Gear Review: TC Electronic BG500
“Small. Under-powered. Lackluster tone.” These words come to mind when one thinks of a bass combo amp. We’re pre-programmed to assume this as most combo amps are all those things because most combos are beginner amps. TC Electronics’ has set-out to destroy the old combo amp negative connotations with its new BG500.
The BG 500 bass combo amp comes in an Eminence 2×10 or Eminence 1×15 option, both with a 1” Eminence tweeter. Delivering 500 watts of power, these are not like the combo amps of years past. These combos will blow the door off its hinges or offer a great rehearsal volume in a relatively small 70 lb. package. And with a built-in tuner, compression, line-in, and tube tone replicator, these amps are on the cutting edge of combo amps.
Borrowing from Big Brother
Borrowing from the RH 450 bass head, the BG 500 offers the impressive SpectraComp™ built-in compressor. This is most impressive because unlike other compressors, it compresses the tone of each string, rather than a single-band compressor found in other amplifiers. This gives the amp a much cleaner, more-balanced tone than it would have otherwise.
Another feature borrowed from the RH 450 is a “TubeTone” effect. Rather than using a small preamp tube, this effect emulates the characteristics of an all-tube amp, giving you an arguably better, fuller tone. This gives the player the ability to dial-in a variety of tube tones, and even over-driving the tone, in a solid state amp. Yes that’s right, SOLID STATE.
Ever have a problem remembering the precise settings you had last week before your room mate moved all the knobs while cleaning? Not anymore! Maybe you need three different settings for three different playing styles that can be dialed-in hassle-free? This amp has three built-in memory banks so you can save your favorite amp settings. Just dial-in the right sound, save it to one of three banks (each has their own button and indicator light) and you’re good to go.
Improved Classic Combo Features
The BG 500 offers a bass tuner that automatically mutes all output (speaker, headphones, etc.) when engaged. The tuner will tune B-G, the most typical bass tones. The lack of a chromatic tuner does leave a little to be desired as far as alternate tunings, but there are plenty of other tools available to help with this.
The BG 500 also offers a horn attenuator so you can adjust your tweeter. However, TC placed it in the most brilliant and long-overdue position: on the front of the amp. Many horn attenuators are situated on the back, and bass players have always just dealt with it. This is a feature many of us have been waiting a long time for. Many amps also only offer a few positions (OFF, -15, +15) for the horn attenuator. This amp offers -5 through +5 settings, which gives the player much more flexibility.
The balanced out on the BG 500 is also placed on the front of the amp which is yet another long-overdue improvement on its “typical” placement on the back of the cabinet. Along with RCA auxiliary in for play-alongs and a headphone out, this amp has many industry-standard features, yet new designs that make this amp something special.
The BG 500 is punch enough to play rock, and boomy enough to play country. Delivering refined tone suitable for jazz and dirty, nasty punk/metal tones, this amp delivers tones suitable for almost every tonal palette. Playing around with the EQ, I was able to dial-in some wonderful jazz tones. With a tight low-end and crisp highs, this amp has a great sound if you’re looking to play Jaco or in a Big Band. For fun, I cranked the gain WAY up, and over-drove the tube emulator. I got some GREAT over-drive sound that took me back to my bedroom when I was 15, learning Cliff Burton’s (Anethesia)-Pulling Teeth.
There is only one drawback: portability.
There are no wheels or castor receptacles on the BG 500. This is a big miss for TC. I’m surprised there is nothing of the sort to help us out with getting this thing to the gig. It could really use a dolly-style handle and wheels, or at least a place to put some castors on the bottom. I often used a lumber cart when I had relatively small amps. This was not only to help me get it around, but let’s face it: amp wheels are NOT meant to be dragged through a parking lot, they are meant to help us move it around on smooth surfaces like stages and carpeted floors. The BG 500 is not heavy. 70 pounds is not completely obscene when it comes to amp weight. It is, however, large. Even with my long arms, I had a little trouble reaching around the cabinet to grab the recessed handles by myself. It’s a good idea to have a buddy help you carry this thing.
The Bottom Line
The BG 500 is a great combo for all styles. It gives a jazz combo bassist enough sound to be heard over the set. There is theoretically enough stage volume for rockers and with the balanced-out, you can throw it into the mix to run through the house PA, giving you a huge presence. With all the features on the BG 500, you’ll surely be able to dial-in any tones you want. You’ll be able to have complete control over everything on the front panel, even the tweeter. You can also mute and tune quickly, so long as you’re using standard tuning. And you’ll never forget an amp setting, thanks to three memory banks. However, you’ll need a friend or a cart to help you haul it around.