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Deciding on an Amp: A Discussion for Bass Players

Q: Damian, what’s in your rack and why? The last time I had a paying gig, I could just roll in my Acoustic 360, plug in, and play. Now I’m trying to get back in to playing just as a hobby. What do you need for today’s amplification?

A: Personally, I’m an Aguilar guy. I have both a Tone Hammer 500 and an AG-500 and will typically choose the one that’ll work best for the room I’m playing. I usually run them through either my DB-410 or through one or two DB-112’s.

I occasionally play with a tube pre-amp that a friend made me, and I’ll run that through the effects loop of the power amp. That’s primarily because I only have solid state stuff right now, and I like to throw some tube gooey-ness in there for certain gigs.

What you need really depends on your playing situations. Personally, I play at least 200+ gigs a year with dozens of different bands in every kind of room, so I need to be versatile with my setup. I try and cover all of the bases, so to speak.

There are a number of good combo amps (amps wherein the power amp and the speaker cabinet are one unit, self-contained). If you are pretty much only going for one type of sound in a limited number of settings, this might be a fine way to go. Aguilar, Ampeg, MarkBass, TC Electronic, Marshall, Eden, Hartke, Genz Benz, Fender, Peavey… almost every bass amp manufacturer has a combo amp available. Often, a 300 watt head paired with a 112 or 210 will get you through most situations.

I prefer to mix and match my cabs so I can be as small or large as I want for any given room. For this reason, I have an assortment of cabs (10 and 12 inch speakers), a rack with my AG-500 Aguilar head and a rack mount tuner, a pelican case with my TH-500 head, and a rack with my custom tube preamp for when I want to run through that for that kind of sound.

For the most part, my set up is pretty basic. I only just started throwing a tube pre in the mix for gigs that would benefit from it. I intend to buy a DB-751 again when I can – fantastic sounding hi-power stuff.

For most bassists, especially those who don’t necessarily want to throw every dollar at their rig – or who don’t gig all that often – you may just want to start with a good combo amp. If you like a little more versatility and don’t mind spending just a bit more, here is my suggestion:

  1. Get a few different cabinets (I love the sound of my 112’s strung together)
  2. Get a good amp. I wouldn’t bother going separate pre and power sections unless you really know what you want. I would suggest a minimum of 500watts at 4 ohms.
  3. With a 112 or 210, you can have a nice smaller rig for restaurants and rehearsals without having to roll your “refrigerator” rig out with you every time you play. Plus, with the addition of one more cab, you’ll be able to cover any loud-volume gigs you may have. Two 112’s (or a 210 and a 115) sound fantastic to my ears.

Now, which amp is a whole other discussion and one that ultimately you will have to explore for yourself. Be sure to read up on power amps, ohms, speaker loads, and so on, to make sure that you don’t accidentally over drive your new head. I melted the board on my Eden WT800 years ago when I first started touring because I just kept adding cabs to it and was running it way harder than it was meant to be run. I eventually destroyed the amp out of ignorance after a few years. I’m amazed it lasted that long now that I understand what I was doing.

Here is a great article about how to match your amp head and cabinets too.

Readers, what do you recommend? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Share them in the comments.

Have a question for Damian? Submit it to the Ask Damian Erskine Forum. Check out Damian’s instructional books at the No Treble Shop.

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Ernie Leblanc

Ernie Leblanc

Recently replaced my SVT with a 500 watt powered sub and a pair if JBL Control 2Ps and just love it when people look around for my “BIG-BASS” RIG! – HaHa!

This rig weighs about 45 pounds and is supplemented by my Ampeg “SVP” Pro All-Tube Bass Preamp and a Korg DTR-2000 Digital Rack-mount Tuner.

As for the sound: Every I can’t believe, “It’s NOT an SVT head with and SVT bass cab. Was gonna add a 12” powered PA speaker to this rig, but, the band said, “Enough wit’dah LOUD, Yeo!”