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what's a preamp do?

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by greitzer, Jan 31, 2003.

  1. I couldn't find an answer to this in the Newbie threads, so here goes . . . does a preamp boost the volume of the amplified bass, or is it just for adjusting the tone?

    I'm in a jazz band class, playing an upright through somebody's smallish amp (they describe it as a "piano amp"). I don't know its specifications. I've got an Underwood pickup on my bass. When plugged into the amp, it doesn't quite have the volume to cut through the 15-piece band around me. When I"m playing alone, it actually sounds pretty nice, but when the horns are going, and the drums, the band leader can't hear me.

    Would a preamp help? Thanks in advance.

    John Greitzer
  2. Darth_Linux


    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    a preamp usually does one or both of two things:

    increase the gain level from the bass' pickup so the amp gets a louder signal

    and/or processes the tone in some way by boosting/cutting important frequencies. It may boost the 100 hz giving your a bigger low end sound, it may boost the the 5 khz giving you some more top end clarity or sparkle, or it may boost the 500 hz giving you more of a nasally sound.

    many times preamps are used on electric basses to add to the feature list and/or to make up for defects in the bass' tone due to cheap wood selection or cheap pickups.

    i'm of the opinioin that is the bass is made of good woods and you have a quality pickup and amp, you shouldn't need a preamp.

    but that's just my opinion . . . YMMV.
  3. scott reed

    scott reed Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2002

    If the output impedance of the Underwood is
    significantly higher than the input impedance of
    the amp, then an active direct box, a buffer amp
    or a preamp would help. You say the sound is
    fine when you play by yourself. If the sound
    was thin or tinny I would say the preamp would
    definitely fill out the tone and increase the
    perceived volume.

    On the other hand, if the amp's output was only
    50 watts or so, perhaps it's underpowered for
    big band use. Does the amp distort or feed
    back badly when you crank it up? Is the cabinet
    design open-backed (not as good for bass) or
    closed-back/ported (better for bass)?

    Then again, if your director is expecting bass
    guitar sound pressure levels out of your upright,
    he's gonna be disappointed. Maybe the rest of
    the band ought to be more aware of dynamics?
  4. Thanks to both Darth and Scott for the replies. Scott, the amp is closed in the back. And the band I'm in definitely lacks in dynamics (we're all students), and everything is loud -- even the parts where the instructor tells us to play softly. So that would definitely help.

    Based on your responses, I think I'll hold off from getting a pre-amp for now. Probably what I should do is get a good amp.
  5. Darth_Linux


    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    i'm really gonna stretch on this reply since I have no idea what your bass, amp, band or room sound like, but I'll give you this comment in the most general of terms.

    Often times if you set the eq on the amp so that your bass sounds nice when you play by yourself, you'll find that as soon as the band starts playing you can no longer hear yourself, or the bass doesn't cut or isn't loud enough.

    Other times when in the ensemble setting you find you have great tone, perhaps after the gig is over you listen to your bass by itself and go "man that sounds horrible" yet it sounded so good with the rest of the band playing.

    this is because it really does make a big difference to have those other instruments playing when you set your eq - they do have an impact on what your ear hears.

    it could just be that you need to play with the eq a little more and get the amp you have sounding it's best.

    again YMMV, but this has been my experience playing EB in various rock/jazz/funk bands.
  6. Agreed, Darth. I'll try to fine tune it and see what I can come up with. I suppoe long term, I should try to find a good bass amp.

    Thanks again.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    As another "geezer" who does Jazz band classes and plays regularly in a 13/14 piece Latin Jazz band, I would say - NO!

    Bass, requires a lot of power to get it to be projected and heard - more than an instrument like piano or guitar which operate more in the higher frequency spectrum.

    I tell you , I was really struggling to be heard with a small 120 watt bass amp (combo) and I think that in the situation you describe, you are just about going to be heard with 150 watts of bass amplification - that is, dedicated bass amplification and a proper bass speaker.

    A preamp won't really help and might just end up making you sound more distorted than you already are!!

    The Latin band gets loud and I found I needed 300 watts to compete with large horn section and 3 percussionists, but in a big Jazz big band I think you can get away with about 150 watts....providing everybody is listening. ;)

    Of course - if it is a trio or quartet, you should be able to play acoustically like Ed says - but there's no way that an un-amped DB is going to compete with multiples of trombones, saxes and trumpets!!
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well - of course it has been done - but times change!! Nowadays, the audience drown out a lot of the sound and don't just sit there listening quietly! Plus have you heard how loud trombones can go nowadays? Our trombonist can drown out the whole band on his own!!

    I think in an ideal situation with a whole load of great players, it could be done - but not many of us are going to be the next Blanton or be lucky enough to play with horn sections like Ellington's!! ;)
  9. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    Make that 3 bassists. Just did it recently on a gig at a hall for a wedding.

