5 Best Bass Amplifiers
By Mason Hoberg
Bass amps are a fundamental aspect of any bassist’s sound. Guitars generally get the spotlight, but your choice in bass amplifier has just as much (if not more) of an impact on your sound. Because of the amount of amplifiers available it can be difficult to find the best bass amp for your needs, budget, and preferences.
If you’ve come to this article to learn what factors influence the sound and capabilities of a bass amp, you’ve come to the right place. The sections below will give you all of the information that you’re going to need to make an informed purchase, as well as a few recommendations to help aid you in your search.
- Solid State vs. Tube Bass Amps
- Bass Combo Amps vs. Stacks
- Bass Amp Speaker Size
- Top 5 Bass Amplifiers
Assuming you’re intending to perform with your bass amp, or you’d like to do so in the future, you’re going to want to get an amp that’s going to be loud enough to be heard over the other instruments in your band.
The main thing to keep in mind with wattage is that bass amps require more power to produce a level of volume that feels similar to a guitar amp. Volume is kind of a complicated subject, so we’re going to gloss over the specifics because they’re not entirely relevant to the situation at hand. With that being said, the general consensus is that for small sized gigs (bars and open mics) you’re going to want an amp that has at least 100-150 watts on hand.
At higher levels, wattage is more a measure of headroom (the amount of volume you can get before your amp starts to distort) than volume. A 10 watt amp is going to be half as loud as a 100 watt amp, so the difference in raw volume from a 100 watt amp to a 300 watt amp isn’t going to be huge. Rather, when playing live gigs you’re going to want something that can get that volume without straining your amp.
Solid State vs. Tube Bass Amps
The distinction between solid state amplifiers and tube amplifiers basically boils down to a matter of tone and maintenance. Tube amplifiers are considered to have a warmer and more organic tone, though they do require regular maintenance. Solid state amplifiers are cheaper and less fussy, but they’re considered to have a more sterile tone than their tube-based counterparts.
Solid state amplifiers used to live up to their reputation of sounding sterile, though in recent years the technology behind them has advanced considerably. Solid state amps can produce a tone that’s just as musical as a tube amp, though they’ll do so in a way that’s a bit clearer.
A middle ground exists in hybrid amplifiers. Hybrid amplifiers feature either a tube preamp or power section, with the other half of the amp’s construction being made from solid state components. These amps have some of the warmth associated with tube amps while being almost as reliable as a solid state amplifier. They’re also cheaper to maintain, because you generally only have to replace one tube at a time rather than several.
Bass Combo Amps vs. Stacks
A combo amplifier has the preamp and the cabinet in one package, while an amplifier stack has the preamp (known as the head) and the cabinet (where the speakers are housed) in two different units. Combo amplifiers are generally less powerful and heavier, though they are cheaper and easier to transport.
Stacks offer a bit more customization because you can switch cabinets to get a different tone, but because of the size they can be inconvenient to transport.
Bass Amp Speaker Size
The generally held belief is that bigger is always better. Though in reality that isn’t always the case. Smaller speakers provide a more focused tone, which is great for cutting through a mix. Larger speakers feature a higher representation of low-end frequencies, which can give your tone more depth at the expense of some cutting power.
The important thing to remember about speaker size is that you need to think about the tone you want and the gear you already have. If you have a brighter voiced bass, you may find that a larger speaker offers a tone that is both articulate and complex. Likewise, if you have a darker voiced instrument the tighter sound offered by smaller speakers may help your bass to cut through a mix.
Your amp also needs to work with your pedals and preamps. For example, if you use fuzz a larger speaker may end up sounding muddy when used in conjunction with distortion. On the other hand, depending on your gear you may find that the opposite is true.
Top 5 Bass Amplifiers
Fender Rumble 25 v3 Bass Combo Amplifier
While Fender is generally known for their electric guitars and amplifiers, the brand has been one of the most important companies in the history of the bass guitar. Fender was the first company to launch a commercially viable electric bass guitar. This bass guitar, dubbed the Precision Bass, was quickly followed by the Fender Bassman. Though the Bassman did end up being utilized by a variety of musicians, not just those who played the bass guitar, it is still an incredibly influential bass amp design.
