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GK MB150S vs. Markbass CMD 121p

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by pdbass, Sep 24, 2008.

  1. pdbass


    Jan 2, 2007
    As a gigging double-bassist, a combo amplifier has been a must as long as I've been playing. In most (non-classical) situations, I have to have an amp, and preferably one that can reproduce the sound that I'm making on my bass with volume, clarity, and bottom. Most of the time, I'm looking for an amp to give me that "bump" in volume and presence so that I can be heard in a group that might have drums and keys and guitar. That sound coming from the amp, combined with the sound coming off of the instrument is a beautiful thing. Sometimes, though, I might have to play with a big band and I need an amp that will allow me to be heard in a large ensemble with focus and bottom without feeding back.

    Fast forward to a couple of years ago. I started using the trusty GK, like many of us. It seemed to faithfully give me what I expected, especially when it came to that "bump" I needed on most of my gigs. It's a lightweight amp, totally cartable, and reasonably loud. I also found that it sounded best (to my ears) up off of the floor in some way. It seemed to work for my bass run mostly flat, that is, the knobs facing straight up, with slight bass boost and hi-mid at times, and often cutting the treble a bit. I play a pre-WWII 7/8th's (most likely) Juzek with Sprio Mittels and a Helicore Hybrid Med 'G'. As "jazz" as they come. It's a loud instrument that I try to give just a bit of help with an amplifier. With my Realist pickup, this setup worked for me. Most often, for club gigs, and in situations where I didn't need to turn up my volume that much, this was a usable sound and I was mostly content with this setup.

    Then, it seemed as though I needed to be louder for a series of gigs. Last of which being a jazz mass I played recently (played with full choir in concert). The GK just seemed not to do it for me. I was overplaying, kind of struggling to hear my notes, and not enjoying the kind of tinny sound that the GK was prone to putting out at higher volumes. I tried adding another cabinet (a Markbass 102p) along with the MB150s, but soon realized that I was only amplifying a sound that I didn't like at high volumes! I tried a preamp in my chain, to no avail, even bypassing the preamp on the combo itself a la the effects loop (thanks, talkbass). It wasn't working for me. It still seemed to feel like I was playing bass in the next room. I was yanking the instrument to get any kind of presence or punch--especially when the volume went up. I needed something different, especially when my bass sounded so damn good when I was playing it acoustically.

    Enter the Markbass 121p. I did a little research and found that this might be an amp that I would want to check out. I actually own the LMK II and have always loved the sound that it put out on my electric bass--but not so much with my DB. Still, it intrigued me enough to call around to see if GC had one sitting around that I could try out and play through a bit. I got lucky and actually found one that was used in new condition. I hurried over to try it out, and was pleased with what I heard. If only every gig I did was at GC. Thank God for the 14-day return policy. I was off to the house to do an honest A-B test between these 2 amps. Something I haven't seen on here as of yet.

    A-B TEST

    As I said, my DB is pre-WWII, fully carved, with a Realist (soon to be FC again--it's getting fixed) and Spiro Mittels on the E-A-D with a Helicore Hybrid Med 'G'. I plugged both amps in and lined them up, about 2 feet apart, facing me. Both gain stages were set and EQs were set flat. I tried to find an appropriate volume level that was equal between the two amps. Here's what I noticed:

    The 121p is a loud little amp, but the GK has much more bottom. By that, I mean SUB frequencies. The sound of the GK seems a little more complex, especially around 40Hz and lower. Mind you, I could really hear these low lows playing by myself at home. The Markbass, set flat, can only be described as much more ORGANIC sounding, with low-mids that jump out of the box. The sound breathes much more with the 121p. It blossoms, whereas the GK is much tighter sounding. Turning up the 121p opens up the sound a bit, and the punch that it puts out is undeniable. Adding more volume on the GK definitely adds a much more metallic-type edge to the sound. Next to the Markbass combo, it definitely sounded on the 'sterile' side. I tried then to add a bit of EQ to each amp. The GK's EQ was much more fast-acting. Minute adjustments seemed to have a much more drastic effect on the sound coming out. I was surprised that the GK really didn't lack for sub-bottom, especially when engaging the bass EQ, but it was a very 'tinny' kind of sound that just increased as volume increased. The controls on the 121p seemed much more subtle when first engaged. Buttery would be a good word. Not as drastic as the GK's controls. It seemed to me that the EQ on the 121p was much more "usable" than the GK's. By that, I mean that you could tame certain frequencies and still have your sound, whereas when you mess with the MB150's EQ, you're making much more drastic changes. When it came down to it, the GK's sound seemed much more "complex" than the 121p's, but the Markbass definitely had a sound that I liked a lot more, and I wanted to see what that sound was like in a real-life gig.

