Small Gear for Big Bands Part 2
Bass players, electric and upright, are always seeking amps and cabinets that will provide a big rich sound down to 41hz (cycles) of the low “E” string, and now 30hz for the “B” string on five-string models. Traditionally this has been properly accomplished with a larger diameter speaker (15″ or 18″) in sealed or “ported” cabinets (the one with a hole or slot). With the release of the the Ampeg SVT amp in the early 70’s a cabinet design using eight 10″ speakers in a sealed enclosure was developed. This has become a popular design for touring musicians as it’s the one most often seen on the concert stage. A number of amp manufacturers offer models featuring some or all of the above variations. As players asked for a more compact cabinet versions with fewer speakers were offered with 10″ drivers being the most popular.
Combo amps and single speaker compact enclosures with a 12″ or 10″ driver have emerged in recent years to further reduce weight and size. Power heads have been downsized with the use of solid-state Class D transistor power amp circuits. Units are available to fit in a gig bag and weigh 4-7 pounds. To fill the performance space with enough low frequency volume large or stacked cabinets have been the choice. Following our goal of reducing amp size and volume on stage very small combos or a micro power head and small cabinet can be used . This is possible if the PA utilizes a subwoofer or two to push bass volume out to the audience.
Powered “Subs” are now available using a 12″ or 15″ driver and Class D amp. These can be as small as 16″ X 23″ X 24″. They are designed to reproduce only those frequencies below 100-120hz. The higher frequencies needed to provide punch and clarity will be produced by the FOH speakers. Most current power heads or combo amps provide a direct out (DI, Headphones) of some type that can feed a channel on the PA mixer. Some of these provide a signal without any tone control or effects. Others provide a fully modified tap just before the power amp section that may also include “speaker emulation” to imitate the sound of a cabinet.
For those bassists comfortable with playing from stage monitors or side fills no amp, cabinet, or combo is required. Electric bass (or pickup equipped upright with proper pre-amp) can feed a matching clean signal directly to the mixer by the use of a direct box or “DI”. Simple boxes provide impedance matching only with no tone modification. This requires EQ on the mixer channel be used to approximate desired bass cabinet sound. A better approach is to use a specified bass DI pedal that will provide cabinet emulation, some type of tone shaping, and a balanced low impedance signal. Examples of this are the Tech 21”Bass Driver DI”or “Bass Driver Deluxe”, and the MXR “M80 Bass DI/Pre-Amp”. For the player who wants a complete solution Tech 21 has just introduced the “Bass Fly Rig” which provides all the features of a DI/Pre-Amp with Amp Emulation, Octave Filter, Chorus, Compression, Boost/Drive, and a digital tuner in one “pedal” 12 ½” x 2 ¼” x1 ¼” weighing just over a pound.
With equipment like the above suggested items the bass player no longer has to have the most space-consuming and heaviest rig. Think how great it would be to show up with your gig Bag and nothing else! Return to the Earcraft Home Page for Part 3 where we’ll discuss the drummer’s kit.