Should I Use an Amp, a Monitor or In-Ears?
Q: I want to choose a new rig. I’m quite happy with my basses and my effects I own at the moment, and I am searching now for a way to amplify my signal. I have a very good, portable upper-middle-class halfstack, but I can rarely use it because I often do small gigs and it is a little bit too much there. But when I only use the stage wedges and no amp, my bass gets lost in the mix. When I use my amp, I still have to turn up quite loud to not get lost in the mix. What should I do? Buy another, smaller amp? Buy a wedge only for me and mix the bass and the monitor mix separately? Buy an IEM system? I have had no experience with this kind of monitoring and I would be the only one in my band who would use it. Would it be too much for small gigs? By the way, I love playing with headphones and i always like the studio sound more than the live sound.
I love your column and your bass playing. Your column stopped me from quitting bass and got me more jobs and gigs. Thanks.
A: First off, thank you for the kind words at the end there… you absolutely made my day!! I can’t tell you how much I loved reading that last sentence.
Now to your question… I am one who always likes to have the right tool for the job. My wife would be the first to tell you that I have too many suitcases, backpacks, and a variety of cabs and heads for any setting.
If you always have a sound person, my vote is for a wedge-style cab or a 210 or 212 cab that you can use primarily as your bass monitor and then let the FOH (front of house) engineer adjust the bass for the room.
That said, since I don’t know much abut your specific playing scenarios, I’ll talk a bit about each option that you presented.
Buy another, smaller amp?
This is the most versatile option as it allows you to dial in an appropriate stage volume without having to lug a refrigerator-sized cabinet everywhere you go. When you show up with a mid-sized cab (like the 210 or 212 option I mentioned earlier), it allows you to use the cab to fill the room if necessary or dial it back and just get a good stage volume and let FOH run the show out front.
Buy a wedge just for me and mix the bass and the monitor mix separately?
Many companies offer wedge-shaped bass cabs these days. You could also simply use a good quality monitor wedge or keyboard amp. I would lean towards the bass cab personally, but I have gotten a totally workable sound out of a keyboard amp. I have never been entirely satisfied with a standard monitor. I have run direct through stage monitors when sitting in with a band or at deep woods festivals that are light on backline (or when an amp dies earlier that day) and it’ll work, but the sound likely won’t feed your bass playing soul I don’t think.
Buy an IEM system?
If nobody else is using them in the band, this is probably more trouble than it’s worth. Not only will you need to drop some serious cash for a decent receiver and wireless unit, you’ll also need some very good headphones. In addition, you may run into problems with sound people who aren’t set up well to feed a mix to your unit. I don’t know about you, but I almost count on the fact that there won’t be enough separate mixes for everyone in the band when playing smaller clubs, and the bass player is usually the first to get hosed. It seems I may not even have a monitor half of the time on smaller local gigs.
That said, this is the best option for protecting your ears. Just be careful not to have your “ears” in and cranked when people are plugging things in and dorking around on stage while setting up.
So there you have it. Everybody has different needs, wants and desires when on the gig, and I like to be as self-contained as possible while remaining low maintenance for everybody else. If you have the “big rig” for the “blast-em outta their seats” gigs, you might just want to get a cab half that size for smaller functions. Any amp will play at low volume but you have to shlep it to and from the gig and there is sometimes a spacial constraint as well.
Personally, I have a 410 cab, powerful head, 2 smaller 112 cabs (so I can use one or both depending on the gig) as well as a light weight head and a light weight 112 cab. I can cover most any setting with that rig. I also have some good quality in-ears for those gigs, but I don’t carry my own receiver and wireless unit. I only play in one band that uses in-ears and all of the units get back-lined for every show so I only need my “ears”. I also carry back up ears, just in case (they do die eventually and I also had a pair stolen from a theatre in Mexico once before a show. That taught me to always have a back-up).
I hope that helps!
Readers, how about you? Share your stories and recommendations in the comments.