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Intelligent design comes to bass guitar systems

My Stage and FOH-Friendly Bass Rig


  • Allen Breaux Boogie Man custom hand-made 4-string.
  • MV Pedulla Thunderbass ET5 5-string.
  • MV Pedulla Thunderbuzz ET5 5-string fretless.
  • Tobias Classic 5-string.
Main Equipment Rack (used for gigs that have house subwoofers)
  • Furman PL-Tuner power director/tuner (modified for rear signal input).
  • Ashly BP-41 pre amp.
  • dbx 160X compressor.
  • Ashly SRA-2150 stereo amplifier, 80 watts per channel (for at-home practicing or other on-stage uses as needed).
Secondary Equipment Rack (used for gigs with no house subwoofers)
  • Yamaha YDP2006 stereo digital 6-band parametric equalizer (as crossover and EQ for full-range bi-amped stage rig).
  • Crest Audio Pro7200 stereo amplifier (1000 watts per channel @ 4 ohms; 590 watts @ 8 ohms, for bi-amped stage rig).
  • Electro Voice ZX 1 – 8” two-way (as bass monitor for gigs with house subwoofers).
  • Genzler 12-3 – 12” two-way cabinet (for gigs with no house subwoofers).
  • EAW SB-150 15" subwoofer (for gigs with no house subwoofers).
  • Custom-made guitar cables with Canare L-2T2S cable and Switchcraft 90° plugs.
See my review:
Schecter Studio 5-String Takes on a Hand-Made Custom

See text below the pictures:

  • Why a rig like this?
  • The why and wherefore on the gear chosen
  • The basses
Rack front reduced.JPG

Rack rear reduced 2.JPG

Breaux front a reduced.JPG Pedulla front reduced.JPG

L-R: Allen Breaux Boogie Man custom and MV Pedulla Thunderbass ET5

Why a rig like this?
Strange bass rig, you might be saying. Well, about ten years ago I was contemplating putting together a high-end rig with full separates, complete with a custom bi-amped cabinet that would hit 30 Hz. For 99% of my playing I was behind a capable PA system comprised of four two-way cabinets with dual 15s and a pair of high-output 18” folded horn subs, powered by a stack of amps totaling a few thousand watts.

I was long on imagination and short on money back then, which actually worked out pretty well. That’s because it eventually dawned on me that there was no reason to spring for a rig that would play loud and low when I was already getting that for free with the PA system!

With that realization in mind I set about to assemble a stage rig that would compliment rather than compete with the house system.

Since I was relying on the sound system to cover the audience, not the output from my own equipment, the first thing that appeared to be of little use was the traditional hulking bass cabinet. No love lost there. It was always a royal pain getting a firm grip on what was getting out to the crowd with those things. When it sounded great to me where I was standing on stage, it sounded awful when I used a long cable to get out to where the audience was. When I got it sounding good to the house, it was unbearably horrible for me on stage.

However, I did need to hear myself on stage. So I got a good-quality stage monitor. The nice thing about stage monitors is that they let you hear sound the way it was meant to be heard – out in front of you, aimed at your head. Gee, what a concept! Unless you have your ears in your buttocks or the back of your knees, it makes perfect sense. For instance, do you set up your speakers at home behind your couch? Ever see a singer say “Move that monitor around behind me so I can hear it better?” The resolution and texture from your bass that comes through once the sound from the speaker actually gets to your ears - it’s quite a revelation and pleasure to hear.

There are other advantages to using a good stage monitor instead of a bass cabinet. For one, they use quality compression drivers for the highs, not those cheap, nasty-sounding piezos. Indeed, traditional bass guitar cabinets use a completely different driver array than stage monitors and PA systems use. So if you are patched into the PA system and you’re using a bass cabinet, there’s virtually no chance that you’ll sound to the audience the same way you sound to yourself on stage. Get yourself sounding good through a monitor and you have a much better chance of sounding good to the audience too, as they’ll be hearing pretty close to what you’re hearing.

There are many other technical benefits of using a non-traditional bass rig like this. It allows you to use high-quality, rack mounted professional gear, like a compressor and maybe a parametric EQ to fine-tune your output to the PA (I’ll go into that immediately below). You aren't limited to cheap stomp boxes, which usually don't have the best electronics.

Bottom line, I’ve never regretted ditching the traditional bass-in-the-rear-end rig for something more intelligently designed. I still keep a traditional cabinet around for the times I have a gig where they’re using dinky two-ways on poles, but that’s for the audience. I still bring along the monitor for myself.

