If you're used to playing electric bass, switching to an acoustic bass for a set can be intimidating. In addition to the technical adjustments you need to make in the move from an electric bass to an acoustic bass, there is also a whole new set of equipment considerations you need to take into account. After all, you can’t show up to that small coffee house gig with your full stack (technically you can, but you might scare the audience away when you load in!)
Playing without a towering wall of amps behind you and an arsenal of effects can seem less than ideal for electric bass players who are used to playing in loud, heavy rock bands. But acoustic gigs don’t have to be boring, and you can still let your attitude and style shine through- in fact, they may even be more visible to the audience since acoustic performances are so stripped down! Acoustic gigs require a different approach to the instrument, but your job is the same- hold down the low end and keep the groove going. In an acoustic setting, you may need to lose the bells and whistles and get back to basics. Here are some essentials that you will need to make your acoustic gig stress-free.
- An acoustic bass. While this is not total essential, the warm, earthy sound and vibe of an acoustic bass fits perfectly alongside other acoustic instruments, such as an acoustic guitar, a cajon, or a piano. Compared to an electric bass, an acoustic has a warmer, mellower sound.
Using an electric bass on an acoustic gig is a viable option if you don’t have access to an acoustic bass. If you do several acoustic gigs, try using flatwound strings for a warmer attack. You can also adjust your tone by rolling back some upper mids to dial in a more acoustic sound.
- Instrument cable and/or an acoustic pickup. With an acoustic bass, in most cases, it will need to be amplified to be heard! If you’re playing around a campfire or in a very small room you probably can get by without amplification, but when numerous other acoustic instruments are involved you will need to either bring an acoustic pickup, microphone, or instrument cable, depending on what kind of acoustic bass you have.
Two common types of basses are acoustic and acoustic-electric. Acoustic basses need to either be mic’ed up or fitted with an acoustic pickup that will allow the bass to be heard through an amplifier or PA, much like an electric bass. Acoustic-electric basses come with onboard electronics that allow you to run a quarter inch cable to your amp, and may even come with onboard equalization.
- An electronic tuner. If you’re using an acoustic-electric bass, feel free to bring along your trusty pedal tuner and plug it in before sending your bass to the amp. However, if you choose to go all acoustic, you will want to bring along a clip-on tuner or handheld tuner. A clip-on tuner is small, portable, and convenient, and as its name implies, clips onto your bass’s headstock and detects the vibration of the strings through the body. A handheld tuner senses the pitch of your instrument through a built-in microphone. It ultimately comes down to personal preference which tuning method you use, but definitely do not show up to an acoustic gig and try to tune out loud to your guitar player!
- A fresh set of strings. This is optional, as some players prefer the muddier, mellower sound of well worn in strings. However, it’s important to consider acoustic strings are generally a more important part of an acoustic bass’s tone compared to an electric bass, which is often run through a preamp, effects pedals, and an amp’s EQ before the final tone is sent through the speakers. If you have an acoustic bass and are going to be mic’ed up by the soundman, fresh strings can go a long way in making sure that you sound your best (and stay in tune)!
- A suitable amplifier or PA system. While most small venues that host acoustic acts will provide a PA, it is possible that you will need to bring your own form of amplification. Choosing a specialized acoustic amplifier can really help in conveying the nuances and intricacies of your bass. Acoustic amplifiers often are more portable and manageable than their electric bass-designated counterparts and may even offer additional inputs for the rest of your band to plug into, providing an all-in-one solution that’s more practical than each musician bringing his or her own amp or PA speaker.
The Carvin Audio AG300 is a compact, ideal system for acoustic bass. Two hundred watts of power, clean headroom, three-band equalization, and lush digital effects make it a versatile solution for small gigs. It also has three channels to accommodate the rest of the band.
Knowing how to adapt to an acoustic gig is very important, even if you’re primarily an electric player. You never know when an open mic gig, record store acoustic set, or coffee house gig will end up on your schedule.