As I approach my 33rd year as a bassist, I look back on all the amps I've owned or played through at gigs. Most bass guitar amps manufactured today are quite good and can get the job done just fine. Many can accomplish this at a reasonable cost although there are a few who I feel are overpriced for what you are getting.
I won't be endorsing any amps here (not yet anyway) but my intention is to shed some light on my past, current and ongoing experience with various bass guitar amps and give you bassists a little insight on what to expect out of the ever expanding field of bass amps. I hope you all enjoy it and if it helps, or if you have any questions, let me know!
Ampeg SVT tube amp: The original all tube monster. This was forever the go to amp of big time bassists, with its 300 watts of tube power and fat warm tone, it was truly the king for many years and is still used by alot of bassists to this day. The weight (aprx 90lbs.) can certainly be an issue for many, especially those of you with bad backs. The power in an SVT gives you plenty of headroom, keep in mind that 300 watts of real tube power gives you way more volume than 300 watts of solid state power. Probably some of the best tone I've ever acheived was playing a vintage SVT through a Hartke aluminum cone 4-10 cab, thats a tough combo to beat. If you want a great tone and are also interested in growing your biceps, then by all means, give it a try. Another issue is that they are on the expensive side, $1500 or so new and $600-$800 used. One thing I have noticed about them is that when I'm playing up high on the fretboard, the notes stay nice and fat. I was doing a show on the second floor of a NYC club, we were playing above a strip club and they supplied an SVT for me. At that point, it was a long time since I had played through one and the first thing I noticed was that fat warm tone up high on the neck. Then at another gig in downtown New Haven, Ct., the tubes on my SVT amp overheated and fried mid set. I had to do the rest of the gig playing through the clubs monitor system. Fortunately their system was ample to hear okay, but you always want to have control of your tone and volume while on stage. I think after that gig I went back to solid state amps for thier reliablilty. Nonetheless, you gotta at least try one.
Ampeg SVT 2 rack mount tube amp: This is the rack mount version of the amp above, same great tone, but more flexible due to a graphic equalizer. Its been a while since I owned one, I sold mine to a guy who works at guitar center in Virginia Beach. I still see him sometimes and always ask him about the amp. He still has it and it still works great. It may be a little lighter due to the fact that it doesn't have the wood cabinet but it still an anchor. I may get another one in the future, great amps!
Ampeg BR5 solid state: I've had this one for about 8 years now with no issues at all (its pictured in a rack here). It has a nice tone all around. Its probably only about 1 1/2 - 2 rack spaces, but it is a deep amp in terms of size. In other words, you'll need a full size amp rack if you want to mount it. Its not real heavy due to it being a solid state design.These are made with a built in distortion circuit that is second to none. For some reason, manufacturers just can't get distortion stomp boxes to sound good with the bass guitar, and I've owned many of them. Fortunately Ampeg knows how to make distortion sound good for bass guitar. They should design and sell a foot pedal with this technology, it sounds so good. Theres also a octave circuit built in to the amp thats works excellent as well. You can pick these up second hand all day long for less than half of what I paid for mine new, which was around $800. This is just an all around great amp.
Ampeg combo amps: This is just going to be a general statement to sum it up simply for every Ampeg combo amp I've ever tried. They all have that great Ampeg sound, they are also all heavy in weight. Ampeg needs to get on the bandwagon here with modern lightweight amps, which I believe they are finally getting around to.
Carvin MB115: Wow! Carvin did a nice job with their Micro Bass series combos. I did a side by side comparison of this amp with the GK MB112. The GK had trouble keeping up with a loud 3 piece rock group but the Carvin hung in there quite well. Other things I liked better about the Carvin were the fact that it had a horn (the GK112 doesn't), it was easier to carry (being slightly narrower made it alot more comfortable to carry, even though its 2lbs heavier), the amp itself has more features, and there were a few other minor things that I felt were well thought out. The price is right, the tone is nice, the company is reputable. I can tell you from personal experience that I purchased a brand new Carvin power mixer and 2 12" monitors about 25 years ago and guess what, they are still working fine, never had a single issue with any of them. I'll be trying out the Carvin mb 112 soon, I was told by one of their bass playing reps that the 112 actually has more bass response to it, now I have to try it!
Eden combo: I recently was in the market for a portable combo amp that had ample power for doing small to medium size gigs and was not too big. Edens past excellent reputation had me curious, and wanting to modernize my sound, I bought one. Big mistake. The model I bought was an Eden Nemesis RS 115. I practiced at home with it for about 2 weeks to get familiarized with its sound and functions, then I took it out to a fill in gig I was hired for. The amp shut down after about 2 songs. Fortunately, Eden had put an extra fuse in the fuse compartment. Unfortunately, it also blew that fuse immediately. I had to play the rest of the gig with only the stage monitors to hear myself which left me with no control over my stage sound. Needless to say, I was pissed off and embarrased. It made me look unprofessional. I called the dealer up (it was an online purchase through a dealer in another part of the state) and let him know what happened. He was very nice and understanding about it and took it back. I told him I wasn't interested in a replacement for it, he understood and complied with a full refund. After that whole incident, I did a little research and found that out that the company was sold a few years back and kind of went downhill in terms of quality. Some stores stopped selling their products and would no longer even service them. Bottom line is, based on my experience, stay away from Eden, at least until they earn their reputation back.
Gallien Kruger 800rb: If I had to pick one amp that was my most used, most reliable and favorite tone, it would have to be the GK 800rb. I bought this amp brand new, it cost me about $700 quite a long time ago, but it was a great investment and paid for itself many times over. I believe the price is still priced about the same today. Small, light, nice features, easy to use, and most importantly, great tone. One of my favorite features on the 800rb is the boost control. This particular amp also has an input for a foot pedal for the boost, so when you're up there playing, and need a little more volume for a solo or louder section of a song, you can just kick in the boost and have it preset to a louder level. Real nice feature. I was disappointed to learn that while alot of the newer GK's have a boost control, some models don't have the foot pedal input for it which just doesn't make sense to me. I did so many gigs with that amp and never once had a problem. I recall coming home from a late night gig after having a few too many adult beverages after the show, I was unloading my stuff and dropped this amp on my asphalt driveway so hard it bent the casing a little bit. I figured that it was going to need to be sent out for some repairs, but when I plugged it in the next day, it was fine. I had that thing for over 25 years with no issues. I recently sold it after buying a new amp but I wish I hadn't. I should have kept it for a back up amp. Theres something about that Gallien Kruger tone. I've played so many amps over the years but I keep coming back to GK. Buy a GK, doesn't matter which one, they all seem to have that sound and reliablility.
Gallien Kruger MB210 combo: I bought one of these combos not too long ago when they first came out. I wanted something small, light and powerful, this amp answered all of my needs. Super clean and a big sound for such a small light combo. I forget the power when used by itself, somewhere around 275 watts, but link it up to another cab (I used a 4-10) and now you're pumping out 500 watts. Great for small to medium sized gigs by itself, I even did a big show with it at a concert venue that had a nice monitor system. The soundman gave me a little extra bass in my monitor and I didn't even need another cab although for most bigger gigs, I would recommend using something for a bottom. The only negative things I could point out here are very minor: 1) When you plug in an xlr plug into the amps direct input to send your signal out, it locks in fine, no problem. But when you go to take it out, GK didn't leave enough room to get your finger in there to push the little button down on the xlr to release it. No biggie, but still something they should address. 2) This is one of those GK amps that has the nice boost feature, I just wish they had a footswitch option for it. The boost was added to give the amps tone a little growl which is very cool, but with a footswitch, it can come in very handy for a adding a little volume boost when playing live, such as for a solo. Again, not a deal killer but something Bob Gallien should have checked with me about when designing this amp.
Gallien Kruger MB112 combo: I recently purchased this combo because I wanted an even smaller amp for a regular duo gig at small venues and while the Gallien Kruger MB210 is small and light, I wanted something even smaller and lighter for carrying into restaurants and small clubs. The amp section is very similar to the Gallien Kruger MB210 but a few less features, still plenty powerful for most gigs, however, I did try it out jamming with a trio who played loud and the amp could not quite keep up with them. The only other negative thing I can say about this amp is there is no horn. The horn is a very important part of my personal tone preference and I was surprised that GK left it out of this combo. It wouldn't have made the amp that much bigger or heavier but it would have added to the cost somewhat and I believe that was most likely the reason it was left out. Other than that, its been working out great for practice but I will soon be dumping it for another combo, one with a horn that pushes a little more air. I'll be sure to fill you in on that as soon as I get one and try it out in the field.
