In a previous article, we discussed DI vs. mic for guitar and bass applications and how either choice could be appropriate for you. But what if you don’t get to choose? At some venues, the sound technicians might have their standard procedure to mic up guitar cabs and DI bass, as a common example, and you may find an old, crusty DI box waiting for you as you bring your awesome rig onstage. That is not to say there is anything wrong with using a DI; rather, that there are ways to use a DI setup while still keeping essential aspects of your bass tone.
Most DI boxes will split your bass signal into two paths: a quarter inch cable will go from the box to your bass amp head, and an XLR cable will go to the mixing board. While you can still get “your tone” through your amp, what comes out through the PA may be much different. For instance, if you have a nice fuzz bass sound dialed in, the direct signal to the PA will make it sound slightly harsher and hollower since your speaker isn’t there to mellow it out. Also, since the DI is placed before the amp, any EQ adjustments you make will be for your own stage mix only. If you are particular about your tone being consistent from the stage to PA without being able to mike up your bass cab, here are a few things you can try.
- Add a preamp pedal. A preamp pedal placed before the DI signal can work wonders for your tone. Since it’s right at your feet, you can make on-the-fly adjustments to your sound as needed and shape your signal before it even hits the DI box. A preamp pedal can be anything from a low-gain overdrive to an EQ pedal to combinations of both.
- Bring your own DI. A DI is a very useful tool to have. If your amp fails for some reason, you can use a DI box to go straight to the PA and keep the show going. If your keyboard player forgets his amp, he can use a DI box to convert his line level signal to an XLR balanced signal and go straight to the board. Investing in quality unit like the Carvin Audio FDR60 is well worth it. Gigging with a DI box that you are used to can relieve a lot of stress at the gig. Just like any piece of gear, not all units are created equal.
- Use your bass head’s DI and the pre/post switch. Many modern bass heads, including Carvin Audio’s B1000, come with a DI built in. This eliminates the need for a DI box and allows the engineer to take your bass signal straight from your amp via a balanced XLR cable. The real benefit in this method is if the unit is equipped with a pre/post EQ switch. Setting the switch to the post-eq setting will include your equalization settings when your bass tone is sent to the FOH, allowing you to keep your tone when using a DI. (For more on this topic, check out this article).
The B1000 has a built in DI and a pre/post EQ switch.
If you are absolutely adamant about capturing the sound of your entire bass rig at your live shows, a good option is to invest in your own microphone and stand and bring them to every gig, making sure to communicate with your soundman that this is your preferred method. While a DI setup is generally more common for bass, it’s perfectly fine to go with whatever method helps you sound and play your best.
Having to use the DI isn’t the worst situation. If it’s the only method available at a given venue, being prepared for it is something that is definitely worth taking the time to do.