How to mic an Upright Bass (also called Double Bass)
Article by Gregor Zielinsky. Read more on Gregor’s profile page.
This article describes how to mic double bass(es) in special loud situations, as well as in more normal, common situations. We will describe, how microphones from the company REMIC MICROPHONES, will help to solve situations, in a way, which is unique until today.
- How to mic an upright bass
- The sound of the upright bass
- Types of microphones
- How to mic upright basses in common studio recordings
- How to mic upright basses for live performance
- Special situations in the studio
- How to set up a wireless mic on an upright bass
1 – How to mic an Upright Bass
Miking an upright bass can be a very challenging task. Especially when it comes to certain situations like:
- Playing together with some loud “competitors”, like a rock band
- Open air concerts
- Special sound ideas
- (Jazz) Combo
- Film scoring
- Object based recordings or others
All these situations differ from the “classical – classical” recording, which means: recording a solo string, a string quartet, or an orchestra for the purpose of a “normal” classical recording, of a “normal” classical piece of music, with a normal microphone setup, using instrument miking spot mics. By “classical-classical”, we mean repertoire rom composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Schönberg, or any of those well-known or not so known old or new composers.
Picking up the sound of an upright bass in situations, when you need to have the instruments loud and separated from other instruments, is the task, which we want to have a special look at here.
Now, using special pick-up mics for classical instruments is not really new. Usually this is called close miking. However, frankly said, we are pretty much aware, that the results of these common attempts are very often not very convincing.
Either the sound of the upright bass sounds very unnatural – or you just cannot hear the upright basses, while the “poor” musicians are working “against” the rock band.
2 – The Sound of the Upright Bass
In order to find out, how to close mike an upright bass, while keeping its specific sound, let’s have a look, how the sound of the upright bass actually is produced.
As we all know, the upright bass is a string instrument, played with a bow, but is also very often played by plucking the string. In classical music, this is usually called “pizzicato”. In other music styles like jazz, plucking the bass strings is the common way of playing.
The sound of the instrument can be defined by the attack and transient response when the player is starting to play a note. This first phase is most important for any kind of sound. It defines how human ears detect and understand any sound. Which can be a musical sound, spoken word, or any other sound. As an example, take the letters “d” and “t” They sound pretty much the same.
However, that attack phase of the “d” is softer and longer, than the transient of the “t”. This gives us the chance, to differ, whether we hear the word “do” or “to”. After the decay phase, the next important part is the sustain part, which is also called “quasi stationary phase”. During this phase the sound has stabilized and the complete spectrum of the upright bass will develop.
This drawing represents the level envelope of an upright bass sound, played with a bow over its whole development from the start to the end, after releasing the bow. The plucked style usually does not have any sustain part. Therefore, the attack phase is pretty short, and will then proceed directly to the release phase.
You can achieve a short period of sustain by using a compressor and/or playing with lots of vibrato, which keeps the sound stable for a certain period of time. Usually, this technique can be found on electric fretless basses.
The next important aspect of the upright bass sound is the resonance, also called formant.
The resonance can be heard and measured during the so called “quasi stationary” phase of the sound. This is usually reached after the attack phase of the note.
Besides the actual musical sound of the string, the upright bass has some noise artefacts, which are caused by the bow moving over the string. These artefacts belong to the sound of the upright bass. However, when they are picked up too emphasized, they will usually be regarded as disturbing.
Last but not least, the polar pattern of the instrument is important. This is especially relevant, if you use a common microphone, where the mic is placed in a little distance to the upright bass. The polar patterns describe, which frequency range is projected in which direction of the instrument.
Attack Phase of the Upright Bass with bowed playing
The attack response of the upright bass has an average length of 100-350 ms. It contains all overtones and partials that an upright bass can produce. Furthermore, it may contain a lot of noise artefacts. This can be changed by the artist, and is of course a very important way, to form the sound. It has an enormous influence of the artistic expression that the musician wants to give to his interpretation.
This can, of course, also be played in a very soft way, so that especially the noise artefacts will be suppressed, mainly in piano dynamics. There are many different ways of playing the upright bass. Like coll´arco, col legno or pizzicato. These different styles produce very different transients, spectra, and stationary states.
