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electric bass amp with upright?

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by tbassist4, Sep 18, 2005.

  1. I've been thinking about purchasing a pickup for my upright to do larger gigs with. I have a very nice amp (cost a pretty penny too), its a Crate BT220 220watts driving a 15" speaker, Crate has proved itself to be better than i suspected. So its a great sounding electric bass amp, but what i'm worried about is the accuracy of the sound of my upright plugged into it. Is it even worth buying the pickup? or will my amp mess around with the sound too much? Anyone who's done this or in a similar situation? Input is much appriciated.
  2. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur GollihurMusic.com

    Mar 22, 2000
    New Joisey Shore
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music
    Fifteens are not my favorite speaker, but I'd sure think about giving it a shot.

    According to the specs online it has Dual RCA CD inputs, so if you have the appropriate cables plug a player into it, do so and play a familiar CD that offers a balanced musical selections (no rap or rock, orchestral or something using more natural instrumentation with which you are familiar). Use the four band EQ to see how much work it takes to make it clean and natural sounding as you can get it. If you can reach a good result, that will be indicative of its ability to deliver a decent (natural-sounding) URB sound.
  3. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    I certainly understand the trend toward "hi-fi" cabinets for upright. Using the reproduction of music as a diagnostic is, in my opinion, a far too stringent, if not largely irrelevant, criterion. While an amp/cabinet combination that produces a reasonably flat response across a broad spectrum can be expected to reproduce just about any input satisfactorily, that doesn't necessarily make for a practical design when the purpose is amplifying a double bass. If it did, then we would simply buy hi-end home audio speakers and amplifiers for our uprights.

    While it is important to reproduce the upper partials generated by the upright, it is even overly conservative to say that there just is not any useful energy that emerges from the instrument anywhere in the region of 10 kHz. That is, unless you want to amplify the fingerboard noise and string noise/pops that I consider artifacts of electronic pickups/mikes. No one would hear those if you were playing acoustically and he/she were even three feet from the bass.

    That being said, an amp/speaker combo that would make for a lousy reproduction system for music because of its low-pass characteristics might very well make for a spectacular amplifying system for a bass.
  4. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    In my experience, commercial 15" cabs tend to have a bit too much low end for upright. On the other hand, I have gotten good sound from a 15" that is in a fairly small non-ported box.

    I think it's worth giving the Crate amp a try. Most mainstream solid state amps are actually OK for urpight bass. If you have a problem with "boomy" sound, try raising the amp off of the floor by a foot or more.

    Don't forget to use a preamp unless you know for sure that the Crate has a high input impedance. The preamp needn't be elaborate.
  5. abaguer


    Nov 27, 2001
    Milford, NJ
    What it comes down to is what you want the bass to sound like. A lot of upright players want their amplified upright to sound the way it does acoustically, only louder. That is why many players go for transparent sounding cabs that don't color the natural sound. Others playing in a louder format may want the sound colored.

    My own experience with Crate is that it colors the sound quite a bit and for that reason I don't like using them. I also don't like the construction of them; they don't seem to be built very solidly and are very boxy sounding. The 15s I've played through, especially, are not very focused sounding and tend to blur with upright. Just my firsthand opinion. :)
  6. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Agreed. Restating the point I made earlier, it is the case that systems, the output of which rolls off well below 10 kHz, may produce precisely the uncolored sound many seek for double bass. If there is no appreciable energy within a given spectral region at the input, there is little or no advantage to be gained in having a system that can reproduce it. This is why the criterion that the system reproduce music accurately is not a valid one. If the system reproduces music accurately, it is likely to reproduce the sound of the bass accurately. If the system does not reproduce music accurately, owing to a low-pass characteristic, it may still reproduce the sound of the bass accurately.

    I am one of the ones who does want his amplified upright to retain the tonal characteristics of the unamplified sound. I know, however, that this does not require a system that has the bandwidth that would be necessary to accurately reproduce music.
  7. Trace Elliot's Tab accoustic bass combo is a small rear ported cab with a 15" speaker and has some professional fans - Alec Dankworth uses one. I'm not sure about this but it may have a tweeter behind and firing through the 15" speaker cone (so you can't tell it's there from an external inspection). OTOH I might be mixing things up with someone elses design. I've seen a local player with one and he was very pleased with it.

    For all the hoo haa about cone size, the PA speakers at most gigs are fairly large like 15" and they manage to reproduce detail enough for audiences - or at least this is the stuff that even high end PA manufacturers turn out (Mackie?). OK, there are lots of exceptions but 15s can be OK? Just because its a larger speaker doesn't mean it will be boomy or whatever unless its in a cabinet that allows that characteristic.

    If using a peizo pickup putting it through a buffering pre-amp is a very good idea - if not essential for a BG designed amp and these often have an eq allowing for further adjustment of the tone to what you want (Fishman platinum eq for instance - admitedly its not cheap). Also, having a pre-amp means you should be able to put it direct into someone's pa or amp du jour without worrying what sound is going to come out.

