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How big's your rig?


Phil O'Keefe
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I was having a discussion with another bass player the other day and the topic of amps came up, and I'm a bit curious about what everyone is using, specifically in terms of amplifier power and wattage. What amp are you running? Is it tube or solid state? How many watts? And finally, what speaker(s) are you using it to push?

 

I'm curious as to what everyone thinks is "enough" rig - do you think something like a 200W 2x10" (plus horn) solid state combo is sufficient for use with a rock band that plays clubs, and if not, what would you consider to be the minimum rig you'd want for that gig?

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2X10's wouldn't get me there playing live. The drummers I work with would burry me. I can get buy with a 4X10 cab or single 15" but 2X10's and 2X12's have a small footprint and unless the guitarists is using a small combo with an 8 or 10 and the drummers using a mini kicker, I couldn't keep the rhythm section pumping with something that small, especially in a medium to larger sized club.

 

My bass gear collection is mostly used gear bought from friends and pawn shops. I'd trade it all for an Ampeg V4B and B15 cab with a pair of Altec 15's

 

I have several bass cabs.

 

EV cab with 18" JBL and 2X10's - Old cab but really kicks. Really needs better 10's then the ones I have in there now.

 

A Sunn 6X12" cab, Speakers are angled - Great cab bit because the speakers are old and its oddball impedance. Makes a cool guitar cab because of its wide projection angles.

 

A 1X15" Folded Sunn cab with a 15" JBL. I live that cab. Wish I had a pair of these. I'd dump all the other stuff.

 

And I have a 2X15" Traynor cab with 300W Celestions. Traynor cabs are shallow and lack bass. This makes a great Guitar cab and may sound good with stock speakers and matching head, but it hasn't got the balls of say and Ampeg B15 cab.

 

For heads I have a

 

200W Crate bass head - Pawn shop special. It works but the tone is pretty lame. Cant dial up a good sounds with the cabs I have.

My buddy has the same head with matching cabs and it sounds pretty good. Mine just don't match.

 

350W Portaflex - Great sounding head but I think the 500 or 800W would be a better choice for my needs

 

67 Blackface Bassman and 200W Sunn Concert Lead for bass occasionally The Bassman records well but its not quite enough playing out unless I have highly efficient speakers. The Sunn is a guitar head but I biamp cabs with it and its got a hell of a kick driving Mids and Highs.

 

I can get any combination of these to work but because nothings a real match. Mostly its the cabs resonant peaks don't match the heads ability to properly tame and EQ the bass frequencies very well. EQing and compressing the sound helps but its a work around at best. Bass rigs are often matching systems The heads voiced to power the cab, and the cab is tuned to the speaker. PA heads are voiced to the matching cabs in similar ways.

Edited by WRGKMC
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I've got an SVT-CL and a PR410HLF. This will handle any gig. I've had the SVT-4PRO and despite it's rated 1200 watts it wasn't nearly as loud. Amp ratings are at best iffy and subject to cab impedance, as the -4PRO was that rating into 2 ohms, but it was still way higher rated than the -CL. I suspect the same applies to the Portaflex amps, but I'd like to try them to see/hear.

 

To be clear, if the venue is large enough that a pair of 10's properly powered isn't enough, then the venue or band should have enough PA to carry the bass guitar...and to keep stage volume under control, that's how it should be handled. As much as I love my amp rumbling the stage, it's not the way to go. I don't know if 200W is enough, because as mentioned, it depends on the amp. A 100w V-4B would do the job, but I've had several 200 watt solid state amps that would be working hard to handle a small club.

Edited by Craig Vecchione
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Do you feel the 350W Portaflex is under-powered for your needs' date=' or was there some other reason you thought the 500 / 800W versions would suit you better?[/quote']

 

I realize this is a Psychoacoustic thing and not an actual Reality, but that's all that really matters in the end. Its rated for 350W but feels more like its half that to me. Compared to a SVT head, its a fly weight with maybe 1/4 that power under actual operating conditions. This isn't much different with the tube versions comparing the Portaflex to an SVT.

 

I have several other heads to compare it using A/B comparisons using the same cabs . I'm able to find its optimum settings and swap the cabs around. I realize 350W isn't going to be that much louder then my 200 W heads, but It does give me real comparison when judging its ability.

