3 Unexpected Gigging Essentials for Bass Players
There’s one thing that any seasoned musician knows to be true about playing live gigs. "If something can go wrong, then it will go wrong, right before your gig starts."
That’s why most musicians who have been at it for some time will always carry a few extra items when they play out.
A guitarist will take an extra pick or two and hopefully, an extra set of strings. Drummers will bring along an extra set of drumsticks and a drum tuning key, and most bass players will take an extra battery and cable.
Those are all good ideas, and in my opinion, it's a good idea to keep on taking them to your next gigs.
However, there are a few unexpected gigging essentials that can make or break your next gig.
Adding copper tape shielding to your control and pickup cavities
A little bit of noise coming through your amp at home is a nuisance.
A little bit of noise coming out of your amp during band rehearsal can be very annoying.
A little bit of noise coming out of your amp, then being amplified by thousands of watts through a PA during a gig, will get you thrown off stage.
Yes, noise is a big deal when you’re gigging, and the larger the show, the more intolerant the sound guy will be to it.
To avoid getting you and your band kicked off stage, you need to make sure that your entire rig is silent.
One of the most effective ways to keep your bass quiet is by shielding its control cavity and the space around the pickups with copper tape.
Adding copper tape shielding and grounding it creates a Faraday Cage around your bass.
A Faraday cage is a metallic enclosure that prevents the entry or escape of an electromagnetic field (EM field). An Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) can be produced by cell phones, power lines, microwaves, computers, and TV screens, and the list goes on.
Most of the time, these EMFs won’t be strong enough to be picked up by your bass, or will only cause a small amount of noise. But since you’ll likely be amplified significantly by the PA, then this small problem can become huge.
This makes adding copper shielding to your bass a cheap and easy-to-do insurance policy against noise.
To be 100% accurate, you won’t be able to do a perfect Faraday cage, but adding copper tape wherever possible will block out much of the EMF interference you’ll come across.
Keep in mind that if you’re using single coils, like on a Jazz Bass, you’ll still get 60-cycle hum when you solo one of the pickups. But often with a high-quality single coil pickups in a well-shielded bass 60-cycle hum can be passable and mostly go unnoticed.
Use a compressor
Unless you’re the bass player for an established act with a dedicated crew that includes a sound engineer, you don’t know what’s going on with the Front of House Sound.
Most sound engineers at music venues have to set up, tear down, and make sure everything sounds as good as possible for most bands that play on their stages.
This means that they’ll try to make the mix as balanced as possible, but they likely won’t be paying close attention to your specific bass tone.
This is why using a compressor when gigging is essential, by adding some compression to your signal the sound guy/gal won’t have to add any of their own, assuming that they even have the equipment to do so.
Because if they don’t have access to compression in the front of house, the sound guy/gal will be forced to lower your overall volume if your signal is overly dynamic.
If that happens, then you’ll get lost in the mix, and your audience will be missing out on all the punch and dynamics you bring to the music.
By feeding the front of house with the most polished and mix-friendly bass signal, you’ll go a long way to making the overall gig experience a good one.
Wear some kind of hearing protection all of the time
Hearing loss is a big deal for musicians for very obvious reasons.
And you’d be surprised at how quickly being exposed to the volumes found at your typical venue will accelerate hearing loss.
The first frequencies to go are the higher frequencies, but eventually, if you don’t protect your hearing, you’ll lose sensibility across the entire frequency range.
The worst part is that this type of hearing loss can be permanent. That should be reason enough for you to go out and get some earplugs if you don’t have some already.
Another reason to use hearing protection the moment the volume level starts to increase at the venue is due to temporary hearing fatigue.
Even if you’re not on stage, venues tend to have background music or other acts that play before you. Exposure to loud volumes for long periods will temporarily fatigue your hearing. And to compensate, you’ll notice that you start digging in harder into your bass, or in some cases, you’ll find yourself bumping up your volume on stage.
This not only has the negative side effect of throwing off your technique, but if you turn up too loud on stage, you’ll also throw off the mix of the entire band.
TLDR, wear some form of hearing protection. You’ll play better, feel better, and be able to keep on gigging for years to come.
Be prepared, have fun
Playing live is one of the best parts of being a bass player. You get to share your music, your tone, and connect with a live audience.
But gigs have a lot of moving pieces, and some can go wrong. This is why being prepared for the unexpected will make a big difference in how much you enjoy the whole experience.
What are your gig essentials?