Flea’s Equpment: Bass Player Article
By Marco Passarelli
‘I get to rock out on Flea’s gear every night!” That’s precisely what tech Tracy Robar does every show day to ensure that Flea’s gargantuan bass sound remains tight and funky, even in the most cavernous arenas. The Red Hot Chili Peppers rarely soundcheck, so Flea must fully trust Tracy to keep his gear in top shape for every show.
Flea takes four Modulus Signature Series basses on the road and relies predominately on the “punk-rock bass,” named for the many stickers that adorn its body. Tracy notes that Flea usually uses this bass for the entire show except for songs that require different tunings. All of Flea’s basses have BadAss II bridges, Aguilar OBP-1 preamps, and Lane Poor pickups (current Modulus Flea Basses have Basslines pickups). All are strung with GHS Boomers, .045–.105; the main bass gets fresh strings before every show, while Tracy changes the backups’ strings as needed, usually once a week.
By this summer’s upcoming tour, the standard Boomer sets will be replaced with new GHS Flea Signature Series sets. When a pick is required, as on the song “Parallel Universe,” Flea grabs a Dunlop Tortex .60mm.
Flea likes his basses set up really low—or at least he used to. “On the first tour I did with Flea, back in ’99, his action at the 12th fret measured about 1/32″ across the neck,” Tracy reports. “But the more time we spent on the road, the more I kept bringing it up. It’s now reading a”.” Tracy keeps all of Flea’s basses in tune with both Peterson strobes and Korg digital tuners.
Flea’s stage rig is simple yet cleverly laid out. It uses two direct boxes to send pre- and post-effects signals to the house as well as to the onstage monitors. Flea uses Shure wireless systems for all of his basses. From the wireless receiver, the signal goes to an active DI (usually a Brooks Siren), which sends direct lines to both the front-of-house and to Flea’s pedalboard. His effects consist of an Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron (for the filter sounds on “Sir Psycho Sexy”), an MXR Micro Amp (for a clean boost during heavy slap passages), and a Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive, which is set for a highly distorted sound. From the pedalboard, the signal encounters a passive Whirlwind DI that provides audio for the monitors as well as a post-effects line for the house. Flea’s signal then travels to the first of three Gallien-Krueger 2001 RB heads, which are connected in series via the rear-panel CHAIN OUT and CHAIN IN jacks. This allows one head to serve as the “master head,” bypassing the remaining heads’ preamp, tone, and EQ circuits. Each head is bi-amped into G-K 410RBH 4×10 and 115RBH 1×15 cabinets, with a single 10″ speaker miked by a Shure SM98 and sent to the house. Monster Cables provide all of the connections, and Furman power conditioners protect the gear against ac-line spikes. Two extra 2001RBs serve as spares. Flea is a longtime user of Gallien-Krueger amps, so the rig was in place before Tracy began working with Flea—but Tracy was already familiar with them from previous jobs.
Robar got his start as a stagehand in L.A. venues such as the Palladium, eventually working for artists such as L7 and Dada before landing higher-profile gigs with Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Sheryl Crow, and the Chili Peppers. How does he decide whether to go on tour with an artist? “I have to love the band’s music and have a good vibe with the artist. It makes the time on the road that much more enjoyable.”