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What link in the chain makes the most difference?

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by JJBluegrasser, May 3, 2006.

  1. JJBluegrasser

    JJBluegrasser Wannabe Snazzy Dresser

    Apr 17, 2003
    USA, Raleigh, NC
    Hi Guys,
    I've read a lot of posts on pickups and electronics through the past few years, and I am very grateful for the wealth of information on here. There is so much information, that sometimes it's hard to find what you want, so I'd like to ask my current question using this poll. Please feel free to point me to other threads that I may have missed in my search that will answer my question.

    I am well aware that with DB amplification many, many factors are involved and that often it's a matter of personal preference and your specific instrument and playing style. What I'm looking for in this poll is your best guess as to what part of an amplification chain will make the most difference to improve the sound I'm getting from my bass live. Truthfully, I'd love to have a carved bass, a neumann mic and an AI combo and have that be enough. I've used SM 57s, SM58s, a realist, a bass max, a revolution solo, a fishman pro eq, and an L.R. Baggs.

    I don't like the way my bass sounds through a house PA, and it really bothers me. I love my bass and I think it sounds great at low (unamplified) volumes. That's not the part I want to change. I just need a non-obnoxious amplified sound. It doesn't even have to be 'my bass only louder' or perfect in any way. I just want it to not sound either thumpy and indistinct or tinny and midrangey. I can't seem to dial in anything consistently that works for me.

    My signal chain typically:

    Bass (with Rev. Solo) -> Fishman Pro EQ or L.R. Baggs Acoustic guitar preamp (sounds better than you'd think) -> to house PA.

    I've played a wide variety of our PAs and it's sounded unfortunate through all of them.

    One day I'll upgrade all of the components and probably have something great. I have money, but not so much that I can drop $3K or $4K all at once on stuff to try out.
    My question is: what single piece is likely to make the most difference? If I get an Acoustic Image, is my sound going to be amazing or will the pickup/bass combo still jack it up? Will a better preamp fix it, so I can keep depending on the house PA, instead of lugging an amp?

    Where, oh where, will my money be best invested on my next purchase? I'm just looking for your opinions. I know that my setup is unique to me, but what would you buy first? No need to recommend individual equipment unless you want to. I can do that research on my own (using that handy search feature).

  2. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    There's an old rule in HiFi: If it isn't in the original signal, there's no way to recreate it farther down the line. You have to start with an accurate transducer, feed it through a flat amp, and into a flat speaker. You can tweak an amp's tone controls to make up for non-linearities in the speaker cab, but you can't deal with signal losses that come before the preamp.
  3. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    +1 for the transducer being of primary importance. In these digital days, however, one just about can "create" what might have been lost earlier in the chain. Of course, that is in principle and I don't expect we're going to be hauling digital synthesis equipment around with us. So this is a long-winded way to agree with mje. Start with a good transducer!

    Beyond that, I choose not to respond to the poll because it is too general. What piece of equipment makes the most difference depends upon with what you are starting. Assuming a good transducer, quality pre-amp, and anemic power amp, one should change the power amp.

    Given you are dissatisified with your sound as you describe, I'd think what needs to be changed is the transducer or the way it is fit. In either case, it the transduction stage that should receive the focus.
  4. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    I'm in the middle, my bass doesn't have such great tone. And the strings I like - don't help. It doesn't matter as much to me to have a transparent pickup, as it does to get a good signal out. I add tone through signal processing. And I'm looking to incorporate more digital processing. A laptop and plugins is cheaper than a really good bass :) Some might argue it would never sound as good as a good upright, but what I hear from keyboard players is sure saying something different.

    If I could afford a good bass, I'd go for a mic.

    In either case, the Amp and speaker need to be as transparent as possible.
  5. Thunder Lizard

    Thunder Lizard

    Dec 7, 2005
    Lethbridge, AB
    Canadian Distributor, Basson Sound Equipment
    Old Soundman Saying.........(ok, we stole it from someone)...*Garbage In is Garbage Out*.
    The audio chain is only as strong or as quality as the input.
    It can be colored, augmented, boosted and massaged, but it will never be quite as good as a great quality input. The very best signal is the one that needs the least amount of modification.
  6. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    A lot of energy is expended by bassists in trying to match up a pickup with a very nonlinear response with a similarly nonlinear amplification system. Sometimes the two compliment each other to an extent- hence the popularity of the old Fishman BP100/G&K 150 combination.

    Microphones still seem to be the most accurate transducers, but they don't work well in loud settings. I still think the old SM-57 under the tailpiece sounds better than just about any dedicated transducer I've ever heard.

