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Reality Check - Amp price, performance, tone, volume, size, weight, etc.

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by IvanMike, May 21, 2005.

  1. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    Hey there. Before i start, let me say that this post isn't intended as an attack or to tick anyone off. However, it probably will offend someone, so I apologize in advance. No offense intended. While I think most of what I'll touch on are hard facts, they still are my opinions, and i invite you to chime in with yours. The fact that I'm an admitted know-it-all at times means i might attempt to refute any counter-claims, but I'll be nice about it. ;)

    A lot of players here are young and/or inexperienced, and just don't know some of this stuff. Some others are older and/or more experienced, and (should) know better. However, I think that maturity and rational thinking trump age in the following points. I know many 15 year old players who are much more mature and together than some 40 year old players. (Hey, we are talking about musicians here, and some of us are pretty odd ducks - :p )

    1st off, ours is an expensive hobby any way you slice it. Basses and amps cost a lot of money, good gear costs a whole lot of money, and really great stuff costs tons of money. But how much is a lot? Remember, when it comes to musical intruments, electric basses and their amps are pretty cheap. Go price out some beginner, mid level, and professional double basses, saxophones, oboes, pianos, etc, and get back to me with how expensive our stuff is.

    Anyhow, this is the amps forum, so lets stick to amps. Amps are expensive at many different levels, and all of us have income ranges, budgets, and degrees of return financially (i.e., money from gigs, recording, etc.) that we get from playing. Some of us are full time musicians, many of us are part time giggers, and some of us play just for the heck of it. Deciding how much we're willing to fork over on amps, cabs, etc is going to depend upon our income, return on playing, and our entire financial picture.

    I'll never suggest going into debt or making stupid desicions to buy gear you really can't afford. Lots of us have had to "settle for" amplifiers that don't have the tone or volume we want, and that's OK. Just be aware that you cant expect components to perform in ways they were never intended to (like attempting to get a 25 watt 1x10" combo to cut it in a medium volume rock band on its own) without having them fail to do so, or worse, having them break int the attempt. To be even more mature, don't get upset at the item, at the manufacturer, at those of us at TB who told you that the aforementioned combo wasn't going to perform like a full on SVT, and at the rest of the world! :smug:

    That said, you get what you pay for. There are some great values to be had out there, and the used market can be wonderfull, but there is a limit to how cheap you can go. Only a small % of the population buys bass gear, so the parts used aren't mass produced enough to make them a cheap as pepsi and gillette razors. The more esoteric and quality the parts, the more expensive they become on an exponential basis. Also, simple economics 101 keeps the price of new and used amplification in line right where it "should" be.

    Some inexpensive preamps, speakers, etc sound surprisingly good, and a lot of cheap stuff sounds, well, cheap. On the other end of the scale, well designed circuits and cabinets made with quality components can sound awesome. Want awesome tone? Be prepared to pay for it. ;)

    One caveat; don't fall into the trap of thinking that getting phenomenal gear will somehow magically make you a better player. It won't. That's what practice is for. There's nothing quite like watching a guy with ten thousand dollars worth of axe and amplification fumble his way through "mustang sally" :rolleyes:

    Be prepared to pay for performance in terms of volume as well. This may mean lots of watts, efficent, well voiced cabinets, multiple cabinets, big cabinets, etc. Also, Be realistic in your expectations of your gear when it comes to volume. Too often the same cats who understand full well that a KIA isn't going to be capable of the speed and handling of a ferrarri get upset when told that their 200 watt amp with a 2x10" cabinet isn't going to be as loud as a 2000 watt poweramp driving four cabinets. You can tell them that in their ultra-loud "death metal" band that if they have that 200 watt 2x10" rig turned on or off the effect will be the same, but they'll refuse to belive it. Worse, They'll get upset when it doesn't perform, turn it up until they toast the speakers, and then flame the amp company on TB the next day saying that their stuff is no good! :eyebrow:

    On a related note, a word about PA systems. It is very true that a good PA is a thing of beauty. A quality PA that can handle the bass guitar can sound wonderful, and if it's powerful enough, you can get away with a much smaller amplifier system. In fact, in a perfect world all of us would have access to a soundman with one of these PA systems, the sound of our band would be incredible, and we could show up to all of our gigs with a combo in one hand, and our bass in the other.

    But hold up just one second. If you think a high wattage bass amp rig is expensive, go price out a PA that can handle full responsibility for bass guitar amplification at medium to high volumes and get back to me. Heck, go price out stage monitors capable of doing bass guitar monitoring duty. Anyhow, those PAs aren't just expensive, they're big, bulky and heavy. So, when you decide that you don't need a big amp to do medium to high volume gigs because "the PA will handle it", just who is this guy who has the responsibility to buy, carry, and operate this monster, and exactly why does he owe you this? :ninja:

    Fortunately, today more than ever, modular bass amp systems are available in a wide variety of options. This means that we don't have to buy everything at once, we can upgrade slowly as our budget allows, and we don't have to bring eveything to gigs which dont require it. Some gigs we can bring a small head and one cabinet, bigger ones we can bring two cabs and a head, and to still larger gigs we can bring a pre/power setup with two or more cabs.

