bass amplifier

MXR M81 Bass Preamp part deux, or Further adventures in going direct!

In October of last year I wrote a post about my experiences with the MXR M81 bass preamp pedal, in which I said that it had given me the confidence to leave my bass amp at home for the first time since I started playing bass in 2000. Since then, I’ve had a few more experiences with this amp-less setup and have more specific things to share, both as a bass player and as a sound engineer. Let’s start with a picture:

My amp-less setup with the MXR M81 Bass Preamp, Fender American Standard Precision bass, Android tablet with the SQ MixPad app and Community MX10 floor monitor.

Specific things that I like about this setup after five months of use:

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New video! DI Boxes Part 7: Amplifier Emulation DIs

In March of 2015 I published a video entitled “Stompbox/Pedal DIs” featuring the Sansamp Bass Driver DI, a relatively early solid state emulation of a classic tube bass amplifier. Since then, amp emulation technology has come a long way! In this video I discuss how to deal with this type of DI as a live sound engineer, and cover specific features of the Origin Effects Bassrig ’64 Black Panel, one of the best current examples of the type.

As mentioned in my previous post about the MXR M81, the idea of having a DI box with EQ convinced me to leave me bass amp at home for the first time in 20 years. This unit takes things to the next level, and gives you an entire vintage Fender Bassman amplifier in a DI. The only variable remaining is having a sufficiently power and well-adjusted stage monitor system to take the signal back to the bass player.

Adventures in Bass Amplifier Buying.

So I haven’t bought a new bass amp in more than 10 years. I’ve been playing bass for a couple of decades now, and in that time I’ve owned a variety of “boom boxes”: a Peavey Microbass (which went back almost immediately due to a rattling front grill), Marshall Bass State combos (a B30 and B65), an Acoustic Image Clarus head paired with an Acme Low B1 cab, and an incredibly heavy Gallien-Krueger 2×10 combo. I’ve seen the transition from class A/B to class D, being a very early adopter of class D with the AI Clarus, and I’ve also tried many, many pedals and preamps along the way. With electric bass, as with electric guitar, the amplifier is an integral part of the voice of the instrument – even though bass is completely comfortable with being DI’ed, you still need something to hear yourself on stage, and most stage monitors just will not cut it. Even if they have the necessary frequency response, the voicing is often not suited for bass and gives a rather flat, lackluster sound. This can be remedied through using something like a Sansamp bass driver DI… or a bass amp!

As a sound engineer, I’m very conscious of the impact that loud backline has on the front of house (FOH) sound. In fact, many club setups rely on the backline to carry the majority of the instrumental sound, with the house PA being responsible mainly for vocals, acoustic guitar, and maybe keyboards. This of course, means that the sound engineer has less than complete control of the mix, and needs to work with the musicians to achieve a workable balance. This can be fine, especially if the musicians are professionals, but I have vivid memories of just how loud something like a full Marshall stack (100 watts, two 4×12 cabinets) can be – with something like that cranked in a small space, you can pretty much forget about hearing anything else. Duncan Fry, whom I regard as a mentor, wrote in one of his books that the hardest gigs are the loud shows in small clubs, not the arena or stadium shows! Loud guitar amps are a large contributor to this. Now I’m not saying that loud amps are bad… but the fact that I turn 45 this year and still have normal, undamaged hearing is a testament to me keeping a healthy distance from these devices.

My main playing out amp for the last 12 years has been a Hartke A25 – a 25-watt, solid state kickback combo built like a brick outhouse:

Hartke A25 (source)

I can’t quite remember how I ended up with this amp, but I recall that I needed something relatively light and small to act as a personal monitor, and this amp was the best-sounding one I could find at the time. I don’t play with loud drummers and put the amp as close to me as I possibly can. The A25 is noticeably heavy (11 kilos/24 pounds) for its size (8″ driver, no horn) and has never let me down, the only sonic problem with it being that the XLR output is rather noisy and as a result never gets used. It also has a number of features that I rarely use such as the bright control and adjustable limiter. I also do not like the carpet covering, which is a lint & dirt magnet and in my opinion an indication of cost-cutting – professional PA speakers, for example, are always either painted or made of moulded plastic. My single biggest gripe though, is the top strap handle: it’s so small that I can’t get my knuckles through it, which makes carrying the amp a rather painful affair. So I decided it was time for a upgrade.

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