Have you ever had to play a gig with an amp that’s completely unsuited for the job? If so, don’t worry- it happens to the best of us, and despite our better judgment. Maybe the sound guy said that an amp will be back lined, only for you to find that it does not have nearly enough power to hang with your band. Or maybe another band on the bill is providing the equipment, but that equipment only works well for them. Or maybe it’s even your fault and you underestimated the amount of rig you would need for the show! Whatever the circumstance, it always helps to have a backup plan if you have to play on a big stage with a small amp. Here are some tips to survive this gigging situation with your sanity (and the amp) intact.
1. Don’t crank the amp past its limits. If you’re playing through a relatively small solid state amp, cranking it up is the recipe for disaster. Not only will you risk blowing speakers, the bass sound will likely be distorted, harsh and very flat sounding.
2. Avoid excessive bass frequencies. If your amp is underpowered and you know it, you will need to pay extra attention to your EQ. Dialing a big boomy bottom end works great if you’re running a Carvin Audio B2000 with two BRx10.4 cabinets, but with lower wattage and less speakers, excessive low end utilizes a lot of your amp’s valuable power. Instead, try dropping the bass back and adding in a little more midrange.
3. Use the PA to your advantage. A good PA system can be a lifesaver in this situation. Have the engineer mic your amp or run a DI from your bass or the amp, if the model you’re using is equipped with one. This will get you heard in the audience and put minimal strain on your amp, since you only need to turn it up enough to serve as your personal monitor. If that’s not cutting it, ask the sound engineer for more bass in your monitor.
If the amp you’re using does not have a built-in DI, you can use a quality DI box like Carvin Audio’s FDR60.
4. Place your amp correctly onstage. Not to feed your ego, but your band mates need to hear your bass (along with the drums) clearly onstage to help them establish chord and song changes and vibe with the overall rhythm and feel of the song. If you are going through the PA, angle your amp towards your band mates, specifically your drummer. If you can, elevate it to ear level so it’s not projecting at everyone’s legs. This will help the show run more smoothly for everyone in your band.
If you show up to the gig happy that you didn’t have to bring your big rig, but then find the amp provided is not going to cut it power or speaker wise, it may seem like a stressful situation. Stay calm and remember that there are some workarounds to this predicament!