If you’re getting tired of gigging with a bass amp and thinking about going ampless on bass, we’ve put together a quick guide to ampless bass rigs that will make pack down a lot easier and ensure your sound is almost exactly the same at every venue.
Although for many bass players, the idea of not playing with a bass amplifier behind them may seem somewhat alien. But whether it’s because you use in-ear monitors or the stages you’re playing, are just too small for an 8×10 cab, you need to make sure you’ve got options when playing live – plus, dragging an amplifier around with you is not always practical, or fun!
You send your bass signal straight to the desk and just use the monitor speakers or ear monitors to monitor your sound without needing an amp onstage.
Of course, we make amplifiers here at Laney – so we’re not going to discourage anyone from getting an amp! But now and then the time calls for a smaller, easier, more portable set-up.
As bass players and sound engineers depend less on the mic’d up speaker sound, you might find that going straight to the front of house (FOH) is the better option for hearing yourself onstage. In addition, a lot of venues require very low stage volumes, so cranking your bass amp is not always possible to get that tone you want from your tube amp.
This is where ampless bass rigs, or going direct in on bass, comes in handy.
So, today, we’re going to show you 3 ways to put together an ampless bass rig so you can set up and pack down quickly and retain your signature sound in all environments.
But first – the benefit of ampless bass rigs…
There are major benefits of ampless bass rigs, which we’ll get into here before showing you exactly what you need to create one.
The major benefit of an ampless bass rig is the fact you don’t have to carry around a bass amp with you to every venue. Now I’m not saying to throw away your bass amp just yet, as you’ll always find a situation where you might want your amp behind you, whether it’s a festival stage or venue where you really want to feel the power of your bass amp. But lugging a 2×10 cab or even a 4×10 cabinet around with you is not always practical.
With an ampless bass rig, you just need your bass guitar, potentially just a DI box, a few leads and your pedalboard and you’re ready to play in any venue with a PA system.
Another benefit of an ampless bass rig is the fact that you can retain your signature tone at almost every venue. You set your tone on your pedalboard and your pre-amp pedal and let the PA system do its thing. It’s very unlikely that your sound engineer will mic up your bass cab as they often just want the DI signal so they can sculpt the tone themselves based on how the room is set up. However, with the likes of the Laney DB-Pre, you can set your tone and activate the “POST” setting which means the sound engineer gets the wet signal of your preamp pedal rather than a dry and lifeless signal. You retain the qualities of your EQ and TILT setting, sending the exact tone you want to the XLR-DI and the sound engineer uses that sound.
Another benefit of ampless bass rigs is that you don’t have to rely on poor quality backline. We’ve talked about it in the benefits of a bass preamp pedal but the fact bass players often have to share a bass amp means you’re relying on the venue having a decent amp – which is not always the case.
An ampless bass rig with a good quality bass preamp pedal means you can go straight to PA and forego the house bass amp which has been used a million times and sounds terrible.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of an ampless bass rig is the fact that you can go direct-in to PA. Just plug your ampless bass rig into the DI box, or if you have a DI box on your board (advised) your sound engineer can take a signal from that and use the PA system to power your sound.
You’ve set up your ampless bass rig in about 30 seconds – all while the drummer is still trying to get his snare stand out of the bag.
Some venues have an extremely low onstage sound limit or FOH limit. Cranking your 200/500/million-watt bass amp is not always possible, or practical. If you use in-ear monitors you don’t need sound onstage either – so an ampless bass rig enables you to have an essentially silent onstage sound (minus the drums and shuffle of feet!).
You can have multiple options when it comes to ampless bass rigs. But for this article, we’ll keep it as simple as possible without getting into multi-effects units, cab simulators and rack-mounted gear.
The three easiest ways to go ampless on bass are:
In option: 1 No pedalboard – Bass >> DI Box >> PA system you’re turning up to the venue with just a bass guitar, guitar lead and plugging directly into the PA system. There’s no tone sculpting whatsoever and you’re only getting the line level signal from your bass. This may work for you if you like the sound of a clear bass without any tone or EQ other than what the PA system provides. To be honest, this is a lot easier for a sound engineer but doesn’t necessarily sound the best as you have no drive, distortion or detail in your sound. It’s just flat, clean bass. Again, you might like this, so it’s entirely up to you and the easiest way to go ampless on bass.
I advise buying your own DI box, just in case the venue’s option isn’t that great.
This is a solid option when you want to go ampless on bass. This option is the happy middle ground between going direct in on bass to the PA and adding a full pedalboard. The preamp is where your bass amp gets all its signature tonal qualities. Without a preamp, you have a completely dry, clean sound. So you should use a preamp pedal where possible.