    I took the Markbass combo onto a gig in a small theater, about a 200-seater. The group was bass, drums, piano, sax, and vocals. On a small stage, I plugged into the system with an XLR (and later the soundman told me that he really didn't need to turn me up in the house--the amp did well enough). I turned on the amp and proceeded to warm up. I had the 121p set mostly flat, with maybe a tad bit of HI-MID boosted. I was not used to hearing that much punch come out of my amp, and clarity--especially with a Realist. With the wrong amp, a Realist can really get lost, but at times on the gig the amp seemed to disappear--especially on the 2nd set. I messed around with the volume, as well, and I much preferred the headroom that 300 watts was giving me. Playing through a ported enclosure was also a step up, soundwise. I placed the amp on the floor next to me (in between myself and the drummer) and I've never been as happy hearing my sound come out of an amplifier. I got the "bump" that I love to get, but I also got the punch coming out of my instrument, the sound was much quicker, and much less transient. Everything I played was right there in my face, not in the next room. The 'tinnyness' was gone, and while the bottom was not as complex, the much more organic sound blended with the group much better than that of the GK. There was a low-mid presence that had never been there before that was a delight. I also felt like I could turn WAY up if I had to and not really lose that sound. I could drive a big (loud) band and still have great, punchy, present tone. Of course, I'm anxious for the next gig, and the next, but I had to post my initial impressions. This is a great amp, and it's going to replace my MB150S when it comes to my DB. While it may not have the kind of complex bottom the GK puts out, its just as transportable, its sound sits even better in a mix with other musicians, and it plays much faster and punchier without sounding 'tinny'. It's also loaded with more power and can be pushed alot further volume-wise than the GK. Of course, YMMV, but I am very impressed. . . .
    Dimetrios likes this.
  2. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    Excellent write up Paul. Thanks for sharing.
  3. Jefenator

    Jefenator Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2008
    Yeah, thanks for sharing! I almost got the combo but wound up getting the LMII head plus an Aguilar 1x12. I might yearn for the combo simplicity but the Aggie is extra beefy and not too tough to lug. This rig definitely blows the poor old MB150S away. (3x the watts, 4x the bulk, it had better!!)

    I gigged hard for over a decade without once touching any of the tone knobs on the GK. The GK was a one trick pony - that one trick worked with all kinds of different basses in all kinds of different settings PROVIDED the volume level was low enough.

    I find myself tweaking settings a lot more on the LMII - mostly the two adjustable presets. It's a worthwhile effort, though. The amp has at least 2 very distinct, both very musically useful personalities for electric bass.

    I'm still trying to find the right voice for the upright. I tried to make the amp make my Kay sound like Christian McBride's Juzek. No luck there. :p (Maybe settle for making my Kay sound like my Kay?) Part of the problem may be using a Full Circle after many happy years with a Realist (that finally died).

    BTW, I find both GK and Markbass prefer to have an outboard buffer for the piezo pickups. Plugged straight in works in a pinch, but buffering definitely yields more nuance.
  4. PTB


    Dec 21, 2006
    London, UK
    Paul, your excellent posting helped me in my recent decision. I bought the CMD 121P and am very pleased with it. I previously used a G-K 700RB into an Aguilar GS112. I have a German bass with Eurosonic strings and a B-Band Statement pick-up. I play mostly Chicago Blues, West Coast & Western Swing.

    Whilst I got a fair tone out of the G-K, I struggled to get the volume I needed - it seemed short of headroom, something that never occured using the slab. A couple of people had recommended the Mark Bass and I'd enjoyed the tones they got. The light weight also appealed (bad back :() so I took the plunge this week and gigged it for the first time last night.

    My tone was better, with more clarity and warmth. It was very easy to dial up a good tone - I left the EQ flat and just added 40% of the VPF. The improved headroom was marked; with the output of the B-Band buffer/mixer on full, I just needed the input gain on 2. With the G-K, this had always been a struggle as the pad was too severe and I was always fiddling around for an optimal setting. As for master volume, instead of running the G-K on 70-80%, the Mark Bass needed 20%.

    Our singer/band leader had a smile on his face from the first number and complimented me on the improvement in tone throughout the gig.

    I'm sold on the Mark Bass and am looking forward to a week of gigs with it at the Kinsale Jazz & Blues Festival in Ireland at the end of this month.

    I'll be keeping the Aguilar as an extension cab but the G-K will be looking for a new home shortly.

