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On Bass: The Call

It’s the event we all dream of—the one point in our musical time line that can define a career. That magical phone call (or email or text) asking if you’re

It’s the event we all dream of—the one point in our musical time line that can define a career. That magical phone call (or email or text) asking if you’re available to hop on a bus and go out on the road. Are you prepared for the whirlwind that is about to happen? If you get “the call,” things are about to get crazy for you. If you are new to this, you may not have any idea what to expect once you get out there.

I’m going to let you figure out the best way to set up your bunk and deal with groupies, but I am here to (hopefully) help you with a very important part of your new gig—your gear. You proved you’re ready to play on the road, but your bass gear needs to be ready, too.

The first thing we’ll look at is your bass. Are you still struggling with mustering semi-decent tone out of that entry-level model? Are you sure you want to take that on the road? I’m not advocating dropping five large on a Carl Thompson for your first road gig (well, maybe your second), but your bass and your gear are an extension of you, so you want the bass to sound good. When was the last time your axe was set up? Are your pots scratchy? Intonation a little off? If you have neglected your baby for a little while, it’s okay. Just get her back in top shape before your new gig. (And don’t let it happen again!) Remember how happy you were when you first got your bass? Recapture that feeling and channel your enthusiasm while learning your new tunes.

And while we’re on the subject, how many basses are you taking out? If you can, take a backup to your main axe. You probably won’t need it, but I have been mid-show when strap buttons break, pickups die, or input-jack solder points lose contact. Instead of worrying about the fix, having another bass on standby can save your gig.

What kind of gig is it? Every bass has its place in the universe, but a 9-string isn’t the first choice for a country gig. Bring the bass that you’re comfortable with, but remember what style you’re playing, too. Use your best judgment. I will say this, though: Good tone is good tone, so bring it.

If you can, take a backup to your main axe. You probably won’t need it, but I have been mid-show when strap buttons break, pickups decide to die, or solder points at the jack lose contact.

Now to another crucial part of this ride—your rig. There are many variables that come into play when picking a road rig, so you have to ask a few questions before you get ready to head out. How big are the venues you’re playing? A club tour is great, but that means your two SVT rigs are staying home. What kind of space restrictions will you face with transportation? If you are in a van-plus-trailer rig or even just in a van, consider downsizing. Will the band be using in-ear monitors or wedges onstage? How much of your amp is really necessary for impact and volume? Will your amp even be onstage? Sadly, some artists here in Nashville are slowly removing stage amps. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve tried to pick out a rig that can be used in almost any situation. I use an 800-watt head along with two 4x10 cabs. This way, if I’m doing a small club run, I just bring in one cab and the rack, which frees up space onstage and in the bus bay, but still maintains impact. I’ve found that having the cabs broken up also helps for the smaller touring situations. Once you are on a bus with a trailer and the stages are bigger, bring out your big rig. Until then, remember space is at a premium. Since you want this gig for a while, try to make it easy on everyone without sacrificing your tone.

And speaking of tone, what sort of tone are you sending to the front-of-house engineer? I wrote in my August 2009 column (which you can read at about the importance of having a great preamp as part of your rig. You may want to check out that column to help you get consistently great tone, night after night.

All right, so your bass is set up and sounds amazing, and your rig is compact, yet powerful and ready to rock. What are you going to put all this in? Ahh—road cases. You will be on the road, so you may need these. It’s a little different than putting your gigbag and combo amp in your Jetta. Buying cases is a painful and expensive endeavor. Generally, you can find great used cases for sale in most major cities, but if that is not an option you’ll have to do a little shopping. Remember, you’re protecting your livelihood, so make sure spend enough to get a good case—because it will get stepped on and thrown around. The same holds true for your amp rack. Get something shock-mounted, because you never know who has been hired to load in your gear at the venue. I’ve seen high-school kids used as hands on deck . . . with disastrous results.

Depending on the level of touring, you may or may not have support—as in a road crew. If you do get support, fantastic. See you at soundcheck. If not, remember you’re responsible for your gear being in 100-percent working order night after night. That means a little knowledge of your gear wouldn’t hurt. Also, keeping your strings fresh and maintaining your setup on the road is a good thing, too. I have a little emergency kit I keep in a rack drawer with cables, straps, and a tool kit containing allen wrenches and screwdrivers, just in case. Also, if you have an active bass like I do, you’ll want to keep an eye on the 9-volt battery. Do not let a $4 battery ruin a show.

Of course, these are just suggestions for getting your new gig started. Each gig demands different action, so you’ll want to adapt and revise your particular needs accordingly. The key to any gig—large or small—is being prepared, not only with your music, but also with your gear. I am not recommending you go out and spend a fortune in hopes that you get “the call,” but you should be ready, in your stylish way, when it comes in. And that call will come.

Steve Cook is currently fortifying himself in the back of a tour bus, awaiting the low-end revolution. He can be reached at until the coast is clear.

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