The benefit of a preamp-based ampless rig is that you have the EQ sculpting features of a bass amp all wrapped up in a pedal that fits in your backpack. With the likes of the Laney DB-Pre, you can even send the wet signal of your bass sound directly to the FOH engineer via the built-in DI-XLR so they can mix your signature sound rather than just the dry signal.
This is the most effective way to go ampless on bass without extra pedals.
If you’re like me and you like to play a lot of different genres and need sonic options, you’ll want a pedalboard-based ampless bass rig. This is the most effective way to go ampless on bass without sacrificing sonic options.
With this set-up, you have your bass, into a preamp, and your effects pedals in the send/return of the preamp pedal, just like an effects loop. I’ll explain further down below with a diagram, but with this option, you get all the tonal EQ options of your preamp as well as the ability to add bass effects to your sound, like distortion, reverb, delay and any other effect you like.
This is essentially a fully working, silent bass set up without an amplifier. All you need to do is turn up to the venue with your pedalboard and bass and you’re good to go!
If you’re a session musician, you play in a wedding band or you’re a touring musician, this is the ultimate ampless set-up that provides all the options you need.
Let’s expand on option 3.
So what do you need to set up this ampless bass rig? In this next section, we’ll highlight all the obvious, and not-so-obvious elements you need to go ampless on bass, but we’ll skim over the fact you need a power supply, pedalboard or bass guitar leads and patch leads because you should know that!
Disclaimer: We’re not talking about bass modellers or multi-fx pedals here, we’re just talking about the old-school ampless rigs where you simply need your bass FX pedals, bass preamp, DI box and your bass!
Well obviously, you need your bass guitar, but the main question people often ask is if they need a bass with active or passive pickups. This doesn’t matter. As long as you have a preamp pedal or bass DI that can handle either, you’ll be fine. A bass just needs to be brought to line levels, which a good quality preamp or bass DI will do.
The general rule of thumb is that if you have a bass with active pickups, you’ll need a passive DI box. If you have passive pickups, you’ll benefit from a DI box as that helps drive the signal. But in all honesty, this is completely subjective as an active DI box may give you an unwanted high-end tone as there is more signal being pushed into the PA.
For the same reasons that you wouldn’t rely on the venue to supply a bass amp, you shouldn’t rely on them to have a good DI box. Most venues WILL have a DI box as they need it as much as you do, but f you buy your own, whether passive or active, the sound engineer can just take the bass feed out of that and you KNOW you’re getting good quality sound before you even arrive at the venue.
This is perhaps the most important piece of the ampless bass rig puzzle. You need a pre-amp pedal to sculpt your tone if you’re not going to be using a bass amplifier. It’s not the best idea to only use distortion, reverb or delay effects on an ampless bass guitar set up as they don’t allow you to EQ your bass tone or get the subtle (and not so subtle) detail that you need for each song.
The preamp is where your bass amp gets all its tone from. Without it, you’re left with a completely clean, dry signal – and no one wants that onstage! You need a tone-shaping mechanism that enables you to blend your mids, create a valve amp cranked saturation, or kick into clean, high headroom detail at a moment’s notice.
Fortunately, the likes of the Laney DB-Pre lets you do all that and more. And it has a built-in DI, so you don’t need to buy extra gear!
If you want your effects to be affected by the preamp, the same way they would an amplifier, then the preamp is generally best placed at the end of the signal chain, but if you want the purest tone possible that not only retains your bass tone but allows your bass tone to work alongside effects pedals rather than affect them, then place it closer to the front (your bass) and run your effects pedals through the send and return (FX loop) of the pedal.
The DB-Pre features a built-in XLR as well as a send and return that lets you send your bass signal as well as the sound of your pedals to the PA system. This means your sound engineer gets the sound of the bass as well as the pedals in a way that is far easier for them to mix. Just work with them to ensure there are no jumps in volume when you whack your distortion pedal on!
The image below shows you how easy it is to connect your Laney DB-Pre bass preamp to the mixing desk and go straight in, while simultaneously using bass guitar pedals on your pedal board. All the sound engineer needs to do is plug into your DI connection on the preamp and the entire sound of your pedalboard is there for them to mix!
Using the Laney DB-Pre is the absolute easiest way to go ampless on bass.
You may be a bass player who only likes the sound of a cranked bass amp without any extra effects. Or you may be a bass player who simply likes the sound of a clean, crisp bass sound.
In that case, all you need to go ampless is either a bass preamp pedal with built-in Di, or if it’s just the clean sound you want, a DI will do fine – I refer you to option 1 again.
