1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Early 50s upright bass amps

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

  1. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    Bill Black had an early Bassman and an Ampeg mic.


    Vintage Guitar Magazine, July 2018 has a feature article, History of the Fender Bassman by Dave Hunter. Worth checking out.
    CaseyVancouver and JimmyM like this.
  2. Rompin Roddy

    Rompin Roddy

    Jun 29, 2016
    Oddly fascinating thread.
  3. Bass on recording was generally pretty lackluster as well, especially in rock music. One of my good friends in his late 70's was telling me about the first time he ever encountered a live band using a bass amp and thought "Wow! That's what I haven't been hearing all this time!" He bought a pre-CBS P-bass after that night and still has it and plays it today.
    spiritbass and blastoff like this.
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    If you see photos of the era, you'll almost never see DB players with amps. The available technology was pretty dire. In the 50s, amps were low power...50 watts was about as powerful as it got until Fender started making Twin Reverbs and Showmans around 1960 (they were spec'd at 88 watts RMS, most people refer to them as 100 watt amps).

    The orignal Ampeg system was just a crystal mike (as seen in the photo above), later models had some sort of contact pickup that attached to the bridge added. DeArmond made a huge contact pickup, these are pretty rare (I've seen exactly one in the flesh). $37.50 was a lot of money in 1948. A couple of similar pickups were around in the 1950s.



    I'm not sure when Schaller came out with their magnetic pickup (which they are making again!), because it required steel strings it was probably not until the late 50s.
  5. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    They did have talking moving pictures dating back to well before the 50’s. The sound systems projected at fairly high levels into well designed theaters. Bands that were mic’ed and could get pretty loud.

    Shows that were staged in a field on the back of a flatbed trailer were a different story.
    JimmyM likes this.
  6. astack


    Nov 12, 2011
    St. Louis, MO
    Ugh, youths screwing everything up again ;p

    I would assume MI was still a small portion of the market. I wonder how much of the amplification was just borrowed straight from other stereo / amplification applications (e.g. theaters mentioned above) in those days. I know Sunn amps were pretty much just that, but didn't come onto the scene until the 60's.
    JimmyM likes this.
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I don't know how market segments broke down back then, but it had to be a lot simpler back then tha8 it is now. I do know that nearly all the amp designs back in the 40s and 50s came directly out of RCA manuals that they put out in order to encourage people to use RCA products in their designs. Fender and Ampeg both got a lot of mileage out of those manuals.
  8. inthebassclef

    inthebassclef Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2012
    Here is what amazes me, I grew up playing jazz and upright and even now amplification for upright still doesn't do it justice. It seems a really good Mic still captures the upright sound much better than pickups do
    JimmyM likes this.
  9. okcrum

    okcrum in your chest

    Oct 5, 2009
    Verde Valley, AZ
    RIP Dark Horse strings
    Actually, to double the output requires 2x the power. ;)

    To perceive the SPL as twice as loud, the subjective testing which defined SPL showed that you needed 10 dB (10X) increase.

    This is commonly misstated as needing 10x the power to double volume.
    Jeff Scott and lunarpollen like this.
  10. jleguy

    jleguy Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2006
    DC Metro
    Exactly...G and D...

    A little off script...I've been playing electric bass since the mid-70s, relatively new to upright and in my playing on upright, especially for pizz, I have naturally gravitated to the G and D strings (playing guts in an acoustic piedmont blues duo)...I also play a lot of Grateful Dead too and Phil's work on higher register has been a major influence also...
    Last edited: May 17, 2018
    fdeck likes this.
  11. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    It's gotten a lot better. But I've just come to accept that it's the nature of the beast and there's nothing you can do to amplify acoustic instruments that give them justice. Even micing has its drawbacks.
  12. Acoop


    Feb 21, 2012
    All bassists in the 1950's played gut strings about 3 feet from the mic. ... If they were lucky. ... The action was at least an inch off the board. ... So, both hands velt like 'twenty-pound weights' every night when they went home. ... You have no idea how better it is today.
    JimmyM likes this.
  13. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012

    Speaking of upright pickups...

