SWR SM-500 or GK 800RB, hmm...

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Jopn, Oct 29, 2015.

  1. Jopn


    May 25, 2015
    Gatineau, Quebec

    Ok, a bit of quick background:
    I'm a drummer who has steady gigs, and I play bass more as a hobby where I will occasionally fill-in on other peoples gigs here and there. Mostly folk, blues, light rock, nothing overly heavy or loud.

    After a recent splurge on some drumming gear, my bass gear (as a result) was diminished to a 90's Mexi P-bass and a little vintage 40w traynor practice bass amp. I also have a 100w Yorkville Keyboard amp/wedge that I use for everything under the sun (drum monitor, keyboard amp, pa, acoustic guitar amp, whatever I need at the moment...).

    So I've got a bass gig on the horizon, and a little money to play with, and a SWR Goliath II (8 ohm) showed up locally for <insert stupid low price here, you'd hate me if I said>. So I grabbed it and ran (as fast as you can run with a 100lb cab on your back).

    Now I'm looking at heads and 2 possibilities have come up in my price range. An old SWR SM-400, and a GK 800RB.

    Here's my current thinking, but I'd like to hear what YOU guys would do in a similar situation:

    Here's what's in my head right now:

    - Higher wattage, will definitely never need any higher
    - Brand matches the cab (very little weight on this pro, but hey, it's nice)
    - Tube preamp
    - Heat: apparently heats up like a mofo, might need a 3u case

    - Seems to have a huge following for it's tone
    - Not as hot as SWR?
    - Less power
    - Crossover: I'd have problems ignoring this, I'd probably end up either buying a second cab (not that I need it!) or splitting my Goliath.

    I almost think I'd be better off if only one of these were available. And because they're both private sales, I'd rather not go visit both people's houses just to try out their amps. I like to have decided before I go that unless there's a deal breaker in the sound or functionality, then I'm there to buy.

    Whadda you guys think?
  2. 10cc

    10cc Inactive

    Oct 28, 2013
    Much experience with both. Both are great amps. I myself would go with GK. I think the tone is much better.
  3. The Regulator

    The Regulator

    Aug 10, 2005
    - They sound good with SWR cabs.
    mb94952, 10cc and Jopn like this.
  4. mbelue


    Dec 11, 2010
    There is no need to use the crossover in the GK unless you're using a dedicated subwoofer cabinet. IMO. It is fun to experiment with though.
    Always got along with GK amps more but that is just me.
  5. I've had both and an SWR Jr. II. In my opinion the GK would be better for an old cab like that. It has a fairly high HPF (high pass filter) built right into it which will run those old speakers much easier than the SM-400 would.

    If you have any future with a 5 string bass you may consider the SM-400 as its goes a lot deeper. Also, if you don't think you'll ever really need to run the cab up super loud you could be fine with the SWR.

    SWR SM-400


    - Very versatile EQ section for a variety of tones, techniques, and styles of music
    - Decent on board compressor / limiter (Which can make a beginner player sound more pro IMO)
    - Excellent Tube DI out to house p.a. systems
    - Built Pro Touring Tough
    -Only 2 rack spaces


    -Many are now noisy due to the heat they run at and will need new capacitors soon. (If you find one that hasn't been ridden hard and put away wet this wont be an issue.)
    -Heat dissipation, needs 3 rack spaces in a rack
    -No HPF at all which can cause a lot of power consumption and drive speakers hard for frequencies that are virtually inaudible.
    -cooling fan can be noisy
    - Many find the exotic EQ to complicated and end up screwing up their sound.
    -Clip lights! These are great for setting your gain and limiter properly.

    GK RB800


    - 300W will sound much bigger, easily on par with the SM-400 for volume with a 4 string bass
    - Well engineered and built pro touring tough
    - Should have a high reliability rate and help your cab remain reliable with its built in HPF.
    - No fan to listen to in a quiet practice space.
    - Excellent inherent sound with great presence in a live situation.
    - easy EQ to use.


