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testing small amps at music stores

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by pcake, Feb 10, 2019.

  1. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    so i'm still on the lookout for a small, lower priced combo. the problem is that our local stores seem to be set up to make sure everything sounds its worst or at least nothing like it will sound played at home or anywhere else.

    the bass room at west l.a. guitar center, which is our closest store, has amazing properties to make almost everything sound like mud. amps i'm familiar with sound 50% worse, amps i'm not as familiar with i can't get familiar due to the poor room acoustics. the only combo that sounds good there to me is the TC BG250 2x8, and it's above my budget; besides, i know that not one amp there sounds the way it will sound either at other stores OR where i play.

    hollywood guitar center, with their crappy new layout, always has guitar players pounding away, and it's worse than before. the only way to hear an amp is to put it at ear level, and last time i did that, i ended up with ear pain for a couple weeks. hollywood sam ash's open room seems to suck up the sound, and at ear level without turning way up makes everything sound better than it sounds where i use them; torrance sam ash has a huge open room with a high ceiling, guaranteed to give no idea of how things will sound unless you play in a huge open room with a high ceiling.

    and so it goes. we live by 7 guitar centers and 3 sam ash stores, and not one of them is going to give a decent idea of how amps sound.

    so i'm wondering how you choose a combo or amp and cab when you know that what you hear at the store isn't the sound you'll hear from the combo or amp once you play it anywhere else. is it the luck of the draw? do you figure you can always return it? inquiring minds want to know!
    mikewalker, DJ Bebop, MCF and 3 others like this.
  2. PSPookie

    PSPookie Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2006
    Ocoee, TN
    I have ordered my last two combo amps .. really most of the amps I've owned ... sight unseen. I have usually been pleased, but I guess I've just been lucky.
  3. JGbassman

    JGbassman Supporting Member

    May 31, 2011
    Playing at home I don't really care that much, so a practice amp (for me) is just the means to get the sound out so I can practice, and I can generally dial in a tone pretty quickly for something I like. I play live a lot, so if I like the flat sound of an amp I can usually dial in a pretty good tone.

    For instance, in my music room at the moment I have a fender Rumble 15, an acoustic 810 cab with a tech 21 RBI preamp going into a crest poweramp, and a Trace Elliott ELF going into two 110 cabs. All sound completely different, but I can dial in a good sound on them all. When I take them to practice or a gig, the room will change the sound, but I can generally get the sound back by placement of the cabs or twisting the knobs. Live sound is nothing more than compromises, but I'm generally pretty happy with a tone I can get.

    So in a roundabout way to answer your question, if you like the initial tone of the amp, and know enough about how to dial in an amp, you will be able to find the sound you are looking for at home. If I'm auditioning a rig or setting up a backline at a gig, I start with a flat setting on my basses and the amp. That will give me the voice of the rig. The knobs only enhance or detract from that sound. In a store, I do the same thing. Run the amp flat, turn it up to where I can hear it, and twist a few knobs to see if I like it or not. Most brands have a baked in sound that either you like or don't. I'm not as picky as some, but that is the method I've used for years. Comes from running sound I guess. Get the system flat, then compensate for the room.
    Ronzo, mattbass6945, DJ Bebop and 5 others like this.
  4. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    your store experiences sound different than mine. i can't tell if i like the initial tone of an amp in a room that makes even the weakest amp sound boomy or crappy or washes it out or is full of guitar players playing at concert level and usually a bass player or two who are trying to be flea at full volume. even amps i know i like sound really crappy at our local GC and the unique voices are inaudible at other stores. ergo this thread :D

    btw, my favorite "i can't hear anything i'm trying out" experience was at our local store a few months ago. a GC teacher had a guitar player AND a bass player in the bass room, and was teaching them a metal song at 3/4 volume. and believe me, the players needed those lessons :D
    Davbassdude, dralionux and AstroSonic like this.
  5. Paulabass

    Paulabass Supporting Member

    Sep 18, 2017
    I will counter that with- Use your best rig, with angelic tone, and Godlike frequency response at home, cause you will spent 200x more time practicing than on stage, and life is far too short for crappy tone.
    Ronzo, Wisebass, dralionux and 20 others like this.
  6. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    that is EXACTLY how i feel about it!
    Ronzo, Wisebass, dralionux and 4 others like this.
  7. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    I find that it helps to arrive at the store when it opens for the day and their aren’t a lot of distractions such as people making noise.

