Last Spring, I sold my Hartke LH500 and EV115's to cover some extra college expenses. Since then I have been using a GK 410 Neo that I picked up used and an MB-500 on loan from a friend, but lately I had been missing the tone of the Hartke, so I started scanning the classifieds and such for a deal. Sure enough, last Friday a used LH500 and AK410 cab turned up for the cheap on Guitar Center's used site and I took a chance. I hadn't heard much about the AK cab except for it being paper cone and more Ampeg-y sounding, but I figured it was worth a shot considering Guitar Center's very liberal return policy. I wound up paying $170 for the head and $205 for the cab to have them shipped to my home.
On Wednesday, both arrived at my doorstep, well packed and intact. Both the head and cab only had a few little scratches and no real wear and tear. The head isn't really light at 24lbs, particularly when compared to the 4lb GK head, but the weight of the cab at 60lbs, along with the recessed handles and casters, really makes up for it.
I first demoed it with my Aria Pro II SB-1000CB (SB-1000 reissue/Cliff Burton Tribute) with the tweeter off. Immediately, I noticed the warmth of the cab and the distinct vintage tone like an Ampeg SVT-410HE, but with a bit fuller sound and much more clarity. With the "titanium compression driver" on, the extreme highs and treble became much more accentuated, but not too sharp or tinny sounding. It seems very useful for adding that top end sparkle for slap or just adding a bit of edge to dull strings.
The head itself with the Fender Showman/Alembic preamp has a very clean, but very warm sound when set flat 2-10-2. I was able to dial in a fantastic classic rock tone as I jammed to a few Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Guess Who songs. The natural smoothness of this amp is also great for that motown vibe and works perfectly grooving to old Jameson lines. Now, don't get me wrong, this head isn't just silk and satin. With the bright switch on and the attack switch on the Aria set to 6 (boosting 1.6hz), I was able to get a very aggressive finger-style and pick attack to cop the iconic growl of players like Harris and Claypool, as well well as pick players like Ellefson and Newsted. I was also able to get that nasally 80's pop tone of John Taylor and "Power Windows" era Geddy Lee, and a very funky slap tone.
Next, I tried my Dean Brian Bromberg B2 Prototype with Bartolini 9CBJS3 Jazz pups (underneath the Soapbar covers) and Piezo Bridge through a Bartolini Preamp, I should add that both basses have Circle K strings (roundwound, 98-48 balanced set) that are about 6 weeks old. The clear and crisp sound of the Jazz pickups really shines through this and and allows the more modern tone to really come through without being to colored. I could easily dial in a Marcus Miller-like slap tone or very honky Jaco tone without much work at all. I've heard many claim that this amp doesn't have enough mids, but I've found that knowing what frequencies to cut is really the key, and learning how to use the Fender tonestack is essential. Once you get use to the eq, it really is easy to dial in whatever you want, and you always have the option of leaving it "flat" and getting an almost completely uncolored tone.
Now, one thing this rig can't do is distortion. Both the head and cab are very clean all the way up the dial, but I would rather have an amp that stays clean at ridiculously high volumes, than one that distorts before getting to useable volume. That being said, I'm picking up a Sansamp Para Driver for some more aggressive tones and a bit more control of the midrange (one more parametric eq mid control doesn't hurt.) This combination is insanely loud. The head definitely puts out every watt of it's 500w 4ohm rating (225/250 or so at 8ohms) and the cab definitely takes every ounce of it and only has the tiniest hint of breakup when completely dimed.
While performing with my Jazz/fusion group on Wednesday, I was definitely surprised at responsiveness of the rig, and even more impressed at the ability to cut through 2 guitars (one Orange Stack and One Marshall), keys, and a drummer in my progressive/thrash project on friday.
I can't recommend this rig enough. While the head is not the flashiest out there, it's simple, but versatile and this cab is a real sleeper with all the tone of an Ampeg 410HE, but with more clarity and a heck of a lot less weight (I can get this thing in and out of the back of my Buick like it's nothing). Neither are ultralight, but then again, look at the price of much of the ultralight gear in comparison.