    Which brings me to the final issues of size and weight. Guess what? Bass amplification is more or less big and heavy! True, there are a ton of small and lightweight options available today, some of which have incredible performance. However, there are limits to just how well they can perform, (remember the KIA?). This is more like comparing a compact Toyota pickup to a Mack truck. Sure, today's lightweight trucks can do some amazing things, but you go ahead and drop ten tons of gravel into yours and get back to me. :p

    There are some great alternative designs out there for high powered amps. There is still a raging debate over traditional heavy amps vs lighter designs in terms of tone. This thread isn't the place to argue that (go look and you can find the appropriate ones - :rolleyes: ). I'll just say this. If you decide that you feel that the heavier amps sound better, get one. If you decide not to because of weight, that's cool, but don't gripe about the tone you have. You don't get something for nothing.

    More to the point would be speaker cabinets. As stated many times in other threads, when it comes to speaker cabinets you can have any two of the following three in one cab, but not all three at once: Low (as in low frequency response), Loud, and Small. (Notice that it's small and not light, there are some great lightweight cabs with neo drivers that are low and loud, but they're not really small). If you want smaller cabinets, there are some great "almost all three" designs out there, but no dice. you'll still have to choose between low and loud. Just don't gripe and complain about it, (or get one cab of each type). ;) If you want a cabinet that's really loud and has fantastic low end response, guess what? It's gonna be big. Get over it, haul that sucker around, and smile.

    So that's it. You get what you pay for, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and best of all, "you canna change the laws of physics captain!" - :cool:
  2. Very, Very well said IvanMike- and it brings up a very very good point. Alot of us get too caught up in what gear we run how much it costs, how many tubes it has etc...
  3. Lowtonejoe

    Lowtonejoe Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2004
    Pasco, WA
    All that being said...what are you saying?


    But seriously, I think that basically everything you said is true.

    Good post with lots of good summarizations.

    Are you gonna sticky this?


  4. Eric Moesle

    Eric Moesle Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2001
    Columbus OH
    I'm sorry. My mind wandered there for a second. What were you saying? ;)

    Excellent points, BTW . . . .
  5. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    It's all about compromise. Given parameters you set for yourself - price, size, weight, etc. - you have to balance what you want with what you can afford.

    For the gigs/rooms I play in this small town, I have set the parameters as small head, small cab, medium power, medium price so I could have decent quality in the components.

    I am currently using an Eden WT-550 head and Bergantino HT112 cab. Both are small, under 40 pounds each, and price range.

    Listen/buy with your ears, not your eyes.
  6. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    So how can I get my 100 watt Behringer combo to sound loud enough to play with my band? :)
  7. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    You could start by plugging the headphone out into your SVT's input...:)
  8. superfly


    Aug 4, 2004
    IvanMike should write a book.

    Ooops I'm sorry he just did.
  9. wheres the bow down and worship smiley when you need it... this should most definatly be put in the FAQ or made a sticky or something, im sick of hearing people ask what all tube 1000 watt pre/power set up with a 8 x 10 cab costs under $200, that being said i think your comment about having better gear not make you a better player is both wrong and right. true you will never instantly be better, but better gear(ei audiophile pre's and tube amps) can let you hear your mistakes more to correct them. :bag: the first time i played a tube amp i realized how much i sucked, and what needed to be made better, and i took care of them.

    that said im 16 years old and im playing a Read Transcendance through a Crest CA6 into a Schroeder 1212... but you wont believe how long i saved up to get such an amazing rig, or how much the used market can help you, especially the one right here on TB ;)
  10. Steve


    Aug 10, 2001
    Hey! say hello the next time your at one of my gigs. I would have bought you a drink.
  11. "So, when you decide that you don't need a big amp to do medium to high volume gigs because "the PA will handle it", just who is this guy who has the responsibility to buy, carry, and operate this monster, and exactly why does he owe you this? "

    This, I DO disagree with. When so many bars and clubs have installed PAs, and employ a soundguy to make it do its stuff properly, the "PA will handle it" philosophy is totally cool. Actually better, because most clubs, with their odd acoustics (and how many clubs are designed to SOUND good? If they were, club owners would cut down the amount of neon lighting and metal sheeting on stage!) tend to react wildly to loud, heavy bass frequencies rolling around..lower stage volumes and well controlled FOH sound are preferable to erratic high powered back lines.

    School halls and university audtoriums are the same. Well handled FOH and monitor mixes are better than high powered back lines more often than not. And if you don't have a suitable PA, you hire one, and use the guy who comes with it. The aim of the PA is to make the band sound good, not just the bass player. So it goes as a band expense.

