Skip to main content

I'm having trouble getting a natural sound for an Upright Bass (contrabass) in a live room with drums. I've been Micing the bass and distancing the player from the drums by 10 - 15 feet, i'm not an isolation junky so I don't mind getting the tracks a little messy. Any frequencies i'm not getting that I want I put through an amplifier and let it bleed into the microphone from behind the bassist. Using a Shure Beta 52 for that. I feel like i'm going in circles here, any suggestions (mic placement and the sort)?

p.s. when I listen to old jazz records (30s,40s,50s) they seemed to be able to get the bass clear through with live drums, i'm not sure if they had real isolation booths back then. I'm trying to do anything I can to avoid using room dividers. if anybody could give me a tip you would be saving me some gray hairs, thanks.


TheJackAttack Tue, 03/08/2011 - 23:08

First, back in the 30's the drummers of the great combos played with sensitivity and didn't over power the bass player who could output some sound. Also, there have been gobos for a long time.

Now for you I think you need to close mic the bass and use some fashion of gobo. Place a large diaphragm condenser even with the f-hole about 12-24 inches away and angle the mic towards the shoulder/neck. If you can place even a sheet of 3/4" plywood or plywood/sheetrock combo (vertical!) between the drums and upright you will be better off. A blanket isn't going to cut it very well. And tell the drummer to stop beating the snot out of the kit and bass player to man up. ^_^

TheJackAttack Wed, 03/09/2011 - 09:30

For close micing an upright, a sdc doesn't generally grab enough of the complexity that differentiates a wood upright (especially carved bass) from an electric. I prefer that early 20c bass sound that actually sounds like notes rather than the fundamental eq exciting whatever that passes for electric these days. No offense to my colleagues that do like that sound. I hated kevlar heads on snare field drums too but that is what DCI and most field bands use these days.

Davedog Wed, 03/09/2011 - 17:58

I agree with this completely. You need a gobo. An LDC can do what John says it'll do with the tone capture, but in this case you'll be better served with a LD Dynamic much like what you are using now. After you gobo the bass off, angle your mic into the null for the drum bleed. A condenser is probably too sensitive for this though it might make a better bass sound.

Jeemy Wed, 03/09/2011 - 18:39

Gobos are actually a hell of a lot thicker than they look in the pictures, I was surprised to find out. I don't know how they are made up inside but I was through at BBC Glasgow last Sunday and as far as I could make it out, the floorstanding gobos were just 8 inches of RWA120 (or 120kg/m medium-heavy density fibreboard, I think, in American lingo), covered in cool tweedy fabric and shelled around in a walnut. I haven't looked into the costs of the hardwood yet but I have sent out for prices because they just look so good, and they clearly do the job.

thatjeffguy Thu, 03/10/2011 - 09:33

I made my own gobos out of alternating pieces of 1/2" sound deadening board and 1/4" cement board with 1/2" air gaps between each layer. The outside layers are the sound board covered with canvas. So each gobo consists of the following layers (SB = sound board, CB = cement board):
SB - AIR - CB - AIR - SB (center) - AIR - CB - AIR - SB. The whole assembly wrapped in pine boards that I dadoed out to receive the edges of each layer. Add some casters and a handle and you've got a gobo that is close to impenetrable by sound.


Davedog Thu, 03/10/2011 - 10:00

The last budget gobo I built consisted of two matching office partitions 4' X 5', metal frames, absorptive (these can be found with real acoustic properties!) and a Jute finish. I wrapped them in pine 1" X 6" and filled the cavity with spun woolrock. The casters were 3" locking on plywood T's with lateral braces on the ends. It was so good a client offered me $300 for it so I sold it. Total cost was around $100 with three hours of construction time. I think I got ripped off! Now I just use em in single layers as they are quite adequate if you dont mind a little bleed. You can find used partitions for $10 to $100 per and beleieve it or not most have a sound rating. Some are absorptive and some are reflective. Easy to tell......yell into the side when you look at em. Not saying they are the be-all do-all or that these would be great replacements for real sound control...(although a construct like I described does quite well)...for the budget studio, these will do wonders for your control in small rooms with minimal sound control installed. I built a drum booth with alternating pieces of office partitions and plexi panels. Not something to replace a great room, but something that will move someone with a need to a higher level without a lot of cash outlay.

Its all about mic selection and placement.

GZsound Thu, 03/10/2011 - 15:49

There are actually easier solutions for micing a bass in a live room.

First off, an LDC is the wrong choice. It picks up everything and unless the bass player can stand stock still for the entire performance, the bass is a giant acoustic mirror that would reflect any stage sound off it's body and right into the LD mic.

