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Early 50s upright bass amps

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by summeralligator, May 15, 2018.

  1. summeralligator


    Jan 14, 2018
    Hi guys! i post this cause today i started thinkin about the amps from guys who played the upright bass like Bill Black or Marshall Grant have used. Can anyone explain me about that?
  2. Thornton Davis

    Thornton Davis

    Dec 11, 1999
    You should buy yourself a copy of "Ampeg, The Story Behind The Sound" by Gregg Hopkins and Bill Moore. It contains lots of great stories and photos of how Everett Hull came up with his solution for upright bass players to be heard.

    RSBBass and Chef like this.
  3. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    i'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that in the early '50s bass amplification in general just sucked
    Jim Carr, wmhill and Acoop like this.
  4. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    It was fine as long you didn't need to be heard.

    Amplification in the 50's wasn't about volume. It was about balancing out your sound with the rest of the band. Some bass players back then used no amplification at all. Some stuck a mic on theirs. Wasn't until the very late 50's where audiences got way more noisy and venues got bigger that it became an issue. And they just did the best they could with what they had, which were basically glorified guitar amps. Fender was the bigger company, but Ampeg made the better bass amps, but both were in common usage back then.
    Last edited: May 15, 2018
    tfer, Scott Lynch, Chef and 3 others like this.
  5. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    always wondered about that when "the rest of the band" was like a blazing 10-piece horn section! plus they were in front while the bass player was way in back, right?
    i wonder how much of that came from the fact that while the bass amps were miserable or non-existent, those little tube guitar amps just sounded better and better the more they cranked them up?
  6. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    the Cali Intergalctic Mind Space
    Song Surgeon slow downer software- full 4 hour demo
    Weren't most bass players still playing uprights in the 50's? It took awhile for electric bass to catch on.
  7. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Not sure. Still by no means an expert on that. I do know Duke used to have two bassists playing in unison to get it up loud enough for his tastes. And some players could just plain play really loud. Their fingers were meathooks.
    Chef and Stumbo like this.
  8. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Indeed, and they also had their basses set up with extremely high action, gut strings, and adapted their playing style to make themselves more audible. There are some faithful transcriptions of early big-band charts, and I've noticed that on a lot of them, the bass part spends most of its time on the G and D strings, and in the higher positions. I suspect it was because those registers were more audible. Quite the opposite of "no money above the fourth fret."

    Stan Kenton reportedly hated PA systems, and one reason why he formed the Mellophonium band was to fill out the bass. His arrangements for that band had sometimes upwards of 2 bari sax, bass sax, bass trombone, tuba, and upright bass, often playing in unison. I've played some of those charts, and they're awesome.

    I believe one effect of amplification, and the influence of electric bass, was that bassists lowered their action and played with a softer touch, allowing development of new playing styles and a higher level of virtuosity.
    Jim Carr, jleguy, Jefenator and 2 others like this.
  9. Garret Graves

    Garret Graves website- ggravesmusic.com Gold Supporting Member

    May 20, 2010
    Arcadia, Ca
    This thread is so interesting! Subbed, thanks guys
  10. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I believe that, too. So do most people. And then you have guys like my friend Kid Dutch, who leads bands playing old timey jazz, and he says I'm a wuss for doing that, and if I raised my action and played much harder, I wouldn't need an amp. He's right, but he hasn't called me for a gig in a year so screw him :D

    As for only playing up high back then, it's a fact that the lack of audibility on lower notes is the reason. My old friend, the late Marshall Lytle, bassist for Bill Haley And His Comets, wouldn't even bother tuning the E string because he would never use it, and that's why. There's still that mentality in upright world for rockabilly and swing stuff, although it's not quite like it was back in the day.
    fdeck and vin*tone like this.
  11. ficelles

    ficelles Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2010
    Devon, England
    That’s what orchestras do - if you want more bass, add more bassists.
    JimmyM likes this.
  12. neddyrow

    neddyrow Captain of Team Orange Jacket

    Apr 21, 2011
    Cortland, NY
    if i remember correctly, that's where ampeg got its name. amplification on a peg. i actually saw one of the original mics at a luthier shop once. looked like this:
  13. Most live, radio and recording big band bass players in the 30's and 40's tuned their upright basses A-D-G-C because the low E string would not cut through or reproduce well due to the gut strings and audio limitations of the day. By the late 40's technology got better and the E string made a "comeback". I got this first hand from several guys that I knew who played in big bands and on the radio.
  14. pfschim

    pfschim Just a Skeleton with a Jazz bass Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2006
    SF Bay Area
    My dad was a working upright bass player (tuba and trombone too) in Detroit and then Chicago from the early 40s thru the mid 70s. He played a wide range of gigs and venues from trio/quartet cocktail and casuals gigs, recording gigs, up to full radio dance band (WGN from the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago). He was also a very good vocalist with a baritone range.

    He had a slamming right hand and used the upright as much as a percussive instrument as a melodic one. He modeled his style on that of cats from the 30s and 40s, Jimmy Blanton and Slam Stewart. On the live radio gigs he was miced up with high quality mics (for the day) and the live mixing engineer would manage the balance of the whole band.

    He did not own a bass amp until about 1968, when he used a pickup device into a small Heathkit combo amp he built himself. He hated amps and only used one if the BL insisted. I seem to recall it was something like 20-25watts into a sealed 12” cab. I don’t remember anything about the pickup arrangement he used.

    He played steadily into the mid 70’s, with his last gigs being done as a tuba player in a Dixieland style band.
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  15. pfschim

    pfschim Just a Skeleton with a Jazz bass Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2006
    SF Bay Area
    My sister (French horn) and BiL (trombone) are symphonic players in Europe.
    I just happened to ask her about the typical number of bassists in an orchestra and the arrangement of their charts.
    Her orchestra (A Coruña, Spain) current has 7, but should have a full compliment of 8.
    She said bass section charts are most typically full unison, with the occasional divici (split part).

    That’s a lot of bass players sawing away at the same line and if you’ve ever heard a symphonic bass section in full voice, you know they can bring the noise
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  16. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    Ampeg was pretty much the deal back then.
    JimmyM likes this.
  17. StatesideRambler


    Jul 1, 2015
    Not the case at all. At that time (early to mid fifties) the sound of distortion had nearly no fans. Musicians wanted louder but couldn't get much louder without unwanted distortion. Blues shouters and the earliest rock and rollers eventually persuaded people that distortion was not completely unpleasant but DB players still preferred the then-unatainable clean sound.
  18. To get an idea of the landscape, do an internet search for "1950s guitar amps." The results harvested will be sloppy enough to pull in some outliers (i.e., bass). There was a lot more out there than Ampeg and Fender. Also keep in mind that a 50w amp is only twice as loud as a 5w amp. To double the output requires ten times the power.
  19. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    There was but they were the big players by far. And I don't know for sure about Fender but Ampeg built amps for other companies back then on a regular basis. So some of the outliers weren't so outlying :)
  20. So did Danelectro and Valco. Some interesting stuff out there, some of it priced not *too* unreasonably. Personally, I would like to attend a small venue show where the guitar amps were at 25w RMS and the bass amp no more than forty. Ought to be an educational experience.
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