My first bass amp was a $10 used generic special. It sounded horrible — especially with a Jazz bass guitar. It did not take me long to seek out a few of the best bass amp brands.
I thought I would list a few manufacturers in this article and provide a short buyers guide about buying a bass guitar amplifier.
There are quite a few good brands. Here is a non-comprehensive list of manufacturers I know about: Acoustic, Aguilar, Ashdown, Behringer, Carvin, Crate, Eden, Ernie Ball Music Man, Genz Benz, Hartke, Hughes & Kettner, Ibanez, Kustom, Mesa Boogie, Marshall, Markbass, Orange, Peavey, Roland, SWR, Tech 21, Trace Elliot, Traynor, Warwick.
My experience with practice amps
I have used Kustom and played brands like GK and Ampeg at the music store.
My Kustom is a small 8-inch practice amp. It is not that good; I love it for playing MP3s loud in the garage — not so much for bass guitar amplification, though.
Because I only play my bass at home, I use a Vox headphone amp with some really nice headphones. It is all I need. And speaking of needs …
‘What size bass amp do I need?’
Bass guitar amplifiers come in two versions — combo bass amps, which features an amplification source and speaker in one unit; and separates, which is a speaker cabinet and amplifier in two different boxes.
The best combo bass amps are smaller in size than separates, are portable, and normally don’t have the wattage or as many input or output jacks as separates.
The combo bass amps can be carted fairly easily, but an important point to keep in mind is speaker size and wattage.
These units have large speakers to play the low frequencies, which means they need a lot of wattage. A low wattage bass guitar amplifier will never be heard over a drum set.
In most garage band jam sessions, a bassist can squeak by with about a 100 watts. But this not ideal, especially if you play rock or heavy metal music.
You should look for about 200 watts to 400 watts if you are even considering playing small gigs. (Although you may not be playing gigs yet, think about where you want to be in a year. You don’t want to have to buy another amp if you outgrow this one.)
A good small bass amp: Oxymoron?
Good sounding equipment is not cheap, but you have to learn where the point of diminishing returns is for you.
Features you’ll want to look for in amps above 200 watts include a XRL direct output to run through a PA if you don’t have enough volume for the venue, along with an output for an extension cabinet. Also dual channels, which will allow different EQ settings or effects chains that can be switched between easily, is nice.
Speaker size will range, though, in top rated bass amps above 200 watts. Some combo amps manufacturers like Gallien-Krueger offer multiple speaker sizes in their combo amps.
The key is to choose a speaker size you like the sound of — whether that’s a single 12″ or 15″ speaker or two 10″ or 12″ speakers. This part is very subjective.
One point to keep in mind about speaker size is portability. A single 15″ combo bass amp might not have wheels and weigh about 75 pounds; two 10″ speakers in a small combo amp might weigh less, have wheels, but it will probably be longer. Make sure you are OK with the dimensions and weight of the unit. The last thing you want is a mini-refrigerator that’s hard to move.
Where to find the best bass amp under 500 dollars?
If you buy used, you can usually get a top tier amplification unit for a good price if you buy used.
I’ve seen SWR and Ampeg bass amps sell on Craigslist at reasonable prices. This is a crap-shoot though. You have to be near an active Craigslist and have to watch the listings like a hawk. When I tried this, I found it frustrating. You may be more patient than me, though.
Some of your musician friends, as well, might know of a buddy who’s getting out of playing the bass guitar and wants to sell equipment — or has too much equipment and needs to thin down.
A good instrument store will usually have gently used, restocked, or reconditioned top range bass amps that they will sell. These buys usually come with a 30 day warranty, which is not the case with other used equipment.
Online stores also are an option. Places like Guitar Center and Musician’s friend usually have some kind of discount going on and free shipping available, and you can also browse through their restocked items.
Where ever you buy your new rig, I hope this article has been a help.