I suggest either a clip on mic like an AT35 pointed at the "F" hole, or a "stuff" mic which is a dynamic mic like an SM58 wrapped in foam and placed behind the string guard pointing up towards the bridge. It rejects off axis sounds and picks up a decent amount of the bass. I use foam cones that I made just for that use.

audiokid Thu, 03/10/2011 - 17:19

I was going to suggest ( and you know I'm on a G.A.S. craze) the DPA 4099B. I love this company more and more. I cannot get enough DPA. I have one 4099 and will over time get a case full of them for various instruments.
If you are trying to be relaxed and not perfect, I'd check out the 4099B . Less boom with a little guy and better performance from less stress of standing so tight: Tighter sound, more room for a kick and space.

KISS, have fun... See this:

Paul999 Wed, 03/23/2011 - 23:02

Pro studio's use packing blankets all the time draped over mic stands. They will often hide them under cool looking fabric but this is common place. This would be my recommendation. Standing bass is the toughest of the tough to record and mix. I've used U87's, 414's, dynamic's everything you can imagine really. 99% of the time I use a KM84 now. It is a stellar mic with rear rejection and you can get pretty close to what ever part of the double bass you hear the best tone coming from.

If the bass player is playing with fingers and you tell him to man up you'll end up with huge transients and a bass tone that lacks sustain. For that 20's tone that is bad.

soapfloats Thu, 03/24/2011 - 00:39

I struggled w/ recording an acoustic bass and drums not too long ago... unfortunately I was in a huge room which only made the drums more pervasive.

Anyways - based on my experience, the best advice I've read is to use gobos and an LDD - something like the 52, or a 421.
You can also try this in combination w/ a condenser (check phase!), either LD or SD, or a built-in pickup or clip mic (check phase, again!).

It's true - the condensers get the detail you want, but a lot of the extra noise (string talk, creaks, etc) and are typically more prone to bleed issues; while a dynamic gets more of the tone you want, but can sound a little "wubby".

A ribbon mic, placed creatively in relation to drums and gobos, might also be an option (if you have a ribbon mic to use).

Yes, a lot of options - but use some gobos and then play w/ different mics (and/or combos of mics) to see what works for your situation.
I tried them all until I found the sound I wanted. And no, I won't say what it was, b/c your situation WILL be different.

TheJackAttack Thu, 03/24/2011 - 07:48

With all due respect.

If playing at a reasonable volume with fingers on an upright adds noise, then that is poor technique. Tchaikovsky and Shostokovich would sound like crap and those are played at far greater volumes than what we're talking about. Bass players of the early 20c pumped out some sound by necessity.

This is not to say any of the suggestions won't work. Obviously we all have a sound in our heads and experiences achieving that. In an ideal world the OP would get to try them all and choose for himself!

moles Thu, 03/24/2011 - 09:47

My "day job" is as a double bass player, so I've had my eye on this thread for awhile. Here are a couple of points from the other perspective...

It's clear that what's needed is maximum volume from the bassist, and minimum bleed from the drums. Coaching both the drummer (tell him/her to leave their inner gorilla at home) and the bassist is fine, but IMO having a player completely change their technique isn't necessarily a good way to get a natural performance.

I heard a good story awhile back about a particular Big Band bassist from back in the day - for the life of me I can't remember who it was now - about their approach to being heard un-amped.

The interesting part was that he would usually play harder when the band got softer, and vice-versa. This is pretty golden advice, apparent if you've spent any time trying to be heard over 15 horn players and a drummer. When the band is playing loudly, you haven't got a hope in hell of keeping up, so the solution is to lay off and get in that pocket of empty low-end space. When the band quiets down a bit, digging in and pulling a brighter sound out shifts focus in the song, makes the notes more audible, etc....

The key is to pull a good sound out of the bass, which isn't always done by pulling harder. Depending on the strings on the bass and how it's set up and constructed there is also a maximum output to what the bass can produce, which IME is usually hit long before you've gotten to that "playing as hard as I can" point.

IME the packing blankets on a mic-stand trick has never worked with a typically loud drummer. Again, it depends on the drummer and the room I suppose. Personally I'd have those gobos handy though...

If you're stuck close miking, try level with the bridge, about 6" off the treble side pointed toward the center, if you don't like what's coming out of the f-hole.

The deal where you wrap a 57 in a towel and stick it under the tailpiece works great live. Even better is balanced between the afterlength with 4 rubber bands (I'll post pics if no one knows what I'm talking about). Both of those options add mass to areas that would otherwise be resonating - not ideal if you're trying to get the maximum level out of the instrument, IMO.