    I know people on this board play accoustically a lot but in general, if you play non-classical piz bass you end up needing to amplify and that means having a pickup and if its a piezo pickup it usually handy having a buffer pre-amp too so this money is never wasted. And as Bob (all hail) is lurking round here he is the man to ask.
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I disagree and am with Bob on this!! ;)

    Although I can appreciate personal preference comes into this, in practice I have found that amp/cab combinations that reproduce CD well are also very good for DB and EUB!!

    I have used my EA V208 cab for playing CDs through and it always sounds great - I have used it many times at parties - just plugged a portable CD players in and evrybody is dancing!!

    But also many people have tried this for DB and it always sounds great !!

    However, I have tried playing CDs through other setups and it sounded horrible and generally my experience is that if that is so, then it will also be not too good for EUB or DB.
  9. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Truer words were never spoken! There is nothing inherently wrong with a 15" driver. Some of the best hi-fi speaker designs ever produced used 15" drivers. It is the manner in which 15" drivers are often employed in instrument cabinets that is the problem. This leads many to reject, out of hand, cabinets using 15" drivers.

    The same type of thinking leads to statements like, "The best driver for a bass cabinet is a n" (where n = your favorite number).
  10. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    You must understand that your question is frought with peril. Let me give you the simple, encouraging answer followed by the complicated, discouraging one. All from my opinion and perspective, of course.

    Would it work? Is it worth trying? Yes and yes. There is a school that I used to take ensemble workshops in. They have a number of 15" electric bass combos there. While I would not buy any of them new for my DB gigs, I frequently used them in class rather than bringing my amp. They're fine. Just like my DB amp, some nights I couldn't get the sound dialed in and some nights, I just plugged in and went. If you need to be louder, you will be. I say Ray Brown play a gig with an SWR WM15 once, and of course, he sounded better than great. I'm sure that through that amp, I would be very unhappy with my sound.

    The pickup will influence the sound signifcantly, I would suggest more than the amp. Check out a few people live if you get the chance, see what kind of pickups they are using and how it sounds to you. I set at a festival last weekend and watched local guy after local guy come up and play through the same amp and all of them sounded different, mostly based on the pickup. What's the "best" pickup? Research the archives. We have not come to consensus on that and I don't think that question will get you an answer you can use. Wing bridge pickups will have a common sound, mics will have a common sound and set of issues, body-type pickups like the Realist will have a common sound.

    Now, the discouraging answer. You said something like "will it capture the natural color of my bass?" Answer: No. It will sound amplified. If you got a 12" or 10" or 2x10" amp, they would all sound different and you'd like some more than others, but none of them would acoustically reproduce the acoustic tone of your bass. For that, we start chasing high dollar acoustic specific head/cabinets or combos, layer that with pickups, mics and pre-amps and I'll go out on a limb and say that 90% of the people on this list would say that they're somewhat satisfied with their amplified sound, but that it's not an exact amplification of their acoustic sound. 10% would claim that their set up is "exactly like their bass only louder" and 99% of everyone else would either outright disagree with them or say that they had tried that same combination of equipment and didn't get the same result.

    My point? Amplify if you need to. Start with what you have and go from there. Adjust your expectations so that you don't end up falling down the rabbit hole that many of us are in. Some nights, I'm very happy with my amplified tone and some nights, I can't stand it. In addition to all of the things in your control, the room, the band, how many people are in it, etc will all change your sound.

    After a few years playing jazz with darkish arco strings, I'm using Spirocores again. I've decided that the arco/hybrid strings produce much more faithfully the tone I am going for, but when playing with drums, keys and horns, the Spricores sound better. A year from now, I'll have gotten over it and no longer feel that way.

    So to sum up:

    Good news: Sure it will work, go for it.
    Bad news: The perfect alternative is a moving target and can get very expensive. Spending $1,000 now wouldn't likely get you there on the first try.

    All my opinions, of course. If you had already fallen down the rabbit hole, I would have given you something different.

  11. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Even if transparent sound is desired, it is not necessarily achieved by an amp and speaker with flat response. The pickup itself has a response curve, for instance relative to the response that would be measured with a good microphone.

    A second problem is that your ears react differently at higher volume levels. What is an upright bass supposed to sound like at 120 dB?

    Third, the response curve of the speaker is affected by interaction with the room.

    I have a couple theories about bass amp response. First, a fair amount of low-end rolloff in the speaker may counteract something in the pickup itself, to produce the tone quality that most of us are happy with. Second, the upright bass may produce frequencies that are not favorable to sounding good in typical amplified playing situations, including working in rooms with rotten acoustics. Those frequencies may not be so noticeable when we are playing un-amplified, because the bass is a relatively quiet instrument (at least mine is).

    All of this adds up to a typical upright bass sounding OK when fitted with a typical pickup and played through a typical amp & speaker. Going beyond typical, and actually sounding great, is more of a hit and miss affair. Sometimes you luck out on the first try, and since you already have the amp, you might as well try it.
  12. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    Endorsing Artist: Black Diamond & SuperSensitive strings
    I've been thinking about these points on "accurate" sound as I begin a community theater show on bass. My choice of weapons has been a Bugbass EUB into a WM12 amp. The amp is up fairly loud at times.

