The shrinking bass amp trend
For the last ten years or so, bass amplification lines have been getting lighter and smaller. The bass public for the most part seems to love this. However, when you look across the stage you'll see that the guitarist's world have seen no such evolution.
Why is that? Did the SVT stigma cause buildres to react in an over compensating way or did the live culture of bass need to spare more stage room for guitar amps, pedalboards, drum stands, keyboard hardware, etc. Why did WE (who push the broadest bandwidth in the group) have to size down?!
I don't mind portability and enjoy a gig w/o a sore back from loading in, but when I revert to heavier gear there's just something that these fits-in-your-pocket amps can't touch.
I have noticed that many professional musicians are now using smaller amps. Eric Clapton's band uses combos and sounds great. In the early days of live music, when nothing was running through the PA, musicians needed large amps with a lot of power so the audience could hear them. Over time, this became unnecessary but I think there are many people who believe that they need a wall of amps, cabs and power behind them. It also adds to the "look" of the stage. I prefer my Ampeg SVT heads and cabs. It seems like I get a much fuller stage sound.
Are you sure? I notice more and more small tube combos, less and less 4x12s.
There isn't as much technological evolution in the guitar amp world but people use less powerful amps nonetheless.
It seems that the more bands I see, the more are using the smallest, and I mean nearly lunchbox size, amps (guitar, keyboard & bass) on stage. I've seen some bands that used no amps at all, letting the monitors be their only stage sound source. A time or two, I've gotten nearly on stage with these, and it sure sounds way different there than it does in the audience. Not to mention the cool factor of various gear adding to the stage presence. I guess even if was in a wheelchair, I could attach a strap and drag my "real" bass gear to the gig. :cool:
If the amp is loud enough and sounds good, then I am all for small. That makes the Pay/Weight ratio go up and that is good. :D
Plus, quicker load out at the end of the night due to smaller gear gives more time to "socialize" and for most bands, that is an important part.
That being said-you have to play with a "wall of sound" behind you now and then since its just so so good.
Of course, if you are a rocker and dig the tone of power tubes pushed a bit (thank god that is not my thing at all), then yes, the big tube amps will always be around.
With guitar, the reason for the lack of 'progress' in amp design is simple to understand and twofold (IMO):
1) While many, many bassists look for a totally clean tone that does not vary at all at different volume levels (i.e., solid state power amps), there are very, very few guitarists that have this tone goal. So, there was never that advantage to go to smaller, lighter weight power amps. Guitarists like tube amps... pretty much all of them!
2) Guitar amps are small and light enough (unless you are carrying a Marshall stack around) that there was very little motivation to get an amp smaller than a Fender Twin or whatever or one of the smaller single 12 30 watt models that cover the vast majority of gigs for many guitarists.
The happiest day of my life (well, OK, one of the happiest!) was when I was able to get rid of my V4B way back in the day for a solid state amp that was powerful enough to do the same gigs. No more tone starting to change as you cranked the amp up, no more distorted low end and midrange on louder gigs, etc. Of course, many use those tube amps for JUST THAT, and it is a beautiful thing. But there are many, many bassists who prefer a more 'right into the mixing board' tone, and amps get better at that performance every year, and also happen to be getting lighter and smaller:bassist:
I think this is another one of those questions that doesnt have a blanket answer. People will use the gear that works for them. The restrictions on that may be price point, volume needs, pack size restriction, specific tonal needs, or any other small thing that may sway someone to one piece of gear or another.
For every player using a big tube head and a full stack of cabs, there will be someone using a micro combo. The venues and music they play are probably very different, and thats OK. I like pre/power rack amps or 400 watt tube amps paired with fEARful cabs. I dont play low volume jazz gigs, but I could downsize what I bring and put together a rig that would be acceptable, I have a volume knobs on all the amps I have.
If you look at guitar players' equipment across the board you will find that an overwhelming majority of them fiercely hold on to 50-60 year old technology. From pickups/electronics to pedals to amps.
We didn't HAVE to downsize...
We're just smarter and more evolved than they are...
I have three things to offer.
