How Many Basses at the Live Gig?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bmusic, Sep 17, 2022.

  1. bmusic

    bmusic Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    Los Angeles
    I’m mostly a recording hobbyist, but a songwriter I respect asked me to play an extended set with him, and I jumped in. I’m having a great time woodshedding the material. Feeling some rare musical fulfillment.

    First few times running through the material, I was on my go-to P with flats, but pretty quickly one tune started to beg for the fretless. So I got that locked in; sounds good.

    And then another—90’s R&B vibe in A-flat—really wanted the 5-string with rounds. Done.

    Last night, as I was packing up the 3 basses for today’s rehearsal, I thought “Am I insane?” I want to get the perfect sound for each song, but am I going to look ridiculous up there? Like I’m in an 18-song flex all about myself?

    It was shortly after that thought that I decided to refresh myself on something real quick and, with the P packed up, I just grabbed the Mustang off the wall and…smh…now I need to have that sound (Mustang, La Bellas, foam mute) on this one song.

    Is 4 basses over 18 songs a ridiculous look? Will I hate myself at the end of the night—or more specifically, will my 55-year-old back hate me? For you guys, what’s the most basses you would bring to a gig?
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  2. Dave W

    Dave W

    Mar 1, 2007
    Westchester, NY
    1 bass, maybe 2.

    When I bring a second bass it’s strictly a backup. I don’t rotate them. “Getting the perfect sound” doesn’t usually work so well IME because you’re constantly changing the mix.
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  3. bmusic

    bmusic Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2017
    Los Angeles
    Interesting…hadn’t thought of that.
    shojii and Cosmozis like this.
  4. sloppy_phil


    Aug 21, 2011
    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Not actually named Phil
    4 basses for 18 songs is way, way, way too many for me. I've learned the only person who is likely to care about the bass tone besides me is any other bass players in the crowd. Otherwise, folks just wanna hear/feel it, and I'd say nailing the material is far more important
    One Way, shojii, TrustRod and 56 others like this.
  5. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Unless you have a good soundproof, and time to fool around with settings, the best thing is to find a tone that fits the mix, and leave it there. You have a tone know obviously your bass for minor changes.

    In 3+ decades of playing, the only time I've used a second bass at a gig was a band that needed to tune to Eb for a few songs.
  6. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    I bring two, but one is just a backup. For recording, I completely agree with you, whichever instrument/soundchain combination works best for the song. For live, unless you're a famous bass player that everyone is there specifically to see, honestly no one cares too much about the tone. Most will watch and listen to the singer and/or lead players, and as long as the performance is solid, the rest is part of the gestalt. For the performance described above, I'd be using the fiver and that's it. :thumbsup:
  7. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    For me, two, one fretless, each as the other's backup.
  8. stigbeve


    Sep 24, 2014
    1 for the show and 1 in the trunk of my car for a backup.
    shojii, NG51, Jim C and 12 others like this.
  9. Same here. I take the one I intend to play that night plus an emergency backup (Murphy's Law insurance). The hard cold reality is that for most live performances (unless MAYBE you're working with a really big time sound system/sound engineer) to the audience a bass sounds like a bass sounds like a bass. I have eight basses (out of a stable currently at 14) that I rotate through regularly, pretty broad range of tone amongst them listened to via IEM's or in my practice room. At live gigs the sound guy gets me a good sound out front that works and that's pretty much it. Sounds good in recordings and videos, often not what I'm hearing in my IEM's but how it sounds out front is what counts. Switching around through 4 different basses for an 18 song set, unless you're a "Big Time" artist IMO makes one look like a self important poseur.
  10. akukulich

    akukulich Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2007
    Lowcountry, SC
    I'd be willing to bet that I've only brought one bass to more than 90% of the gigs I've done over 40 years. It's probably closer to 95%. Occasionally, I'll bring a fretless, or if I'm playing fretless, I'll bring a fretted bass. But only occasionally.
    droo46, Ronnie W, Geo Monty and 5 others like this.
  11. B-Mac

    B-Mac Happiness is a warm puppy and a great bass Gold Supporting Member

    It’s your gig. Do what you want. Any gear heads in the crowd will love it. (...even if there's just two of 'em ...edited just for @EdO. )
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2022
  12. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Inactive

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Well, it depends.

    If the band/show is set up in a way that allows for such changes (star of the show talks a lot between songs or something like that), and playing 4 basses brings you great joy, go for it.

    If the show is very streamlined, then take one as a main player and one as a backup.

    My main player is a 5 string that (first and foremost) is a P bass. It also has a dual coil at the bridge for versatility. So it can cover lots of sounds.
  13. msb


    Jul 3, 2002
    Halifax,N,S. Canada
    I bring a backup that rarely comes out of the case.
    Ronnie W, Sholmer, retslock and 3 others like this.
  14. thmsjordan


    Jan 10, 2010
    Currently off planet
    Eschew Obfuscation
    I used to play with a Prima Donna guitarist who changed guitars several times a set. The operative phrase here is "used to work with". The only time I go with more than one bass is when it is upright/electric and I even try to avoid that when I can.
  15. Yeah. All both of them...
  16. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Recording, yes take whatever you may need. Live show, one, no backup required
  17. If you are going to record in a studio, throw everything burt the kitchen sink. Live show: One bass, and if songs really require a flatwound/fretless bring an extra one -I am talking from a jazz perspective with a small band-. If it is a bigger group doing pop music, you will get buried in the mix and it doesn't matter which instrument you are using.
  18. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    I bring at least two, but can see three as realistic for a 3 or 4 set gig.
    A passive Precision, an active Jazz fiver, a fretless, if the music spans many decades.
    Or a P/J bass, plus active fiver, plus hollowbody orange Gretsch, if the guitar player brings his orange Gretsch.
    The visual impact of having "the same instrument" makes more difference than the actual bass sound, for most audience people...
    Miles_ONeal, fclef66, B-Mac and 4 others like this.
  19. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I play church gigs - live gigs, mostly. During lockdown, though, we had "virtual" gigs - things recorded at home or together, but not with an audience. As such, you could (if you wanted to) use different instruments for different songs, and I did - I even used a fretless here and there. But at a live gig, it's 1 bass.
    Geo Monty, retslock and JLY like this.
  20. The Thinker

    The Thinker

    Sep 17, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    I always brought two. Sometimes the second was strictly a backup; other times the second bass was for alternate tunings (usually tuned down for a singer with a lower range). I have needed a backup exactly once, when a jack went bad during a gig. But I always felt better having one handy, especially as a jobber.
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