    But sometimes in a loud setting accuracy isn't what's desired. A bassist playing in a loud combo might want a more peaky, midrange sound to cut through.
  7. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    Wow! Where to start? Perhaps your experience is peculiar to the type of music and/or venues in which you play. I can certainly understand (and have been in) situations where the goal was to just get a bass sound pumped out. For me, anyway, such circumstances are the rare exception and not the rule.

    I am one who would argue that you will not get your laptop and software to sound as good as a good upright. That is, not anytime in the near future. Being a DSP guy by profession, I would never underestimate what could be achieved with such equipment. After all, you can probably get a beautiful upright sound by pressing a key on a keyboard. In the extreme, one can envision a "synthesizer on a stick" that produces essentially no acoustic output. That, however, is not the instrument I love to play.

    There is one thing that your laptop and software will never mimic and that is the playability and physical response of a good upright.

    To each his own.

    Now, about what keyboard players think...:scowl:
  8. I have changed my bass for a new old one (carved back) and got definately better tone to the chain:) . That solved my former "virtual" problems. Your instrument is the key.
  9. JJBluegrasser

    JJBluegrasser Wannabe Snazzy Dresser

    Apr 17, 2003
    USA, Raleigh, NC
    Thanks for all the helpful comments so far, guys. I guess the hardest part of all of this is comparing one problem without knowing if the other problems are impacting it or not. I live in Raleigh, NC, near the Acoustic Image Folks, so maybe I'll go try my bass and pup through an AI once the new models are in. At that point, I'll know if it's definitely the pup that sounds bad.

    I guess what I'm looking for right now is some sort of magic way to get a decent unobtrustive tone in a variety of situations. Not perfect, just acceptable. I play in a lot of bars, barns, and even an occasional small concert hall, and I just don't sound 'right' anywhere. I have a decent pickup, which a lot of other people love, a quality preamp (although maybe not the best), and I've played through enough sound systems that I have to have come across something 'non-crappy' at some point. At this point, I'd settle for an overly electric sound (not preferred, but...) as long as it wasn't consistently nasally and obnoxious.

    When I switched out my Fishman for a loaner L.R. Baggs, I saw some improvement (it was a surprise to me as well). I was hoping for another single step that will get me closer. I'll try messing with the fit of my Rev. Solo and see if I can find a better sound in there somewhere. Maybe that's the ticket for now. I must be an idiot for not being able to make this pickup workable, since quite a few people on this forum like it just fine.

    Thanks again! Keep those insightful comments coming.
  10. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    JJ, I'z right near by you pal.

    I know no two basses are the same, but if you want to hear me with my bass try so sound oh kinda like Ray Brown (I said try to sound like), you can come down to Sullivan's on Glenwood Ave, 5-9 on May 11. I don't know if you'll be in town that night or not.

    I have a Rev SOLO, AMT mic, Solstice and a Wizzy combo.

    Now if you go visit Rick Jones and Paul Ingbretsen, I betcha they'd let you hear your current bass+pickup+pre into their newest gear like you said. They also used to have some non-AI cabs sitting around too to play with.

    Reading back over your posts, you said you liked your unamplified sound, but didn't like the way it was coming across in the PA. When you used mics like the SM-57, was it stuffed in the tailpiece like mje said, or on a stand or something? With those various mics you listed, what was it about the PA sound that you didn't like I guess?
  11. ToR-Tu-Ra


    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City
    I didn't vote on this one 'cause "Carrots" wasn't an option :smug:

    I think it's been mentioned before, but here I go: I'd say the crucial link in the chain is your fingers. Now, assuming we all get the best acoustically out of our basses, I'd have to say a good microphone/pickup is essential.
  12. JJBluegrasser

    JJBluegrasser Wannabe Snazzy Dresser

    Apr 17, 2003
    USA, Raleigh, NC
    bolo, man I've seen you around here and I've never even noticed that you live in Apex. There aren't that many of us (DB players), and I should really keep better tabs. Thanks for the invite. I only live down in Five Points, so maybe I'll try to shoot down to Glenwood South next week and say hi!

    Honestly, I guess with the miced sound, it's an issue of feedback and bleed, which I realize are universal. I play 80% of the time in my bluegrass band (The Cadillac Stepbacks) and I sing in addition to playing bass. I move in and out of the mic for that whole visual thang, and I can't use a mic successfully because soundmen around town (anywhere, really) seem to have a lot of trouble dealing with it. Usually I've stuffed it in the tailpeice, but I've always got this feedback issue.

    Tonight I'm filling in down at Shakorri Hills with a band called Hooverville. I'm not singing, so I'm going to set up a simple SM57 on a small stand, place it about a foot away, and see if I like that. If I had a blender, I'd run both the Rev Solo and the mic, but I don't currently. That is part of why I asked this question.

