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How to choose your bass amp?

Given that weight and size are two decisive criteria considered by a large number of bass players, the choice of a bass amplifier will involve fewer assessment critiria than the choice of a guitar amplifer does. Nevetherless, it remains important to plan the purchase and to inform oneself concerning the diverse existing options before making your final decision.

Lamp and transistor amplifiers

If your budget allows you to both acquire and maintain in shape an amplifer fully equipped with lamps, it is obvious that you will gain in warmth, depth and expressiveness ( please expect an additional budget concerning the replacement of the lamps every 2 years on average).

Moreover, lamps amplifiers' saturation will always sound more natural as well as more musically pleasing when compared to a transistor amplifier pushed to its limits (in the latter case the additional purchase of a distortion pedal might be worth considering).

Ampeg prevails as the absolute reference in the minds of many bass players (V-4B, SVT- CL) but Orange (AD200B), Fender (Bassman 100T) or Mesa Boogie (Prodigy & Strategy) should also be given consideration.

A Transistor amplifier is perfect to start with. It will not only be less expensive but also lighter. Starting from more or less 100 watt, its power will suffice to play in bands and small venues.

30 watt should be more than enough for domestic use. The most popular models are the following : AMPEG Bassamp, MARKBASS Little Mark et TC ELECTRONIC BG250-115. However EBS Reidmar or AGUILAR Tone Hammer are starting to make their mark on the market.

Some models are equipped with lamp pre-amplification systems allowing for a a significant increase in sound warmth. Although not as dynamic as an amplifier fully or partially powered by lamps, they nevertherless posess excellent reactive properties.

We recommend the following bass pre-amps : HARTKE HA2500, AMPEG SVT-7PRO and MARKBASS Little Mark Tube. Some amplifiers benefit from modelisation technology allowing the user to obtain realistic simulations of established lamp amplifiers. They offer great versatility, furthermore, some of them might contain additional sound effects and functionalities such as tuners, usb entry ports and wireless bluetooth systems.

Eventhough purists will prefer the authentic lamp amplifiers, modelisation amps are a great alternative as they offer a large range of possiblities at a cheaper price for beginners aiming to find their own sound. (Roland bass cube)

Combo or head + cabinet ?

Two or three bodied systems (commonly known as stacks) offer a wider sound dispersion range as well as an overall higher quality output. Moreover, when the choice of cabinet has been made wisely, they can provide a very accurate restitution of the whole frequency spectrum (and noticebly low frequencies). Therefore, they are to be prefered for live performances on big stages and larger venues.For practical reasons, it is nevertherless not always possible to commute with both a head and a cabinet. Especially for urban bass players using public transports.

In such cases, the compact combo alternative is unavoidable. It is powerful enough to fit small venues with the advantage of being light and easily transportable.
However, if you get the opportunity to perform on bigger stages, the possibility of daisy chaining your combo amplifier to one or more additional cabinets is still wide open : a large majority of combo amplifiers are equipped with a built in output designed for this specific use.

The TC ELECTRONIC Combo450, l’AMPEG BASAMP BA-115 or the GALLIEN KRUEGER MB115 are unavoidable references.

How powerful should the amplifier be? The answer depends on the amplifier's in built properties. For example, the output of a lamp model will be much more powerful than a transistor amplifier. Another factor to consider is the scope in which they will be used.

For clubs and small venues, a 100 watt transistor or a 50 watt lamp amplifier should do the trick. For bigger outdoor performances, amplifiers between 200 and 400 watts (according to their respective circuits) will be necessary.

Size and number of speakers

There are many different options available. The 3 most popular are the following : 1x15’, 4x10’ and 8x10’.

According to their needs and to what remains convenient for them, some bass players might chose mix an 15’ with an 18’ to cover the low frequencies or to use a 2x10’ to obtain a better high range frequency output. The output can be optimised by equipping the amplifier with a cross over circuit allowing the adequate dispatching of the different frequency bands to the appropriate cabinets.

In case of a lack of room, a decent quality 1x12 or 2x10 cabinet should do the trick. The MARKBASS New York 151RJ, the HARTKE 410XL and the AMPEG 810E are unanimously praised.

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