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Bass Guitar Amp Buying Guide

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How to Choose a Bass Amp

Get into the groove with a bass amp from Sweetwater! This Sweetwater Buying Guide includes information that can help you choose a bass guitar amplifier for your needs. Since there’s so much to consider when purchasing a bass guitar amplifier, don’t hesitate to call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer at (800) 222-4700 for more information.

Solid State vs. Tube
Combo Amp or Head and Cabinet
Modeling Benefits Explained
Does Speaker Size Matter?
Bass Guitar Amps for Live, Studio & Practice
What to Look For…


Solid State vs Tube

If you are looking for a high-power bass amp that won’t break the bank, a solid-state amp will probably serve your needs perfectly. Tube amps are costlier (sometimes by a great amount), and tubes are, as you might expect, somewhat more fragile. The difference is really in the way a solid-state amp overdrives compared to a tube amp. Solid-state amps will play loud, but once they reach their upper limits, the distortion produced is not particularly musical. Meanwhile, tube amps will produce a much more pleasing overdrive. However, keep in mind that most quality solid-state amps are built with enough headroom to avoid overdriving them, so it’s an issue to be aware of, but not necessarily one you need to be concerned about.


Combo Amp or Head and Cabinet?

bass-comboJust as with standard electric guitar amps, you’ll have to determine if you really need a high-gain unit. If you will be playing studio gigs and small clubs, you certainly can get by with an “all-in-one” combo amp. In the 1960s and into the 1970s, there really weren’t many combo models. The “piggyback” Fender Bassman with 2 x 12″ cabinet pretty much set the standard. Though you historically minded players will recall that Fender’s first bass amp, the original 4 x 10″ Bassman of the 1950s was considered revolutionary.

Today, however, manufacturers understand that a properly designed amp/speaker combination with a closed back (with or without a reflex port) will play loud enough for all but larger venues. Most allow players to add an extra cabinet to reinforce the lowest octave.

bass-headFor large halls, auditoriums, and open arenas, high-powered heads matched with a single or double cabinet will be required to get the job done. These mega-watt monsters can play loud and clean right down to the low E-string. If you need a rock-solid foundation that will be felt as much as heard, nothing beats a high-powered amp driving two 1 x 15″ cabinets or a single 2 x 15″. It’s worth noting, however, that most manufacturers offer closed-back 4 x 10″ cabinets, which, when matched with a 1 x 15″, produce a wider frequency response that is favored by bass players who have active tone-shaping capabilities on the instruments.

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Modeling Benefits Explained

Modeling offers the best of all worlds. You can buy a basic “practice” amp today that will deliver almost any tone or effect you might need or want, and it will pull double-duty as a great studio amp. These budget-friendly models provide everything from clean tones to full-out overdrive along with all the must-have effects that bass players look for. There is no longer any need to compromise your sound, just because you’re just getting started playing guitar.

Even more impressive are the “do everything” amps that are sonic chameleons. They can deliver the sounds you need, without adding something you don’t: NOISE! But today, thanks to modeling, all effects (even multi-effects such as chorus and delay plus reverb) are designed to be amazingly quiet. What’s more, modeling frees you from the constraints of having to “make do” with a particular amp’s tonal range.

For some players, modeling is simply no substitute. And since a player’s individual tone is critical, we concede that each bassist will decide for himself or herself whether modeling is right for their bass amplification.


Does Speaker Size Matter?

Is BIG always better? Not necessarily. Modern bass cabinet designs can reinforce low-frequency response in a properly built 4 x 10″ cabinet and actually allow them to handle a low B-string (which produces frequencies even lower than a 42Hz E-string); something previously deemed unthinkable.

A larger 15″ speaker will still move a room with lot of low-end rumble, so we still see a number of 1 x 15″ combo amps and cabinets, which are great for smaller gigs and practice rigs.

What’s best for you? Well, it’s subjective. However, many successful bass players are relying on great cabinet design and spending less time worrying about the size of the speaker itself. When in doubt, you can count on your Sweetwater Sales Engineer to provide you with dependable, accurate information that will allow you to make a well-informed decision on what’s best for your needs.


Bass Guitar Amps for Live, Studio & Practice

In general, there are fewer small, bass practice amps. The reason for this is simple: Most bass players would rather invest in a higher quality amp suitable for all applications, rather than paying for two amps. No matter what type of bass amplification you choose, the odds are very good that it will be perfect on the stage or in the studio. Some engineers prefer to run the bass signal through a direct box (DI box), so they can use their existing pro-quality processors to compress or smooth out a bass for recording purposes. Another option is to use both a DI box as well as a mic on a cabinet, as the combination can produce outstanding bass tracks that sit well in a mix.


What to Look For…

Combo or Separate Head and Cabinet:
There is very little difference between a combo amp and a separate head and speaker cabinet. The “head” has the pre-amp, signal processing (effects and EQ), and the power amp (Watts!). A combo amp is just the two pieces in a common box. Combos tend to be a little bit cheaper than buying the items separately and are easier to transport. Some combo units have fewer inputs and outputs, but that does not affect the sound quality.

Speaker Cabinet:
In order to reproduce the bass frequencies accurately, the speaker diameter needs to be very large and move in and out a long way. A standard guitar speaker cannot handle the amount of movement required to produce bass frequencies. This is one of the reasons why a bass cabinet must be sealed or ported. At the lowest frequencies, the speaker needs to have the air inside the box push back a little to keep it under control. The size and length of the port tube helps the speaker stay under control at even lower frequencies.

Speaker Size:
When it comes to bass, most people think that bigger is better. This is not necessarily the case. Some will prefer the sound of several smaller speakers in one cabinet, others will prefer the sound of one or two larger speakers in a cabinet. Several smaller speakers in a bass cabinet deliver a tighter, more accurate sound. A larger speaker tends to produce a bit heavy, perhaps even “mushy” sound.

Number of Speakers:
There are many speaker cabinet combinations available. Some of the most popular for bass guitar are the 4 x 10″, 1 x 15″, 1 x 18″, and the 8 x 10″. For large venues, some bassists combine a 1 x 15″ cabinet with a 4 x 10″ cabinet, utilizing a crossover to send the lower frequencies to the 15″ speaker for fullness and depth, and the low mids and up to the 4 x 10″ for clarity and punch.

Amplifier Power:
A 100-watt amp is good for practice. However, since low frequencies draw a lot of power for moving big heavy speakers back and forth, consider an amp in the 200- to 400-watt power range.

Number of Channels:
With dual channels, you can set up two different EQ and effects chains and easily switch between them. If internal overdrive is desired, having two gain controls are helpful to control both distortion amount and volume. EQ will be either a simple 3-knob tone control or a more sophisticated parametric or graphic EQ may be available. This applies to both combo amps and separate heads.

Portability:
Bass amplifiers tend to weigh more than guitar amps. It’s wise to make sure your bass combo or cabinet of choice has sturdy handles and wheels for easy portability.

Construction:
Bass cabinets vibrate more than any other cabinet, therefore, the construction needs to be solid, and the wood should be thicker. Also, since they tend to be heavy, it’s more common for them to be handled roughly. Look for metal corner caps and speaker screens.


Need help making a choice? Your Sweetwater Sales Engineer has the knowledge and training to help you find the bass guitar amp that suits your situation. Call us at (800) 222-4700.

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