While Fender still leans more towards producing guitars, the company hasn’t forgotten bass players. They still produce both high quality bass guitars as well as the amps necessary to use them, and while the brand has more competition than it used to the brand is still a fan favorite among musicians of all kinds.
The Fender Rumble 25 v3 Bass Combo Amplifier offers a good value to musicians looking for an affordably priced bass combo amp. The first thing you need to know about this amp is that it’s not going to be a good fit if you’re looking for something you’ll be able to perform with. At just 25 watts it’s not going to have the power to cut over other instruments, let alone fill an entire venue with sound. With that being said, as far as practice amps or jamming out in the garage are concerned you could do a lot worse than the Fender Rumble. The amp has a pretty good variety of classic bass tones on hand, so you can get a reasonable approximation of everything from gritty driven bass to a focused and punchy slap tone.
Just as importantly, the amp has a ¼” headphone output jack that allows for quiet practice. You can also jam along with your favorite songs via an included AUX input jack. The best part about this is that it allows you to silently practice with backing tracks in addition to full songs, so should you choose to utilize this feature odds are it’s going to do a lot to help you improve as a musician.
Lastly, the Rumble includes a Contour control. The Contour control allows you to switch the voicing of the mid-range frequencies, giving you a powerful tone shaping tool that opens up a world of sonic possibilities.
For the price and features included, the Rumble 25 v3 is a remarkably good sounding amp. It offers up very impressive clean tones for its size, and while the gain isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off its functional.
When the amplifier is mic’d it will offer a quality of sound that will be suitable for the majority of gigs beginning musicians are going to be playing. As your abilities and the size of your audience advances you’re going to want something else, but so long as you have access to a P.A. you’re probably going to be able to use this amp for your first couple years. If you want to play with a band right away and don’t want the hassle of always having a P.A. on hand you’re going to want to get a bigger amp.
If you’re looking for an affordable practice amp for your bass you can’t go wrong with the Fender Rumble 25 v3.
The Ampeg story starts with Everett Hull and Stanley Michaels. Hull was a pianist and bassist, and Stanley was an electrical engineer and amp technician. The skillset these two possessed allowed them to build their first product, known as the “Amplified Peg.” The Amplified Peg was a pickup for the stand-up bass that allowed musicians to amplify their instrument with a minimal amount of distortion. The name was eventually shortened to the “Ampeg.”
Eventually the company formed by Hull and Michaels, which was originally launched as Michaels-Hull Electronic Labs, rebranded as Ampeg. As time went on, Ampeg followed the market and began producing both amplifiers and electric instruments. While the company produced a variety of products, amplifiers have been their bread and butter since musicians as a whole moved away from the stand-up bass.
While Ampeg may have moved away from their roots, they’ve been a fixture in the music industry for decades. They’ve produced some of the most influential bass amplifiers ever, and that doesn’t seem to be a trend that’s going to stop any time soon.
The most important feature of this amplifier is that it has a -15dB switch, which will come in handy for those of you with active pickups. Active pickups can drive some bass amps too hard, causing your sound to distort. This is a feature that a lot of practice amps don’t have, and its inclusion will make things a bit easier in some situations.
The BA108V2 also comes with a 3-band EQ, allowing musicians to sculpt treble, mid, and bass frequencies. Unfortunately, the amp does not come with a contour control which somewhat limits its flexibility. The amp comes with a headphone output as well as auxiliary inputs, which does a lot to increase its utility as a practice amplifier.
The sound of this amplifier is based off of other circuits produced by Ampeg, so tone wise it compares pretty favorably to any other amp in this price bracket. It’s somewhat let down by the 8” speaker, but so long as you just use it for bedroom practice you’re not going to be held back too much.
The amp has a lot of volume for its size and wattage, which is likely due to the more focused tone provided by the smaller speakers. This does somewhat limit the depth the tone is capable of, but at the same time it allows for a tone which cuts through surrounding noise better than a larger speaker would be capable of.
