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What sort of bass rig should I buy?

Messages
685
I play mainly guitar, but am thinking of buying a bass (Fender American Original 60s Precision and/or Rickenbacker 4003, but interested in good reasons to buy something else) and amp. I’m pretty sure that I will go with those basses, but what about amps and cabs? Some thoughts/questions:

I have a Fender Dual Showman and a custom-built 4x12 box. I bought the Fender more than 30 years ago under the mistaken impression that since it had a master-volume control I could overdrive the pre-amp and get distortion at reasonable volume levels. :-| I’m now thinking of a Hiwatt Custom Super-Hi 50 for that distorted sound, which also has an effects loop. (Any other suggestions?) I plan to keep the Dual Showman. My guess is that it is from the 1970s and apparently used to belong to someone in the band Jane. :) How good would it be as a bass amp?

Bassists rarely play 12-inch speakers. It’s usually 15, often with smaller ones (usually 10) as well, or several 10s (like the famous Ampeg 8x10 cab). Why is that? My impression is that, by itself, a 15 would have too few highs, so that’s usually combined with smaller speakers (with a crossover?), whereas 10s can have enough low end if one has enough of them so that they are not overdriven (just like one can hear low tones from a good set of headphones even though the speakers are tiny). I’m tending toward one or two boxes of 4x10s, but am open to suggestions.

Overdriven valve amplifiers make sense, at least to me. However, I’m neither a fan of Lemmy nor of a distorted bass sound. Is there any reason to have a valve amplifier, other than tradition?

I’m not into boutique amps, but am willing to pay more for something of high quality (Hiwatt?). What amps do folks here recommend? I’m interested in 1960s and 1970s rock and later stuff in a similar style: Jethro Tull, Floyd, Beatles, Rush, Iron Maiden, Nightwish, Kansas, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Fairport, Steeleye, Heep, Scorpions, etc.
 

somedude

Member
Messages
8,034
I play mainly guitar, but am thinking of buying a bass (Fender American Original 60s Precision and/or Rickenbacker 4003, but interested in good reasons to buy something else) and amp. I’m pretty sure that I will go with those basses, but what about amps and cabs? Some thoughts/questions:

I have a Fender Dual Showman and a custom-built 4x12 box. I bought the Fender more than 30 years ago under the mistaken impression that since it had a master-volume control I could overdrive the pre-amp and get distortion at reasonable volume levels. :-| I’m now thinking of a Hiwatt Custom Super-Hi 50 for that distorted sound, which also has an effects loop. (Any other suggestions?) I plan to keep the Dual Showman. My guess is that it is from the 1970s and apparently used to belong to someone in the band Jane. :) How good would it be as a bass amp?
Do you plan on gigging with it. In my experience Fender guitar amps make decent bass amps, until you try to actually play with a band, then they struggle in the volume department.

Bassists rarely play 12-inch speakers. It’s usually 15, often with smaller ones (usually 10) as well, or several 10s (like the famous Ampeg 8x10 cab). Why is that? My impression is that, by itself, a 15 would have too few highs, so that’s usually combined with smaller speakers (with a crossover?), whereas 10s can have enough low end if one has enough of them so that they are not overdriven (just like one can hear low tones from a good set of headphones even though the speakers are tiny). I’m tending toward one or two boxes of 4x10s, but am open to suggestions.
Size is not necessarily indicative of tone as they can be designed to sound different than what would assume. That said…

15s are full-range loudspeakers and not subwoofers. They tend to have a lot of mids with a bias towards the lower midrange.

The reason 10s are popular is because of speed. They’re punchy. They’re typically more scooped sounding with a strong bottom and upper midrange response.

12s are popular as well. They tend to sort of sit between 10s and 15s in terms of midrange response.

