Q: My amp and most of my gear got confiscated when I got to college because they said it was a fire hazard. What do you recommend for some amp-less ways for me to get my sound amplified? I really have no idea.
A: My first question is: what kind of amp did you have that was such a fire hazard that your school confiscated it?!
I assume that it’s not a conservatory or arts school of any kind, as it would be insane to refuse a music major of his means to practice.
But, to the question at hand…
There are any number of ways in which you can hear yourself enough to practice without an amp.
If you have an iOS device like an iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone (or Android, I would assume?) then you can simply use an adapter like the iRiffport, the iRig or any number of devices out there with an any amp app of your choice and, voilà! There are a variety of amp simulators, recording apps and practice apps that allow you to hear yourself – often, in addition to any music you have on the device – through headphones. [Check out our app stories for lots of great apps for bassists.]
If you have a PC or Mac, then it much the same process. You’ll need an interface (there are tons of USB and FireWire interfaces out there) and an application like Garageband (simple), ProTools (complex) or anything in between.
I also found a great cable that is simply a standard patch cable on one end (1/4”) and a mini-jack on the other (1/8”). Technically, you could plug directly into a computer’s input jack this way but the level will not be adequate so you will need some kind of pre-amp or application to help you boost the level
One last option is the headphone pre-amp. There are a handful of companies making very good quality head-phone preamps that allow you to sculpt your tone as well as plug in additional devices through an AUX jack, so you can play along with recordings.
Again, there are a bunch of iOS apps and interfaces covered here. A quick Google search will also lead you to more options than you’d probably want for ways to get sound using any of the methods I’ve outlines above.
Keep in mind that you may not get the best tone you’ve ever heard without purchasing a pretty decent pre-amp. So, any option that gives you an EQ and as much quality over your sound as possible is always optimal. But, as with all things, your budget will likely dictate which path you choose. The cheapest may very well be a cheap USB interface for your computer and a shareware recording app of some kind.
Readers, what do you use as alternatives to amps? Tell us about it in the comments!
Photo by Michaela Kobyakov