Ever thought of playing without an Amp? The last set up in the Bass Amp Set Ups list is one that doesn’t use an amp at all – the ampless set up. Actually there is an amplifier, but it is just for some headphones, so it isn’t big and heavy to carry around.There are two places where an ampless set up is useful:
- For practice use.
- A lightweight gig set up.
The practice set up is obviously for personal/private practice – simply listening to your bass playing through headphones. Very considerate for co-resident non-bass lovers. The second set up is for playing live, and has some similarities, but is slightly extended, so I’ll describe them both together.
There are three challenges with this set up:
- Getting a signal suitable for head phones.
- Achieving a decent tone.
- Hearing the other music(ians) – for the live set up or play-along practice.
I said there was at least some sort of amp, that’s because the signal out of a bass guitar isn’t powerful enough (or the right impedance) to drive earphones. It needs amplifying, either with a dedicated headphone amplifier, or via something that has a headphone output. Done forget, you’ll need a decent set of earphones (see In-ear monitors).
The sound of a DI’d bass really isn’t all that pleasant – DI means direct injected or direct input – “plugged straight in” in everyday words. Bass amps are carefully designed to flatter the sound of a bass, at least most are. So plugging straight into a headphone amp isn’t going to give you a very pleasing tone. Thankfully there are a couple of alternatives for getting a good sound.
The first is a stand alone pre-amp. Imagine it as half of a bass amp – the first half, dealing with shaping the bass signal. A pre-amp will usually have some tone shaping controls and perhaps even a valve stage to warm up the sound. Some have more advanced features such as a compressor or a limiter. They can still be a little bulky, since they are usually designed to be used as part of a traditional rig.
A pre-amp still won’t give you the same tone as a full bass set up, since it doesn’t recreate the effect of a speaker cabinet. Remember, different cabinets have different effects on your sound. This is where technology comes to the rescue, with an alternative to the pre-amp: The modelling amp. It is a bunch of computer processors that simulate (or ‘model’) the sound of a full bass set up. The two most famous are the bass pod from Line 7, and things like the V-Bass and the GT-series boxes from Roland (featuring their COSM technology). You can even get software for your computer that does it (see Virtual Bass Amp), but that probably isn’t too practical, since we are aiming for a light weight set up. I use a DI box that features some tone shaping: the Tech 21 Sans AMP Bass driver.
There are quite a range of options, something for a future post. So, we still need to tackle the headphones and hearing the other musicians. I have a special monitor amp (something like the ART MyMonitor). This has an input for the bass (or from your pre-amp or modelling amp), and input for a CD player/MP3 or for a monitor feed from the mixing desk. There are controls for the headphone output level and for controlling the balance between your bass and the other audio. All in a package that fits in your pocket – if you have very, very big pockets that is.
The rig ends up looking something like this:
It means you can have a full set up that you can carry in one arm, without even breaking a sweat. You end up dependent on the quality of the main PA for the sound that audience hears, but if it is a large rig with bass bins, then you are in good shape. It is also makes for a portable right for private practice too. I have even used the set up with a small powered monitor for the occasional band practice.