1) Accept every mechanical advantage. There are exactly zero points for making the same job harder. The sonic difference between the old luggage and the new micro-thumpers is negligible to any audience in the world. An SVT is the equivalent of a '59 Cadillac—wonderful to behold but doesn't make a lot of sense as an every-day vehicle in the 21st Century.
2) I just picked up my amp bag, which is stocked with two amps and a carefully chosen array of cords and paperwork, and realized that most of the weight is in the cords—by a wide margin. Amps are so light now that I worry about about dragging the amp to the floor from the top of the cab by the cord. This is a weird, wonderful time to be a bass player, and I couldn't be happier about it.
3) I don't give a crap what guitar players do. Their problems aren't like mine.
I routinely play a 300 watt Markbass combo with 2 10" speakers that weighs about 45 lbs. I use it as is for practice and small to medium sized gigs. When playing larger gigs, I run through the PA and my amp becomes a monitor. I love the tone and I'm never lacking for volume. The cats I play with are all amazed at how good the thing sounds. It's a beauty way to go.
Band's for the most part don't need the wall of sound amps any more ... for guitar or bass
And when bands do have the wall of sound it is fake.
With modern pa systems a bass player does not need an 8x10 and the guitar does not need an 8x12
look at home stereo systems.
We used to have big speakers. Now a home theater system will have a bunch of micro speakers and it will sound better.
1. On big stages, you used to need the ability to generate serious SPL; but in-ear monitors have changed the game. If everybody's wearing IEMs, walls of cabinets tend to be mostly for optics.
2. Guitar rigs at the club level started off smaller than bass rigs, so that portability wasn't such a strongly felt cost. In terms of volume, guitarists have long had combos that could kick &$$ and take names if need be, and that tote a lot easier than an SVT + fridge.
3. Guitar is more of a lead voice instrument, requiring religious raptures about one's tone. For a lot of players, glowing pre *and* power tubes are a non-negotiable part of the rig. That has put some limits on the trend toward lighter rigs. In bass rigs, more players can get the tone(s) they want w/o power-stage tubes.
4. IME, guitar stage rigs have gotten smaller (functional stage rigs, that is—even when part of larger "scenery" rigs)--not only b/c of changes in monitoring technology, but also b/c of a shift in which genres are on the big stages. As the gate depended less on big-hair guitar heroics or angsty sonic maelstroms and more on choreography and pop vocals, lower overall stage volumes became more valuable.
Carvin has a line that addresses this issue. Check it out. Tube amp at that.
I sold my Eden WT800 and got a GB Streamliner and I will never look at a larger amp again. Between my cabs, amp and double bass, it's two easy trips from the car to the stage. And now that I think of it, my back hasn't hurt since I offloaded the old rig. Heck, if I know the venue has a good enough monitor system, I'll just run my double bass through the PA only. The ultimate in lazy!!
I guess the way I would sum it up is that as I get older, I have other things to worry about "shrinking", my amp isn't one of them. :hiding:
I think it's because of two inter-related things. First, distortion seems to occupy a larger portion of a guitar player's playing palette than that of a bass player. Second is technology. I'd say in most cases 99% of current technology is better than their predecessors. It so happens that when it comes to distortion, tube-driven distortion still cannot be duplicated using current state-of-the-art technology.
Bass players have always been more open minded. Not afraid to experiment with woods, materials etc.
Many answers to this one.
First, Physics. Yay. Bass is way harder to amplify correctly than guitar simply because the energy required is inversely proportional to the wavelength. So low frequencies, long wavelength, take a lot more energy to project. That is why it takes cannon vocal cords to project baritone vocal parts. The simplest answer for bass guitar in the early days was big. Acoustic 360. Amped SVT. Since then amp and speaker technology has improved to the point that, given some other factors below, smaller rigs are now useful.
Second, many club situations now demand entertainment at decibel levels that permit conversation in the house without shouting. Culture shift.
Third, guitar amps almost never needed to be bigger than the Fender Twin. At least for clubs. I worked with one guitarist for a while who used a tiny Marshal Simul-State (IIRC) 12"combo that made your ears bleed. Again, Physics.
So, it may have taken 50 years, but we are now in great shape as working bassists.
Which is not to say the big rigs don't sound righteous still. They certainly do. As long as someone else moves them!
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