    And if the bar owner wants good sound in his bar, then he gets a good PA not because he owes the bass player, but because his customers are happier....

    I should add a rider here...I play blues - jazzy blues, R&B (the old type!), Rock and roll, things with lots of walking and swing and shuffle and I want the bass to sound natural and traditional. I want the bass to come out from amongst the instruments rather than from underneath everything. Warmth and groove rather than pristine clarity and endless headroom, so I don't even think in 2 kilowatt terms and don't play with guitarists who use half stacks. I use a SABBDI, sometimes go direct, sometimes go through whatever the house bass amp is (if there is one...here in Turkey many bars do) straight into the FX return, leaving the preamp out of the circuit. I only use my own amp when we play the smallest bars where the PA is a 250 watt vocals only effort.

    But the moral principle is, I believe, still true.
  12. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA

    duuuuude! that was you? :p
  13. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    very true. what i've found is that good stuff can make you want to play more, be more pleasant to play, and like you said, quality systems will allow you to hear what you really sound like (zits and all). :smug:
  14. Haha, im one of these people who likes to put a fair amount of money into it, but its not like im playing for a job or whatever, i play because its a hobby, even if a bit of an expensive one, and ive only gone into debt over it when its been a one off thing that wouldnt be likely to happen again ( ie my SVT II for £500! )
  15. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    Well, we really don't disagree that much. A good PA with a competent soundman is definitely the way to go from a sound quality standpoint. There are of course, many clubs where anything over a small PA for vocal support only is just plain overkill, or simply won't fit in the place. That and the cost of hiring a soundman and PA would eat up everything the band gets paid, (and I don't play for free). :eyebrow:

    Anyhow, we seem to agree on the moral principle (i.e., no one out there owes you). As far as club owners wanting good sound, that I'm the fence on. Sure if they want good sound maybe they should buy a good PA, hire a soundman, etc. But in reality, most club owners want to make money. The band is entertainment to keep customers in the place where they will hopefully spend their money. Sound quality is secondary to them, they just want to band to keep the people in the place by entertaining them.

    This seems to be a good of a time as any to mention this point. Playing so loud that customers leave isn't going to get you a lot of repeat buisiness! Not that any of you don't know that, but i know a ton of local muscicians who don't seem to understand this, and view playing out as some kind of ego-fest where they come 1st. :rollno:

    The one thing that i resent are those clubs that have no buisiness and use bands to get customers in the place by "drawing their crowd". That's OK, but too often those clubs treat/pay bands much worse than those that have customers no matter what. :mad:
  16. protoz


    Nov 30, 2000
    I personally have never trusted a venue I have never played at to have a good sound guy and good PA so at least the first time I play there I make sure I have enough power to fill up most any room with ease. After I have made my own assessments of the place then I'll bring less if I can. A few times I have been told they had a great PA and I showed up and they only end up micing vocals and the kick drum leaving me to try to keep up with a lesser rig.

    I know I have made at least one of those posts that looking back you go "wow I was really dumb when I posted that"

    You live and learn from experience and learning from others as well. This forum has taught me way more things in the past few months than I had ever known about basses, gear, and overall how to be a good competant bassist.
  17. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    Actually, the more i think about it, the more i disagree even with this.

    If I hired workmen to build an addition to my house, i would expect them to bring tools adequate for the job. Imagine if they showed up and told me, "well, we brought a hammer and some nails, but if you want us to do a quality job you should have provided us with the power tools we really need". :eek:

    Our amplifiers are one of our tools for providing quality sound for those who hire us. IMO, unless some kind of fair and equitable arrangement is made otherwise, we're responsible for bringing tools (amps) adequate to provide quality sound, both in terms of tone and volume.
  18. I agree with Ivanmike about the PA. Maybe it works to go direct if you're playing blues in a 3 piece combo at a small bar, but playing a club that will handle 5,000+ people that all came out to see you or the band you're opening for really requires a lot of power. I played a gig with 450watts and a 2x10 at a 5,000-person venue and I couldn't here anything on stage. Subtract the soundman and PA and we would've had an okay mix from the stage, but I think for a proper monitor I should’ve been packing a 4x10 and 1x15, just to hear myself over the PA. People come out to these shows to make their ears bleed, and the PA can really overpower you if you don't have enough juice, or the house isn't giving you superb monitoring.

    I agree about compromising to get what you need. I just ordered a 2x12 to go with the 2x10, and I'll be replacing the 2x10 with a 4x10. I'm using cheap, heavy, and big to get loud and low, and I'll worry about the tone later when I can afford a nicer head than a Firebass.
  19. I was a bit prepared to flame you after the paragraph (...yeah, I'm dumb), but I honestly felt you addressed the issue extremely well. If this isn't a sticky, it should be.

    Thank you, you started out a bit flamy yourself, but you settled and explored most of the main tangents well. Good job.
  20. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    Me verbose?



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