Overdriven valve amplifiers make sense, at least to me. However, I’m neither a fan of Lemmy nor of a distorted bass sound. Is there any reason to have a valve amplifier, other than tradition?
Traditionally, most bassists haven’t played through valve amps. Most of what you hear is a DI, occasionally with some mic’d cab blended in.

I’m not into boutique amps, but am willing to pay more for something of high quality (Hiwatt?). What amps do folks here recommend? I’m interested in 1960s and 1970s rock and later stuff in a similar style: Jethro Tull, Floyd, Beatles, Rush, Iron Maiden, Nightwish, Kansas, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Fairport, Steeleye, Heep, Scorpions, etc.
If you have the muscle mass…

Ampeg SVT
GK RB800
Mesa Bass 400

If you don’t…

Ampeg Portaflex
Mesa D800 or WD800
Aguilar Tone Hammer
Probably some others I’m forgetting.

A Hiwatt Custom 200 doesn’t have a built in DI, so you’re going to want a separate DI or the soundman is going to provide his own, which will be a pre-DI that doesn’t capture the sound of the amp.

Radial makes a speaker level DI that (I believe) replicates the sound of an Ampeg 810, but going speaker DI means you don't want to touch your amp’s tone/volume controls once the soundcheck is finished since it’ll throw off the mix and can overload the input on the soundboard.

Unless you’re paying the soundman’s wages getting an actual mic on your cab is an uphill battle.

A more modern bass amp can save some headache.
 
Messages
685
Traditionally, most bassists haven’t played through valve amps. Most of what you hear is a DI, occasionally with some mic’d cab blended in.
I thought that tradition was the Ampeg SVT. And several played Hiwatt valve amps in the old days. DI, even back then?

Some recorded bass is DI right from the bass. Certainly the amp is less important than for a guitar, and the speaker even less. Maybe sensible to take a DI from the amp, but any need to mic the speaker these days?
 

somedude

Member
Messages
8,034
I thought that tradition was the Ampeg SVT. And several played Hiwatt valve amps in the old days. DI, even back then?

Some recorded bass is DI right from the bass. Certainly the amp is less important than for a guitar, and the speaker even less.
What I’m about to say is way over-generalized and easy to poke holes in, but…

IMO, there’s a bit of a disconnect between what was done in the studio and what we see on stage. Back in the day, PAs kind of sucked and the bass rig had to carry a lot of it. As PAs improved they became better bass rigs than the bass rig. PAs got bigger, bass rigs got smaller.

Although the SVT has been around for awhile, it’s actually become more popular in the modern era than it was in the 70s. 70s was more about Acoustic 360 and Kustom, but I don’t think anyone was mic’ing those in the studio.

Early recording consoles sounded good when overdriven. Just look at Motown for an example. Jamerson was DI.

On that note, some of the more modern bass amps function more like a channel strip than a traditional TMB tone stack, and are more HiFi than your typical tube amp.

Maybe sensible to take a DI from the amp, but any need to mic the speaker these days?
Depends. If you’re going for a moderate bass tone then no mic is neccissary and the soundman can get everything he needs from the DI. If driving your amp is part of your sound then it can be worth it to run a clean DI and mic the cab (for the dirt), which the soundman will then blend. You could also run a preamp that blends clean and dirt into the DI, thus eliminating the need to mic.

There’s a bunch of different ways to go about this and it can be pretty specific to your needs. The more complicated, the more resistance you’re going to encounter with house provided soundmen.
 

Juanito Dedos

Member
Messages
219
If I had a Fender Dual Showman I would get a matching 2x15” with JBL D140F speakers for the classic bass sound.
 

BigDoug1053

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,364
I have played Jazz and P basses over the years and have to say I prefer active bass pickups. Modern basses also have flatter fretboard radius and are much easier to play. I suggest you look at Ibanez basses with active pickups - lots of bargains used, and Ibby basses are punching way above their weight class. I play 5 stringers and love my Warwick Thumb Bass for fretted, and my NS Design Omni Bass 5 for fretless.

