Aguilar has quite a reputation among bassists. Their endorser list is huge and includes every genre of music and style of bass playing you can think of. In short, Aguilar gear is well-respected and very flexible. The Tone Hammer 350 carries the reputation forward by taking Aguilar's monster-sounding, proprietary AGS (adaptive gain shaping) circuit from the Tone Hammer Pre-Amp/Direct box and putting it into an unbelievably compact 350-watt amp head, at a price that's equally unbelievable!
Fire It Up
Armed with a 5-string, Sterling Ray35CA, I plugged the Tone Hammer 350 into an Aguilar DB 410 cabinet. The Tone Hammer is rated at 350 watts and the DB 410 is a 4x10 cabinet that's rated at 700 watts so I knew I could really open the amp up and put it to the test. With the EQ and gain set at 12 o'clock, I engaged the handy Mute/Operate switch, struck a low E, and started turning up the Master Volume. I stopped at a comfortable listening level, roughly 9 o'clock, and marveled at the massive low-end, punchy mids, and clean highs. Playing over the entire range of the bass, I couldn't get over how warm, round, and even every note sounded.
The EQ section is voiced right at the sweet spots for bass: Bass at 40Hz, Treble at 4kHz, and a sweepable midrange from 80Hz-1kHz. This contributes greatly to the flexibility of the amp. Turning up the lows really brought the rumble and dialing them back would make your bass sit in whatever mix scenario you were in, regardless of how low-end heavy it was. The highs were clear and crisp and even at the highest setting were never harsh, just snappy and articulate. The sweepable midrange is where the most flexibility lies. Again, even the extreme settings were musical and useful. Boosting the lower-end of the mids made the notes explode and a little went a long way! Cutting the higher end of the mids I could easily find the perfect scoop, from Marcus-style slap tones to rock and metal bite.
Speaking of rock and metal bite, turning up the Tone Hammer's Drive control allowed me to get as much growl and grit as I could want, heading toward fuzz territory. The nice thing is that it's subtle until about the half-way point, then the dirt gradually becomes more obvious across the range of the control. With the Drive control in the off position, the amp is super-clean; as you turn it up the Drive and Gain control become inter-dependent, feeding off of each other and creating more flavors of distortion. The Clip indicator lights up when the input level is too high but with the Gain and Drive at higher settings, that was a good thing. I simply used the Master Volume to compensate for volume discrepencies between settings. Even with a bass that has a single, rear-mounted humbucker, I was able to get about any sound I could think of and I barely touched the bass's tone controls!
The entire time I was twisting EQ and Gain/Drive settings, I was messing with the range of the Master Volume control — this little amp gets loud! The Tone Hammer delivered the goods at any volume level; never getting muddy or harsh, even above 2 o'clock. That being said, with the extreme low-end and gain available on the Tone Hammer, it was possible to push the amp into an undesirable clip, but compensating with either the Gain or Bass controls instantly fixed it and preserved the intended tone. The rest of the Tone Hammer's features are all there for practical convenience: a front-mounted DI with a pre/post EQ button, a ground-lift button, a rear-mounted tuner output, a 10dB pad switch on the input to compensate for various instrument output levels, and a cooling fan that I frankly never noticed was on.
Tons of killer tones that are plenty loud enough for most small gigs in a 3lb package that's barely larger than a hard-back book, the Tone Hammer is aptly named. "The Ridiculously-Low-Priced-Little-Beast" would be another fitting name for this amp. Aguilar clearly hit the ball out-of-the park with the Tone Hammer 350.