Ask the Expert Clinic: How to get a more punchy bass sound through a church PA

This is a question from Prakash Rai which he sent via our Facebook Page. We thought we’d turn the question into a kind of Ask the Expert Clinic.

The problem

“In our Church we don’t play drums, instead we play tabla, cajon or conga. But I am not been able to get a punchy sound with bass guitar. I tried 18 inch make subs, it did not work and returned. I am just using external bass amp and I want to send it through the mixer. I have Rcf 12 inch 2 speakers and make srm650 2 speakers. I need advice if I need to get subs in 10″/12″/15″ subs to get that soft punchy sound that can cut through the mix for 300 people capacity. We play kind of acoustic music for all ages but bass guitar is important for our setting.
And for acoustic guitar we directly play thru the mixer. Would it be better to go through acoustic guitar amp or mixer in proper set up. Your advice would be such a great help. I have attached here few pics which could help you to understand our setting.”

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The worship and technical context

We were fascinated by this somewhat different worship expression here in the UK so asked Prakash for some more information. He sent us some great photos and also some more detail about their set up.

“My church is in Woolwich and we have 7 churches in different places like in Reading, Aldershot, Camberley, Hounslow, Dover, Swindon and Woolwich. We are mostly Asian minority but anyone is most welcome. Lord started his work here in early 2000 and work of the Lord has extended His work in our midst. 7 Churches work together for His work with much understanding and prayerfully. For edification of the churches every year youth camps, holy convocation, Sunday school services are held as combined where nearly 500-600 believers gather from here and few from abroad for a week services. We also have many betrothal and matrimony services through out the year. Therefore we musicians have responsibility with music set up and recording which we gradually improving.

Mainly we do not do drums. Instead we mainly do Tabla for our language songs and cajon for English songs. We sing hymns and some soft Hillsongs and others like for example Above all, Lead Me to the Cross, 10000 Reasons. We do it in acoustic way as audience includes great number with elderly people.

Let me share now about the kind of music and pa system we have:

  1. Allen and Heath GL 2400 mixer
  2. Lexicon mx300 effect processor
  3. Behringer MX2600 compressors
  4. Behringer EPQ 2000 amp
  5. Mains foh speakers- Mackie SRM 650
  6. Centre one side each-RCF Art 312A MK3 speakers
  7. Wedge monitors – studio master and HK Audio
  8. Fender bass amp with Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI
  9. Others – instruments /di boxes/

For the hall (see the pictures) we placed 2 main Mackie speakers in front and 2 RCF speakers on each sides in the centre of the hall. We had good sound instead of placing only speakers from the front when we had to play loud to reach audience at the back and in doing this it would be too loud at the front. As some suggested to have 18 inch subs for bass and low frequency equipment, mackie srm 850 did not do the job and had to return. My Fender bass amp covers the hall but as we place the bass amp in front with musicians on one side, sound dispersion did not seem right. I like to know if I can get punchy sound for bass guitar from smaller subwoofer like bose F1 or HK Audio Linear L SUB or Rcf 15 inch subwoofer or any other you could advice or any other effective method and about speakers placement etc. And I was struggling to get good tabla sound which it was struggling to cut through the mix. And any advice on hooking up electro acoustic guitar in the set up.

The Musicademy Keyboard, Vocal Harmony, Guitar and PA videos have been very helpful for me. Currently I’m learning to teach Reign in Me.

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Our response

A lack of punchy bass could be for so many reasons other than throwing money at new subs. You really need to start at the source of the bass sound i.e. the player’s fingers (make sure they are playing with enough punch and confidence) then look at pick positions and amp settings. I.e. Does the bass sound have enough mid range honk and presence to cut through the live mix? If there’s not enough mid the detail in the sound can very easily get lost.

I’ve noticed from the photos that you meet in a school hall or something similar with a high ceiling and very bright reflective surfaces. All this can add huge amounts of natural echo as the sound bounces around the building, a bit like turning the reverb up. You could add some subs, and subs of any size well help reinforce the low end, but you might be better off looking at draping and measures to control your building’s acoustics before adding more sound reinforcement. It’s a huge area and not one that can be covered fully in a message like this. Do check out our Sound Tech/PA course as it goes through each area in detail.

Prakash responds:

Thank you very much for your advice. Bass guitar is doing ok and bass itself is covering the room but as musicians play from one side of the room with the amp on one side the spread of sound seems to not be ok. Can I place the bass amp in the middle in front of the congregation..and if I get a subwoofer should I run mains speaker through subs or use two subs separately for bass guitar and other low frequency instruments?

In a final response prior to sharing here on the website Andy continues:

Just looking at your photos two obvious things to try are relocating the positions of both your bass amp and your monitor speaker. Because of the way bass frequencies travel, placing the amp behind the bass player won’t make too much difference to how it’s heard in the room but a huge amount of difference to to the note definition that the bass player will be able to hear.

Make sure your bassist isn’t too close to the amp (a few feet away) so he can hear the treble frequencies too. This in itself might give you the punch you’re looking for.

Also that monitor speaker on the floor there seems to be quite far away from the musicians and so won’t be able to fulfil it’s foldback roll out there. If you bring it closer in the musicians will be able to hear themselves more easily and you’ll be able to then turn the monitor level down, thus giving you more control over the front of house levels. Also it might be worth getting in touch with one of the church focused PA providers like SFL (who are based in Reading near one of your churches – they may even comment on the thread here). They’ll be able to advise you on upgrades that will make the biggest difference to your overall sound and help you make the best of the equipment you already have.

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Hope that’s a start. Advice from other Musicademy readers also greatly welcomed I’m sure! Please comment in the thread below.