The why and wherefore on the gear chosen

Furman PL-Tuner power director/tuner

Naturally, you need power management for any rack. I picked this particular Furman because it had a built-in tuner. There isn’t much to a tuner – you’ve seen how tiny the portable ones are – so it makes no sense to burn a full rack space for one. However, Furman gaffed by not including a rear input jack. You have to plug your guitar into the front input, then run a separate cable from the output to your pre amp's input. What nonsense. Who wants a bunch of cables hanging all over the front of their rack? So I ordered a jack from Furman, mounted it in the back panel and connected it internally to the front-panel input jack with a shielded wire. I use a line output from the pre-amp to feed the jack. Mission accomplished: bass gets tuned, front of rack stays free of extraneous cabling.

Ashly BP-41 bass pre-amp
A really nice pre-amp. Too bad Ashly quit making them a long time ago. E-Bay is your friend! The BP-41 has switchable A/B inputs, so you can plug in two basses and switch between them. They’re actually low-gain / high-gain inputs, so you might have to do some volume adjustments on one of the basses if they both have the same output level, but it’s workable. Like most pre-amps, the BP-41 has a balanced output for the PA. For my stage signal I use the high pass output from the on-board electronic crossover. Why that and not the regular full-range stage send? Because it lets me roll the lowest frequencies out of my monitor. (I can’t do that with the pre-amp tone controls; they’re also going to the house send, so they have to stay flat.) I usually set the crossover to 100-125 Hz or so – in other words, everything below that point is rolled out. That lets the house subs carry the bottom end all alone – no need for both of us to do that.

dbx 160X compressor
The nice thing about a rack is that you can use a real pro-audio compressor instead of a cheap stomp box. This vintage dbx does a great job, and the big LED meter display is way cool! It’s connected through the pre-amp’s effects loop, so it processes both stage and house sends.

Yamaha YDP2006 stereo digital parametric equalizer
Another vintage piece I ebay'd. I fed the pre-amp’s stage output to the Left channel, for equalizing my monitor. The pre-amp’s balanced output to the Right Channel, which gives me a dedicated equalizer for my house send. The typical mixing console will only have a three or four band EQ at best, and only one or two of those has any effect the bass frequencies - a very general, broad adjustment at that. With the YDP2006, you have six dedicated filters for fine-tuning your signal (two of which can be switched to shelving).

If you’ve never used a parametric EQ before, lemme tell ya, they totally rock! You can select virtually any frequency you want to adjust, and make it a wide or ultra-narrow adjustment, or anything in between. You can set a filter so narrow it will equalize a single note! ‘Course you probably won’t want to do that. For my 4-string bass I set up one filter to boost the notes below the bottom “G” (about 40-50 Hz), because I had weak fundamentals down there. I used another filter to take out some “boom” in the 100 Hz range. Another I set in the 400 Hz range, to help my high notes at the top of the neck cut through the mix. I used the high shelving filter to tone things down a bit when my strings are new. When they’re broken in and not so bright I turn that one off. Just an example of the kind of ultra-fine tuning you can do with a parametric equalizer.

The Yamaha YDP2006 is hands-down the best equalizer I’ve ever used. More features and tricks than you can shake a stick at. I used six of the available 40 (!) memory settings to give me different EQ settings for each of my basses for the three PA systems I use most of the time. It has 24 dB/octave high and low pass filters, so I utilized the high pass filters to roll out the low frequencies, to better match my rig to the capabilities of the PA systems I play through. The YDP2006 also has a digital attenuator that can be assigned to the memories, which allows me to compensate for the slightly different output levels my basses have. And on and on!

Carvin DCM-200L stereo 100-watt amplifier
I know you’re dying here. One hundred watts per channel? Yup. With my stage monitor only having to get to my ears, and not fill the whole room with sound, and with the low bass rolled out, this little 4-lb. (that’s no misprint!) one-space amp is all I need, and it hardly breaks a sweat.

Electro Voice ZX 1 monitor
In the past I’ve used Yamaha SM-series monitors, JBL MR-series and even some old Bose 800 speakers (the ones with eight little 5-1/4” speakers). I was pleased with all of them. The ZX 1 I’m currently using is basically a small PA speaker with an angled cabinet that can also be used as a stage monitor. Its 8” woofer comfortably generates enough low end in the limited frequency range that I use it for. Typically it’s all I use for a gig, unless for some reason I need a bigger cabinet to fill the room. In those situations I break out my Aguilar 1-12” cabinet.

The rack
As you can see from the picture below, the back of the rack features a custom termination panel that I made from a three-space blank panel. The labeling was created with a Kroy label maker. The Hubbell flanged power inlet has neon indicators above it to show when power and functioning ground are present. For the convenience outlet, I was lucky enough to find a black Decora electrical outlet at Lowes! (In addition to being the "right" color, Decora outlets only require an easy-to-cut rectangular hole.)

rear panel a.JPG

Rear panel

Here's the backside of the termination panel. The left box houses the power inlet, which is tied directly to (and activates) the outlet mounted in the center box. The Furman power director/tuner plugs into this outlet. The right box houses the convenience outlet, which is plugged into the Furman, making it switched. I also have the option of plugging it into the center-box outlet, making it unswitched.

