Meet Igor Saavedra
The chain is only as strong as its weakest link……..
In the last issue we covered links 1 to 7 on this Path for a Proper Bass Sound. Now we will look at links 8 to 14 in order to finish this saga.
8 – The Bass Head
This is a very complex and simple link at the same time, but a very important one indeed. In order to be able to decide what type of bass head you need, it’s crucial to consider many factors such as price, power, size, noise/signal ratio, if it has an input attenuator, overload and clipping leds, the Eq type (Graphic, Knob, Semi parametric, etc), contour filters, if it has a balanced line output or just regular 1/4 connector, and if it also has level regulation for that specific output signal so that we make those level modifications just for the sound engineer without affecting our levels. It’s also important to consider if the bass head has a ground lift to avoid annoying noises that show up once in a while, and a “pre Eq” or “post Eq” selector to choose if the signal that we are going to send to the mix board is going to be affected by our Eq modifications, or if it’s going to be a neutral signal. Always try to use speakon connectors for the speaker outputs of your bass head. This is even more important for high current amplifiers that once in a while can send a deadly voltage into the metal ¼ connectors that in some circumstances can burn your fingers or even injure you if you are touching them, and your other hand is touching the ground. I know what I’m saying here because this happened to me once in a sound check and I did have to cancel that concert. Finally, also consider if this bass head is rack mountable or not.
9 – The Effects
For this link in particular we must apply the concept of “less is more”, so we have to be very cautious with how much of the effects we’re going to add to the signal. There’s nothing worse for our sound. Don’t fall into “abusing them”, instead of “using them”. It’s good not to forget that 90% of the time we are playing a “supportive bass” role, so the amount of effect must be very subtle.
For me, there’s nothing better than an analog effect, and I’ve had the best digital effects available on the market. Regarding compressors, if you are not prepared to spend a big amount of money on that, let it go, because there’s going to be a huge chance that this is going to harm your sound instead of helping it (same for wireless systems).
10 – The Eq concept
This is one of the “non technological links”, but requires a lot of experience. The best advice I can share on this link is to equalize “around 0 db” (especially on graphic equalizers), otherwise we will just be increasing or decreasing the gain with a potential overload or “underload” of the input signal. It’s also good to be clear on which Eq bands are related to specific notes in order to increase them or decrease them based on our taste.
11 – The Bass Cabinet
The biggest headache of a bass player is here, but what to say, we love them, and we want them big, and looking good, but mostly, “powerful and good sounding”.
The best wood for a bass cabinet is usually plywood, but new materials are coming out and very specific MDF’s are gaining terrain over plywood with the benefit of their ultra light weight. The proportion within the cabinet’s measurements is really very important. And not just the total internal volume, because maintaining the same internal volume is not the same with a deeper than wider cabinet, instead of a wider, deeper one, or a higher and wider cabinet, etc. Be sure to check that out.
It’s also important to consider the air vents and their size, or no air vents. Plastic accessories and their proper installation are important too, because if their quality is low, they will have a tendency to vibrate and loosen. The connectors are very important as well. I prefer using speakon connectors as much as possible. Finally, where to place the cabinet will make a huge difference in the sound. Obviously a cabinet placed on the ground will sound much deeper and will give a fuller sound to the bass frequencies, with less high or mid presence than the same cabinet placed higher on a table, or a chair.
12 – The Speakers
The so called “Output transducer” is one of the most important links on this chain, and one of its weakest points at the same time due to the fact that this link is the exact moment where the electric energy is transformed into mechanical energy, and this means there’s a huge loss of the original information. The game is about loosing the least amount of information as possible, so a poor quality speaker will definitely terminate any possibility of getting a good sound.
I will mention some of the characteristics you have to consider in order to be able to choose a bass cabinet properly:
1. Cone diameter (5″, 8″, 10″, 12″, 15″, and 18″)
Believe it or not, it’s proven that a vast amount of small diameter speakers within a cabinet will reach much lower frequencies than just a single 18 inch cabinet. So be sure to try everything, and pay attention to the sound.
2. Cone material
The list of materials is huge, and each of them will have different sound properties…Polypropylene, Aramid, Kapton, Kevlar, HCL, Cast aluminum and of course Paper which is the warmest.
3. Magnet material (Mostly Ferrite and Neodymium)
I would like to mention that regarding electric bass speakers, neodymium magnets have been slowly replacing ferrite magnets, mostly because of their awesome light weight and good sound.
4. Speaker power
Don’t be under the impression that “the powerful the speaker the better for you”. For example, a 200 watt amp going into a 2000 watt speaker will sound horrible. The reason for this is that a 200 watt amp will not even tickle a 2000 watt speaker because its stiff suspension is designed to start moving only with really high signals, so the final sound will have almost no low frequencies. For a 200 watt amplifier, a good 350 watt speaker will be just perfect.
13 – The listener… Oh, that means… YOU!!
Many times I’ve heard crazy things like “I always leave the bass knob a 12 pm., the mid bass at 10 Am., and the mid high at 2 pm. and the treble at 3 pm—that sounds really good”.
The only thing I will say here is that “There is no fixed equalization for the instrument that will work for every circumstance, so you must consider where you are playing—open space, concert hall, arena, only one wall behind the stage, only one wall in front of the stage, 4 walls, material of the walls and the roof, etc. And most important, you must pay attention and LISTEN to your sound in order to make the necessary adjustments considering all this factors.”
14 – General gear maintenance
Let’s say we’ve already considered and applied the information of all the links in this saga. Many of them will be useless if we don’t do any maintenance on our equipment. In realistic terms, it’s good to be conscious of taking care of our cables. Avoid pulling the cable wire—grab the connector. It’s good to keep your instrument clean, and in dry places with a medium temperature. Keep the strings clean as well, and to avoid cleaning them too often, it might be wise to wash your hands right before playing. Always keep your tools handy—Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, cutters, pliers, etc. If there’s a slight problem with your instrument before going on stage, your sound could be affected.
Finally, always carry ear plugs; they are “a must” for any serious professional bass player. Their use is mandatory for high volume concerts.
That’s it for now my friends. Don’t miss the next issue where we’ll talk about how to approach the teaching/learning process on electric bass.