Gallien Kruger 1001rb: Wow! What a bear of an amp! And I'm not talking weight-wise because it weighs in at only about 22lbs or so. Its a monster sound of great tone and alot of power. Plug it in, set the eq knobs flat and turn it on, okay, chances are you already sound excellent and a few minor tweaks and you probably won't need to mess with it much. Its another GK with the nice boost circuit but again, I would have kept it if the boost just had a remote footswitch option. The price ain't bad either for the power it puts out, 700 watts I think? Another minor thing I could point out with the modern GK's is the front panel can be hard to read on a dark stage. Normally this would be a major gripe for me, but since I rarely have to tweek the sound, its not that big a deal. Bottom line is you're not going to go wrong with this amp.
Gallien Kruger Backline 600: This is my current live and practice room amp. Not as much power as the 1001rb but ample for most gigs unless you're doing big concert stages, and even then it may still be sufficient espescially if you are getting some bass feed through the stage monitors. This amp weighs about half of the 1001rb and clocks in at 300 watts. While the boost feature doesn't have the footswitch option it does have a real nice sounding distortion channel that does have the footswitch option. Very similar design as the 1001rb and that awesome GK sound. For me, it just doen't get much better than this.
Genz Benz Shuttle 6.2 - 12T Combo: WOW.....wow....wow! That was my reaction as I tried this new amp from Genz Benz. I never played a Genz before but I was thoroughly impressed. It sounded plenty loud, although I was test driving it in Alpha Music in Virginia Beach, so I didn't want to get kicked out again. The tone killed, the price was high but probably worth it. I'm tempted to buy one but being a broke ass musician, I have to save up for it. More info on this one soon.
Markbass Amps: Here is another generalized statement and I can't say anything too much about Markbass amps because I haven't even plugged into one yet. What I have noticed while browsing through my local guitar center is that they are very high priced. I have trouble believing that all that extra cost is going to make them sound that much better. I'll have to get back to you on this one, maybe I'll just go ahead and plug in during my next store visit. Sure, I could afford one if I really wanted it, but do I really want to spend an extra $300-$500 for an amp that maybe sounds a little better. My choice was to use that extra jing in other areas. Write back and let me know what your experiences have been with them.
Pearce preamp: Quite a few years ago a company by the name of Pearce was making some real nice preamps for guitar and bass. I can't recall the model name of mine, it may have had a BS in it that stood for Billy Sheehan, one of my favorite rock bassists. These were built rock solid and mine had 2 channels, one for clean and one for either a distortion sound or just another tone setting. I wish I never sold it, someone on Ebay got a steal at what I sold it for. If you ever come across any Pearce preamps, they may just be worth looking into, nice features and great tone.
Peavey Headliner Tour 600: Here's a very new amp from Peavey. I bought it as I was looking for a new sound and more modern amp. Its a very nice looking amp and has easy to read functions. I like that it has an active/passive button to help get things right on the input end. The bright switch button and contour buttons are also nice to have. The crunch effect sounds great and is a cool tool to have. It also has a switchable compressor but personally, I don't use them much, still, a nice feature for many. This amp has a slap happy sound that kicks ass for slap and pop style, slappers are going to eat this one up. The price was great for a brand new amp, around $300 after a store discount and it weighs in at only 12 lbs. Okay, so thats the good stuff, now let's talk about what ain't right (in my book). The tone controls only have a high and a low, no mid range knobs. It does have the graphic eq that is activated with a push button, which I really like having on an amp, but to really get good tone here, you have to use the eq. At band practice I found myself constantly tweaking the amp to keep a good tone going from song to song. Now here's what really bothers me: The amp is advertised as a 600 watt head yet nowhere in the manual does it say anything about 600 watts. Its says 200 watts at 8 ohms and 300 watts at 4 ohms, but nowhere does it tell me how to get 600 watts, wtf? I actually have Hartley Peavey's email address and I called him on this one but thats when he stopped answering my emails, I wonder why. To end on a good note, I decided to keep this amp as a studio only amp which is cool because I didn't spend alot on it and its working out well in its new home.
more to come........
TC Electronics Combo
Peavey TNT/TKO combos