Tuesday, 5 January 2010

If I Had A Million Dollars

Merry 2010. Hope you all had a great start to the new year, and that everything you could possibly desire for the next twelve months is going to turn out just peachy. Of course, statistically, that's incredibly unlikely, but hey, misplaced optimism, it's a positive lifestyle choice for the 21st century. And when the inevitable depression sets in after you realise that your life is, in fact, rapidly crumbling around you, there are the always widely-available alcohol, narcotics or spank-that-overdraft comfort-spending as alternative options to help get you through the most desperate times. Like I said, "Happy New Year".

Anyway, when I bang on about musical equipment here it's usually the value-for-money slice of the market I'm looking at - good quality bargains on a budget. But for once, my folk-blues-acoustic-songwritery chum Mr. Martin Lennon suggested I pick a "money-no-object", fantasy bass rig.

Which has proved surprisingly tricky to decide on.

Back in the mists of time, (some point in my mid-20's, when I was progging away with Citizen Cain), I'd likely have plumped for some mega-stack of ridiculous size & power. A mighty 1000 watts (or thereabouts) of thundering low-end disturbance, probably with at least two of the massive custom cabinets Trace Elliot built for Tony Levin (20"+ speakers, I seem to recall?). But I was young and foolish then.

Now I'm almost 41 (dammit), and still equally foolish...but a little more aware of my limitations and frailties (mental and physical). Plus I don't own a car (I don't drive at all), and haven't done any proper weight training in about 4 years.

Also, I'm not very likely to be indulging in any arena tours...ever, so that sort of set-up would be utterly pointless. To be a little controversial, I'd suggest a great many bass players have amplification that is far more powerful, space-consuming, and injuriously heavy than they really need. I know, there are plenty of drummers out there who seem to be acting-out their repressed rage on their kits, but still...

Recently I've been aiming for a set-up that's completely modular, adaptable for a variety of gigging circumstances, but predicated on two notions -

1) A large PA offers the best set of bass speakers this side of a hefty physiotherapy/osteopathy bill; and

2) You shouldn't own any piece of performance gear that's too heavy to lift (from the floor) above your head, comfortably - unless you happen to own some roadies as well. Thus, if you're a huge, strongman-type, an 8x10" cabinet is fine. Otherwise, we mere average-size folk should try to take as little as possible that'll do the job.

(a handy, simplified, visual guide follows for any guitarists who think that a full Marshall stack is appropriate for pub gigs, and that they somehow deserve assistance with carrying the bloody thing)

In truth, the Ashdown amplifier I'm modelling in the left-hand picture only weighs 27kg - a relatively easy overhead lift - but I still wouldn't enjoy having to heft it up a few flights of stairs (e.g. Teviot Row - remember those stairs, Martin?), especially if I had both basses and a rucksack full of 'gig essentials' slung over my shoulders at the same time. My Tech 21 VT-Bass pre-amp pedal in t'other photo, however, is lighter than a very small kitten, and makes much better noises than the Ashdown...so long as there's something to plug it into.

Which is where my indecision starts. All I'd need, strictly, would be a decent wee power amp and a speaker...but really I'm after rackmount-gear performance, only without having to lug around the inevitable big injection-moulded rack-carry-case (this also rules-out Tech 21's rather cool SansAmp RBI, unfortunately). The amp has to be as fully-functional as possible, yet small enough to fit tidily in a rucksack, and the speaker light enough to be one-hand-portable over fairly long distances.

A little research proves that, as in the rest of life, if the budget is big enough, you'll always have a choice. There's quite a wide range of lightweight-yet-powerful amp heads available - Markbass, Eden, Gallien-Krueger, Aguilar, even the wee Ampeg Micro-VR I wrote about a while ago (and I'm sure there's many more besides). No idea which to choose - all/any of them could do a very good job, especially with the VT-Bass in front of them to provide sonic variety. Or for upright players, how about a Phil Jones 'Briefcase' combo? So many great options - again, assuming you've got the cash.

And when it comes to speaker cabinets, they're getting lighter all the time - I haven't tested them, so can't vouch for their quality, but if the Barefaced compact's spec sheet is moderately accurate, it should be a cracker. Definitely seems slimline & portable...until I found the Schroeder website. Their "Mini 12+" full-range cab looks impressive - but if even that's too large - how about a "Mini 10+"...? 300w RMS, 45hz bottom end, and less than 8kg! Alas, I don't live anywhere near a retailer that stocks such wonders to see how their claims stand up, but since I'm picking 'fantasy' gear, and could send them back if they were rubbish...

ummm...I don't know...er...how about...the Tech 21 VT-Bass pedal, into a Markbass Little Mark III, going through a Schroeder 'Mini 12+ light' (< 9kg). Not outrageous (whole lot could be had for £1200-ish), and eminently practical - total weight of 12kg. So, if any of my friends happen to win the lottery, I've a birthday coming up, and now you know just what to buy me - that'd be really nice of you, ta.

Back to some sort of reality with a dull, painful thud next time. Promise.


Martin Lennon said...

Brillian what to get you for your birthday. One day.

I never get tired of these blogs, sir. Thank you.

Andy Gilmour said...

Heh! Maybe when I hit 70 or so...

Martin Lennon said...

Of course, what I meant to say was:

"Brilliant! Now I know what to get you for your birthday. One day"

but of course, you knew that. Just as you probably realised that I was obsessing over Am or A(no 3rd (A true fact, in fact.)which is probably what caused the temporary brain fart

Andy Gilmour said...

A(no 3rd, sus4, add9) is one I like.

With or without the 7th or 6th, depending on yer mood.

I blame the late, great John Martyn. It was hearing his stuff for the first time 20 years ago that did this to me...