Bobby Vega on Finding the Right Rig for the Gig

October 7, 2015

If you’re looking for an amp, there are so many to choose from in today’s market. What I’ve found is that most amplifiers sound like what manufacturers think a bass should sound like. I like an amp that lets me hear the instrument, the string, and myself, but it’s hard to find an amp that does all those things at once. So I listen for amps that sound good even with no EQ. If it sounds good with all the tone knobs set at 12 o’clock, I know I’ve got something to work with.

FLAT IS WHERE IT’S AT

I believe less is more, so for me, flat is where it’s at. But sometimes you need a little bass and treble, or low mids or upper mids, or that sparkly high end, or some booty/bass—you need that extra piece of chicken! If I want a bigger sound, I turn up the bass knob to one or two o’clock; if I want my sound to be clear, I turn up treble (or highs) to one, two, or three o’clock. But if both knobs are at three o’clock and I need more treble, I turn the bass down instead of turning up the treble; otherwise they get cloudy and cancel each other out. Mids come into play when I need to be heard: High mids help me cut through the band’s fog and give me a voice, and I use low mids to make my bass sound like Nat King Cole.

A little EQ goes a long way, though. An amp with extra options like a tube channel, FET channel, and parametric EQ could be trouble. And I like amps that have EQ in/out switches, too.

A WORD ABOUT CABS

When it comes to choosing a speaker cabinet, I’m a big fan of 5" speakers, which work together and evenly distribute the load. There’s strength in numbers, and when you stack ’em up—4x5, 8x5, 12x5, 16x5, 24x5, 32x5—it’s like a whole gang. Whether you play upright, 4-, 5-, or 6-string, a cab with 5’s has it all!

If you primarily play 5- or 6-strings, I would suggest a cab with 10s. They seem to handle the B string better. In fact, the 4x10 (and Michael Tobias) are what started the 5-string bass movement. These days, many players gig with a single 1x12, but that’s never been enough for me. A 2x12 is like a 1x15 with more mids and high end; it’ll have a throaty growl when you lean into it. I like the sound of 15" speakers; you can’t go wrong with a 1x15. I played gigs for many years with one—it has that meat-and-potatoes sound. I can do any club gig with a 1x15 Boogie cabinet with an E-V 400-watt 15" speaker. Many companies have re-voiced their 12s to replicate the sonic footprint of an old-school 1x15. It works, but to me, it doesn’t feel or sound the same. As for 18s, I love them. They’re not as “fast” as a 10, 12, or 15, but front-loaded 18s have a bounce and air to them that makes me feel and play differently.

Today, of course, many players prefer small amps and cabs. To me, Class D amps and neo cabs don’t sound as heavy as old-school gear; they’re just loud, plus I have to use EQ to make up for the loss of high end and mids I get from the natural sound of ceramic-magnet speakers.

THE RIGHT RIG FOR THE GIG

Now that I have many different amps, it’s important for me to take the right rig to each gig. As a bass player, I need more amp than less, because if I don’t bring enough power, the other musicians will run over me and I can’t make the band sound good. If I’m headed to a small gig, like a duo with an acoustic guitar player, a 1x10 with a 2" dome tweeter will do just fine. If there’s going to be a small drum set and a small guitar amp, I’ll take a 1x15 with a 2" dome tweeter. For a club gig with a dance band that has drums, keyboards, and guitar, a 1x15 and a 1x10 will get the job done. And if I’m playing with a full band at the Fillmore, I use a 1x15 with a 2" dome and a 1x15 with a 10" whizzer cone speaker.

How do you choose the right amplifier and cabinet for you? Try lots of rigs to see how they affect you. Go out and listen to some live music in your local clubs to see what amps and cabinets other bass players are using. Play amps and speaker cabinets made by the same company: Usually, they have a concept and they did their math, so when you use both together, you can hear the builder’s whole vision/equation.

As always, feel free to get in touch at bobbyvega.com. Tell me about your favorite amps and cabinets! May the groove be with you.

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