    Finally, I noticed a few people had said they couldn't live with this combo's looks, especially the bright yellow speaker cone. One solution I've seen done is to buy some regular speaker grill cloth and wrap that over the metal grille. It hides the cone and seems to have a negligible effect on the tone.

  5. velvetphil

    velvetphil Supporting Member

    Feb 22, 2006
    Los Angeles, CA
    Trying out my Christopher laminate DB with K&K Bass Master Pro on a CM120P today at Guitar Center. I'll definitely post up some impressions here when I'm done. Also gonna try it with my Fender P, since I'll be primarily doubling with this amp. I'm excited! :hyper:
  6. velvetphil

    velvetphil Supporting Member

    Feb 22, 2006
    Los Angeles, CA
    Well, the CMD121P was not there (stupid Guitar Center), but I tried the bass out on a Jeff Berlin combo instead. I loved it! For the first time, I could hear exactly what the pickup sounded like. Subjective, I know, but...wow. The 15" really brought out the low end, with no EQ at all and the VPF knob up at around 9 o'clock. Brilliant. I'm definitely getting the 12" combo - the JB is a little too big to be carrying around. Markbass is highly recommended!
  7. ricky


    Apr 23, 2004
    Austin, TX
    I actually compared the Mark Bass 12 combo to the GK MB combo with my upright last week at guitar center. I thought that the Markbass speaker handled power more easily without distortion. The Markbass combo is also rear-ported, so the sound is a bit fuller and "boomier", and a little less focused.

    To me, GK sounded more "pure and clear". However, the Mark Bass EQ is impressive. I think it could be used to dial in effective tones for many different styles.

    Markbass might be more versatile. I think it could handle electric bass gigs w/ drummers more easily than GK. However, if you're playing all of your gigs in small jazz combos, I'd say GK is winner.
  8. ricky


    Apr 23, 2004
    Austin, TX
    Well, I compared the GK MB combo with the Markbass 12 combo, and now I'm convinced Markbass is the better rig "doubling" rig for my purposes (small acoustic blues and trad. jazz/west swing w/ no drummer, and rnb/motown group. The EQ can be adjusted for upright to simulate GK's more "pure bump" sound, and to me Markbass's rear porting allows for better full room sound, almost like the omnidirectional feel of a downfiring Acoustic image combos, but only louder.

    I was considering trading my ampeg combo for the Markbass 12 combo, but due to the cost, it is a little out of reach.

    This morning I realized I should also try the Markbass 210 combo. If I have time, I'll report on that as well... has anyone tried the markbass 210 combo for upright?

    Thanks for the original posting, Paul.
  9. pdbass


    Jan 2, 2007
    Thanks for the kind words! I just wanted to get into the amp from a practical standpoint. A few of weeks later, and I still stand by what I wrote, for sure, but I definitely hear that the GK, while being more "high-fi" is a little more sterile than the Markbass, with the Markbass definitely has more power. In the end, I'm keeping BOTH, the Markbass gets the nod most of the time. The CMD also pretty much blows the GK out of the water as a doubling amp, IMHO. While the GK excels at being at DB amp that can be used for electric, the CMD sounds really good on electric and can be used--very well--for upright.

    Unfortunately, I haven't had much success with the 2x10's and my DB. I also own the LMK II head and the 102p 2x10 cabinet. This is an AWESOME combination for electric for just about any small, medium-sized, or PA supported gig. On DB, I have NO success with it--FC, Realist, Bass Max, or Underwood. First of all, I had BAD feedback issues, unless I could get the cabinet up off of the ground in most cases, and the sound of my instrument seemed, at best, hollow. I know that some people have had much success with 10's and DB in general, but my 2x10 102p just didn't seem to work that well on upright. But that CMD combo. . . just keeps on kicking butt and taking names.

    Would love to hear about the 1x15 Jeff Berlin combo!
  10. velvetphil

    velvetphil Supporting Member

    Feb 22, 2006
    Los Angeles, CA
    Yeah... from what I recall the Jeff Berlin was not the right match for my bass. Some good sounds when I rolled up the VPF, but in general I wasn't a fan. I think it's more a question of the speaker size rather than the amp itself; would much prefer a 12" - both for portability and tone. There was just too much low end, and too much potential for feedback (and actual feedback) even at GC store volumes.