    - limited EQ and a seemingly baked in tone may limit tone options.
    - no compressor
    - Bi-Amp feature is of little use to the average player
    - Multipul gain / boost / volume knobs can confuse some people. ( no lights for setting input gain.)
    Jonny Reese, murphy and Jopn like this.
  6. Never had a problem with a 5 string and my 800RB, I don't try for massive stage rumble though.
  7. Planespotter


    Oct 11, 2015
    Both are modern classics and would work very well for you. It all boils down to which tone you prefer. I have an 800rb and love it but I could get by just fine with an sm-500 as well.
  8. Jopn


    May 25, 2015
    Gatineau, Quebec
    Actually, this is a good one that I forgot about. I had a Yorkville Bassmaster 400 at one point which had similar complex EQ going on. It was fine for me once I figured it out, but as a drummer I often have other bassists over to jam and they usually ended up sounding like ass because of poor understanding of the EQ. Which is probably why you're way more likely to find an RB800 at a rental place than an SM-500.
    Planespotter likes this.
  9. Dave Hill

    Dave Hill Supporting Member

    Jan 9, 2005
    Atlanta, GA
    I love SWR, but I'd say GK between those two.
  10. shoot-r


    May 26, 2007

    Another vote for the G.K. 800.

    I bought one new in 1984, gigged the 800 head into a Ampeg SVT 810 for the following 27 + years.
    (Wish I had them both back!)
    Never a problem from the head, that 300 watts into the 4 ohm 810 was ALWAYS plenty loud.
    Don't bother with the x-over option, run the 300 watt power amp full range into a 4 ohm cabinet with enough drivers.....
  11. tjh


    Mar 22, 2006
    "And because they're both private sales, I'd rather not go visit both people's houses just to try out their amps. I like to have decided before I go that unless there's a deal breaker in the sound or functionality, then I'm there to buy."

    ... anything you gain in terms of insight on here will be beneficial in your comparative evaluation, but nothing said here can replace your experience in a 'hands on' situation where you are evaluating for yourself ... by all means, visit each, and ask questions as needed .. realizing you wont have your cab there, but even still, you will likely find little nuances in each that will influence you at least slightly ...

    ... FWIW, in my tastes, the GK RB series is as 'plug and play' as I have found ... I have done many shows only slightly adjusting the EQ (if at all) from flat ...

    .. also, realize that some of the power specs used in this thread are for 4 ohm loads, your cab is 8 ohms, but even still, I have never found the 800RB lacking in terms of power, and if you need more, a second 8 ohm cab (or third using the 100 watt amp) is an option ...

    What kind of price are you looking at for each, that may also be a factor ... and which generation of the 800RB?

    JMHO .. as always ...
  12. There are no generations for the 800RB. Any significant changes to an amp in Gallien's designs he attaches a series I,II,III,IV to. Mr. Gallien left the design as much unmodified as possible.
  13. pickles

    pickles Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2000
    Ventura, CA
    Sm-400 with a goliath II is an absolutly classic rig. 100% the right call IMO.
    The Rage likes this.
  14. I'd imagine either will work just fine for you. I have lots of experience with both and I like them both. They will both be loud enough for most situations and they should both give you a great tone. The SWR will have more low end and high end sparkle and the GK will punch / grind a bit more in the mids, but with some time you can get similar tones (I swap between an SWR Bass 350 and a GK 700RB all the time). I would lean toward the SWR since you have the matching cab.
  15. telebassman

    telebassman Supporting Member

    May 20, 2008
    GK all day! I have experience with both and the GK has way more body. I'm currently gigging with a GK750RBII and a preFender Goliath 410. Good tone comes so easy now.
  16. well i love my gk1001rb so im a bit biased, but the GK 800rb and it's brothers and sisters are quite a bit louder than you would expect out of the wattage.

    the "baked in" GK sound comes mostly from its boost/overdrive function, The GK sound is defined by a dry "growl" and a quick reaction from the class H power amplifier.

    i'm not sure what sort of music you're into, but queensryches "operation:mindcrime" is a pretty good example of the gk 800rb growl, the guns and roses use your illusion albums as well i think

    it cut's through mixes well, it's punchy but tameable.

    and as a foot note, i doubt the 800rb will ever depreciate in value
  17. hasbeen

    hasbeen Commercial User

    Sep 23, 2004
    Vice President, KMC/JAM USA: Distributor of Ashdown amplification
    what tone do you want?

    More hi-fi


    More growly
    newfuture likes this.
  18. Dan Bass

    Dan Bass Inactive

    May 26, 2014
    Virginia Beach.
    GK 800RB.
  19. packhowitzer

    packhowitzer 155mm of pure destruction

    Apr 20, 2011
    GK any day
    10cc likes this.
  20. Bass'd on a true story

    Bass'd on a true story

    Jun 28, 2015
    If I were making this choice, the GK would already be in my livingroom.
    10cc likes this.