 

Most SS amp ratings feel over rated to me when compared to tube heads. Even My Marshall Valvestate feels more like its a 50W head when I use it. I know the reason is for this, its because I grew up on tubes and judge all amps by their amplification curve. Tube amps produce most of its clean wattage volume within the first 50% on the volume knob. From there up it gets louder but since its clipped its not considered additional wattage.

 

That point between maximum clean tone and before clipping begins on say a Bassman or V4B tube head is around 1/2 way to 3/4 up on the volume knob. Electronically its the sweet spot on the knob where the analog tone stack works best and produces the maximum fidelity and dynamics.

 

Finding this sweet spot on any amp is a matter of picking a note, adjusting the volume and tone till the head reacts best to pick/finger attack throughout all the notes on the neck. With bass its the point where the head produces a solid note that has maximum strength and "natural" attack with no transient distortion. From there you can play any style from smooth finger to hard rock and even the hardest multiple string pulls without farting out or sounding harsh.

 

This sweet spot is where the head produces its widest dynamic range. if you gain it up more, you have to restrict your right hand dynamics do it doesn't distort or fart out. Adjusted lower and you cant play relaxed and produce clear tones. you win up having to play aggressively all the time to make the notes heard.

 

Music is all about emotional content. Playing at the sweet spot allows both extremes of the dynamic range to be played naturally without having to tweak your gain. I'm not concerned if a head has an additional 150W above that sweet spot, because I'm probably never going to use it. If that preamp sweet spot that gives me the best dynamic range vs tone isn't loud enough to drive a decent cab, then I just need more wattage in the power amp to get me there.

 

The Portaflex gets its best rounded tones with its preamp volume between 30 to 50%. Tone controls have usable ranges between 1/3 and 3/4. You can run the master full up but cranking the preamp more then 50% with the instruments knobs cranked. beyond that the gain makes the strings unnatural and unmanageable. You would need additional compression to flatten the attack to utilize that additional volume.

 

The head does have a limiter but its attack isn't adjustable and doesn't have much effect on any of my 5 basses with passive pickups. Its likely designed to tame active pickups or Pedals that gain the input signal up. The head does sound great for clean guitar by the way.

 

I should also note, I have used this head for direct recording. You can safely run the head without speakers, turn the master volume off and use the preamp section through the line out. (master volume is after the line out) Running the head as a preamp through the DAW allows me to carefully judge that preamp gain and tone stack. I have even optimized the bass pickups to produce the highest clean volume with the most natural attack so I know its capabilities very well.

 

Knowing where those preamp and EQ and preamp gain settings are, then simply plugging the head into a cab and using its internal power amp reveals the heads real world capabilities are.

 

I'm sure the head is enough for many situations, especially if its running its matching cabs which consist of a Portaflex 15" and 10" pair. I rate it a good amp for many downsized situations which seems to be the trend these days. Its power should be sufficient for any studio or rehersal/small gigs where guitar players use smaller combos no more then 30W. It wont be enough to compete with a 4X12 cab and Plexi head.

 

I gestimate the 500W version is closer to SVT 1/2 stack and should be enough to match a Plexi running a 4X12" bottom. The 800W version would likely match a Full SVT rigs power range (maybe) and be enough to match a Plexi full stack.

 

Of course I'm throwing out all of the actual numbers here and strictly focusing on the amps perceived "Footprint" size. For me bass is first about the size of the tone. Having say 50% reserve wattage is often optimal for producing its largest footprint which leaves an additional 25% usable reserve. You don't want to run these Portaflex heads full up for another reason. I did allot of reading up on them and found an many owners experienced the same issues where the heads would shut down temporarily when they got too hot. This is a thermal safety circuit built into the amps to prevent thermal runaway. It shuts the amp down till it cools and then resumes normal operation.

 

This safety feature is an important feature with Class D amps. the circuits are very small. They have to be tight to produce high fidelity. This creates a heat sink issue however. A/B amps can have an larger chassis to mount power transistors and dissipate heat. Class D does make the amps lightweight, but the cooling factor is very critical. The fan in the Portaflex is good, Its built in limiter also protects it, and the thermal protection is a wise backup. I don't plan to pop that thermal protector in any case. Keeping the head below 3/4 will keep it from overheating and since it sound best below that level Its where I run it.

 

This is another reason why I'd prefer a larger one because running the head to its maximum wattage

 

 

I should add this point as a perspective. I drive a Mustang GT 5.0 and like having all that reserve power when I step on the pedal. Most of the time I just cruse in it like a luxury car getting back and forth to work. The thing is I can go from a dead stop to 60 in less then 5 seconds before I get out of second gear. I like my bass amps to respond the same way.

