June 15th, 2023 | John Dines
Bassists can be pretty good at keeping it simple, especially when compared to guitarists. Certainly, in mainstream music, there’s an appreciation of finding an instrument and a signal path that works, then sticking to it.
But simple rigs still require complicated decisions. For a start, guitarists almost all agree that you plug a guitar into a valve amp, with a few pedals in between. Bassists looking for classic tones, on the other hand, often have to make the fundamental choice between a “direct to console” sound, like those on so many great recordings, or running into some kind of old-school bass amp, like all the other classic recordings.
In a modern-day live situation, neither is particularly practical. Classic bass amps are big, loud, heavy and hard to come by and studio consoles are, well, in studios. Luckily, the trend towards running direct to PA and using either on-stage or in-ear monitors makes things a bit easier, and that’s what we’re focusing on in this article. How to access both flavours – direct to console and classic bass amp tones – using as few pedals as possible, for a direct-to-PA rig. Of course, we’re taking them from the ever-growing selection of Origin Effects bass pedals.
Probably the pedal doing the most heavy lifting in our rig will be the BASSRIG, in this case the Super Vintage. Not only is it providing the timeless tone of an Ampeg SVT, but it is also handling DI duties – essential for getting our sound to the PA.
The BASSRIG Super Vintage also features an 8×10 cabinet simulation on its DI output, which is a crucial part of the SVT sound. You can also choose to leave this active or disabled when the pedal is bypassed, using the DI CAB SIM switch. For our purposes we’ll select “FX” and disable the cab sim when the pedal is bypassed, giving us the ability to switch between a vintage-correct SVT tone and a completely neutral DI sound using the footswitch on the BASSRIG.
CLIP 1: Starting with the BASSRIG tone, then bypassing for the clean DI sound
So far, so good. We have our vintage bass amp tone and a clean DI. But a totally clean DI is not how our favourite direct-to-console studio bass sounds were created. History’s best DI tones required history’s best studio gear. A great DI bass sound definitely sounds clean in the mix, but owes its character to a great preamp contributing a bit of colouration, maybe even distortion! Some control over EQ is important too, as the raw sound of a bass guitar is likely to need some help in the low end and probably a treble boost too.
Luckily, we can wheel out our DCX BASS to handle both the analogue mojo and EQ parts of the puzzle. Inspired by the Universal Audio 610 preamp, it’s exactly the sort of retro sound you might associate with the glory days of pop studio recordings. Using its lower-gain EQ mode, we can dial in some subtle saturation, a big bass boost and a touch of treble to give our clean DI sound the extra personality it needs.
CLIP 2: Starting with the clean DI sound, then adding the DCX BASS
We’re almost there, but no classic bass sound is complete without a compressor – so let’s dig out a Cali76 Compact Bass. Based on the UREI 1176, its tone is a as era-appropriate as the BASSRIG Super Vintage or the DCX, making it an excellent choice for our rig.
In a real vintage recording environment, the compressor would be used after the preamp in a direct-to-console signal path – the preamp needs to come first to boost the bass guitar signal up to a usable level. Similarly, if using an amp, a compressor would likely be used after the mic, either on the way to the tape machine or at the mixing stage. However, we do not have those limitations, so we can put the compressor wherever we want.
In our rig, it’s going to be first in the chain for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if we run the compressor up front, it can even out or dynamics before we reach the pedals that are contributing the overdrive. By doing this, the BASSRIG and DCX’s level of overdrive will remain consistent, never jumping out of the mix with sudden clipping on louder notes, or disappearing into the background with a tone that’s too clean. We can keep our drive right in the sweet spot for both our “amp” and “console” sounds. Tip: always compare level of your compressed tone to the level of your signal with the compressor bypassed. Use the compressor’s output level control to keep the signals at an even volume, as it will help you manage your gain-staging and avoid unintended boosting.
CLIP 3: Starting with the DCX BASS, then adding the Cali76
CLIP 4: Starting with the BASSRIG, then adding the Cali76
Another reason to run the compressor first is that, by doing so, we can get ourselves a bonus third sound. We already have our BASSRIG amp tone and our DCX console tone, but we can also boost the BASSRIG with the DCX. Having the compressor first means that getting extra level from the DCX results in more drive from the BASSRIG, rather than more compression, which is what we’d get if we placed the DCX first. Providing we keep the DCX EQ controls at more conservative levels, we can get a great overdriven tone by using it to push more level into the BASSRIG.
The secret to this is to begin with the BASSRIG in bypass, then set the DCX’s output level so it is not boosting the overall signal level. Then bypass the DCX and activate the BASSRIG, making sure the BASSRIG’s level matches the DCX. This will give you your amp and console tones at equal volume.
Next, turn the BASSRIG and the DCX on, and increase the output level of the DCX until it pushes the BASSRIG into the desired level of overdrive. You haven’t changed the tone of the DCX, just made it louder.
Now, toggle between the DCX and BASSRIG, increasing the BASSRIG output to match the louder DCX volume. Given that at least one of these pedals will be on at any time, it doesn’t matter that they’re both louder than your unaffected signal – you can just tell the monitor engineer to turn it down slightly.
CLIP 5: Starting with the Cali76 and DCX BASS, then swapping to the BASSRIG, then adding the DCX for a boost!
We now have three tones available: a direct-to-console tone using the Cali76, the DCX and the BASSRIG’s DI; a vintage amp tone from the Cali76 and the full signal path of the BASSRIG; and finally, all three for a driven amp tone.
The concept is simple in terms of stomping – just select one, the other or both. It’s also simple in terms of pedals. Just hook three up in series and away you go. Even once you add the obligatory tuner, the whole thing still fits on the smallest pedalboards available. Bass on your back, pedalboard in your hand and in-ear monitors in your pocket. What a 21st century way to get some of the best retro tones out there!
BASSRIG Super Vintage: https://origineffects.com/product/bassrig-super-vintage/
Cali76 Compact Bass: https://origineffects.com/product/cali76-compact-bass/