Attack Phase of the Upright Bass with plucked playing
The attack phase, when the upright bass is played plucked (or pizzicato) is much shorter. Depending on the string, it varies between 15 and 35 ms. Deeper strings have larger attack phases.
The upright bass has several areas of formants. Formants are resonances, which are independent of the pitch that the instrument is playing. This is true for vowels as well. For example: If you sing with the letter “UUU”, no matter what note you sing, it will always resonate with a frequency of 300 Hz.
This graph presents the basic and most important formants that you find in the human voice and in most, tuned instruments. The vowels above the ranges of the formants that you see here, refer to the German pronunciation.
Courtesy of PPV Verlag: Dr. Jürgen Meyer: Acoustics and the Performance of Music
Formants or resonances of the upright bass:
- A special effect on the upright bass is that the basic partial of the low notes are lower in level, than higher partials. This is because the body resonance of the upright bass can be found between 57 and 70 Hz depending on the instrument. This resonance is higher than the basic partials of the lowest notes.
- The most important resonance area of the bass lies between 70 and 250 Hz. This gives the instrument its typical bassy and round sound.
- There can be a slight formant around 400 Hz plus 800 Hz, when the instrument is playing in higher registers.
- Noise artefacts may appear as well, depending on the playing style.
Courtesy of PPV Verlag: Dr. Jürgen Meyer: Acoustics and the Performance of Music
These graphics show how and where the sound of the bass is projected. It basically explains that all relevant parts of the bass sound are mainly projected to the front.
There are a few parts, that are additionally projected to the side and the back. However, as a difference to the violin and viola, the placement of microphone for the bass should be at the front.
3 – Types of Microphones
There are many different ways of picking up and recording upright basses, as well as other string instruments. This is mainly depending on what kind of recording you do.
Basically, the use of condenser microphones can be suggested, as these microphones pick up sound in a much more detailed and precise way than dynamic microphones do. Usually, engineers are using cardioid patterns. In a studio situation you might also want to use patterns like wide cardioid, omni, or even figure of eight microphones. Ribbon microphones, which have a special sound, sually have a figure eight pattern.
Miking an upright bass for jazz recordings or live situations can be very different. Especially, if you are using a bass amp e.g. in a jazz combo. We will discuss later, how to use the REMIC D5400 microphone model for these applications.
4 – How to mic an Upright Bass for common Studio Recordings
For capturing the sound of upright basses in a normal “classical – classical” situation, there are many ways to do this:
Usually, condenser microphones with a small diaphragm, such as microphones from Neumann, Schoeps or Sennheiser are used. Some people also use large diaphragm mics. This is mainly depending on what you want to achieve.
Mostly, cardioid versions of these mikes will deliver good results. Of course, you can use polar patterns like omni or wide cardioid patterns as well. Some people would even use omni or figure eight patterns. Please regard, that using such patterns can be dangerous and should only be used in very controlled situations.
Of course the use of multi-pattern microphones is possible as well. At the end, which microphone you go for strongly depends on the recording situation as well as your taste. And what you have in your microphone locker.
Important for Spot Mic is the Positioning of the Microphone
As seen in the graphics above, positioning the microphone in front of the instrument is the common way of capturing the sound of the upright bass. This will usually lead to good results. The distance for the normal recording condition should be around 1 meter. This might vary again depending on what you are recording. In an orchestral situation, you might move further away, while in a jazz recording you might want to come closer.
Miking an upright bass in a studio situation, where there are no other loud instruments like drums, etc.
5 – How to mic an Upright Bass for Live Performance
When it comes to situations, where you need to capture the sound of the bass in a very clear and separated way, we come the point, where we want to have the best result as in terms of separation and feedback rejection, but with the best sound that we can achieve.
As we saw earlier, the sound of an upright bass is very specific. And by the way, this is true for viola, violoncello and other strings as well. Therefore, REMIC MICROPHONES has developed instrument specific microphones, which are adapted perfectly to the sound of the very string instrument. In this case, we are looking at the upright bass and viola as well.
Basically, REMIC MICROPHONES is offering two types of the upright bass microphones: the “studio/live” model, which has an omnidirectional polar pattern and the “LB Live” model with an angled figure of eight polar pattern. These two types are being offered in the REMIC D5400 studio/live model (omni) and the D5400LB Live model, both with a height of 80 mm for double basses with lower string tension (less distance between body and strings), which are usually used for jazz.
