How to Choose the Right Bass Guitar Amp

Start with a Good Practice Bass Amp
Every bass player needs a good practice amp for the house or to warm up back stage. Most of the small practice amps under 25 watts are very similar. Look for a good warranty or maybe extended the manufactures warranty. Hartke is a great amp, at a great price for a practice amp, and some big name players are using their bigger amps for live performances.

Recommended Practice Bass Amps:
Hartke B150 (15 watts)
Ampeg BA108 (25 watts)
Hartke B300 (30 watts)

Bass Amps for Gigs Need Power
When you’re playing a gig, you never want to worry that your amp isn’t big enough to do the job. For your own peace of mind, get used to having either a big amp or several smaller amps. Many gigging musicians think that they can get by with a 100-watt amp. It’ll work, but you’ll always want more, for any number of reasons: Maybe your guitar player pushes the sound over the top during solos and is just really, really loud. Maybe your drummer hits really hard. Or your singer is a screamer. Or you get to play in a venue that’s much bigger than usual. All these things can lead to a need to upgrade to a bigger rig so that you can keep up with the rest of the band.

I think someone who is playing gigs should start with a good powerful amp. Either save up the money to get something that can handle all situations or start with an amp that works well for most of your gigs and add a second amp for use in bigger venues. Owning multiple amps works well to help you achieve an appropriate sound and give you the flexibility to play in different settings, whether large or small.

Recommended bass amp heads for gigging:
Hartke LH500 (500 watts)
Ampeg PF500 (500watts)
Hartke LH1000 (1000 watts)

Selecting the Right Speaker Size
At one time, bass players looked for the biggest bass speaker they could find. Today, more sophisticated players understand that the biggest speaker does not always do the best job in all venues.

Big speakers may have cover long distances well, but then they may not sound as good at close range. This is because they need more distance diffuse their sound evenly. Oddly enough, a big speaker’s sound pressure levels don’t build up until the sound waves have reached a fair distance from the speaker. When you go to a club and you hear the bass thumping out in the parking lot, this is usually because the club has big 18” subwoofers that carry long distances. Unfortunately, these may sound great out in the parking lot, but they may not get good volume near the stage. In short, extra large speakers are not good for smaller venues or narrow stages.

Many bass cabinets and combo bass amps use one or two 15-inch speakers. Even at that somewhat smaller size, your guitar player may ask you to turn down the volume, even though you are struggling to hear yourself when you stand close to the speakers.

I find that the best solution is to use cabinets with several 10-inch speakers. This will drop your sound wave a little lower, and diffuse the sound over a wider space, so the sound is thrown at the crowd’s ears and gives you that satisfying thump in your chest. And 10-inch speakers tend to give you a little better stage volume so you can hear yourself better. They also tighten your sound so that the bass line is clear, strong, but not muddy.

Recommended bass speaker cabinets:

Hartke 410XL
Ampeg B410HLF
Hartke HX810

Bass Speaker Placement
If you put your cabinet in the corner of the room it will give your sound better coverage and volume, because it uses the walls to let the sound waves reverberate and diffuse the sound. This placement, using the walls to bounce the sound waves, helps to build the sound pressure levels to get a pleasing tone where the audience sits (or stands). Since bigger speakers need more distance, placement becomes even more important when dealing with big subwoofers. If you place the speakers near the back of the stage, facing straight ahead, you will get good volume and it will spread the sound wave throughout the space.

Use of Multiple Bass Amps
You can get great volume at a distance and great sound up close by using multiple bass amps. Many players make the mistake of trading in a good amp with good sound just because they need more size and power. They think that bigger amp will give them more of what they want, but it also changes their tone. Instead, consider running more than one of your favorite amps at a time or supplementing your favorite amp with another that has somewhat different characteristics. If one amp has a 15-inch speaker and another has four 10-inch speakers, you can get the best of both worlds. You can also use two amps together with an amp-switching pedal, and activate only one amp on for normal playing and then kick the other amp on when your guitar player slams his volume booster.

Recommended amp-switching pedal:
Good: the Morley ABY Routing Switch Pedal is a good, affordable solution.

Of course, choosing the right amp depends on what sound you are looking for, but if you have a certain style you are trying to achieve, give me a call and I will be happy to help you select something that works the first time instead of your having to figure it all out by trial and error. Just remember: When playing bass, more power is better in my opinion.

Getting Around with Bass Amps
Obviously you can’t put an 8x10 bass cabinet in a VW bug. You’re a bass player, so you’re going to need to know how to handle a bigger vehicle. Get a van or SUV and save the VW for fun.


Jeff Godsell is a multi-instrumentalist and certified Gibson Custom Shop Specialist at Sam Ash Direct. You can reach him at jgodsell@samash.com or by calling 1-800-472-6274 (extension 2257).
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