The Ultimate Guide to Beating Up Your Bass DI

DI boxes are some of the most common recording tools found in studios, and more than any other instrument, bass guitars seem to be the heaviest users of these great devices. It makes sense – bass guitars have the heaviest low-end frequency content, which is an area that can muddy up quickly in small rooms, and tends to bleed over into other mics when tracking more than one instrument at a time.

For those that are new to DIs, there are a few things you should know:

  • DI stands for Direct Injection (fitting since they allow you to “inject” your electric instruments “directly” into your console or interface)
  • Their primary purpose is to match your impedance between the pickups and the recording interface
  • Dedicated DIs tend to have a cleaner, isolated sound than recording directly using “onboard” DIs in your interface
  • DI boxes provide the clearest source audio for use with in-the-box processors such as amp emulators

    If you’re just getting your feet wet for the first time, you might want to check out our guide on crafting clean DIs before continuing.

    Otherwise, let’s talk about what you do to dirty up your freshly recorded bass once it’s made its way into your DAW.

    Starting With Compression

    At the risk of stating the obvious, your DI bass signal has never hit an amp/speaker combo. Naturally, these two things would apply a bit of compression, which isn’t present in the DI signal (unless you tracked through a compressor).  Starting your chain with a good compressor that can achieve a fat, clean tone is a great first step toward beefing up your DI.

    A compressor like Joel Wanasek’s BG-Bass gives you control over two distinct bands, Top & Bottom. By adjusting the two independently, you can maintain a clean sounding low-end while simultaneously adding some Grit to the top end for more clarity and cut in the mix.

    A lot of how you configure your compressor’s settings will come down to taste. If you prefer a slightly more compressed tone, you’ll want to set a low threshold and level match your output. If a less compressed, more organic sound is more your style, you might only have a few dB of gain reduction, add less grit, but focus more on setting your mix percentage to blend in some of the unprocessed dynamics.

    Punch It In The Gut

    Those amp emulators we were just talking about? You’re going to want to throw one of those in the too. A good amp sim can achieve the same clanky, low-mid bite that a real amp can if you spend some time dialing it in.

    A meatier mid-range doesn’t always have to come in the form of a bass amp though. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might recall the time we sent a bass through a guitar amp. While it may have sounded shocking at the time, this practice is becoming all too common as producers look to add the punch to their bass that they already use on guitars.

    Tools like Toneforge Jason Richardson, which are already optimized for extended range and baritone guitars, find themselves right at home on a bass channel. The key to using a guitar amp sim with bass is to dial back the gain. A high gain bass tone can sound fizzy and harsh, but at lower levels gains just a bit more bite. Once you’ve got your gain set where you want it, focus on dialing in a complimentary EQ, and set your output level to the spot you want it in the mix.

    An Extra Little Shove

    Want to get really creative with your bass tone? Try stacking on a second amp simulator or duplicate the track to run them in parallel with each other. Once you’re done, you can always sum them back together on a Bass Aux track and add some bus compression to blend it all together.

    Check out Forrester Savell’s approach to achieving MASSIVE bass tones here:

    Protect Your Chin

    The last thing you need when crafting a huge bass tone is unwanted digital clipping. Keep an eye on your meters throughout the process and maintain as much dynamic control as possible. That control is what will help you achieve insane bass in even the densest mixes.

    Have your own tips to getting huge tone from your bass DI? Come share it with our community over in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook.