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Subject: Rec.music.makers.bass Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) part 2/2

This article was archived around: 10 Jun 1997 00:00:13 +0300

All FAQs in Directory: music/bass-faq
All FAQs posted in: rec.music.makers.bass
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Archive-name: music/bass-faq/part2 Version: 2.3 Posting-Frequency: monthly Last-modified: 1996/2/12
REC.MUSIC.MAKERS.BASS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Part 2: Answers to Questions 12-21 12. How are 5 and 6 string basses tuned? What are the advantages and disadvantages of them? How are 8 and 12 string basses tuned and what are their advantages and disadvantages? 5 and 6 string basses have extra strings either above or below the normal 4 strings. On 5 string basses, the extra string is either tuned to B below the low E or to C above the high G. Rock and pop players tend to find the low B more useful, while jazz players and chord players tend to find the high C more useful. 6 string basses usually add both a low B and a high C although a few players add a high C and a high F above that. In the 60's a few makers (notably Danelectro and Fender) made basses that had 6 strings and were meant to be tuned E-A-D-G-B-E, same as a guitar but one octave lower. This idea never really caught on, and almost no one tunes a bass this way anymore. The advantage to the extra strings are that you can reach more notes in a given position, and can get some notes you could not otherwise play. The disadvantages are that the neck must be wider to accomodate the extra strings and that string sets are more expensive for 5-and-6 string basses. 8 string basses are constructed similarly to 12 string guitars; the strings come in pairs, each pair containing a string tuned normally and another string tuned one octave higher. Both strings are plucked or picked simultaneously Most 12-string basses have the strings in triplets, one at the normal pitch and two tuned one octave higher, to get a fuller sound on the top note. There are also some 12 string basses which have 6 pairs of strings instead of four triplets. A 10 string bass could be constructed but no one has ever marketed one. There have even been a few 18 string basses constructed which had strings in triplets but these were built more to demonstrate the strength of graphite necks than for actual use. The advantage of 8 and 12 string basses is that because several strings are played simultaneously they have a richer, fuller sound that a regular bass. The disadvantages are that playing becomes much more difficult because both strings have to be fingered and plucked. In addition, strings for 8 and 12 string basses can be somewhat difficult to buy as very few companies make them and not many people buy them. Many manufacturers of such basses either sell strings directly or can tell you who supplies strings for their basses. If you are willing to order strings by mail this will usually get you what you need. 13. Can I detune my 4-string to B-E-A-D? Re-tuning your 4-string to B-E-A-D can be very simple or it can be impossible. Usually all you have to do is replace the strings and modify the nut. However, some basses cannot accomodate a B string on the bridge end. Other than that, there should be no adverse effects (I have been using BEAD-tuning for two years now). 14. What is the difference between a preamplifier and a power amplifier? Bass amplifiers, whether they are combo amps or stage rigs, contain three components: the preamplifer, power amplifier, and the speakers. The signal from your bass passes to the speakers in three stages, with an amplifier between each of the stages. The signal from your bass is carried at instrument level; floor pedals, which your bass plugs into directly, operate on the signal at this level. The instrument level signal is amplified to line level by the preamp. The line level signal is passed to rackmounted effects. Because the line level signal is more powerful than the instrument level one, rackmounts effects add less noise relative to the level of the signal than floor effects do, which is why professionals prefer them. Most preamps sold commercially also include a number of line level effects, though not all do. After the line level signal is processed it is passed to one or more power amplifiers. Most rigs use only one power amp but if you are biamping you would use two. The line level signal can also be sent to the PA system if your band uses one. The power amp amplifies the signal to the the much higher levels that are used to drive the speakers. The power power rating of a guitar or bass amp refers to the total wattage that is sent to the speakers by the power amplifier stage of the amp. You can buy a combination ample that contains a preamp, a power amp, and a speaker all in one box, or you can buy a separate preamp, power amp, and speaker cabinet. Professionals do the latter -- it's more expensive, and usually sounds better. It also gives you more flexibility to mix and match your components to a particular need. Many combination amps have a preamp-out jack, which allows you want to send the preamp stage's output somewhere other than the power amp. There are several reasons for doing that: + You could send the preamp out into a mixing board in addition to your power amp for sound reinforcement. + You could send the preamp out into a tape recorder and record it. + You could send the preamp out into a bunch of effects, and then connect the effects' output back into "power amp in," thus putting the effects in between the preamp and the power amp stages. Some combination amps, though not all, also have a power amplifier in jack which allows you to send a signal from a separate preamp to the power amplifier directly. Most combination amps also have a power-amp out jack which allows you to send the power signal to an external speaker, either in tandem with the internal speaker or instead of it. Combination amps that have all three features are almost as flexible as separate stage rigs. 15. What is biamping, and how is it done? Biamping refers to using separate power amplifiers to amplify different frequency ranges. (See question 10 for a discussion of power amplifiers.) In particular, it allows you to use one power amplifier to amplify your high freqencies and another to amplify your low frequencies. In most bass amplifier rigs, the preamp signal is sent to one power amp and the output from that amplifier is sent to the speaker cabinets, where it may be divided among the various speakers by a crossover in the cabinet; high signals to small speakers and horns, low signals to larger speakers. (A crossover is a filter which separates a signal into high-frequency and low-frequency components: it may have a knob which allows the bassist to control the dividing point.) With biamping, instead of splitting the power amplifier's signal, you split the preamplifier's signal and send each half to different power amplifiers. Then, each power amplifier drives its own speaker load; again, usually small speakers or horns for the high frequencies and large speakers for the lows. Also, the crossover used in biamping is usually active (ie it requires a power supply) whereas those found in speaker cabinets are usually passive. Biamping has several advantages: + active crossovers don't have inductors, so they exhibit less intermodulation distortion; + active crossovers don't drain the power of the signal to operate ; + the full power range of each amp is available regardless of the, power requirements of other ranges. For more information on the engineering side of biamping, an excellent book is Martin Colloms, "High Performance Loudspeakers", 3rd. edition, pages 188-191 on biamping. The last item is important because it takes more power to reproduce low-frequency sounds than high ones. A typical biamp setup might be to send to highs to a 4x10 cabinet and the lows to a 1x15, 1x18, or other large subwoofer. If you send your high end through the subwoofer, your tone will probably suffer and become muddy, whereas if you send your lows through the 10s they will not provide as much thump as the subwoofer will. By biamping, you can send the lows through the subwoofer and still get clarity and tone from the 10s without forcing the 10s to spend most of their energy driving very low frequencies. To get a good sound from biamping requires some fairly close matching between the crossover, the amplifiers, and the cabinets used. Done poorly, biamping can sound worse than using a single amplifier and cabinet. If you biamp, it is better to get a system designed explicitly for biamping than to assemble components one by one. 16. How do I adjust the setup on my bass (action, intonation, etc?) There is an excellent article in issue #153 of the Bottom Line. It is long but very good. It can be obtained from the Bottom Line archives by anonymous FTP; the address is ftp.uwp.edu and the back Bottom Line issues are in the /pub/bass directory. 17. What is the difference between the various types of strings? There are basically three factors that affect string sound and playability. The first is whether the strings are flatwound or roundwound, the second is the gauge of the strings, and the third is the metal the strings are made from. Almost all bass strings are made of a central string which is wrapped in a second layer to make the string thicker. The central string is called the core of the string. These are usually round, although some hexagonal core strings exist. The wrapping comes in two kinds; some strings are wrapped with flat ribbon and some are wrapped with a round piece of wire. The first kind, called flatwounds, have a dark sound and are fairly smooth, which makes them easy on the fingers and the fretboard. The second kind, called roundwounds, have a much brighter sound, but tend to wear down your frets or fretboard and chew up your fingers. Most people prefer roundwound strings for their brighter sound. Flatwounds are mostly used for fretless basses, for which the damage caused by round- wounds is especially problematic. There are also two kinds of compromise strings, called groundrounds and half-flatwounds. Both of these kinds of strings are flat on one side and round on the other: this can be achieved by taking a roundwound string and grinding it flat, by applying pressure to the string to flatten it, or by wrapping with wire which is alternately round and flat, so that one side of the string is flat and the other is round. These types of strings are not easy to find but some players do use them. The second question is the gauge of the string. The gauge is measured by the thickness of the string in inches. A typical set of light gauge strings might have thicknesses of about 0.040, 0.060, 0.075, 0.090 for the G, D, A, and E strings. A medium gauge might be about 0.050, 0.070, 0.085, 0.105. Heavy gauge strings are extremely difficult to find now, for some obscure reason. Most companies make three gauges of strings: light, medium-light, and medium. Some companies will sell you individual strings, which lets you mix and match your strings to get a unique combination of gauges, but not too many people do this. Lighter gauge strings tend to have a brighter but thinner sound. Heavier strings have a more solid sound to them. A major advantage to light gauge strings is that they require less tension to produce a given pitch, so that they require less force to fret, pluck, and bend, whereas heavier gauge strings call for a little more finger strength. The third factor is the metal used to make the strings. Almost all strings are made of either stainless steel or nickel. Stainless steel has a brighter sound at the expense of being a little harder on the fingers. The difference is not very great, however. You can also get strings which are plated with chrome or gold, or various black metals. These are more for effect than because the plating does anything to the tone. Acoustic strings can also be made of nylon or gut as well as metal. Gut strings are quite expensive but sound very nice. You can also get strings made of silicon and other exotic materials for unusual basses, but non-metal strings will not work with magentic pickups so most people don't use them. There are a few other factors to consider when buying strings. Many strings come with a silk wrap around the end of the string which helps to keep the wrapping on the string from coming unwound. Cheaper strings don't have this winding. However, if the string is made with a hex core (as opposed to a round core) then the wrapping is much less likely to come unwound (it grips a hex core better) and in that case, the silk wrapping is not as important. Another important thing to remember is that the strings have to go on your bass! Most basses require single-ball strings, with the ball end going at the bridge and the non-ball end being wrapped around the tuning peg. However, Steinburgers and most other headless basses require double-ball strings, one ball going behind the nut and the other behind the bridge. And, to keep things confusing, some headless basses, notably Kubickis, use single-ball strings by putting the ball end at the end of the next andtaking the non-ball end onto a post on the body of the bass. You cannot use single-ball strings on a double-ball bass and vice-versa, so make sure you know what you need before you buy. You also need to buy strings of the appropriate scale. The scale length of a bass is the distance from the bridge to the nut, ie the length over which the string vibrates. Most basses are "long scale" or 34-inch scale length. A few basses, notably old Gibsons, are "short-scale" or 30-inch scale length. Modulus Graphite basses are all built to a 35-inch scale length, as are a few other basses. There is also a "medium-scale" or 32-inch scale length, and some acoustic bass guitars are built to this scale. When you buy strings, they need to be the same length as the bass they're going on, so make sure you know the scale of your bass, and buy the appropriate strings for it. Also worth noting is the fact that there are only three major American manufacturers of strings, and a few more European ones. Although there are many brands of strings, a lot of those brands buy their strings from one of the main manufacturers and repackage them under their own name. Thus, there is less variety in strings than the number of brands available might suggest. Obviously the advertising does't affect the sound, so shop intelligently when you go looking for strings. 18. How does a bass pickup work? What is the difference between the various kinds of pickups? A bass pickup works by detecting the changes made by the moving string in the magnetic field of the pickup. A normal bass pickup consists of one or more magnets wrapped in coils of thin wire. The vibration of the metal strings changes the magnetic field of the pickup, and the changing magnetic field produces a voltage across the two ends of the wire wrap. This voltage can be detected and amplified by a bass amp, and then converted back to sound by a speaker. This signal needs to be amplified in order to be audible. Passive pickups do not amplify the signal at all: they require the bass amp to do all of the amplification. Active pickups contain a small amplifier inside the pickup housing. This amp boosts the pickups signal to a higher level which is then sent down the instrument cable into the amplifier. (Good amplifiers have two input jacks, one for active basses and one for passive basses, to reflect this difference.) You can also get basses which have onboard preamps which take the pickup signal and pass into into an amplifier which is on the bass but not part of the pickup. These onboard preamps can also contain tone controls and other electronics; a few expensive active pickups also contain tone controls inside the pickup housing. You can make the pickup stronger or "hotter" by doing any of three things: using a stronger magnet, wrapping it in more windings of wire, or raising it closer to the strings. Using a stronger magnet causes the magnetic field to be stronger, raising the pickup puts it into a stronger area of the magnetic field, and using more wrappings of wire causes the moving string to induce a greater voltage difference within a given magnetic field. Any of these lets the string create a larger voltage differential across the pickup, resulting in a louder signal. However, they can also have an effect on the tone of the bass which you may or may not like. Also, if you set the pickup too high the string can actually hit the pickup casing when slapped or plucked hard, and this is usually not good. There is no optimal height for the pickups: you can put them anywhere you like as long as you are getting sufficient signal strength and you're happy with the tone of the bass. You can also balance your pickups by setting them at different distances from the different strings, which is useful if one string tends to be louder or quieter than the others. Most basses have bridges which let you adjust the string height, but this affects the action of the string as well as the distance from string to pickup. Some pickups allow you to adjust the height of the individual magnets so that you can set the strings at different distances from the magnets while keeping the action the same on all strings. Pickups come in two kinds: single-coil and double coil. Double-coil pickups pass the signal through two sets of magnets and wire coils (hence the name) whereas single-coil pickups use a single set of magnets. The advantage of most double-coil pickups is that the coils are wired backwards, and the magnets are out of phase with one another. Since the magnets are inverted in the two coils, they pick up the string signal out of phase, but they pick up any noise and hum in phase. Because the coils are wired backwards, the signal from one of the coils is effectively inverted before the two signals are added back together: this puts the string signals back into phase but effectively cancels out any noise that the pickup received. These pickups are sometimes known as "humbuckers" for this reason. Not all double-coil pickups are humbuckers, however: you only get the hum cancelling effect if the two coils are out of phase _and_ the magnets are out of phase. In some double-coil pickups the two coils are in phase, not out of phase, so these pickups do not cancel hum in the way that humbuckers do. Another side effect of having two coils in one pickup is that the two coils do not pick up exactly the same signal from the string, since they are not located in exactly the same place on the bass. As a result, when the signals are added back together, some of the high frequencies of the signal are cancelled out along with the noise and hum. This gives the pickup a particular sound associated with humbucking pickups that some people find unattractive, but others find desirable. Some double-coil pickups do not place each coil under all four of the strings. These pickups are sometimes called "split coil" and the most common configuration is to have one coil under the E and A strings and the other under the D and G strings. The pickup on a Precision bass is of this type. This pickup design doesn't cancel hum quite as effectively as a regular double-coil, since the coils are farther apart, but it also doesn't cause cancellation of the high frequncies of the string signal since the signal from each string is only picked up by one coil, not both. Single coil pickups, split coil pickups, and humbuckers all have somewhat different characteristic sounds, though, so all three kinds of pickups are fairly widely used regardless of their noise levels. A bass with two single coil pickups or in-phase double-coil pickups can also cancel hum if the if the two pickups are of opposite phase and are set at equal volume: in this case each single-coil pickup acts exactly like one coil of a double- coil pickup. Since the pickups are farther apart than the two coils of a single pickup would be, the high frequency cancellation is somewhat different, less pronounced but affected more frequencies.Most Fender Jazz basses are built with two single coil pickups that are out of phase and can therefore be used to cancel hum this way. Some basses have "phase switches" which let you change the phase of a pickup's wiring, so that you can get the "out of phase" sound with the hum cancellation, or you can get the in phase sound but also get some noise, as you choose. Some double-coil pickups also have a switch called a "pickup tap"; this lets you pass the signal through only one of the two coils, thus converting a double-coil pickup to a single-coil. And some pickups, both single and double coil, have a switch called a "coil tap" which takes the signal out of the pickup after passing through only some (usually about half) of the wire wrap. Since the sound of the pickup is affected by the number of turns of wire in each coil, having a coil tap lets you get two different sounds from one pickup. Some expensive basses also have non-magnetic pickups call piezo pickups or piezoelectric pickups. These do not contain magnets: instead, they work by having a small crystal in the bridge of the bass. When the string vibrates against the crystal, this vibration produces an electric signal through the crystal, which is sent out to the amplifier. Basses that use non-metal strings are built with piezo pickups, and some basses use piezo pickups in addition to magnetic pickups in order to get more variation in tone. However, piezo pickups have a much much higher impedance than magnetic pickups do, and piezo pickups require special onboard preamps or other amplification tricks in order to sound good. 19. How do I record my bass to tape? This is a fairly difficult thing to do because most recording equipment is designed to work best with frequencies higher than those delivered by bass. However, with the right equipment it is not hard to achieve a nearly professional quality recording of your playing. The simplest thing to do is to get a tape recorder with a microphone input and plug your bass into it directly, or send it your preamp signal. This will only allow you to record on one track, but it's very easy to do and most people have the necessary equipment at hand. You can also record using a microphone placed in front of your amplifier, but you will tend to introduce extraneous noise and unless you are in a recording studio you are better off using a direct input. If you want to record multiple instruments, or multiple tracks of a single instrument, you will need to obtain access to a multi-track recorder. You can buy four-track recorders at most large music stores, and professional studios have 16, 24, or 32 track recorders. Once you have access to a recorder, the main decision you have to make is whether to send your bass signal to the recorder directly, to pass the signal through a preamp, or to send the signal to speakers and use a microphone to record the sounds from the speakers. If you go direct, you will need to convert your signal into a form that the recorder can take as an input. This can be done using a tool called a direct box, which most studios have, which will convert it to a balanced, low-impedance signal of the form that most recorders expect, but leave it otherwise unaffected. Or, you can use your own preamp to raise the signal to line level plus doing whatever effects processing you like. Your preamp may have a balanced output, or if not, you can run the line level signal into most direct boxes as well. However, if you are in a studio the engineer may have access to line-level effects like equalization and reverb which are better than those found in floor effects or preamps. If you can get the engineer's attention for 15 or 20 minutes consider using the studio's quipment instead as you can get better performance from studio equipment in many cases. The drawback to so doing is that it takes time, plus you have to explain to the engineer how you want the sound to be whereas your preamp is under your own control. Another common problem is providing a constant signal from the bass. In particular, if you do a lot of slapping and popping, or you like to play chords on your bass, you might have a hard time recording a clean track without a compressor. A compressor will quiet down the louder notes you play and boost the quiet ones to produce a constant volume in the recording. If you don't have access to a compressor, you can try to simulate this by adjusting the recording volume as you play the track (or having a friend do it) You can also increase the volume of a bass solo the same way: turn the recording volume up for the solo, then turn it back down when the solo is over. You might also want to use noise reduction to eliminate signal noise, either from your bass and amplifier, or from a compressor if you use one. If your recorder has dbx then you don't have to be so critical of the signal level because dbx noise reduction gives you about 90db of dynamic headroom and almost no tape hiss. You will find that some of the notes you play on the instrument are louder than others. This is called the "sweet spot". Most instruments have them, though graphite necks can reduce or eliminate them. Your recorder should have a VU needle or other indicator that will tell you how much volume is being recorded. Adjust your level so that the VU needle does not spend too much time in the red zone of the indicator: this is an indication that you are playing loudly enough to damage the recorder. 20. What are some popular effects for bass and what do they do? Is there a difference between guitar effects and bass effects? In what order should I plug them together? There are five main effects for bass, plus some others that aren't as widely used. They are: compression, distortion, delay, reverb, and chorus/flange. Most of these effects come in both analog versions and digital versions. Analog effects act upon the incoming signal directly, modifying it to produce the output. Digital effects convert the incoming signal to a pattern of zeroes and ones (hence the name digital). The resulting code is processed and the new code is converted back to a signal. Digital effects are typically cleaner and have fewer side effects than analog ones do. They are also considerably more flexible as patterns of numbers are easier to manipulate than electric signals are. However, analog effects are usually cheaper, and to exactly replicate the sound of players from the 70's and earlier who used analog electronics, you have to use analog effects yourself. (Digital effects weren't in common use until the late 70's, and weren't commercially available until the early 80's.) However, either one is fine for use with bass. They will sound a little different, so try both kinds and choose the one you prefer. Effects come in two kinds, those designed to work with instrument level signals and those designed to work with line level signals. Floor boxes are almost always designed for instrument level, and rackmount effects for line level. However, check and make sure you know which you have. It is possible to damage your effects, especially floor effects, by running the wrong level signal through them. There isn't all that much difference between guitar effects and bass effects and you won't damage anything by running a guitar through a bass effect or vice versa. However, bass effects are designed to work better on lower frequencies than guitar effects are, so you will usually get a better sound by using an effect designed specifically for bass. Most effects devices have several names. Where there aren't too many the following paragraphs try to give them all, along with the reasons for using one rather than another. However, if you are in doubt, ask the salesman what an effect does and you should usually be able to recognize it as one of those described below. Compression is an effect that keeps the signal strength of your instrument constant. It can work in one of two ways: it can reduce loud signals, or it can amplify quiet ones. Compressors usually have both functions; effects that only quiet loud signals are called limiters and effects that only amplify quiet ones are called sustainers. Compression has two purposes. First, it keeps your volume level constant. This is used in recordings where constant volume is desirable, and it protects amplifiers and speakers from having an excessively high signal sent to them that could burn them out. (Most amplifiers have limiters built in, which is why they don't get louder beyond a certain point when you increase the volume control.) Second, they increase the sustain of your instrument; as the string vibration begins to die down, making the signal quieter, the compressor raises the quiet signal, making it sound as it the string is continuing to vibrate. The drawback to compressors is that they eliminate sharp changes in the level of your sounds. This tends to destroy slapping, popping, and other percussive sounds, and it also alters the individuality of your sound by changing the attack and the muting of your fingers. Most compressors have three knobs: one which controls how quickly the compressor will react to changes in the incoming signal (usually labeled attack), one controlling how much the compressor will boost the signal (sustain or compression) and one controlling the level the compressor will try to attain (level). Manufacturers tend to adopt their own methods of labeling knobs on effects boxes; your mileage may vary. Distortion causes your sound to become more "crunchy" or "grungy". What it does is to clip the high peaks off your signal, which makes the wave more like a square wave (which has the characteristic buzzing sound of distortion) and emphasizes the higher frequency harmonics of the signal. In the old days, distortion came from driving an amplifier close to its limit, thus trimming off the high peaks naturally, and you can still obtain distortion this way. Tube amplifiers clip more gradually and more gently than transistor amps do: this causes the resultant distortion to sound different. Most people prefer tube distortion to transistor distortion, though not all do. You can drive either the pre-amp or the power-amp to its limit with most amps: you will usually get better distortion by overloading the power amplifier, but try it both ways and see what you get. Be careful not to blow out your amplifier this way, however; turn it up high enough to get distortion but no higher. If your amp has a limiter, you may not be able to do this at all. (Players also used to get distortion by playing with speakers which had rips in the cones. It is not recommended that you try this.) Distortion pedals clip your signal in a more artificial way but produce a similar tone. They usually have three knobs, one which controls the mix between noise and instrument signal, one which controls the tone of the distorted signal, and one which controls the output level. (Names of knobs varies too widely to permit suggestions.) Delay effects take the incoming signal and send it out repeatedly, with intervals ranging from microseconds to 30 seconds or more. They can be used to add fullness to your sound, to produce doubled parts without having to hit each note twice, or, with long delays, enable you to accompany yourself by playing a 30-second part through a 30-second delay and then playing a second part over it! Delay boxes usually have three knobs: one controls the time between repeats (delay), one controlling the falloff in volume between repeats (level), and one controlling the number of repeats given (repeats). Reverb effects are similar to delay effects, but mix in a very large number of very quick, quiet repeats. They simulate the effect of playing in a small room, where the sounds from the instrument reflects off the walls, creating a large number of rapid echoes. They usually have the same three controls as a delay box, which work about the same way in principle but will have quite different effects on the sounds. Chorus and flange effects both simulate the sound of having multiple instruments playing at once. Consider two basses playing the same part. They will not be perfectly together; they will be very slightly out of tune and the players will hit the notes at slightly different times. A chorus pedal simulates this effect by taking an input signal and duplicating it, with the duplicate signal slightly delayed and slightly out of phase with the original. In addition, the amount of delay and phase shift varies over time. This is designed to simulate the second player being slightly off from the first one. The difference betwwen chorus and flange is one of degree only; chorus pedals use small delays and phase shifts to produce a very subtle effect. Flangers use even smaller delays but vary the length of the delay and the phase changes to produce a more noticeable effect. If you turn on a flanger and don't play anything, you will hear a characteristic "whoosh" sound which is the result of certain frequencies being cancelled in the two signals before being sent to the amplifier. Choruses and flangers usually have three knobs; one to control the extent of shift produced by the effect (depth), one to control the rate at which the shift changes (speed) and one to control how much of the second signal is mixed together with the first (level or intensity). Cheap choruses will omit the latter knob. Some choruses will have a fourth knob which controls the overall signal from the effect as well. Many effects boxes, most commonly choruses and delays, contain a stero split which allows you to send the original or "dry" signal to one amplifier and the affected or "wet" signal to another. This is commonly used to send the dry signal to the PA and the wet signal to the stage amplifier, or vice-versa. Or it can be used to power two different stage amplifiers to get a stereo sound, though this involves lugging twice as much equipment around. Most players use the following sequence for their effects: compression first, then distortion, then chorus/flange, then delay, and last reverb. However, there is nothing magical about this ordering, and you should feel free to experiment with alternate orderings to get different sounds. For more information on effects, consult the excellent book "Getting Great Guitar Sounds" by Michael Ross, which discusses the acoustic properties of electric instruments and the workings of amplifiers as well as effects. 21. What is the difference between digital and analog electronics? There are quite a number of differences between digital and analog electronics, which make analog better for some applications and digital better for others. First, a little information on bass signals. When you pluck the string on your bass, it vibrates back and forth. The vibration of the string causes sounds waves to be transmitted through the air at the same pitch as the string, and that's what your ears detect as sound. The idea of amplication is to get an electronic representation of the string's vibration, and then make the amp's speaker vibrate in exactly the same pattern, thus creating the same sound as the string (only much louder :) The job of the pickup is to "read" the position of the string at any moment in time, and translate that into a voltage. When the string is not moving, the voltage is zero and there's no sound. The faster the string is moving, the higher the voltage is, and moving in one direction induces a positive voltage and the other direction, negative. Thus, as the string goes back and forth and back and forth, the voltage in the pickup goes positive and negative and positive and negative. This voltage signal exactly replicates the movement of the string, so we now have an electronic "picture" of the string's movement which we can send on to the amplifier and speaker. En route, we are going to want to process this signal. At the very least we want to amplify it, ie, make it louder. We may also want to apply equalization or compression, or even a delay or chorus effect. There are two ways to do these sorts of things; analog, and digital. Analog techniques use physical electronic effects to convert the signal, using magentic fields, capacitors, and so forth. Digital effects use computer circuitry to create a mathematical representation of the signal, and then manipulate that signal mathematically. They then convert the processed signal back to a physical representation to send to the speaker. Converting the physical representation (ie, the pattern of the voltages from the bass) into a mathematical representation (a series of numbers stored in the computer circuit) is called digitization. Our earlier pattern of voltages going positive, negative, positive, negative gets translated into a series of numbers, something like 1, 0.6, 0, -0.6, -1, -0.6, 1, 0.6, 0, -0.6, -1, -0.6. Since those numbers are now stored inside the computer circuit, you can do anything you like with them before you send them over to the speaker to be converted back into sound. For an amplifier, the analog method of amplification involves either a vacuum tube or a transistor. Without going into the details of the physics, what happens is that the amplifier runs two signals through the vacuum tube/transistor. One is the incoming signal from the bass, and the other one is the outgoing signal to the speaker, which is much more powerful. The job of the tube or transistor is to exactly copy the voltage of the bass signal onto the speaker signal, which is then sent to the speaker where the physical signal is converted back to sound. In a digital amplifier, the electronic signal from the bass is digitized, but there isn't any manipulation of the digital signal. It's just sent over to the speaker circuit and sent out there unaltered, except with more power. The real power of digitization is that you can do anything you want with those numbers. Wanna send the signal out backwards? No problem, just reverse the sequence of the numbers. Effects like delay, reverb, chorus, and flange are very awkward to create using magnetic fields and circuits, but very easy to produce using a computer with a memory bank. That's why most of the uses of digital technology have been in effects boxes or processing equipment like MIDI, rather than amplifiers or basses. However, if you have a digital amplifier already, then it's real easy to build in a digital EQ or reverb while you're there. You've already digitized the signal, so you may as well play with it. There is even one company that makes a digital pickup now; it uses a laser to detect the position of the string and converts that directly to a digital signal onboard the bass. Why use digital electronics? Three main reasons. First, they're very powerful; numbers in a computer are a lot easier to manipulate than voltages in circuits. Second, they're much less subject to noise and interference than analog electronics, because they're not relying on magnetic fields and other physical effects that can be disturbed by grounding problems, radio interference, or other Bad Things in the area. They're also not subject to signal degradation inside the circuit, as analog electronics are. This is the same reason that CDs are so much better than analog cassetes. Third, they're much easier to miniaturize than analog electronics are. Analog reverbs are huge. Digital reverbs can be easily packed into a stomp box. What are the drawbacks of digital electronics? They're expensive. Essentially, any digital effect box or amplifier has a small computer built into it to do the mathematical processing. However, as the cost of computer technology continues to drop, so will the prices of digital effects, pickups, and amplifiers. So there will be a lot more digital equipment coming down the pipe in the next 5 or 10 years. Probably not so much in pickups - it is likely that people are going to stick with analog pickups because the way they color the sound of the bass can't be easily digitized - but there will soon be all-digital preamps with digital effects built in, and that sort of things. And it will all work its way into the combo amps in time as well. 22. What do the ratings of amplifiers and speakers mean? What is a watt, or an ohm? What factors must I consider in connecting amplifiers to speakers? Any electronic circuit has 3 properties of importance: voltage, current, and resistance. (Plus some more based on these three). As you may know, electric current consists of electrons moving along the wires. Voltage is the amount of energy carried by each electron. Current is the number moving passed in each second. The total power of the circuit is given by: Power = voltage * current thus, increasing either the voltage or the current will increase the power of your amplifier. Resistance is the tendency of a circuit to resist the flow of electrons (hence the name). The formula for resistance is: Resistance = voltage/current, or, current = voltage/resistance Thus, for a given voltage, a circuit of high resistance gives low current, and a circuit with low resistance gives high current. Voltage is measured in volts: you get 110 volts out of the wall (220 if you're in Europe). This is usually transformed by the amplifier to some other voltage, and there's not much you can do to change it. However, you can alter the resistance of the circuit by changing the resistance of the speakers. Changing the resistance will change the current flow, and therefore the power of the circuit. Resistance is measured in ohms: typical speakers and cabinets have 16, 8, or 4 ohms resistance. The current of a circuit can be deduced from these. Power is measured in watts: most amplifiers have the maximum amount of power they can deliver in the name somewhere (ie a Crate B-20 can deliver 20 watts of power). How loud you are depends on how many watts of power your are delivering. Substituting the second equation above into the first one yields: Power = (voltage^2) / resistance which gives the relationship between resistance and power delivered, assuming the amplifier's voltage is held constant. In fact, the delivered power of an amplifier may be less than this if the amplifier is not properly matched to the load it is driving. Most amplifiers are designed to drive a 4 ohm load of speakers. If you use speakers of more or less resistance than the designed load, you will not get as much power as you would get driving the designed load, and if you supply your amplifier with too little resistance, you may blow it up. It is always best to supply your amp with speakers of exactly the resistance it was designed to drive. Say you have a 55-watt amplifier driving a 4 ohm speaker (which might be typical). If you replaced the 4 ohm speaker with an 8 ohm speaker, you would double the resistance of the circuit, which would halve the current flow. Since power=voltage*current, this would cut the power in half; thus, your 55 watt amp would only be delivering 27.5 watts. This is not so efficient (nor so loud), which is why you would have the 4 ohm speaker in the first place... Conversely, if you put in a 2 ohm speaker you would double the current, and double the power to 110 watts, if the amp was designed to handle a 2 ohm load. Most amps aren't, meaning that in practice you would probably get much less that 110 watts. To make matters worse, the power ratings can be measured with different measurements. The two most typical are peak power and RMS power. The difference between these two is that RMS (root mean square) power is calculated by measuring the area under the alternating power graph (in effect converting it into DC power) whereas peak power is just that - the peak of the graph. You can convert figures by multiplying (RMS -> Peak) or dividing (Peak -> RMS) by 1.41 (square root of 2). Peak power figures sound more impressive (240VAC is really 340 volts peak) and some manufacturers use them, but RMS power is more "accurate". Why wouldn't you want to have as low a resistance as possible? The answer is that this would increase the power of the circuit (by increasing the current) and electric components can take only so much power before they blow up. Amplifiers and speakers are both rated by the maximum amount of power they can take without going crispy. Thus, if you have an amp which delivers 100 watts into 4 ohms, and you attach a 2 ohm speaker to it which is rated for 120 watts, you will now have a circuit carrying 200 watts of power whose components can only handle 100 (amp) and 120 (speaker). Something will fry in short order. Thus, you want to make sure the resistance of your speaker load is high enough that your amp can take the total power of the circuit, and each speaker can handle its share of the load. Another reason for not going as low as possible impedance-wise is that the actual formula for maximum power transfer is: TotalPower = (Voltage**2)/(SpeakRes+AmpRes) Solving for speaker power, we get SpekerPower = (Voltage**2)SpeakRes / (SpeakRes+AmpRes)**2 Assuming that the AmpRes (amp output resistance) is constant and solving for maximum SpeakerPower results in SpekRes = AmpRes. With transistor amplifiers the amp output resistance is usually neglible (ie. << 1 ohm) but most tube amps have output resistances of 2 - 16 ohms. This means that you must match the impedance of the speaker with the output impedance of the amplifier. If you have only one speaker, that speaker is carrying the entire power of the circuit. However, if you have more than one speaker (and they are wired in parallel, which they should be) the load is divided between them. If both speakers have the same resistance (ie, it is equally hard to push power through them) then each will take half the power, and the total resistance will be half the resistance of either speaker. (If you have N identical speakers with R ohms, the total resistance is R/N.) So, if you have an amplifier which delivers 50 watts through 8 ohms (meaning that it delivers 100 watts through 4 ohms, or 25 through 16 ohms) and you hooked it up to two 8 ohm drivers, the total resistance would now be half of 8 ohms, or 4 ohms, and the amp would put out 100 watts, with 50 going to each speaker. If the speakers do not have the same resistance, then more of the power will be pushed through the low-resistance speaker. The formula for the total resistance of two speakers with resistance R1 and R2 (again, assuming they are wired in parallel) is: R = 1 / [ (1/R1) + (1/R2) ] So, if you are hooking a 4 ohm speaker and an 8 ohm speaker together in a cabinet, the total resistance will be 1 / [ 1/4 + 1/8 ] = 1 / [3/8] = 8/3 ~= 2.67 ohms. Thus, an amp rated for 100 watts through 4 ohms would put out 150 watts under this speaker load. The power is divided among the speakers in proportion to the resistance: in this circuit the 4 ohm speaker would get 100 watts and the 8 ohm speaker would get 50 watts. If you hook together two 8 ohm speakers the resistance is 1 / (1/8+1/8) = 4, as said above. -- * "Let's see if we can spot any colorful exotic natives in colorful * * exotic costumes singing colorful exotic songs with their colorful * * exotic hands out for bakshoesh." - Zebadiah Carter * * PGP public key available - try finger killer@niksula.cs.hut.fi *