I started out with a 50-watt tube Ampeg R15 Portaflex with a 1x15 cab. Now, I like Gallien Krueger bass amps and cabs, and have about 30 years good experience with them. They are famous for having smooth overdrive and have EQ controls tailored to bass guitars. They invented the mid contour control/switch (a mid frequency notch filter) that improves the clarity of the low frequency.

I don't think you need a tube amp - though the Showman will work until you make a decision about a dedicated rig. Many bassists now use solid state amps - Class D - and these amps are powerful, light weight, and have a lot of clean headroom for bass. I have found that clean bass tones mix well even with a metal band, but if you want the SVT tone and distortion, Tech 21 has pedals that will give you that tone without lugging a 100-lb amp and an 8x10 cabinet. Solid state bass amps generally need more power to get good clean volume.

You need to get a cab with bass drivers designed for low frequency reproduction. I would get a 2x10 or 1x15 if you don't anticipate loud levels, More (4x10 or 2x15) if you want something for band levels or jams without PA support. The new light weight neodymium speakers are a godsend.

I have a GK MB-150 that works great for low volume gigs with acoustic guitars or jazz. It's a 150 watt 1x12 combo and I have the 12" extension cab that adds some extra beef if needed. Very portable and surprisingly loud. Roland also makes a killer 1x12 combo...

I also play with some young musicians in a prog metal improv trio, and bought a GK MB-500 class D amp and a GK NEO 410 cab (I am 69 years old and can still schlep the NEO cab out of the basement). It's loud enough for rock band levels at 500 watts, but up to 1000 watts are available in SS amps.

Whatever you get, I would make sure the amp has a direct out (DI) (usually with an XLR microphone cable out). The DI gives you the flexibility to connect with a PA where any extra volume you need can be handled by the PA system. Both my GK rigs have DIs built in, and I have used them many times with my MB-150 as a personal monitor. I also have a Tech 21 Sans Amp Bass DI which works as an emergency backup for PA supported gigs.

If you want to record, get an amp that also has a USB out. These are pretty common nowadays.

Good luck! Talk to other bass players to get the benefit of their experience.
 
Messages
685
What I’m about to say is way over-generalized and easy to poke holes in, but…

IMO, there’s a bit of a disconnect between what was done in the studio and what we see on stage. Back in the day, PAs kind of sucked and the bass rig had to carry a lot of it. As PAs improved they became better bass rigs than the bass rig. PAs got bigger, bass rigs got smaller.

Although the SVT has been around for awhile, it’s actually become more popular in the modern era than it was in the 70s. 70s was more about Acoustic 360 and Kustom, but I don’t think anyone was mic’ing those in the studio.

Early recording consoles sounded good when overdriven. Just look at Motown for an example. Jamerson was DI.

On that note, some of the more modern bass amps function more like a channel strip than a traditional TMB tone stack, and are more HiFi than your typical tube amp.



Depends. If you’re going for a moderate bass tone then no mic is neccissary and the soundman can get everything he needs from the DI. If driving your amp is part of your sound then it can be worth it to run a clean DI and mic the cab (for the dirt), which the soundman will then blend. You could also run a preamp that blends clean and dirt into the DI, thus eliminating the need to mic.

There’s a bunch of different ways to go about this and it can be pretty specific to your needs. The more complicated, the more resistance you’re going to encounter with house provided soundmen.
Makes sense. With a guitar, both speaker and amp contribute. With bass, maybe the amp, the speaker not so much. So DI from the amp or even the bass makes sense for recording and PA. One could then go with in-ear monitors or monitor wedges from the desk. If one prefers the sound from behind on stage, then an amp with speakers, but it’s only for the bassist, maybe the band, and the people at the front of the stage. (Few venues have small speakers at the front of the stage for those too close to hear the main PA. Major gripe: one is down front, sees well, hears the band from their own sound, but vocals are only over the PA so almost inaudible.). If one has that anyway, one could mic it up, but why not go DI?