Back of rear panel a.JPG

Back of rear panel

Inside the rack, most of the internal signal wiring is DIY, so it’s all cut to length – i.e., no rats nest behind those rear panels. The rear panel's “House” output is fed from the Ashly parametric EQ. The dual “Stage” sends are fed from the Yamaha stereo equalizer, enabling the use of an outboard amp, or an active speaker. Note the tuner input added to the Furman (top unit).

Inside rack a.JPG

Inside of rack, showing tidy cut-to-length custom cabling

P3210481aa old front panel reduced.JPG

Previous equipment compliment, using separate equalizers for house and stage

The basses
My 4-sting was custom hand-made by Allen Breaux, who lives in League City, TX which is southeast of Houston. I bought it used from a guy I was installing sound systems with back in the mid 90s, paid only $800 for it - a steal! I've played high-end basses costing over $4000 in the stores that I haven't liked as much as this one. The tone quality is great, very warm, lots of texture. Pickups are Bartolini soap bars and I use Ken Smith Rockmaster mediums on it. The neck is absolutely perfectly straight – never had a bass with a neck like that before, not even the Steinberger I had with a composite neck. The perfect neck allowed me to get the action ridiculously low. This is the first bass I've ever had where I could set the action even lower than I wanted! And I like it REALLY low.

Any bass player worth his pick-ups will see that the body is patterned after Tobias, and the headstock copies the Warwick Thumb bass. The body is a perfect Tobias copy, actually - I picked up a Tobias hard case on eBay, and it was a perfect fit.

The body is flame maple with wenge sandwiched in between (i.e., the dark strip you can barely see at the lower left-hand of the body). The center "stripe" is bubinga flanked with purpleheart stringers. The neck is rock maple, the dark some kind of rosewood. The fingerboard is ebony.

The bridge is a Wilkinson, which I really like - easy to set intonation and string height. Grover tuners, I think. It’s a bolt-on neck, but in spite of that this thing will sustain for days. I've never had a bass that sustained like this one. With a little compression from the dbx 160X I can float a whole note for two full measures of a slow song! I haven't seen even a neck-through that could sustain like this bass does. It probably has something to do with the electronics. Don't know what they are, I guess whatever came with the Barts, but it almost seems like they have some built-in compression of their own. For instance (and this is my one and only complaint with the bass), playing with a pick sounds really "flat." You just don't get the sharp attack that you're used to hearing with most other basses I've had.

After many years of wanting to make the leap to a 5-string, a few years ago I picked up a Schecter Diamond Series Studio-5 as a “starter” model, not wanting to drop a bundle on a 5-string only to find that I hated them. It was the only 5-string I had ever tried that had a reasonably good combination of neck thickness and string spacing that a dyed-in-the-wool 4-string player would be comfortable with. Playing the Schecter for a few years I decided I definitely wanted to stick with a 5-string, just not this one. Ultimately the string spacing proved a bit too narrow.

By chance I came across a custom MV Pedulla Thunderbass ET-5 at Guitar Center that had a neck I liked better. It had the wider string spacing I wanted, but the back of the neck was much flatter than usual, not as rounded as most necks are. The shallow depth makes it really easy to get your hand around, despite a width that would normally be uncomfortable for a not-quite-reformed 4-string player.

I eventually snagged the beauty you see in the picture above on eBay, for less than half the $4700 list price. It was only three years old and in perfect condition, which made the deal even sweeter. If you’re not familiar with Pedullas, the “ET” stands for “exotic top,” meaning the top plate is an exotic wood, one of several options. Mine is an exquisite South American cocobollo that looks simply stunning. Plays and sounds great, too.

So, now I have a perfect 5-string to compliment my perfect 4-string. As close as I’ll probably ever get anyway. The ET5 doesn’t quite measure up to my 4-string, but it's currently my primary instrument and will probably remain so.

Here I am with some of the basses I've had over the years.

dw composite.JPG

Electra Jazz (Japanese Fender knock-off) (c. 1982)

Wayne with Rickenbacker Bass.jpg

Rickenbacker 4001 (c. 1986)

Wayne with Stenberger Bass - 1.jpg

Steinberger XP2 (c. 1987)

Wayne with Breaux Bass reduced.jpg

Breaux Boogie Man custom (c. 1997)

Wayne with Schecter bass.jpg

Schecter Stiletto Studio 5 (2007)

Wayne with Pedulla Thunderbass.jpg

M.V. Pedulla Thunderbass (2009)

Wayne A. Pflughaupt
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