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That’s right- we are officially at the point in history where “How to Record Bass Guitar on a Phone” is a coherent question.
Yeah, it’s something most of us take for granted but you wouldn’t have to go very far back in time for this question to sound completely insane. This is a testament to how far and how quickly technology has come. Now, musicians and the musically curious have more power and more freedom of expression than ever before.
And now, bassists can make great-sounding recordings with their phones, and with surprisingly minimal equipment. So how exactly do you record bass guitar on a phone?
You can record bass guitar on your phone using one of three methods: you can record using direct input by using an audio interface like the iRig, you can use a recording pedal like the TC Electric Wire Tap, or you can simply place your phone’s mic a few inches from the speaker.
We’ll take a look at each approach but the good news is that none of these techniques are especially expensive and if you’re in a pinch you can get a surprisingly good sound with some strategic placement in front of the speakers which doesn’t require any additional gear at all.
Let’s get started with probably the best option which is picking up an iRig or a similar device.
Method 1: Recording Bass Guitar On Your Phone Using Direct Input (DI) And An Audio Interface
As many bassists know, Paul McCartney and the Beatles production crew were very influential in establishing DI (direct-input) bass recording. For those unaware, this refers to plugging a bass directly into a console or recording device, bypassing an amplifier entirely.
As tech progressed, the definition of DI recording shifted. Amplifiers with headphone jacks can be used to record direct-in from the headphone jack, while still using an amp to shape tone.
With the digital revolution came amp simulators, meaning a computer or yes, even a phone or tablet, can now take the place of a guitar amp. Amp simulators are very powerful and if you have an iPhone then you already have one in your pocket in the form of the free-to-use Garage Band.
But you still need an audio interface to connect your bass guitar to your iPhone and that’s where something like the iRig can help. There are actually several closely related products in the iRig series (more than 6 last I checked) which makes things confusing but let’s address the biggest difference between your choices.
iRig Analog vs Digital
The iRig comes in two forms, the “Analog” and “Digital.” Honestly, I think that the “analog” model has an irritatingly misleading name (IK knows full well that people associate this word with classic hi-fidelity.)
Instead, the analog model simply outputs the audio signal to a 3.5mm headphone jack, with the intention of recording into a phone’s headphone jack. More and more, phones are abandoning their headphone jack and without getting too technical, the headphone jack has more limited sound quality capabilities than the USB or Lightning audio output that the iRig’s digital model employs.
Still, even with the modern iPhone, you can usually use a dangle to replicate the 3.5mm headphone jack and if you’ve had your iPhone for more than 10 minutes then you already knew that a dangle would be involved eventually.
So for most folks, I’d recommend the standard analog version which you can check out on Amazon by clicking here. But if you prefer a USB connection or don’t have any other choice, you can see the price for the digital iRig on Amazon by clicking here.
With that out of the way, let’s get into how to use this thing to record your bass guitar.
Using The iRig With An iPhone
The setup is super simple: plug your bass and headphones into the iRig then connect your phone to the iRig and you’re ready to jam. With an iPhone, you can use Garage Band and now you’ve got an entire recording studio at your fingertips. This video does an excellent job walking you through the setup process:
I know, it honestly seems like it should be more complicated, and barring any dangle-related problems it really is that easy. You can get some great recordings with just this setup and it’s a great little system for recording a riff that you know you’ll forget in a few hours.
With an iPhone, you also have the option of using Amplitube which is IK Multimedia’s very powerful amp simulation software suite that should realistically fulfill almost any musician’s basic needs. As a producer and songwriter, I use Amplitube’s Fender pack for all my electric guitar recording and their emulation of the iconic B-15 “flip top” amp for bass recording.
However, that’s not a requirement and there have been plenty of hit songs made with just Garage Band.
Using The iRig With An Android
The iRig does work with an Android phone but the process isn’t quite as smooth. When it comes to connecting your bass, headphones, and phone the process is the same. But the issue comes down to software and you’re not going to be able to use Garage Band or Amplitude software.
However, the iRig still supports Android and while the functionality isn’t as streamlined it can work. The maker of iRig suggests that instead of Garage Band or Amplitude, Android users should use “apps like EZ Voice, iRig Recorder 3, ToneBridge, Audio Evolution DAW, or n-Track DAW. Any app which allows headset audio input will work with the iRig 2.”
Out of that list, I recommend ToneBridge above the rest. Not only do they have a huge range of effects but they make it super easy to record your bass. This video does a good job showing you how to record guitar with the ToneBridge app while using the iRig:
What About Other Mobile Interfaces For Recording Bass?
The iRig is not your only option to record bass on your phone but it’s probably the best option.
Some of the common complaints you’ll hear are that the device has somewhat cheap construction and there are a handful of complaints from Android users (though I haven’t had a problem with it).
There is a handful of competing phone-friendly audio interfaces and the well-known company Roland even threw its hat into the ring with the GO:MIXER which can record two instruments simultaneously or an instrument plus vocals. It’s not a bad option but the iRig still beats it when it comes to the simplicity of recording bass guitar and it’s mostly limited to the specific use case of using multiple instruments.
When it comes to budget-friendly analog options it’s hard to beat the iRig but a few companies have digital USB versions that are comparable. The most notable is the Shure MVi which features a more durable construction compared to the iRig. Still, that’s not enough to make the go-to in my mind and I’d still recommend the iRig for most bassists.
Method 2: Recording Bass On Your Phone With A Recording Pedal
This might not be what you immediately had in mind but you can effectively record your bass with your phone using a recording pedal like the TC Electronic WireTap Riff Recorder Pedal and a BlueTooth connection.
