So I haven’t bought a new bass amp in more than 10 years. I’ve been playing bass for a couple of decades now, and in that time I’ve owned a variety of “boom boxes”: a Peavey Microbass (which went back almost immediately due to a rattling front grill), Marshall Bass State combos (a B30 and B65), an Acoustic Image Clarus head paired with an Acme Low B1 cab, and an incredibly heavy Gallien-Krueger 2×10 combo. I’ve seen the transition from class A/B to class D, being a very early adopter of class D with the AI Clarus, and I’ve also tried many, many pedals and preamps along the way. With electric bass, as with electric guitar, the amplifier is an integral part of the voice of the instrument – even though bass is completely comfortable with being DI’ed, you still need something to hear yourself on stage, and most stage monitors just will not cut it. Even if they have the necessary frequency response, the voicing is often not suited for bass and gives a rather flat, lackluster sound. This can be remedied through using something like a Sansamp bass driver DI… or a bass amp!
As a sound engineer, I’m very conscious of the impact that loud backline has on the front of house (FOH) sound. In fact, many club setups rely on the backline to carry the majority of the instrumental sound, with the house PA being responsible mainly for vocals, acoustic guitar, and maybe keyboards. This of course, means that the sound engineer has less than complete control of the mix, and needs to work with the musicians to achieve a workable balance. This can be fine, especially if the musicians are professionals, but I have vivid memories of just how loud something like a full Marshall stack (100 watts, two 4×12 cabinets) can be – with something like that cranked in a small space, you can pretty much forget about hearing anything else. Duncan Fry, whom I regard as a mentor, wrote in one of his books that the hardest gigs are the loud shows in small clubs, not the arena or stadium shows! Loud guitar amps are a large contributor to this. Now I’m not saying that loud amps are bad… but the fact that I turn 45 this year and still have normal, undamaged hearing is a testament to me keeping a healthy distance from these devices.
My main playing out amp for the last 12 years has been a Hartke A25 – a 25-watt, solid state kickback combo built like a brick outhouse:
I can’t quite remember how I ended up with this amp, but I recall that I needed something relatively light and small to act as a personal monitor, and this amp was the best-sounding one I could find at the time. I don’t play with loud drummers and put the amp as close to me as I possibly can. The A25 is noticeably heavy (11 kilos/24 pounds) for its size (8″ driver, no horn) and has never let me down, the only sonic problem with it being that the XLR output is rather noisy and as a result never gets used. It also has a number of features that I rarely use such as the bright control and adjustable limiter. I also do not like the carpet covering, which is a lint & dirt magnet and in my opinion an indication of cost-cutting – professional PA speakers, for example, are always either painted or made of moulded plastic. My single biggest gripe though, is the top strap handle: it’s so small that I can’t get my knuckles through it, which makes carrying the amp a rather painful affair. So I decided it was time for a upgrade.