Recording the 12-String Bass

It can be tough to record with a 12-string bass. Given that, practically speaking, the instrument is two-thirds guitar, the 12 "eats" a lot of frequency range. As such it presents significant challenges in the recording and mixing processes. This page will feature advice from bassists who have experience recording with the 12. Analog and digital recording will be included, as well as home and studio techniques.


Ron Johnson - Recording with Hamer and Waterstone 12's

Veteran bassist Ron Johnson has been rocking out with 12-string basses since 1986. An original tune recorded using his Hamer B12A with the band Hugh Bet'cha is featured on the "Overkill Is Just Enough - The 12-string Bassists Collection" album.

Ron with his Hamer B12A variant 12-string bass

"I've been recording with 12-string basses dating back to 1986. The way I have worked in the studio has changed several times throughout the years. My original recording setup during 1986-95 included running through a Furman PQ3 (which I blew up in the 90's) then split with a crossover into three different speaker cabinets; One 15" Bag End for the mids, one 15" custom Westwood scooped cabinet for the lows and a Sun 2x12 (ala the great John Entwistle) for the highs. The Bag End was a natural Baltic birch cab with an EVM 15" speaker purchased in 1983, I now have two of them. The Westwood cab (which I bought from Jon Brant of Cheap Trick in 1987) from Walecki & Sons in California has a 15" Gauss or 15" EVM. The Sun JBL 2x12 cab (purchased in 1984) is the same as Entwistle used; it was featured in ads from Sun in the mid and early 80's along with his Alembic bass. Great bass cabs and quite heavy."

"I would split the sound between the three of them using a DOD crossover which then split out to the power amps. The BGW 250 was ran in stereo so one output would be the Lows, the other would be the Mid-lows. The QSC would take the high frequency. I used the three different amp outputs so I could do a natural overdrive of the high, mid or low off of the power amp volume / power controls." 

"The bass would then be miked on all three cabs along with a direct line and then a fourth mic was set in the room five to seven feet away from the rig for an overall sound from the main bass rig. The bass used on the "Overkill" recording was a Hamer Tom Petersson Acoustic style bass."

"I used Shure 57's, tight, on each of the cabs for all recordings. If it was a three-cabinet recording, it was a Shure 57 on each cabinet and then a Shure 58 placed five to seven feet away. I like the sound of a rig from several feet away; the fullness is present there that is not present with tight mic jobs. The DI was only there because all sound recording people want to use a DI on a bass. I don't like DI's because I feel the true sound comes from the combination of the speakers and the amps driving it, even if that includes some hum or other noises. The DI is really the 'Clean' sound of the bass for the recording engineer."

"The multi-cab approach allows you to boost and overdrive your High, Mid and Lows at what level you wanted to take them too. It is not a cheap option and after years of doing this you will get a bad back from all the lifting. But splitting the sounds allows all the tones of a 12-string to really come out and the fullness of the sound is quite impressive and overpowering. I do the same with guitars in recording. If it's too tight, I think you lose some of the meat of the guitar sound and you can become real thin in your recording."

Ron with his Waterstone TP-2"From the late 90's through present time I switched to using multiple amps for recording with "Y" output due to the fact that I blew up my PQ3."

"The Waterstone basses are much fatter sounding than my 1986 Hamer so I have changed my rig to accommodate the sound of a fatter 12-string bass. I currently use an Ampeg SVT 300, Fender Bullet and a 1965 Magnatone M12 for doing recordings. I have a " Y-cable that I run to two different amps, either the Ampeg or one of the other two amplifiers."
 
"The BGW or QSC are used with a " Y-cable to take the output of the Fender Bullet. If I want a great overdrive sound, the Fender has one of the best sounds including the fat end of the bass. Some overdrives for basses lose the low end, but not this trick I do with the Fender. The headphone output from the Fender feeds the amps, effectively turning the little practice amp into a pre-amp. I split the sound to the BGW in mono (feeding one or two 15" Bag Ends for the Westwood cabinet) then the QSC amp feeds the Sun 2x12 cabinet. Since 12" speakers have a different sound than the 15" speakers and since you split the signal to two amps, I can overdrive the 2x12 Sun cab and get some great distortion out of that cabinet, while having a clean low end coming from the BGW to what ever 15" cabinet I feed."

Ron's views on compression: "I don't like compression. To my ear, it can squish the sound. That is one reason why those bass / guitar people who like to fiddle about are always looking at different amps and speaker combinations. My guess on the 12-string side is that the reason for multiple / split / amp / speaker set-ups is so you can boost and level out the sound of the bass through the amplification equipment as opposed to using a compression device."

"I did have an MXR compression stomp box when I started playing over 30 years ago but that was because a recording person told me to get one. I soon realized that many simple-minded recording engineers CHEAT by using limiters and compression instead of finding a proper way to mic instruments."

About EQ: "I feel 12-string people like to boost the Lows and Highs so they lend themselves to setups that have EQ and parametric EQ, and multiple amps and speaker cabinets. I like to bring the midrange down and tweak the lows and highs, so to me I will always use a High, Mid, Low type of EQ settings. Now, when I switch to my 4-string Spector bass, which sounds great on it's own, I pop off the EQ and play flat. The 12-string basses I have used (Chandler, Hamer, Waterstone, Kids) all needed some kind of boost or they would sound muddy and lose that natural sound you hear when playing them unplugged."

About recording software: "Since I have Apple computers I have used Q-Bass, Peak, Garage Band, Soundtrack and even Final Cut Pro (video software that allows two track audio recording, including punch in / out). To me all the software on computers have pluses and minuses and it would take some time to explain. I started with 2-track reel-to-reel, 4-track cassette, and went to 24-track recording in the 80's before jumping to computer software in the mid 90's. I recall my first ALL digital LP, 'Think Visual' by The Kinks. That was supposed to be a great leap in recording. But I must admit I loved the good old analog sound of 'Give the People What They Want' over the digital LP. That digital sound has changed, and for the better. The ability to color a sound from one regular guitar to another vintage guitar (which you don't own) with a simple click of an icon is darned cool!"

"Recording is an art. Everyone should read All You Need is Ears by George Martin. Along with Geoff Emerick, Martin took simple equipment and complex overdubbing to a level that still cannot be matched to this day. It's all in what you want to hear."


Recording Interviews:

Tom Werman and Gary Ladinsky
Recollections of t
he first time a 12-string bass was recorded.

Sam Taylor - From King's X to the Moons of Jupiter
A veteran producer with King's X discusses recording and the 12-string bass.

Producer Steve Ames
Another view of recording and engineering the 12 with King's X.


Recording Article

This article appeared in the July / August 2008 issue of Bass Guitar Magazine in the UK: