For several months now, I have been on a quest. I've been looking for ways to create an ultra portable yet amazingly powerful little bass rig that can hold its own in almost any playing situation - practice, rehearsal, impromptu get-togethers, and even live shows.
My criteria was simple - a bass and amp configuration that required only one trip to the car. And one that doesn't require a hand truck or dolly. I wanted to be able to carry it all comfortably with just two hands. It also had to be powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with with amps that 'go to 11' and drummers that are not shy about hitting the skins.
Meet my tiny rig. Everything, including cables, power supply, power cord, case, bass, and amp weighs in just under 30 pounds.
The Kala U-Bass
Let's break this down and take a look at how so little can be so mighty. A perfect place to start is the Kala U-Bass. Weighing in at mere ounces and with a scale length of only 20", the Kala U-Bass is not really a bass at all but a baritone ukelele strung with polyurethane strings. But it sounds remarkably close to a 42" scale double bass. Remember the first time you heard those tiny Bose speaker cubes and you thought your ears were deceiving you? Same effect here. In a word - corpulent. The tones emanating from this little wonder are deep and rich, round and plump.
The U-Bass comes in both fretted and fretless models with the fretless sounding even more like an upright bass. There are also three different tone woods to choose from - spruce, mahogany, and acacia. I opted for the mahogany as I prefer the darker tones and flat finish.
Not convinced? Just watch Mike Upton, President of Kala, demonstrate his product:
Sound too good to be true? Well, maybe just a little and we'll get to the caveats shortly.
In the meantime, let's move on to the amp.
Carvin MB 10
Carvin's new Micro Bass amps are a fantastic entry into a marketplace clamoring for small yet powerful solutions for players on the go. With three Micro Bass amps to choose from, Carvin didn't make my selection easy. All three amps are drool worthy but I went with the 10" model because of its minuscule size. But Holy Sheep dip, Batman! This thing sounds like a monster.
I won't go into all of the specs since you can hop on over to the Carvin website for that. What astounds me is how they can cram all of that feature-rich power into such a finely crafted cabinet and make a profit at only $329! No other amp manufacturer is giving so much for so little: 200-250 watts, compressor, EQ for days, mute switch, active/passive switch, XLR output with pre/post EQ switch, I could go on. Name another bass amp priced under $400 that has not one, but two semi-parametric or sweepable mids. You can't. You simply cannot buy more tonal flexibility at this price point. Carvin cuts no corners on these intense little amps. They even cap it all with metal corners and rubber feet on the bottom and side -leaving nothing to be desired. My favorite part: Made in the USA.
So how does it sound? Big. Very big. And if you need more oomph for larger venues, simply plug in another 8 Ohm cabinet and get busy. When I add one of my Aguilar GS-112s, the already big sound gets huge.
Tower of Power, For Size Comparison
Radial Bass Bone
A direct box? "But I thought you said the Carvin had XLR output!" The Radial Bass Bone is so much more than a simple (albeit fantastic) direct box. It is a Swiss Army Knife of a 2-Channel pre-amp with a switchable effects loop, buffered tuner output, and of course, Radial's legendary sounding DI.
Aside from the necessary and obvious need to connect to a PA system, the Bass Bone is used to sculpt the sound coming out of the U-Bass. The U-Bass uses Shadow Piezo pickups that sound rather thin and brittle for my taste. This is true of nearly all bridge saddle-style Piezos. On the Bass Bone, I simply leave all frequencies flat and boost the bass to nearly full throttle. The result is big booty bass. You might ask, "Do you need a pre-amp with this bass?" The answer is a matter of opinion. I like the sound much better with the pre-amp and I already take the Bass Bone to all playing situations with every bass I own.
If only there wasn't a catch. A hitch. A fly in our tiny jar of ointment. The Kala U-Bass is a new instrument that debuted earlier this year. That coupled with the fact that these instruments are made in China, leads to an instrument that is teeming with production flaws. I went through several returns with an online retailer to get an instrument that was playable.
The source of most of the problems seems to be with the Piezo pickups. The first U-Bass I received had a D-string that was only about half the output of the other strings. The second one I received had a G-String with such bad intonation, nearly every fretted note was sharp by about 28 cents. Unacceptable. Further, one of the basses had a G-String that was only about half of the proper diameter or simply the wrong gauge. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Further, I called Kala to talk about what I might do to alleviate some of the pickup issues but they never returned my call. My only choice was to work it all out with Sweetwater Music - simply the best online music retailer on the planet. You doubt me? Order something from them and just watch how every bit of the customer experience is exactly what every retailer around should be doing. All other online music distributors are dead to me.
Time to Make Some Noise
Of all the gear I own, this is the most fun gigging rig I have. I love seeing other musicians' mouths fall open when they hear the big round foundation that this little collection creates. If you are looking to go big sounding but small packaging, you might want to start with this and may you find your own tiny slice of bass heaven.