However, if you’re like me and you like the sound of your bass to have some additional elements like reverb, distortion or even an octave effect, then you’ll need some extra effects pedals.
The most common bass effects are compression, distortion/drive, reverb, delay and octave. Anything else is entirely up to you. But if you’re putting together an ampless rig and you’re a session musician, you’re set for almost every sound possible with that combination.
Of course, the number of effects you can have on your board is limited by the size of your board, so keep that I n mind. It doesn’t look cool having a pedal board with 3 or 4 pedals hanging off the end. It’s also unsafe…
Compression is essential as it allows you to bring all your notes to the same level. This is vital when playing bass as you want each note to stand out equally. There’s nothing worse than losing the detail when you play softly. A compression pedal will lift all of your notes to equal volume, preserving the dynamics of your playing, but allowing everyone to hear what you’re playing. We recommend the Laney BCC-TCF Black Country Customs Custard Factory Compressor as it allows you to dictate exactly how much compression you want on your sound and provides the ability to mix the wet and dry signal.
Distortion is another essential pedal for ampless bass rigs. Drive can only push your amp so much, and even with the tube saturation of the Laney DB-Pre, it’s not going to push you into the realms of heavy metal heaven without the aid of a distortion pedal.
Again, if you want options, the Laney Black Country Customs Blackheath is a handcrafted, triple-mode, bass distortion pedal with 2 different modes of Distortion and an Overdrive built in. This alongside the preamp means you’re ready for blues to country, rock to hard rock, all the way to heavy metal and black metal.
Octave is another great pedal for bass players as you can shift your pitch up or down. You may want to get some killer emo sub-drop sections in your songs. Conversely, you may want to bring out the higher-end notes akin to Rage Against The Machine when the time calls for it. Either way, an octave pedal like the Laney Bass Interval BCC-T85 Octave pedal provides all the sonic options you need. You can go 2 octaves down or a perfect 5th above your original note.
Delay is another great pedal that bass players should have for either adding a subtle slapback, elongated delays or just something in the background to fatten up your tone. The Difference Engine delay pedal is a great option with loads of cool benefits like being able to mix different delays or choosing from modern to vintage style delays at the touch of a button.
To power everything you’ll need a power supply for your pedalboard. Almost all modern pedals these days run on a Regulated 9V DC PSU, centre negative power supply. You can run all your pedals from a single power supply and use the likes of a DC Splitter Cord to supply power to each pedal.
Don’t forget about your tuner pedal. Often when people are putting together their ampless bass rig they get so caught up packing bass effects onboard that they forget about a tuner. This is vital as there’s nothing worse than trying to play a D note and it sounds like an F#.
There are some misconceptions about ampless bass rigs, like whether or not you need a power amp. Now, this is the case with guitar amps – but we’ll get to that in another article, but not the case with bass rigs. In addition, you may be wondering if you can use an ampless bass rig for recording… here are some common FAQs around ampless bass setups.
Yes, you can. If you’re using a direct-to PA set-up with your bass, or direct-in as it’s sometimes known, you can piggyback off the Power Amp of the PA or mixer which will push your sound through the speakers.
In addition, if you use in-ear monitors for live shows and you just have your bass signal running directly to the PA you’ll be able to hear yourself clearly through your IEMs, or the monitors onstage.
You don’t need a separate power amp pedal for ampless bass rigs.
No. If you’re using an audio interface or powered studio speakers, you don’t need a power amp – you just need all the tone sculpting elements that your ampless rig will provide. A pre-amp pedal like the DB-pre is technically all you need to get a good bass sound, Additional pedals for tone sculpting are up to you!
Your tone will sound a little different at first as you’re not going to be hearing your bass amp behind you. However, as most sound engineers don’t mic up the bass cab anyway, it’s not going to make much difference to the audience. You’ll hear a cleaner, purer signal through your monitors or in-ear monitors while reducing onstage bleed. Going ampless on bass improves your onstage sound in a lot of cases.
Going ampless on bass or going direct in on bass is a big step for many bass players who are attached to using a bass amp. But you’ll find a direct-in bass setup becomes more attractive the more you tour, the more venues you play and the more stairs you have to carry your amp up.
That being said, it’s always good to have a bass amp at home or in the practice room as you’ll be able to jam with your band mates, rehearse at home and get a feel for how your bass sounds live before leaving it in the hands of a sound engineer.
My advice is to hone your craft using a bass amp, then make the switch to ampless when the time calls for it, always knowing you have a bass amp waiting for you when you need it or want the power behind you.
Good luck out there!
We also recommend checking out our blog on using UK guitar and bass pedals in the USA if you’re thinking of travelling to The States for gigs!