There are also the D5401 Studio/Live and the D5401LB Live both with a height of 95 mm for double basses with high string tension (large distance between body and strings), which are usually used in orchestral settings, where the bow is used more frequently for orchestral repertoire.
Additionally, there are several versions for wireless transmitters, which will be discussed later. Additionally, there is a less expensive variation of the D5400 and D5401 Studio/Live microphones, these are called the D540 CLASSIC and D541 CLASSIC, which you will find more information about here: https://www.remic.dk/product-category/classic/
Both types (Studio/live and LB Live) adapt perfectly to the sound of an upright bass. They work great in loud environments, clubs, concert halls, or in the studio. While the Studio/Live version has a very natural sound plus a good sound rejection, the LB Live version has a slightly altered, “woodish” sounding frequency range, but has an even better rejection and feedback suppression for situations with loud sound pressure levels.
Especially for the jazz playing style, both REMIC versions will deliver a really great “sustain sound”. This means, after the finger pick the sustain phase of the string remains pretty long and present. It does not fall of and decay as strongly, as it will sound by a normal microphone.
You can find more precise information here about the difference between the types of microphones and typical use cases of the Studio/Live and LB Live models: https://www.remic.dk/news/the-astonishing-art-of-sound-reproduction/
Setting up the Mics and the Anxiety of the Artist!
We know very well that string players are very sensitive about their instruments. Therefore, the material of the REMIC microphones is very soft, and the REMICs can easily be attached onto the instrument by the musicians themselves. This is absolutely important for any live orchestra situation.
Also, the cables of the REMICs are very soft, giving the musician a lot of trust, that it will not harm their instrument. Also, it does not produce any disturbing noise, like structure-borne sound, when the cable is moving slightly on the surface of the body.
If you are recording or amplifying in a very loud situation, we suggest using the “LB Live” version.
If the situation is not that difficult, and you may not have the loud rock band on the stage as well, we suggest using the “normal” Studio/Live version.
You can easily adjust the sound of the REMIC microphones according to your taste with the help of a multiband EQ. More info about EQing can be found here:
The sound of the REMICs is direct, as can be expected. But as it regards all the specific sound characteristics, it will deliver a perfect upright bass sound, which sounds really natural. It does pick up the noise artefacts in a perfect balance to the sound of the string itself, and will never sound harsh, or artificially “electronic”.
Finally, all REMICs have a built-in windshield. This can be very important in outdoor situations. And it can also help to suppress the noise from a strongly breathing musician. The windshield cannot be seen in any way and does not change the sound of the microphone at all.
Recommended placement of the D5400 is under the tailpiece, where the integrated cable fixation foam keeps the cable in place.
6 – Special Situations in the Studio
As we described earlier, if you have a normal recording, you may want to use common microphones. However, also in a studio situation, it might be meaningful to use the specific sound of REMIC instrument specific microphones.
Of course, if you have a combination of strings paired with some loud instruments, and you just cannot place them in separate rooms or cannot track them, you have the same situation as in a live performance.
Furthermore, you might want to use the specific sound of the REMICs. The directness and the sound full of character will add a special soundscape to your recording. Using the “LB Live” versions can produce a kind of “nostalgic” sound, producing a spectrum that might remind you of classical movies.
After all it is a matter of taste, of course! Or as some clever guy once said:
Microphones make the best filters!
More into depth information about the REMIC approach to close miking can be found here: https://www.remic.dk/news/the-art-of-close-miking/
7 – How to set up a wireless Mic on an Upright Bass
Using a transmitter on an upright bass string usually raises the following questions:
- How safe is the connection from the cable to the transmitter?
- Can the musician set up the mic by himself and can he/she plug in the cable into the transmitter by him/herself?
Of course, there are many more questions, concerning the whole wireless topic. But this is not so much our topic here.
At REMIC MICROPHONES, we have especially considered those two questions. With decades of experience, we know that these are very sensible aspects.
REMIC WLM models come with a range of adapters with TA4F and Lemo connectors for Shure wireless sytems and also 3.5 TRS as well as Lemo-3 connectors for Sennheiser transmitters.
All in all, the REMICs are made for perfect sound and ease of handling especially in situations where it comes to quick and easy set-up of the microphones.