    If I brought my American Standard upright with Underwood or BassMax pickup instead, I'd be playing right on top of my amp at these volumes. Would it be ringing? Responding to certain resonances in the instrument or room? How would "accurate" occur when I'm up against the back wall of the pit under these conditions?

    Somebody might argue that this is an unusual situation and that things would usually be better :rolleyes: I think of playing in restaurants with boomy floors, tight corners, noisy crowds.

    Where is that playing condition where the accuracy of pickup and amp can come through? In the rehearsal room? The concert stages where the big boys play?

    In sum, I could probably get higher end gear and it'd sound great at home and in some gigs...but it seems like "close enough" is about the best that can be heard in many settings. Just stay away from the cheap gear and the underpowered gear and it'll be fine.
  13. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004

    Well, I think that, perhaps, you did not read my post carefully. Simply put, I agree that rigs that will produce music accurately will probably be quite good for instrument amplification. Rigs that do not produce music well, MAY OR MAY NOT be quite good for such amplification. If the reason the rig does not reproduce music accurately is because it has a low-pass characteristic (rolls off in the upper octaves), it may still be quite good for amplification considering that what you want to amplify has no appreciable energy in those octaves. This is all true in many cases.

    If the rig does not produce music accurately for other reasons (e.g., distortion, ragged frequency response), then it will probably be quite poor for instrument amplification as well.

    So, again, if it produces music well, then you are probably safe. The criterion is, however, overkill. Disagree all you want, but if you read my "if-then's" carefully, you will see it is a matter of science. If you use the "musical reproduction criterion" you may end up wasting perfectly good $$$.
  14. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    This is true. Once again, however, this post recapitulates decades-old hi-fi arguments. Your best bet is still to go for a reasonably flat response because that will allow for greatest flexibility if and when you change transducers. A good pre-amp with appropriate tone controls should allow you to tailor the sound accordingly.

    I have no idea what this means. If you are referring to loudness countours (ala Fletcher and Munson), it is not relevant as those curves flatten well below the levels that typify amplified instruments. If you are referring to distortion products created in the hearing apparatus, then you are correct if you assume levels on the order of 120 dB SPL. The point is, however, moot. If the level is 120 dB SPL, you will soon be deaf.

    All of this speaks, once again, for the ideal of choosing components with reasonable flat response within the range of the spectrum you wish to reproduce. Choosing otherwise is what is likely to result in hit-or-miss affairs because you are hoping that the errors compensate for each other. That's tricky business.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well no ...you are talking theoretically, whereas I said I was talking about my personal experience of trying and hearing others use a lot of different bass amps with DBs and EUBs.

    So you can say "it may or may not be" - but so what!? I'm just telling it like it is in my experience!

    There "may or may not" be amps as you describe - but I'm telling you what's happening in the real world - not in theory!! ;)
  16. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I wasn't kidding when I said your question was frought with peril, was I?
  17. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I have had decent results using a slab amp on DB. The wrinkle, as mentioned, is that most DB pickups are piezo and very high impedance. So, they will sound really thin if plugged into the input of most bass amps without some sort of preamp designed for use with piezo pickups.

    IME, the best way to get a decent DB sound out of a regular bass amp is to carry along a preamp intended for DB piezo use and plug it into the effects loop return of the combo or head. This bypasses the preamp stage of the head altogether and avoids the coloration you get from it.

    Of course, you also lose the EQ, so the DB pre should have a decent one (if you need it) and you lose the gain, so the DB pre should have a decent output. Most do though.
  18. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Well, yes (not no). I was trying to point out that Bob's simple test of evaluating cabinets based on whether they are accurate reproducers of music is not necessarily an efficient or useful criterion. I am not just talking about theory! I have heard fine instrument cabinets that I would not use for music reproduction for just the reasons I mentioned! That's real life, not theory.
  19. Ric Vice

    Ric Vice Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2005
    Olivette, Missouri

    I have to say that I am more and more impressed by the bass
    amps that Crate is building. This is from a guy who plays through
    Walter Woods, exclusively, at least so far. My huble advice, would
    to be to test it out with a Revolution Solo pickup from Upton Bass
    they are $99.00, if I understand the posts correctly, you don't necessarily need a Buffer/Preamp for this particular pickup. Your only problem, is that if you don't like the sound, you will have a
    pickup fitted to you're bass bridge, but that's true of almost any pickup you will buy. I can't think of one that you can just "slap on your bass" even the Underwood requires shims or trims and it's more expensive than the Rev Solo. If you don't wan't to spend that much on the experiment then you could try to borrow a spare from some one.

    Ric : ;)
  20. My SWR son of bertha has a 15 and a tweeter and it actually has a very tight sound. It's not nearly as deep as I hought it would be with an electric, but it works well with an upright. I have a bbe preamp coming in soon and I'll see how that works with it. My gear is mainly for bass guitar, but it's always a plus when it works well with my upright.