When compared to other amplifiers in this price range the Ampeg BA108V2 seems to offer a better quality of sound, even if the tone produced isn’t quite as rich as it would be with a larger speaker. After all, the Ampeg BA108V2 is at its heart a practice amp with an impressive sound for the price point this amplifier occupies.
Peavey Max 115 II 300 W Bass Combo Amp
Founded by Hartley Peavey in 1965, Peavey is easily one of the most pervasive manufacturers of musical equipment in the world. Though the brand may have a reputation for producing budget friendly instruments and amplifiers, Peavey has been pumping out professional level gear since its inception.
Something that many may not know about Peavey is that they’re actually one of the largest producers of musical equipment and accessories in the world, operating in the majority of major markets. The company currently owns 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing and assembly space spread across more than 30 facilities in North America, Europe, in Asia. Though the company may have expanded, they didn’t turn away from their roots. Of their 33 facilities 18 are in the brand’s home state of Mississippi.
Harley Peavey always dreamed of being a rockstar. He wanted to be a musician on par with Chuck Berry or one of the other influential musicians of his youth. While he may have never achieved his goal, it’s undeniable that his name has been etched into the annals of music history just the same.
The Peavey Max 115 II 300 W Bass Combo Amp provides a solid value to any musician looking for a gig ready combo amp. The most notable feature of this amp is that it delivers a lot of punch for its (relatively) diminutive size. This isn’t a feature that should be overlooked, because if you plan on gigging regularly a smaller amp is going to be a life (and back) saver. Another interesting component of this amplifier is that it features a psycho-acoustic low end enhancer. While the specifics of what this feature does is kind of vague, at its core its intended to increase low end response while reducing strain on the speaker.
Peavey has also become known for their TransTube circuitry. The basic function of TransTube frequency is to mimic the warmth and organic response you get with a tube amp while retaining the reliability of a solid state amp.
Lastly, the Peavey Max 115 II 300 W Bass Amp includes a 3-band EQ in addition to a Punch, Mid-shift, and Bright knob. These buttons modify the curve of the EQ, giving you access to a variety of tonal options that are almost unparalleled in this price range. The amp also includes a built-in chromatic tuner, an XLR direct output, and 1/8” jacks for headphones and aux inputs.
As previously stated, Peavey’s TransTube circuitry is a pretty unique feature that does a lot to increase the quality of this amp’s sound. It performs equivalently to a hybrid amp, adding in a healthy portion of warmth. For the price the amp it’s one of the cheapest gigging amps around, and while it’s tone may not compare to more expensive options you also won’t have to worry about it breaking down mid-gig. For that reason, it offers a high value in its segment.
Peavey has a reputation for producing some of the most durable gear on the planet, and this trend is well reflected in the Peavey Max 115 II 300. It’s definitely a piece of equipment you can count on.
Gallien-Krueger 1001RB-II 700/50W Biamp Bass Head
Founded in 1968 by Robert Gallien, Gallien-Kreueger amplifiers have become a mainstay in the music industry. The brand is a perfect example of what a grass-roots initiative can accomplish, and the power of a hard work ethic and persistence. Gallien actually started his first company, GMT, from his garage in San Jose, California. During this time he was employed as an engineer by Hewlett-Packard.
An interesting feature of his early designs is that the initial GMT amplifiers were made with transistors as opposed to tubes. At the time, tubes were much more widespread than they are now. Before the proliferation of solid state amplifiers, tube amplifiers were actually the standard configuration.
Though the technology wasn’t traditional, Gallien’s amps were adopted by professional musicians all over the country. A fun fact about the company is, much like PRS, the celebrity endorsement that put Gallien on the map came from Carlos Santana.
GMT rebranded as Gallien-Krueger in the 1970s after Robert’s friend and colleague Rich Krueger left Hewlett-Packard to pursue a career with Robert. Though Gallien-Kreuger may have grown far beyond the scope its founders ever envisioned, the company still retains a dedication to quality and tone that far surpasses many companies currently in operation. There’s no better example of this trend than the Gallien-Krueger 1001RB-II.