    Interesting to hear the 2x10 thoughts. I'm using an Acme 2x10 with the line in of an Ashdown amp, coming from the K&K Bass Master Pro. Getting good results, but I don't like the 10's. A little too glassy on top, not warm enough.
  11. Will Yager

    Will Yager Supporting Member

    May 7, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    I was pretty set on the GK as my next bass purchase, but it sounds like I need to check out the MB too.
  12. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    I liked the 121P. I find it a little bit cumbersome for 99% of my gigs which the GK150MBS covers just fine.

    If you like the 121P for upright you may also like the AC101. It uses a 2-channel amp with one high-impedance channel and one low-impedance channel which doubles as a mic-input (with phantom power). The amp section is kind of a lower-powered LMII, but I find it alot more DB friendly than the regular LMII.


    It is very small and practically disappears on a jazz gig with it's Polytone vibe. It is also a very good low volume electric bass amp.

    Steve Boisen likes this.
  13. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    The GK MB150S is the best DB amp ever.

    Great for little gigs by itself.

    With a decent extension cab it kills.

    I've been using it for all my gigs lately with and without an extension cab (I built a 1x10" cab) and am in hog heaven.

    No preamps. Just my Realist into the amp.

    Plug and play.

    My dream come true.

    I'm toying with the idea of selling my AI/EA rig.

    No joke.

    Watch the classifieds.
  14. robgrow

    robgrow Supporting Member

    May 1, 2004
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    +1 for the MB150S. It does a lot of things well and is very compact and reasonably light weight (which are important considerations for me).
  15. pdbass


    Jan 2, 2007
    Have you guys tried the Markbass? I love the GK, but the original intention of my post was to compare the two amps. I would love to hear your comparisons of those 2 amps, as per the subject of the thread. . .
  16. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    I understand and sorry to derail. The main thing for me is I am tired of $%^&*%^ around. The GK works great. It is a little anemic at high volumes by itself but with the right extension cab it kills. I have a Aguilar GS112NT and when I feel like carrying the extra stuff I can't imagine a better sound for DB. I spent the better part of 3 months and over $1000 finding out that the AI/EA rig I bought was about the same for DB as what I already have. I will admit that the AI/EA setup is much better for chop, which makes it better for doubling, but I definitely spent a ton of bread on an amp that I'll only use two or three times a year.

    I guess the intention of my post is to (for me) to stop being a gear head. It is a waste of valuable practice time and money. I also wanted to put in a vote for an underrated amp when hooked up to a good extension.
  17. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    I concur about the GK150MBS. One trip load in, great sound with no weird low frequencies to cut, effective EQ, not particular about pickups, sturdy and inexpensive. What's not to like?

    I can see the MB 121P being more effective at higher volumes or on any doubling gig, barring that it's just more to carry.

  18. ricky


    Apr 23, 2004
    Austin, TX
    After a few weeks of gigs with the Makbass combo, I can concede one point to the GK. :eyebrow:

    For low volume jazz gigs, the GK is the better choice. GK's sound has more clarity.

    But if you play more "traditional" styles like country, blues, and need something that works with electric as well, and don't want to have to bring an extension cab out to get a fatter sound, then check out the Markbass.
  19. loopee

    loopee Supporting Member

    May 12, 2009
    Surrey, B.C. Canada
    Thanks guys. I just bought the Markbass CMD121P yesterday and used it at practice last night in a blues band trio. I wasn't crazy about the combo when I tried it at the store but in a mix with the band, it sounded really good. Today, I A/B'd it with my trusty GK MB150. I tend to agree with you all that the GK is purer but since I don't play a DB I need it for blues and rock. The GK just was tinny when I turned it up to be heard over the drums and guitars. Last night I could really hear myself, as a matter of fact, I was louder than everyone at one point (which is a first for me) I'm always telling everyone else to turn down. I totally agree about the EQ being quicker to respond on the GK and noticed that it required a fair amount of twiddling on the VLE and VPF knobs (I keep the others flat) to change the tone on the MB. One thing though, and maybe because I haven't played on it enough but I don't find the MB that much versatile. I don't hear that much difference with the VLE and VPF knobs. It sounds pretty much the same to me. It's sounds good so no amount of twiddling will mess it up like it can be messed up on the GK. For me the Markbass is best in a rock/blues context compared to the GK MB150. Although I still love my GK. Anyone needing a GK MB150 with a 12" ext cab. let me know. I think they'll be gone soon.
    What I intend on doing as soon as possible, is getting my hands on a Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 -12T combo and A/B'ing that with the Markbass. I know it's been done in some other threads but I need to hear it for myself.
  20. Barcza


    May 1, 2005
    +1 for GK MB150! A year before I tried to replace my old MB to some, more loud amp. But after I tried a numerous of amps, I keep the MB.

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