The bass players in a band play a key role in maintaining a rhythmic groove. Bassists create the entire music foundation upon which the other band members play. It takes more than mere juice and hefty speakers to immaculately replicate the output of your bass guitar. Fortunately, a plethora of gear is available to meet your requirements and let your music shine. Whether you are a novice player looking for your first amp, an aspiring bassist wanting to revamp your amplification setup, or an experienced player looking to renovate your rig, here are a few tips for choosing the right bass guitar amp and speaker cabinets to match your music, budget and the venues where you perform.
Do Your Homework
While bass amps run the gamut from a hundred dollars to wallet-breaking thousands of dollars, deciding what you absolutely need will help you find one suitable for your requirements and will fit your budget without going overboard. If you need an amp for just practicing in your room, you can buy a small combo amp with 20-30 watts of power. These are fitted with a single 10-inch or smaller speaker and generally cost a little over a hundred dollars. Controls and features are usually limited on these small amplifiers and they will not work for much other than playing in the bedroom. If you need an amp to practice gigs with your band, you are going to need 100-300 watts of power. A combo amp with a single or multiple 10-inch speakers up to a single 15-inch speaker will suit you perfectly and cost about 180-400 dollars. If you need an amp for medium gigs, nothing less than a half stack with about 200-600 watts of power will be optimal. While a good solid-state head costs 200 to 600 dollars and a good tube head costs 500 to 1400 dollars, you don’t need to splurge that much if you know what you want and do the research. Used amps can help a little in cost, but the price range of good used amps may make the risk of a used one not seem worth looking into. Keep your options open and look around in the small privately owned stores, which may have used gear for a lower price.
Take Your Guitar Along
Testing an amp with an instrument you don’t use is tantamount to choosing a girl by looking at her mom. Even if the store stocks similar models of your bass guitar take yours along, as an unfamiliar guitar can have a brighter sound than yours, and the amp would sound more lively and sparkly in the store. However, when you get it home, the sound may be entirely different.
Tube, Solid-State, or Digital
While tube technology is all the rage in most places, digital and solid-state amps offer a commendable tone for fewer bucks and less maintenance headaches. Take a blind listening test and pick what feels right to your ears. Typically, tubes are favored in guitar amplifiers because the required wattage is less, so the price tag can be more reasonable in comparison to comparable solid start amps. For bass amps, the need for higher wattage impacts the weight and price of a tube bass amp. When getting into 100 watt or even 300 watt tube bass amplifiers the price will increase to over $1000 and the weight can reach 80 pounds. A modern class D 1000 watt bass amplifier can cost under $500 and weigh in under 10 pounds, and it may have a preamp tube inside.
All the Convenient Features You Should Look For In A Bass Amp
1) Tone Controls: Some models help you control the treble, bass and middle frequencies to produce the sound you are looking for. Other models provide you more controls, such as the parametric equalizers to divide the amp’s output into a greater number of frequency bands for altering the tone and making it finer.
2) Multiple Channels: Some amp models have more than two channels, where they may have an overdrive and a clean channel. Some sophisticated models even house separate tone controls for each channel, which allow you to switch between sounds mid-performance. Multi channel amplifiers are more common in guitar amplifiers and tube bass amplifiers. The down side of a multi channel bass amplifier is the available features may be less due to the increased circuitry needed to create more than one channel. Multi channel models were more popular with older tube bass amps, and are less common now. Newer solid state amps have features to get alternate sounds with one channel by switching out a drive knob or switching out a graphic EQ section. These single channel amp features may give you more flexibility and the bass amp may still have added features like several parametric EQs and a compressor, where it would be difficult to put in two compressors and several parametric EQs in a multi channel amp.
3) Gain Control and Tuner Output: An input gain control (sometimes called a drive control) is helpful for adjusting the level of different bass guitar outputs. This is also a place to add a little grit to your sound on some amplifiers. The grit can be harmonic enhancement with a little bite. The tuner output is great for plugging in your favorite tuner pedal or rack tuner. These outputs are typically located in the signal path before the amp’s mute switch, so you can mute the amp to do a silent tune up of your bass. Some smaller practice amplifiers may have the tuner built in, but this is not as common in larger bass amplifiers.
4) Bonus Tone Controls – Contour/Resonance/Damping: These bonus tone controls are a little different than the typical treble and bass controls and are added to help fine tune your sound in a simple one knob control. Contour is typically a control that takes the amp from a flat sound to a scooped mid sound. This may replace the adjustment of several regular tone controls with just the one knob. Resonance and Damping work on the low end and tighten it up to provide more amplifier power to the low end, which is used on the tone and not just wasted on rumble and thumps. With the help of these controls, you can produce a tighter and more focused sound.
5) Direct Output: If the amp’s back panel is outfitted with a direct output it can be used to connect recording gear or a front of house PA system mixer, often using a balanced XLR output connection.
6) Miscellaneous: While volume and tone should be your primary concerns, you should also determine what extra features you need. Look for an amp with a mute switch, as it helps you silence the amp while changing instruments, tuning, or taking a break. If the amp has a footswitch jack, it will allow you to switch between channels and control effects and other parameters without having to take your hands off the guitar. Similarly, passive as well as active inputs or switches are important if you use different guitars. As mentioned earlier, a compressor is a very helpful tool in controlling volume levels and smoothing out quiet and loud bass runs.
With some thought and research, you will be able to choose the right bass amplifier that will meet your needs and fit your budget. If you need help, please call our bass amp experts at 800-854-2235.