I never took debate in high school. The thought of arguing for or against a real-world policy or situation is intriguing, but the fact that one could be chosen randomly to argue for or against a point is a little tough for me to accept, especially if it is a subject I feel strongly about. I actually don’t argue (which drives my girlfriend crazy), but I listen and absorb, then make up my own mind. I rarely attempt to sway people, but would rather lay out facts and let people listen, process, and respond. And that, my friends is the spirit of this months’ column.
Framing the Debate
I live in Nashville, and it’s an exciting and
wonderful hotbed of musical activity and
community. It’s not unusual to run into a
great player or artist at the grocery store
or gym. In certain neighborhoods, it seems
like a big-name player or producer occupies
every other table at the coffee shop. I ran
into a friend of mine at the gym a little while
back who plays for an über-popular artist.
He was telling me his plan of creating a
Stonehenge-like formation of three Ampeg
8x10 cabs at one of his shows. A few months
later, when I ran into him again, he said
the artist had taken all the amps offstage. I
asked if it was, in fact, because of the hugeness
of said Spinal Tap rig that all the cabs
were moved, but he said no, it was just the
trend. (And, sadly, he never constructed his
This bit of information got me thinking. With
the growing popularity of in-ear monitors
and the ease of running direct, it seems that
more players are opting for the “no-rig”
mentality. I am from the old school, where I
love to have air moving and my amp where
I can get to it and feel its impact. Of course,
on bigger stages that doesn’t really matter,
because my rig is so far away. So here is the
debate: amp or no amp?
”Why, Yes, I’ll Have an Amp” . . .
We are creatures of habit. We started playing
in the bedroom or garage on a small
amp, then moved to a bigger amp, and
then had visions of a really big amp with
a wall of speakers behind us. Little did we
know that there were tricks and dummy
cabs involved with some of our adolescent
fantasies. Strangely, we still pushed forward
and continue, to this day, to carry an amp
around. And one that is usually too big.
But this is the bass, right? We’re supposed
to rattle the rafters and shake behinds into
submission. As players, it’s our job to move
air and fill up the room with our 40 Hz goodness.
Plus, many of us are working the clubs
where our amp has to be there because the
monitors are nonexistent and the PA simply
doesn’t handle what we offer. Plus, the
drummer needs a place to rest his drink.
Seriously, though, having an amp onstage is
a blessing. Every room is different, so having
the ability to EQ and adjust certain aspects of
your rig is priceless. In my opinion, unless you
are playing huge venues, the audience in the
first few rows misses out when the amps are
not onstage. I remember being hit in the face
with the sound from Richie Sambora’s stacks
when my band played the same festival as
Bon Jovi. The tone and feeling change when
the amps are somewhere else and there are
flown arrays or front fills trying to compensate.
It doesn’t always work.
. . . vs. “Why, No, My Amp Stays Home”
Can you imagine walking into a gig with just
your bass? I mean, you could sit back and
just smile at the B3 player as he loads in his
Leslie cab! How wonderful would that be?
Trends are moving that way, thanks to things
like sweet-sounding DIs and micro-effects
systems. There’s no more bulky anything to
carry. And the sound is just as good, right?
Well, the truth may be hard to swallow. My
buddy who started all this rattling in my head
told me that he was going to run three lines
direct and blend them with different modules
to get his sound. And let me remind you that
they are using in-ear monitors in arenas and
stadiums, so the sound he hears will be exactly
the same every night. I imagine that if you
find the right DI or effects device, then your
sound won’t change either. And by cutting
stage volume, you allow the PA to actually
do its job and amplify the band, not amplify
around the band. Plus, with an amp out of
the picture, you just saved room in the car for
the guitar player’s gear.
My two cents: I am for the amp. Even though
we are “on ears,” I still want the amp. I stand
in front of my rig for nothing more than personal
indulgence, a pleasant reassurance that
all is right with the world. Air is necessary for
life—and bass as well. But my opinion doesn’t
matter in this one. You have some bullet
points laid out for you, so the rest is up to
you and what best suits your needs.
Even if you aren’t changing your rig because
of this column, hopefully you will jump into
the debate. That will be the fun part. For
online readers, there’s an open comment
forum under this article, where you can
debate back and forth to your heart’s content.
Or, if you just want to chime in, that’s
fine too. If you are reading this from the
printed page, then start the discussion with
your band. You could be very surprised at
the results. Either way, keep playing—and
keep it simple.
Steve Cook is currently fortifying himself in the back of
a tour bus, awaiting the low-end revolution. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org until the coast is clear.
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