 

The Portaflex is allot like that Ford ranger I had with its 4 cylinder engine. It was a great vehicle, never broke down, efficient on gas, and lasted me 12 years. I'd step on the gas and there's that slow acceleration is good enough to keep up with traffic in front of you and not annoy the guy in back. You're flooring the thing 90% of the time just keeping up with traffic most of the time however.

 

Standing out and making a noticeable impact live just isn't going to happen with that head. I figured the 500W will be just enough for studio and stage an I'll have the additional tonal ranges and a few other features I found the 350 lacking.

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All depends on the gig. At present, I use an Ovation acoustic bass guitar, my rack rig and a single JBL 2202 for one regular gig. Larger gigs with that band I use a Ric 4004Cii, same amp and either the same cabinet or a Sunn Model 215 with JBL 2205 drivers. Another band, I use a Ric 4001 or Carvin LB75 with the same amp and a different Sunn 1x15" or the Model 215. Third band I use a Sunn Model T into the Model 215, Model 410H, or both. The places we play, most don't have house systems, and most of the ones that do aren't set up to run the bass through it.

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To be clear, if the venue is large enough that a pair of 10's properly powered isn't enough, then the venue or band should have enough PA to carry the bass guitar...and to keep stage volume under control, that's how it should be handled. As much as I love my amp rumbling the stage, it's not the way to go. I don't know if 200W is enough, because as mentioned, it depends on the amp. A 100w V-4B would do the job, but I've had several 200 watt solid state amps that would be working hard to handle a small club.

 

 

I suspect your background in running live sound has made you more aware of the perils of runaway stage volume than most people... ;) but that's still an excellent point Craig!

 

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I'm not really a bass player, but I have an old UK made Ashdown abm 500 4x10 combo.

 

It's an awesome bass amp. Too bad it weighs in at 110 lbs.

 

 

I also have a SWR Cal Blonde, which I actually bought as an acoustic guitar amp. I have a lil Kala U bass that was given to me as a gift, and the SWR sounds cool with the Kala.

 

 

 

 

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. . . To be clear' date=' if the venue is large enough that a pair of 10's properly powered isn't enough, then the venue or band should have enough PA to carry the bass guitar...[/quote']

That's how we do it at church. There's a Line 6 75 Watt SS 1X10 amp for practice and so the bass player can hear what he's playing, and it runs through the PA for main volume.

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To be clear' date=' if the venue is large enough that a pair of 10's properly powered isn't enough, then the venue or band should have enough PA to carry the bass guitar[/b']...and to keep stage volume under control, that's how it should be handled. As much as I love my amp rumbling the stage, it's not the way to go. I don't know if 200W is enough, because as mentioned, it depends on the amp. A 100w V-4B would do the job, but I've had several 200 watt solid state amps that would be working hard to handle a small club.

 

Unfortunately, that isn't always the case.

Edited by isaac42
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My bass rig:

Ampeg PF-500 yes, one of the 'unreliable' rev. C . It's never cut out on me.

Gallien-Kruger MBE 4x10 cabinet, 4 OHM.

 

When playing live, I always tried to raise my cab off the floor, usually by using a chair or milk crate. No effects. I used a G&L SB-2 bass and just went for a straight, plain vanilla P-bass tone, which seemed to work great in the country band I was in at the time. I like having the clean headroom.

 

I think if I had a choice I'd rather play bass than guitar, but my 'talents' are needed on guitar. smiley-embbarrassed There's something very satisfying about holding down the beat and bringin' the THUMP.

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It depends upon the available sound system and monitors, but playing smaller college bars... (think 4 man traditional band of AG, EG/Lead, BG, Drummer) I never needed more than my little Mesa Boogie Walkabout Scout 12 (300w) also being run through the house or my system which is a couple of 12" powered subs an 10" powered tops. Other parts of my bass rig include Line 6 wireless into a Boss VF1 controlled by ART X11.

Edited by ThudMaker
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I use a Fender Rumble 500 v3. It is unbelievably loud for a 2x10 combo and I really like the tone. My band is a drummer who thinks dynamics is Chevrolet model and two guitars and me. I have had no trouble sitting correctly in the mix accept I've occasionally had to turn down because I was too loud. Last Saturday, I did run through the PA because we were playing a large outdoor venue. I did recently play a room that was rated for 800 people with no PA support. We also do acoustic gigs and I use a Rumble 25 for that with my Mike Kelly Dragonfly.