The way it works is simple: you add the recording pedal anywhere on your chain so you can choose between applying the effects of your other pedals or simply going dry. When you’re ready, hit the record button and then the WAV file will be sent to your phone via BlueTooth. This video explains everything you need to know and shows off the software that comes with this pedal:
This pedal has 8 hours of recording capacity and I honestly think it’s a great addition to most bassists’ pedal boards. I mean after you’ve picked up your phaser pedals and reverb pedals of course.
It might not be exactly what you imagined when you started searching for ways to record your bass on your phone but this method does get your bass sounds on your phone so I think it counts. The pedal is also easy on the budget which really helps. There are several pedals that can do this but I think the TC Electric WireTap does it best and you can check them out on Amazon by clicking here.
Method 3: Recording Bass Guitar Directly With Your Phone’s Microphone Or An External Microphone
Finally, we have the simplest of all options and that’s simply using your phone as a microphone to record your bass guitar. You can record using any of the apps we’re already mentioned or you can even use your phone’s built-in recording app- but you shouldn’t expect anything too amazing with that approach, especially when it comes to the bass guitar.
That’s because many of the microphones on modern smartphones cut low frequencies which is intended to function as a sort of wind and pop filter. That’s great for your next viral Tik-Tok video but not so great for your bass. There’s also a low-frequency roll-off starting at around 250Hz for many early iPhones.
However, the specs on a typical smartphone’s microphone are constantly changing as phones evolve and there’s also a ton of variation between different phones. So while it’s not perfect, it’s still possible to record bass with just your phone’s microphone. But instead of going for quality sound, it’s more like the musicial equivalent of jotting something down on a napkin. It’s not perfect but it will help refresh your memory.
Where To Place Your Phone When Recording Your Bass Guitar
If you’re going to record your bass with just the onboard microphone then you’re going to need to experiment a bit with exactly where you position it.
For the most part, you’re going to want to get very close to the speaker but not so close that the low frequencies get distorted. The exact sweet spot will vary greatly between phones but you’ll generally want to start closer to the speaker and then move it away.
Using Your Phone And An External Speaker
This is a much better option compared to using your phone’s stock speaker and can produce very high-quality recordings. This video does a great comparing several external phone microphones and while it’s geared towards iPhones there are comparable options for Android too:
A popular method involves using a dynamic mic, placed near the speaker cone. Experiment with different positions about 5-18” away from the amp to find the position you like best. Placing the mic too far from the amp could be problematic- you will start to capture the reverb of your room (“room sound”) as well as the bass. Of course, room reverb is complicated and will depend on the details of your space so it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all rule.
Reverb in low-end frequency ranges like bass tends to be more foe than friend. Keeping the mic close to the amp will help to tame this issue.
There are many variations of this technique. Try positioning a large-diaphragm condenser a little farther back from your dynamic mic, and record both simultaneously. You can use the dynamic for the low-end bass frequencies, high-pass the condenser track, and use it to introduce some subtle “room tone” without any fear of low-frequency reverb crowding your track.
As is often the case, experimentation is key.
Other DI Options For Phone Recording
There is one more DI option but it’s a little out there so I didn’t want to include it as one of the core methods.
You could also play bass through an amp, and run a cable from your amp’s headphone jack to your interface, in order to use the amp’s tone. Finally, you can always do away with amps entirely and just use your bass’s unamplified tone. I have personally heard this done to sound great in certain contexts!
As with anything in music production, there is no right answer. Remember the mantra “if it sounds good, it is good.”
Another advantage of pretty much all forms of DI recording (unless you are running through a bass amp) is that you will have your clean bass signal recorded. If you turn off the amp simulator, you will hear that unaltered “direct” bass tone.
This gives you some flexibility. You can change your bass amp settings even after it’s recorded, you can “re-amp” it by sending the signal out to an amp of your choice. If you are sharing the stem, your producer or friend can play with their own amp settings.
Closing Thoughts: The Digital Revolution Is Just Getting Started!
The average person can conjure a typical recording studio in their mind. A specialized building with expensive equipment. Tape machines, vast mixing boards, knobs and dials and lights and meters. The digital revolution has completely turned this industry on its head, and this image is more and more outdated.
A computer has the capability to take the place of most of the equipment. Great headphones provide a workable listening environment in any room. More and more, mobile devices like phones and tablets have the capability to take the place of computers.
But it wasn’t that long ago that a recording studio looked like this:
Personally speaking, I have a friend who produces great music, with a mixture of electronic and live playing. A small record label puts out his material. His music is produced entirely with an iPad, and he doesn’t use a computer at any point!
And the best part is that every part of audio recording, mixing, and production is easier to learn and more accessible than ever! We are experiencing a truly humanistic revolution, thanks to technology.
An iPad or iPhone can now record any instrument or even vocals. The software available for mobile devices has not caught up with computer-based DAWs, at time of writing. But I predict it’s not far behind. And already, what’s available for mobile platforms is more than enough to make shockingly great music.
Still, even though the digital revolution has massively simplified the whole process of recording music, there will still be a learning curve and some technical fiddling no matter what.
Furthermore, with more and more products aimed at beginner producers and non-producers, you are guaranteed to see a lot of reviews complaining about difficulty getting things set up. This is an inherent attribute of producing music- there are so many ways to do it, that it can only be so easy. There will always be a learning curve, so persist, and your perseverance will be rewarded.
Recording serious audio tracks with phones is a new phenomenon, but already you have many options at your disposal. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t give up if you run into technical headaches. Once you figure out a setup that works, your persistence will pay off and you can have high quality bass recording by simply using your phone!
Robert is a freelance audio engineer and the lead writer for Range of Sounds. Robert has had a lifelong obsession with dissecting and understanding music and is a self-taught composer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, and recording engineer.