    Thanks again for all the advice folks. As far as the good acoustic sound observations, I completely agree. I guess you'll just have to give me the benefit of the doubt in the whole 'fingers vs. equipment' thing. I play a lot and I'll just say this: I put on Spiro Starks the other week and I played 4 shows last weekend. No additional pain or stress at all. I guess I'll say that I play 'firmly' all the time and I think I'm getting a pretty decent sound. The advice is well taken, but I think I'm doing the best I can (for now) with that already.

    Thanks again guys!
  13. ToR-Tu-Ra


    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City
    Some people use to wrap the microphone in foam or some kind of fabric and stuf it between the pridge feet or between the tailpiece and the top of the bass. I've heard that works, dunno... but it would give you a bit more mobility
  14. Actually I've done that once, but we simply were not able to get enough volume that way. Maybe it was because of the mic, I don't know, but I just wasn't good enough.
  15. JJBluegrasser

    JJBluegrasser Wannabe Snazzy Dresser

    Apr 17, 2003
    USA, Raleigh, NC
    Thanks again guys, for all the suggestions and help. I think I'm going to go with the following route. I already need a new bridge (small crack on the g-side foot, and it's a little too short for my new fingerboard) and I think I'll get a fishman full circle and have them install that for the adjusters. I guess what I've taken from this thread is that I need to invest first in the best sound and setup for my bass, then the best pickup option for my situation. I think the option I've described about accomplishes both of those goals. I can still use my rev solo or bass max too if need be, so there's nothing lost there.

    Once I get the new bridge and pickup, I'll see if that cleans things up with my existing equipment. If so, great.

    In the mean time, I'm going to go see bolo and listen to his setup and I'm also going to try and get in to the AI listening room to check out a Coda (I know a guy, who knows a guy, so I should be able to bend Rick's ear). If that sounds great with the new or old setup, then I'll buy one and use that and a direct out from it for live, loud gigs. For quieter gigs, where I'm not singing, I'll use a mic blended with what ever pickup I like best that day. I think this gives me the most flexible options with the best overall probability for success. It's going to work out to around $1800 total if I do all of the above, but hey, at least then I'm likely to be happy.

    If I don't get the coda and the new pickup doesn't sound any better than what I have, then I'll buy a D-Tar Preamp from Bob and give that a shot. If I win the lottery, I'll buy that and the AI and an AMT 25B (in addition to the bridge upgrade) and be happy as a clam...and broke.

    Thanks again!
  16. steve in tampa

    steve in tampa

    Jan 11, 2006
    Have you tried a stompbox compresser? Depending on the room, a Boss CS-3 or an Aphex Aural Exciter helps focus the sound better, so the volume can be kept under feedback.
  17. JJBluegrasser

    JJBluegrasser Wannabe Snazzy Dresser

    Apr 17, 2003
    USA, Raleigh, NC
    Hi Guys,
    Thanks so much for your feedback on this question. I just wanted to follow up and tell you that I followed the poll advice and had a Full Circle installed in my new bridge and I'm pretty happy. It's a definite improvement and it gives me the 'useable' tone I was looking for. Not 100% perfect, but definitely something I can live with.

    Now for an AI Coda...

  18. thumpybones


    May 22, 2006
    Dallas, Texas
    Hello Jason, Well you stole some of my thunder. I've had a full-circle for a couple years now. I love it's sound, both arco and pizz. That said, I don't think there is anything in the chain that is less important than anything else. Rabbath's philosophy that the bass need's to be in perfect working order extends through our pickup or mic if we play jazz.
  19. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    preamp, no question. In my experience, there really aren't a lot of "deficiencies" coming from a piezo pickup. Piezos are very "hi fi" and have an extremely wide frequency response, and hey're all pretty much the same in what they're made of. They all have that characteristic crispy/scratchy sound we all know. And mics are all pretty similar in what they do and how they do it.

    The preamp is what matters most, and IMHO you'll notice this if you go to a recording studio. Compare the sound of whatever pickup you're using through your amp, then through the studio board. It's your sound, only more so. It's the same, but the objectionable tonalities are gone.

    I was using a bunch of different preamps, and then I settled on the avalon U5. With the U5 I could still hear the piezo sound, but it was less objectionable--the lows were richer, the highs sweeter, and the piezo less objectionable. The other day I was testing out some things on my electric bass, going through a fishman platinum pro for bass and being bugged by the tone. So I switched to the Avalon and bam! There was the sound I wanted, no eq, just the same sound only better. It's hard to describe and sounds silly, but it's true. I've tried a lot of pickups (bass max'trinity mic; full circl; rev solo; realist) and a good preamp makes them all sound better

    IMHO, after lots of trial and error, everything matters, but the core of a good rig is a good, simple, high quality preamp, and IMHO the fewer bells and whistles the better

    current rig--dyn-b--avalon u5--AI Focus SA--epifani ul 1x10
  20. bigtexashonk

    bigtexashonk Supporting Member


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