    I tried De Armond and the Ampeg bass mic back in the '70s. The shop my first Kay came from had 'em on old basses hanging around. They really sucked. The Polytone pickup was way better and thats what I used until Underwood came along. I once asked Ray Brown about his Polytone pickup, what he liked about it and why. He gave me an irritated look and said 'I use it cause they sponsor me'.

    Bassist's before 1960 had great access to top quality carved uprights that were not a lot of dough, unlike today. Sure the drummer with his bass drum did their best to destroy the upright sound but a lot of guys, like Ray Brown or Mingus could cut through.

    On a famous 1953 concert 'Jazz at Massey Hall' with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charles Mingus went into the studio later and over dubbed his bass for the record release. He would not have needed to do that if he had access to the Ampeg fliptop and pickup that came out a few years later.

    I've never heard of nor read any old interviews where pre '60 bassists talked about amplifiers.
    Last edited: May 16, 2018
  14. I think the other thing the upright players used was an endpin with a sharp tip. Basically stab that into a wooden stage and use the stage as a soundboard.
    Of course when you add an amplifier the last thing you want is to acoustically couple your bass to the stage!
    JimmyM likes this.
  15. john m

    john m Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    True story: a trumpet player that I’ve gigged with used to sub with a “sanctioned” Elvis band.

    They had Elvis’s original drummer
    ( who passed not too long ago). According to him in the early days, the PA system had one mic for vocals.

    If they were lucky enough to have a second mic,
    it was used to amplify the bass (fiddle).
    JimmyM likes this.
  16. Blaze Barlow

    Blaze Barlow

    Mar 8, 2018
    yeah..that sounds right..the players I saw that were playing dog boxes in the early 60's were using the polytone pickups..or they were using those big elvis 55 mics..the ones I saw were electro voice and RCA..I had one myself..but I was using it for vocals..I believe those were ribbon mics..and they sure didnt like low end frequencies..and they didnt go up real high on the higher end either..they tended to feedback a lot..but they had a cool and a classic look..like a dummy..I traded mine off many years ago..my first electric bass amp was a fender 50 watt bassman combo with a single 15" speaker..I think it must have been 1969..I was playing a Univox hollowbody electric bass..red with black edging..and a rosewood fingerboard with a black painted headstock..nylon flatwounds for strings..and it had that cool string mute bar back there on the bridge..
    Last edited: May 16, 2018
  17. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    When I saw Mingus on a club date in the mid-70s he didn't use an amp. His solution to being heard (beyond being a loud and clear player even acoustically) was to tell the audience if they didn't shut up they would be getting a knuckle sandwich. And I'm completely confident that he meant that literally. Or_wink.
  18. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    In the '80s I owned a Western Electric 639B ribbon mic. It sounded great on the bass recordings I made. So, perhaps it was the EV and RCA ribbon mics, specifically, that were not low frequency friendly (according to you).
  19. bluefizz


    Aug 8, 2008
    Los Angeles
    MTD USA, Bartolini Electronics, Tsunami Cables
    In the 50s the best option for double bass in larger venues was a Mic setup through the PA. Amp technology wasn’t good enough then. If it was a small club you where unsupported and had to compete with everyone else. The high action of the strings helped produce volume, but it was mostly due to having gut strings needing room to move. Even when steal strings first came out action was still high. Wasn’t until good pickups and amps started to apear that the action can be lowered to a more modern height. But even now the go to option for double bass is the mic setup if you want the best acoustic tone. Most amps on stages are just for reference (unless you don’t have PA support). This is coming from the jazz side of upright bass, not sure about rock/slap double bass and what they did :)
  20. Somehow those early uprights got volume, along with the guitar players without an amp. I do know, a chorale mic setup or even a single mic picks up an upright pretty well with a small unit, but those big bands had the bass in the back, and the guitar close to the [much louder] piano, so they had to have good instruments, and an ability to pound it out.

    Then there were those first solid body electric upright basses (EUB's). They didn't go over that well though. I think bass and upright bass amplification was taken more seriously when the solidbody bass guitar came along and actually allowed us to hear bass players.

    Last edited: May 16, 2018

Share This Page