor to the recording chain also adds loads of tonal possibilities. I use it for adding punch and evening out my notes. Secondarily, It makes an engineer’s life easier because it makes sure the bass sits in the mix better.

Bringing an amplifier to the studio

Unlike guitar sounds which rely heavily on coloring by an amplifier, bass guitars sound fine when recorded through a studio preamp and compressor. That’s why in most cases recording engineers prefer to record a bass guitar directly into the console without the use of a bass amplifier.

Some engineers do like to have the option of using a bass amplifier for coloring the tone. That’s why I always bring a compact amplifier and cabinet when the studio has an amp room (or when the main room is big enough to prevent unwanted mic bleed). That way, the mixing engineer can combine the direct sound from your bass with the bass amplifier signal.

Putting a microphone in front of a cabinet can get you some great low-end, the low-end that a DI-box just doesn’t capture.

When deciding whether or not to bring you amplifier, consider contacting the engineer beforehand to determine if it’s even an option to use one.

Pro tip: Note that some amplifiers can be used as a preamp. You send the DI-out from your amp to the mixer to get the tone control and coloring you love from your amplifier. Always make sure your amp supports this though, some of them break down if you use them without connecting a cabinet. You can find this information in your amp’s manual.

How well should you know the song before you go into the studio?

If you know the repertoire you are recording really well, it will make your recording session a lot easier. Making a good recording is about…

  1. knowing the parts,
  2. playing with great groove and timing,
  3. and having an awesome tone.

Not having to worry about what part you should play next, enables you to focus on timing and tone. A lot of studio time is lost because players aren’t full prepared. Know what you are going to play at which point in the track, and definitely focus on determining how you transition from one part into another.

Knowing the form of a song is key. This includes knowing where every break is, when the bass begins in the song and when the bass stops playing. I’ve written more about this topic in my article titled Learning basslines, easy guide to remembering songs fast.

A Good Attitude

One of the most important things to bring is a good attitude. Studio days are long days and if things are not working for some reason, you need to be able to adapt on the fly. This can mean changing your part, doing a lot more takes than you would have wanted, waiting for others, but also swallowing your ego sometimes.

Try to keep the vibe light and if someone is frustrated about themselves it’s nice to be the one with the relaxed and positive energy in the room. When you have a lot of different types of people in a room personalities can clash. Which is of course okay: It all depends on how you handle these clashes. Be open and be a problem solver, that is the reason they hired you in the first place.

Bass Recording Checklist

Things that will come in handy in the studio:

  1. Tuner – Does this really need any explanation?
  2. Strings – Even though you probably never break a string, bringing extra strings can also be a tone choice. Do you have to play a slap part? New strings usually work better. Too much clarity? It’s great that you brought some older strings or maybe even flatwounds.
  3. Basic Tools – In the studio you hear a lot more noise coming from your bass than you would hear when you are on stage. Sometimes you need to raise the action to get rid of some unwanted buzzing, sometimes you hear some overtones coming from the part of your strings past the nut of your bass. And sometimes you realize that you have some intonation issues when you play higher up on the neck. Things you should definitely bring:
    1. Pliers to cut your strings.
    2. Allen wrenches for your saddles and neck.
    3. Screw driver for adjusting your bridge or tightening your strap-button.
    4. A piece of cloth/scrunchy (or if you are Mononeon a sock) to wrap over your headstock if you have any noise coming from your strings past the nut.
    5. Tape (if it needs to stay, it will stay).
  4. Pen & Paper – Sometimes you need to take a quick note or need to transpose a part at the last moment. This will always come in handy. If you made scores in your scoring software it’s also good to be sure to bring the device that enables you to edit these scores.
  5. Bass strap – A comfortable one if you know it’s going to be a long session.
  6. Bass guitar stand – For every bass you bring.
  7. Power strip – For electricity.
  8. A good pair of headphones/in-ears – Recording with a headset you are familiar with is always great. If you are already playing in-ear with your band, this will make you feel immediately at home. Some bass players prefer to use headphones which have a little bass boost, some really hate it. Some of us like the shells to fall over our ears, some of us don’t. You get the idea. If you will be wearing a headphone for an 8 hour recording session, be smart and use something that you like and feels comfortable on your ears. If the wire is short, bring an extender!
  9. Metronome – Unfortunately it can happen that not everyone is on the same page about which tempo a song is in. If you are not sure, check it before you record it (learned this the hard way). Pro tip: There are lots of free metronome apps in the app store that you can install on your phone.
  10. Spare cables – Instrument cables, speaker cables, power cables, adapters, the works!
  11. Food & Drinks – Nobody enjoys a hangry bass player.
  12. Nail clippers – If your nails are too long and your going for a fat round sound, these will come in handy.
  13. Bass preamp – To make sure you always sound awesome.
  14. Bass amplifier – Not essential, but as said before, bring this to add tonal possibilities.
  15. Different basses with different sounds
  16. Spare batteries – For your active bass and/or effect pedals
  17. Notebook – for taking notes about takes you like, quick charts/etc.
  18. Phone charger – I use my phone as a metronome, I save any recordings I have of the repertoire on my phone and even write down notes that will help me through the session. A flat battery therefor isn’t an option. Also bring chargers for any other piece of gear/device that might need it.


If you’ve made it to the end of this article, you now know everything that can make you recording days as efficient and pleasant as possible. Use all the tips above to your advantage and put in the work by learning the repertoire and taking the proper preparations.

Be sure to make decisions about what gear to bring and what specific gear you will use for each song before you get to the actual session. Also make sure you know all your parts well and are confident about the parts/lines your are going to play.

If you liked this article you might also enjoy: You need this to start recording bass guitar

I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are and if you have any questions or suggestions.

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