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Maybe the 2X10's have gotten better since the last time I heard one. We auditioned a bass player in my last cover band who brought either a GK or Hartke. It had like a 500W head and was plenty loud. It just didn't have the beef at the bottom end. He could push all the Mids and highs but all that did was force the guitar player to turn up. The lows just weren't there and even with the mids completely scooped and thing just farted out. The band didn't even rehearse that loud. Its footprint size was like a small combo compared to my practice guitar rig which was a 4X10 cab and 50W head with the volume barely cracked. The drummer had a 24 inch kick drum with a medium strength foot and the 2X10's just couldn't produce a low frequency footprint to match it.

 

If the drummer had a kit with one of those small kick drums and the guitar players used like 12~20W amps, you could get a good balance unmiked. That's the key to a tight band sound. If it sounds even unmiced, then you can get a decent balance miced.

 

Allot of this has to do with the music type and venue of course. A Dinner lounge playing Jazz or electrified acoustics, you don't need much there to carry the bottom. In Houston allot of the places rock bands play are these big Ice houses that are big open steel buildings where you'll get a hundred or more bikers hanging out wanting to hear heavier metal, blues, or classic rock.

 

Unless you have at least one 15" the echo is going to absorb all the low frequencies. I used to hang with my buddies Blues band that sponsored an open mic night. Bands would swap out gear all the time so I was very familiar with what would cut it and what wouldn't. I'd move around the place and hear the band from all points in the building. The band had a decent 1000W portable Peavey PA with 15's and horns. They normally used one monitor for the lead man Mark May in the Video below. He played in the Dicky Betts band for about a year and was a major headliner down here. I used to do a bunch of amp repairs for him and the bass player so I had an open invitation to jam with him.

 

The guitars need a certain amount of volume to get the notes to sustain standing in front of a mic as you can hear in this video and he uses no pedals to get his drive tone just a cranked amp. The bass player Dan uses the 4X10" for smaller gigs but at an important radio gig like this one he uses the full 15" and 4X10" together. The head has 2 channels and he Biamps the cabs with its built in crossover and usually plays his Peavey bass with active electronics and can carry the band without being miced. (I regularly repair that bass by the way. He wears the pots out on a yearly basis playing full time)

 

So again, a club the size of this House of Blues is pretty common around here. Back up in the NE you had a whole different venue with allot of older buildings and volume levels were often limited to a few Rock clubs that were big enough to handle full sides Rigs. We used to play the shore and Places like Asbury Park has some larger clubs you could play at concert levels. Allot of others were smaller and adjusting the rig size to push enough air in that room size was the whole key to a good sounding gig.

 

Yes you can mic everything up, but who the heck has the time and energy to do that when you're playing out 5 nights a week. You mic everything, you have to hauls extra PA cabs, Extra monitors, extra mics, extra stands. Then you need to pay for a larger truck to haul it, in and pay a guy to set it up and run sound all of that.

 

If you want to pack it all in one van so you can earn a pay check driving around the state, your rehearsal rig is you live rig and if you want to have people get up and dance you better have some low end thump happening. Otherwise that crowd the warm up band brought in for you will be holding their noses and heading fro the front door.

 

Looks like they're using the house PA at this gig and are miced for the radio broadcast but they don't normally mic their amps. They have just enough gear to sound good and not have to haul an extra 2000W of pa gear you'd need to mic up smaller bedroom sized amps. Its easy to say, just mic it, but those who do probably don't have to haul all that gear around every night.

Edited by WRGKMC
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I have a few amps, GKRB800 and 400, MB500, Ampeg SVT4-pro, Trace Elliot V-6. A few cabs, a couple of Aguilar 112's a Peavey 410tx and an Ampeg Pr410hlf (the best bass cab I have heard!, balanced with floor shaking lows and pretty efficient). I use a Genz-Benz Shuttle. It is small, light, sounds fantastic and has a great built in DI. I never play without a decent PA so every thing else collects dust!

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In the past, when I was doing the touring thing, my rig was:

Peavey 500 watt pa head

2 18" cabs

2 12" cabs

Kramer DMZ6000, and a Gibby EB3L

 

Today since I rarely play live on bass anymore, it's a lot simpler:

Roland BN60 (60watts with line outs and the like)

and either my Ibanez EDC700 or my Domino beatle bass

Only 2 trips to the car!

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