Bass amp innovator and former Ampeg Vice President Jess Oliver has passed away at the age of 85. Among his many contributions to the bass world was the Ampeg B-15, a portable flip-top design that revolutionized bass amplification.
Born Oliver Jespersen in 1926, Oliver was drafted into World War II in 1944 and played bass in the Army band after pneumonia left him unfit for combat. Upon returning to the U.S., he became an electrician but continued to gig in New York City.
Oliver met Ampeg founder Everett Hull while purchasing an Ampeg bass pickup and impressed Hull by deftly installing the pickup himself. He was offered a job which he accepted in 1956 after six months of keeping his day gig.
With Hull footing the bill, Oliver studied amp design at the RCA Institute and in 1960 he came up with the B-15: a bass combo with features including a double-baffle porting system, closed-back reflex cabinet, and flip top function that proved handy for storage while also protecting the tubes. The combo became a huge success with players from James Jamerson to Chuck Rainey.
Oliver also created the Ampeg Baby Bass, based on the design purchased from Zorko. He left the company in 1965 after disagreements about the design of the solid-state BT-15, and went on to form his own company, Oliver Amps. He continued to service B-15’s from his personal workshop for the rest of his life.
Ampeg celebrated Oliver’s groundbreaking work this year with the release of the Heritage B-15 model and the introduction of the Portaflex series. They also honored him with the “Godfather of Bass Amplification Award” at Winter NAMM 2011.
Our thoughts are with the friends and family of Jess Oliver.