What about the Hiwatt Bulldog 440? It’s an amazingly cheap (compared to other Hiwatts) solid-state amp with line out, including XLR.

Back in the day, as you say, PAs weren’t that good, and much of the sound came from the stage. Even Blackmore, when playing to a crowd of thousands, uses a small combo amp now.
 

Gareth Cooper

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
94
I've been rocking 1x12's and a pair of 1x12's on bass for years. With any bass cab, finding drivers that are designed to handle the low frequencies with a high Xmax figure is the challenge. Guitar orientated speakers have a lot Xmax, so they tend to destruct with continuous high wattage low frequencies (over excursion of the cones). Often they are open backed cabs, so they don't carry the low frequencies needed on bass.
A good Greenboy or Barefaced 1x12 cab will give you all the lows and power you need for years of reliable and moveable bass. If you need more SPL..then get one of their 2x12's. Last cab you buy, ever....until you don't like the colour any more....
 

somedude

Member
Messages
8,034
Makes sense. With a guitar, both speaker and amp contribute. With bass, maybe the amp, the speaker not so much. So DI from the amp or even the bass makes sense for recording and PA. One could then go with in-ear monitors or monitor wedges from the desk. If one prefers the sound from behind on stage, then an amp with speakers, but it’s only for the bassist, maybe the band, and the people at the front of the stage. (Few venues have small speakers at the front of the stage for those too close to hear the main PA. Major gripe: one is down front, sees well, hears the band from their own sound, but vocals are only over the PA so almost inaudible.). If one has that anyway, one could mic it up, but why not go DI?

What about the Hiwatt Bulldog 440? It’s an amazingly cheap (compared to other Hiwatts) solid-state amp with line out, including XLR.

Back in the day, as you say, PAs weren’t that good, and much of the sound came from the stage. Even Blackmore, when playing to a crowd of thousands, uses a small combo amp now.
You have the gist of it. Being a guitarist that went bass, I had a real problem with the idea that the bass amp was just for on stage and the crowd would hear the DI. Over time I came to better understand the why of it and accept is as a practical reality.

The trade off is like you mention, in a lot of venues the amp bleeds into the FOH, and a lot of the soundmen do a pretty good job of making me sound like me through the PA.

I don’t know if this helps or not, but maybe it’ll give you some ideas or something…

What I was running up until recently was a Mesa Strategy 8:88 and 410 cab. I took a post-DI off the head and stayed modest with my EQ settings. Post-DI would feed the tube preamp through the DI, so that part of my sound would be captured, then the soundman would EQ the final result for whatever he needed.

I’ve recently switched to an SVT/810, but due to COVID haven’t gigged it a lot and experimented with all my options. For simplicity’s sake, I‘ve been running a SansAmp VTDI in front of the amp to feed FOH and send the dry output to the SVT for stage monitoring. This lets me send a clean/dirty blend to FOH, and I can dial in the amp however I want on stage.

I’ve also learned that some of the new digital soundboards can run plugins, so I can feed the soundman a clean DI and he can put an amp sim on my channel to fatten it up and provide grind.

Lastly, my “little rig” is a Mesa WD-800 on a 115 and 210. Although the WD-800 is a hybrid amp I think it feels like a tube amp, and its way easier to move around than the SVT. With this rig I usually run a cleaner sound than the SVT, so I pre-DI off the head to FOH and call it a day.

I can’t offer any advice on the Hiwatt 440. I’d never heard of it until you brought it up.
 

59Bassman

Plank Cranker
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
3,215
The American Originals are great basses but for one point - the stupid dark aged fretboard markers. I had to put pearl stickers on the side markers to see where I was. For Precisions, I really like the early 2010’s with the Custom Shop pickups.

Also, check out Mesa amps and cabs. I love my D800 and subway 1x12 cab.
 




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