  10. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    Well now,EDDIE,as somebody who played unamplified bass in big bands in the '60's & since,I can tell you that the macho thing gets old fast.
    I heard & saw Richard Davis at the Village Vanguard with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band playing unamped & he sounded great! He also was standing in front of the horns(next to the saxes),he had people in the band who had a concept of balance(there was also a guy named Sam Herman playing unamped rhythm guitar who was also sitting in front & could also be heard),he had a great bass & he was RICHARD DAVIS.
    When the recordings of the 30'&40's were made,a lot of the best ones had the bass placed close to the mike so that the great players were sure to be heard.
    There's no question that some of those old guys knew how to get a great sound &to project,but the playing & listening esthetic was different,too.
    At the Vanguard in 1969,I wanted to hear the whole band.The bass (& guitar) were audible because I wanted to hear them & the whole band wanted to be musical & not just blow their brains out.I f you guys in New York can say that that is the case,then you're really lucky.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I knew it - "he's so macho!!" :D

    Whereas I am well in touch with my feminine side and have no need to prove my manhood by playing un-amped! ;)
  12. mhjazzbass


    Mar 28, 2002
    Hey, you guys should just come to play at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall! It's a dome-shaped room that has the acoustic properties of allowing you to hear each note you play three or four times after the first attack! Echo chamber!! Needless to say, it wasn't designed for jazz gigs. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I agree with Ed. But there are also some other factors I have encountered that can make a huge difference. Like room shape. If you ever check out hi-fi stereo those guys are into this too--they must have a room with non parallel walls to listen in. I have recently gone back to playing my 100 year old beat up SMALL 3/4 size Czech bass after playing a huge 7/8 new Gagnon (which is for sale!) for a couple years, one because the acoustic sound is much better for jazz, but also because I find it amplifies so much better than the big bass. I think this is related to what Ed is saying. But back to room size. I also like to do unamplified gigs if possible. I had one a couple Sundays ago in a small restaurant that had a lot of carpet, not many windows, leather seats, etc. In other words, dead-sounding, or so I thought before playing. But where we were playing (just a keyboard/bass duo) there was an overhang (wood) and the room was rectangular, with us playing in the narrow side. That was the best acoustic sound I've ever gotten. I mean the bass sounded HUGE, and it's a small bass. And I could hear my articulation better than when I practice in my studio, which is carpeted. I wish I could take that room to every gig. Conversely, my Wednesday night rehearsals in a school classroom with tile floors and lots of windows, playing with a sax quintet and a LOUD drummer make my bass sound hard and brittle, and it's hard to get anything besides boom in the sound. But I attribute that to the room more than the amp, bass and hands. So bottom line, I think some rooms just don't jive well with instruments. I often hear drummers, who rarely use amplification (and probably never should) say the same thing--that the room has a big effect on their sound. My Say. Cheers!

    M. Hicks
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Which of course is your prerogative!

    Actually I know you're right Ed, because you say exactly the same things as all my Jazz tutors (although in a different vernacular) - my regular tutor thinks our Latin Jazz band is much too loud and pointedly stands as far away as possible, when he has been to our gigs!! ;)
  14. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    There's a carved bass here on Maui that is coveted by every player I know, myself included. What a cannon. It's owned by a slab player who rarely touches it, due to intimidation or whatever. It was in many pieces when I first saw it at guitar luthier Steve Grimes' shop. Certainly came together nicely; no amp required! Anyone want to help me liberate this thing some dark night?
  15. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    Man, I gotta agree with Ed, and far from NYC, I live in the boonies of Oklahoma.

    First, I've noticed that the more I play unamplified, the more leaders who hire me dig it. It makes the whole band more aware and sensitive. I now hear 3 other bassists here that have been asked to try making the gigs sans amp in certain rooms.

    It ain't a macho thing. As Ed says, I look at my sound reinforcement equipment as a tool. Some gigs are in bigger rooms (the rooms here all seem to be bigger than the ones I saw in NYC) and I might need a touch more, so I use a mic. Then there are those obnoxiously loud clubs that are small enough to play acoustic, but people won't shut the #%$@ up, so I have to play amplified.

    Hey, also I'm lazy. The less crap I have to take to a gig, the better. I love playing at Mickey Mantle's, because I throw the mic in my gig bag, small mic stand, and cord. 5 minutes to set up and every one in the bar and the adjacent restaraunt can hear me fine.

  16. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    I like to play unamped /unannounced sometimes. Bandmates don't usually notice whether or not I brought an amp, and they often respond to the pure sound of the bass, because it's so seldom that they get to hear the thing on its own anymore. The music seems just to really start to pop when everyone's ears are open. I think maybe that's it's the opposite of the "louder faster higher" thing that we fall into when we're younger. I find myself holding back a bit on the intensity when amped; without it, I feel free to play whatever pops into my head. I would urge any DBers to give it a shot, at least.
  17. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Ed, I'm curious as to what you mean by a "centered" sound. Big, warm, open all click with me, but I'm just wondering about "centered". I just know you mean something specific...
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well I think you have to bear in mind though, that the original question asked, was from someone who is pretty much new to this and is trying to compete with a large big band with lots of horns - who aren't good enough to play quietly. Of course in a quintet down.. then all acoustic is a great sound ......

    But it must be pretty daunting to be told that you have to compete with multiple loud trombones, saxes and trumpets all by yourself - I tend to think it might put me off trying, and I would probably just give up! :(

    I feel people are just "airing their prejudices" and aren't actually trying to help or support the original poster, who asked a very specific question and deserves a helpful reply!
  19. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Good point...if I were only using the Underwood, I'd surely use a preamp, for both the gain and the tone control. That particular pickup is pretty thin sounding on my bass. I now use it in combination with a Realist pickup, into a Acoustic Image Contra amp, so I no longer need to use the preamp.
  20. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Last week practising with the big R&B band, I got a sudden, unexpected earful of trombone splat. Almost crapped my pants.

    The room and the other players matter a lot.

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