Bass Guitar Microphone Shootout

This is a guest post from Ryan Canestro of Ditch Road Records and host of The Home Recording Show. Find him on Twitter @RyanCanestro.

Electric guitar has had all the glory for too long when it come to microphone shootouts. Well, when it comes to just about anything, but that is beside the point. A conversation with a listener of The Home Recording Show about what microphone to put in front of a bass cabinet got me thinking more than a normal human should think about the subject. My stock answer has always been to use a large diaphragm dynamic moving coil microphone. This would be your standard Shure SM7b, EV RE20, Sennheiser 421, Heil PR40, et cetera. Now the reasonable doubt to this approach started to creep into my head.

I decided to test my usual choices and conventional wisdom to see what actually happens when you try different types of microphone designs, polar patterns, and distances from the source.  It was once again time for me to slip into my studio lab coat and get down to some serious business (as I have convinced my wife). I would have liked to use every microphone that I have available to me in the studio, but I knew that would do none of us any good.  What I ended up doing was taking one microphone to represent each of the different varieties.
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How to mic anything

I’m getting sick of seeing things like “A D112 is a kick drum mic”.

You can put ANY MIC in front of ANY SOURCE, it may or may not sound how you want.

How to mic anything:
Step 1 – Put a transducer where the good sound comes out.
Step 2 – Listen. If the result is worse than real life then it’s the wrong mic. If it sounds good, start recording.
Step 3 – Repeat until you find the right mic or run out of options.

Once you start using multiple mics (non-stereo) it gets a tiny bit more complicated but the rule of thumb I go by for placing a single mic.

DIY Subkick microphone

This is an old, but very effective trick for miking kick drums. Take a Yamaha NS10 speaker cone and use that to capture the extra low frequencies of the drum. Without going into too much theory about this, a dynamic microphone and a speaker are essentially the same thing, they are both transducers. They take acoustical energy and convert it into electrical energy or vice versa.

Yamaha Subkick microphone

So what you do is take the speaker out of the box, solder a male XLR plug on a short cable to the speaker terminals. Pin 2 goes to (+) and Pin 1 goes to (-) pin 3 is not used. The matter of mounting this speaker to a stand is a different matter, this is the main reason to go buy the Yamaha Subkick microphone, because of it’s great, easy to use mounting system, that and its also more durable likely than the home version. One way to do it is to take a standard mic clip apart and fitting the slotted part securely to the corner mounting holes of the speaker, that is if the speaker you are using has the 4 corners and not just holes drilled just around the cone [square not a circle]. Or you can attach it to a microphone boom or goose-neck permanently.

The output of the subkick is very hot, meaning you are going to have to attenuate the signal for it to be of any use to you. An inline -20dB pad, a pad at the mic pre, or one built into the mic will need to be used. This guy used a 10k Ohm in series with pin 2 and a 1k Ohm resister across pins 1 and 2 to drop the output about 20dB.

Mic placement: These work really well at the edge of the drum parallel to the skin. Try it under a floor tom too.

Why the NS10? Most time you see these in a studio it will be with an NS10 cone, but why? From what I’ve been told it is because there are usually extra NS10s lying around a studio, all studios had NS10s, you could predict how it would sound, and they have a frequency response that works well. Don’t know how much truth there is to that. You can use any speaker you want, it will obviously make a difference in the sound.

Finally, here is a picture I took of one of the two diy subkicks at Metalworks Studios. Note mounting, placement, and inline pad.

DIY Subkick with NS10 woofer and inline pad