Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bass amps - is older better?

I know a thing or two about bass amps. Older IS better. Made In USA is the way to go. Don't forget this simple fact and you'll never go wrong. I've been playing bass for 37 years, you'd think I'd have learned at least this (and other important facts as well) after nearly 40 years in the bidness.

I bought my first real bass amp back in 1975, the year I started playing bass. I was as green as money, only I had no money with which to purchase something that could last. I knew Fender, but didn't know that a Fender Bassman 50 was a better guitar amp than a bass amp! Commission salespeople don't help when they will sell anything to anyone for any application, then try to convince you that you're making the best decision ever made! Scum of the earth, they are...

I bought the Fender Bassman 50, knowing that I had no speaker cabinet to complete the "piggyback"
setup (that's what they called it back then), so I began cobbling together anything that I could hook up to that head in order to get something to produce sound of some sort. Of course it was inadequate, insufficient, every negative applied, no matter what I tried. All I knew was that Peavey Sucks (some things NEVER change). Good start, but still not enough to propel me into the ranks of the greats.

I started collecting good instruments and borrowed amps for gigs. I got a Gibson Thunderbird Bicentennial limited edition commemorative bass, a Fender Precision (sunburst w/rosewood neck), and a Rick 4001, all the heavy hitters of the day. I was bound and determined to move straight to the top but had one stopoff... I bought (rather charged) an Acoustic 370, knowing that I was only one rung from the top, the mighty (still the industry standard) Ampeg SVT. When I stopped working (always hated jobs), the 370 got repoed, and I was secretly glad. This opened the door for my first real SVT. I saved my sheckles, bought it, and once again realized I had no cabinet. I had the greatest bass amp ever made and I had no speaker! They were 360 watts of pure tube power, and six 6550's to boot (the most powerful tube amp tube ever made, for THE topdog bass amp of the time, and of all time). By the way, the new state-of-the-art models are nowhere nearly as brutal and gutpunishing as the genuine article from 1969 through the 70's.

In my world, my gear was (and to an extent still is) my bank account. It usually represents my most valuable possession, and it's usually the first to go when/if I have an emergency I can't cope with otherwise. This was the first real realization of this cold hard fact, and I started consolidating to make the cabinet that matched the SVT behemoth head appear. Consolidation always means loss. Even in today's world where vintage rules, trading always means coming out behind, it's just a matter of how much, and it's a commonly-known fact that cash talks and bullshit walks (or trade value can be subbed into the place of BS).

So, I had another unique situation working against me. If my father (who was and still is my landlord) didn't approve of my job or my ability to make rent money he would give me ultimatums (ultimatums are never good). Get a job or I throw you out. That was his favorite. I fought long and hard to form bands and the minute everything gelled, my dad was right there to destroy my efforts.

This was supposed to be about bass amps, right? Sorry if I got off the track! I eventually had 2 SVT's and 2 cabs, as pictured above, and it went a long way toward fueling my local success in bands. Clubs hire equipment, not bands, and bands hire equipment, not musicians. So, let's review. It doesn't matter if you can play, as long as you have gear that doesn't sound like shit. It doesn't matter if you spend six months building a repertoire and following, there's always someone ready and willing to sweep it all out from under your feet at any given moment for any arbitrary reason. And finally, commission salespeople who charge tax suck when you can get anything you want, tax-free, online (if you buy out-of-state, never a gamestopper).

The moral of this story??? 1) Get a job in music retailing (cost + 10%! This afforded me the biggest wall o' Ampeg in the entire midwest before Ampeg moved from St. Louis to China and ruined the brand!), 2) Buy your gear online (new fix to an old problem), and 3) Buy low, sell high, no trades! 4) Rent is rent, a basic fact of life, unless you have a sugar mama.

The things about tubes and antennas still apply as well. See you tomorrow!

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