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.
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.
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.
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!