    Some stores rent, you can try before you buy. If you’re lucky, they let you apply the rental fees to the purchase of a new one.
  8. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2017
    I've had good luck asking for recommendations here and then buying, in most cases, used. So far have not been disappointed with the head, cab and combo I bought this way. Agree a music store is not usually the best place to hear anything, with all the noise and reflective surfaces they typically have.
    johnpbass, the baint and Haroldo like this.
  9. Haroldo

    Haroldo Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2005
    North Shore, MA
    Likewise, I've found reading various Talkbass forums over time has allowed me to discover what likes/dislikes various posters possess and how they match (or not match) my particular biases. Once I've made that calibration, I've been able to purchase sight unseen and hearing untested a number of amps and basses without disappointment (save once, and that's when I knew was going to overpay for a bass - a lapse in judgement on my part). Talkbass is a mighty resource.
    johnpbass, jmon, caasi91 and 4 others like this.
  10. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    Give it a quick try i the store but take it home to really try it out.

    I think all the stores you listed have a trial period of several weeks.
    You can buy it, try it at home, and if it doesn't work out, return it.
    I know a lot of people feel reluctant to actually exercise the store policy on returning gear, but that is what it is for otherwise they wouldn't offer it.
  11. JGbassman

    JGbassman Supporting Member

    May 31, 2011
    I will counter your counter by adding I live in an apartment, so when I do practice it’s a touch above a whisper unfortunately. If you have a place you can crank it up and get a beautiful tone I’m envious. I cut a lot of bass out of my signal so it doesn’t carry as much, as I’m trying to be respectful of my neighbors. If I had the right room where I could play at a higher volume I’d love it, and do agree it always nice to have that perfect tone.

    The guitarist in my band has a recording studio where we practice, so I mess with his amps he has and get some good tones going. I guess I’m just not that picky unless I’m playing a live show or recording.
  12. lbbc

    lbbc Supporting Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    Seaford , DE
    I have been playing direct through our P.A. for 5 years. I had the idea that I wanted a small(ish) combo. I already had a Carvin 210 4 ohm cabinet in excellent shape. So, I wound up buying an Acoustic 300 watt head for just about $200 from Musiciansfriend. Pleasantly surprised....it's all I will ever need!
    jeff7bass, DJ Bebop and pcake like this.
  13. CalBuzz51


    Mar 11, 2016
    Go to the store when it opens. You’ll be alone in the store, everyone else will be asleep still. Try out what you like in peace.
    spvmhc, DJ Bebop, bbh and 2 others like this.
  14. Ghook


    Sep 25, 2018
    Eastern US
    I would narrow down amps that have reviews or answered questions that fit your criteria. Amazon has been useful for answered questions and their reviews ( they did a major clean out of sponsored reviews). If it's in your budget, buy it, play it, keep or return it. The last thing I would concern myself with is returning product that doesn't fulfill what your asking it to do. It's not like your gig testing one.
  15. EatS1stBassist


    Apr 15, 2016
    So cal
    No matter where I tried a Rumble they always sounded great!
  16. easy. you‘re looking for a small amp. simply put the speaker into the same position as you would do with a nearfield monitor. in front of you at ear hight or directing at you ears, not further away than about 4-6 feet.
  17. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    have you played any in the bass room at west l.a. GC lately?

    i don't keep them that close to my ears or pain. i usually keep my cab 2 feet below and to the side when sitting. if i'm playing louder than 1 am volume, i need it further away. i did try to A/B the rumble 25 and 40 at GC hollywood at ear level due to room noise, and ended up with ear pain and more sensitivity for a couple weeks.

    the fun never stops.
    EatS1stBassist likes this.
  18. 9Thumbs


    Jul 3, 2013
    Near Boston
    A few years ago, every music store was full of 14 tear old Eddie Van Halens, shredding through cranked 100 watt amps. When I go now, the stores are full of 60 year old Eric Clapton's who can't even do simple runs. ( I am that old, but I don't try to impress everybody in music stores anymore :) )
    DaDo625, zZippy and Clutchcargo like this.
  19. I just bought a small practice combo last month, so I feel my input might be of some value to you.
    I walked into the local Guitar Barn here, through the mass of shredding and slapping wannabes. I made it to the corner where the bass gear is and and looked over the offerings. I asked what the return policy was and was told 30 days. I grabbed a Fender Rumble 40, paid, and left. Once I got home I plugged it in and played for a while in the music room. Sounded great, so I kept it. FWIW: a pretty nice little amp for the money, it was on sale for under $200 and is light as a feather.
  20. oldskoolskatedad

    oldskoolskatedad Supporting Member

    May 18, 2014
    As long as it can be returned it's a no brainer to take home and see if you like it in your practice space.

    Other than my first amp that was a underwhelming Crate 15w, the only practice amp I've played through is an Acoustic B20 that I bought for my son 10 years ago. It hadn't seen any action in a long time until my 4 year old son found his big brother's SX short scale small body Jazz and was trying to figure out how to turn on my Bassman. So out comes the B20 and I had forgotten how descent this little amp really is, thanks in no small part to being loaded with a 12" driver. The fact that it has an aux and headphone jack is also very useful. It now lives tucked in the corner next to the couch for late night silent putzing with the Darkglass X7. You could probably pick one up for a $100 or less in your area.
    EatS1stBassist, DJ Bebop and pcake like this.

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