Bass Distortion and DI: Making it Work

Bass Distortion and DI: Making it Work

July 12, 2017 2 Comments

In a perfect world, sound engineers at every venue would ask bassists whether they prefer to go DI or have their cab miked up. While many sound engineers do take player preference into account, the fact of the matter is that for small local shows where five bands are on the bill, many engineers understandably stick with one method for all the bands to make the in-between set transitions as smooth and fast as possible. 


For bassists who use distortion, using a DI setup has its own share of drawbacks, despite a DI being a perfectly suitable and universally acceptable solution for bass. As we discussed in a previous article, sending an overdriven bass signal through a DI can result in a harsh sound as the preamp and speaker itself both work to round out the overdriven signal and roll off highs. Miking the cab is a quick remedy to this, but that may not be an option at every venue.

However, with some craft, fuzz-wielding bassists can have their cake and eat it too, even if they have to go DI. Here are some tips to follow if you find yourself stuck between your distortion pedal and a DI box.

1. Use a separate EQ or preamp after your dirt pedal. Doing so will help you further shape the signal of your distortion pedal, letting you dial in less high end and making other equalization and gain adjustments if needed. Some boxes come equipped with a speaker simulator switch, which will basically roll off high frequencies in your signal so they don’t come through the front of house, making your overall tone warmer.

2. Use your amp’s POST-EQ switch and built-in DI. If your amp has these two components available, you’re in business. Using the POST- EQ switch will put the DI signal after your equalization, so you can use the preamp to adjust your distorted signal just as you would if you were miking up the cab. Of course, it won’t sound exactly like a miked up cab, but combining this method with a preamp pedal will get you pretty close.
This setup also completely eliminates the need for a DI box.

BX1600 Bass Amplifier
PRE/POST EQ switch and Direct Out with PRE/POST EQ switch and Direct Out

PRE/POST EQ switch and Direct Out: Distortion-friendly options abound on Carvin Audio’s BX1600 Bass Amplifier.

3. Roll off your tone knob a tad. Sometimes simply using your bass’s onboard tone controls can work wonders in making your distortion tone more DI-friendly. While this method isn’t as useful if you switch between clean and distortion often, as it may make your clean tone slightly muddy, it can do a lot of good if you have an always-on overdrive tone.

4. Dial in some compression. Using a compressor will help reduce volume spikes in your signal and help keep your playing more balanced. While using a compressor in addition to a preamp AND overdrive pedal may be a little overkill (as distorted sounds naturally are compressed) if your fuzz sound through the PA is making your guitar player and the audience members jump up startled every time you switch the pedal on, adding a compressor into the mix will help even things out. For more about using a compressor, check out this article.

Of course, simply asking your FOH engineer to mic up your cab is the ideal solution, and all of these tips may seem completely roundabout. However, being prepared for any situation is part of being a musician, and if miking up a cab simply won’t do for whatever reason, you can still get your sound- or close enough to it- by using the above methods. Good luck, and happy playing!

2 Responses

Bryan Cornett
Bryan Cornett

July 13, 2017

trying to find that Geddy Lee growl, grungy sound for my bass. any suggestions??

Reed Wheeler
Reed Wheeler

July 12, 2017

Re: Bass Signal. I highly recommend a separate clean DI for first device in Sig.Path and NOT using only amp DI with cab mic. During a live multitrack recording a bass amp overheated causing intermittent audio in both amp DI and of course cab mic. If a DI were used first in the chain, a usable bass track could still be reamped or distorted to get the desired sound. Looking to see if Carvin will make a DI with separate Clean & EQ/Dist. outputs on XLR in the future. Thank you.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Guitar / Bass Amplifier Info & Education

Overcoming Stage Fright
Overcoming Stage Fright

July 11, 2019 6 Comments

Have you ever been in the recording studio and you can’t get that riff down? How about being on stage and messing up that important solo even though you NAILED it in rehearsal? What you’ve experienced goes by many names but is most commonly referred to as “stage fright.”

Read More

Amp Modellers: FRFR Vs. PA Speaker
FRFR vs. PA Speaker For Amp Modelers

July 04, 2019 6 Comments

Guitar amp modeling is all the rage! The technology has allowed guitarists to access a huge collection of amps and achieve tones that would have been otherwise out of reach. But with any new technology comes new challenges.

Read More

WG5 Wireless Demo Video: Acoustic Guitar with Active Pickup

June 28, 2019

WG5 Wireless Acoustic Guitar with Active Pickup Demo Video

The WG5 Wireless Guitar/Bass System is demoed in this video with an acoustic guitar with an active pickup. The benefits of the system are also discussed here.

Read More