The most interesting feature about this amp is that it offers a pretty impressive amount of tone shaping options. In addition to sporting a 4-band EQ, it also has voicing filters in addition to a contour control. To those of you who weren’t previously aware, a contour control is a way to change the representation and “color” of mid-range frequencies present in a signal.
Another cool feature of the amp is that it has an XLR output, a ground lift, as well as a built-in chromatic tuner. The amp also packs plenty of power. Rated at 500 watts, this bass head will definitely allow you to be heard over a band. Even better, the amp will also be loud enough for live situations.
Because this is a bass amp head you are going to have to purchase a cabinet. While this head is relatively affordable, be sure to account for this extra expense.
The amp has an impressive quality of tone, as well as the punch necessary to project through a venue. All of the controls are conveniently located on the front of the unit. There aren’t any knobs or switches hidden away, which will definitely come in handy if you need to adjust something mid-gig. The amp is also a well made and pretty reliable piece of equipment.
Gallien-Krueger’s 1001RB-II 700/50W Biamp Bass Head presents an excellent value to any musician. The device has a great tone, and provided that you take care of it odds are that it’s going to last you for decades. Even better, when compared to amps with similar features the Krueger is very affordable.
Founded in 1968 by Clifford Cooper, Orange actually had a pretty interesting start. A little-known fact about the company is that its original iteration was actually a recording studio. Cooper’s studio was failing to meet its overhead costs, so in order to compensate for the expenses it incurred he opened a music store on the floor above it.
Cooper ran into another difficulty when he found that he was unable to procure enough equipment to meet local demand, so the store eventually started dealing in second hand equipment exclusively. Though this was a more sustainable option, it still failed to cover both the costs of the store and the recording studio. In order to turn his financial situation around and actually make a profit, Cooper sought out Radio Craft to create products that would help him stock his shop.
This led to the venerable Orange line of amplifiers, which (though starting from very humble roots) has gone on to grace the stage alongside some of the most famous musicians the world has ever seen. A perfect example of the quality that Orange has always strived to maintain, the Orange AD200B is a great addition to any bassist’s rig.
The first thing to know about this amplifier is that it’s intended for musicians looking for a professional quality of sound. It’s not a beginner’s amp, and because of this you’re going to be paying a premium. With that being said, you should also know that an amp that’s made to this level of quality is investment in your future as a musician. Sure you may need a different type of amp to get a different sound, but you’re never going to be held back.
Another thing to know about this amp is that it’s a plug-in-and-play piece of equipment. The controls are as follows: gain, bass, middle, treble, and master. The amp features 200 watts of output, which will be plenty to cut through the mix in the majority of situations in which you’d be playing.
One thing to keep in mind is that this amplifier does not come with a cab, though this is pretty standard for amplifier heads. So should you choose to purchase this amp head, you need to account for the fact that you’re also going to have to buy a cabinet (if you don’t already have one).
As you would expect from an amp in this price range, the Orange AD200B boasts the quintessential Orange sound that has come to define the brand. It’s loud and aggressive, though just as capable of sweet and mellow tones as any other amp.
Because this amp is a tube amp, it also features an organic warmth that you just can’t get with a solid state amp. Even better, the amp retains a clear and articulate tone while still boasting an impressive frequency response.
The main thing to know in regard to the quality of this amplifier is that it’s a professional piece of equipment. Because of this, the quality of this amp is going to leagues ahead of what you’d find in a more budget conscious option. Everything from the chassis to the connections is built with the upmost attention to detail, so should you choose to purchase this amp you’ll never have to worry about it failing under regular use.
The Orange AD200B has everything you’d expect from an amp in this price tier. It has a quality of tone that’s perfect for both the stage and the studio, and the general consensus is that the amplifier is built like a tank.
The Orange AD200B is a professional quality amplifier in every meaning of the phrase. Should you choose to purchase this amplifier, rest assured that it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever have to purchase another one.