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Upgrade Amp or Cab First?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by WhtMtnGrv, Feb 10, 2016.

  1. WhtMtnGrv

    WhtMtnGrv Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2015
    Los Angeles, CA
    Good Morning ladies and gents!

    Just like the title says, I'm in a position where I'm going to be upgrading both my amp and cab in the relatively near future, but I wasn't sure which to upgrade first. I tried searching for similar threads and reading other threads to pull a relatively consistent opinion therefrom, but to no avail.

    A little background- been playing about 12 years (I'm 28 now). I've never owned a tube head before, mainly due to high price- it's always been solid state, with which I never had a problem (aside from variably lackluster tone). However I recently got out of a project/studio that had all quality gear which sounded noticeably awesome'r, and I decided I wanted to bring the level of my personal rig up. I guess you could say I got spoiled.

    I currently own TB's favorite, a Behringer. It's the ultra bass bx4500H head that came with the included 4x10 cab loaded with TB's next favorite: Bugera speakers. Ive used this rig mainly for playing in a metal band for years, and for a bit as a guitar cab. I don't hate the thing, but obviously the harder you push it and louder it gets, the less desirable the sound becomes.

    My question again- do I upgrade the head first or cab? I don't know enough about amplification in general to know which is a better route:

    A) Getting a better head and pushing it temporarily through a lower end cab, or

    B) Getting a better cab first so that the new head, when acquired, will have an appropriate vessel through which it can flex its muscles.

    Here's how I see it: I figure getting a cab first could improve how my current head sounds. But I'm a proponent of "garbage in, garbage out" so I could also see how getting a cab first could be likened to polishing a turd, yielding only minimal sonic gains.

    Conversely, getting a head first addresses the "garbage in, garbage out" philosophy, but I feel like you'd have a tone bottleneck of sorts. Running a great sounding head through a low end cab would (according to my limited understanding) lower the quality of sound coming to the ear, relative to the head.

    I don't know how flawed my logic (or lack thereof) with this, so I'm hoping to receive some guidance.

    Your thoughts?

    EDIT: This rig would be geared toward a jazz/bluesy type band, as opposed to the metal I refer to below.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
  2. I think you've already answered yourself correctly, WhtMtn...
    1980: I axed exactly that same question, at a music shop, when I was getting back into bass playing in the 80s. He was showing me "the newest thing...the new direction of bass loudification... this SWR with four 10" drivers and a horn". At $350 new(then), I thought that's crazy talk, then I played it and got its taste. oooh.

    I suggested that I could buy a really nice amp head, but I could "build a simple square cab just like this myself." (Saving a lot money, you know?)

    His words lived on with me... "You can cheap out on the amp, but DO NOT skimp out on the cab. Put whatever you can afford into the cab first! That's where your tone manifests itself.

    Then I went home and promptly built my own version of the SWR... and that's how I discovered --that SOB was RIGHT.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
  3. You get more bang for your buck through better transducers. Upgrade the cab first.
  4. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    1) What is/will be your budget for each?

    2) Are you opposed to used?

    3) What are your volume requirements?

    4) Do you usually have PA support when you play out?

    5) What tone blew you away in the studio? What were you playing through? What tone do you want live?
  5. mbelue


    Dec 11, 2010
    Cabinet first.

    What's your budget?
  6. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Best answer. Period.
    JackANSI likes this.
  7. samson3382


    Apr 26, 2009
    Boise, Idaho
    Id say you've got the right idea. Go with option B.
    High Camp likes this.
  8. I'll say it again: .
    JackANSI and twinjet like this.
  9. Dave W

    Dave W

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    I'd also upgrade the cab first.

    At one of the practice spaces we use they have the same head and cab. The head isn't that bad but the cab totally sucks.
  10. WhtMtnGrv

    WhtMtnGrv Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2015
    Los Angeles, CA
    That makes sense- dully noted.

    The budget is relatively open. For the sake of quantitativity, let's say 2-3000 for the whole rig.

    Not at all.

    I'd like to be able to use it for metal shows if I decide to pursue that, and our drummer plays unnecessarily loud. It would also be used for blues/jazz stuff as well.

    50/50 I'd say. I would like get something that has the gusto to stand alone without PA support if required.

    This one is a little tough, because I was playing guitar in that project. But the overall sound we had as a group through all those wondrous tubes was unmistakable. We had an assortment of a hand wired Vox AC30, an Orange AD30, an older (vintagey) Top Hat Emplexador which absolutely ripped, some older Aguilar combo, and a few other cabs and heads. The bass rig was an Ampeg SVT Pro- I forget the cab he was running.

    As far as live tone, I'm not even sure I'm answering in the correct terms, but I prefer a more "punchy" bass tone. I'm not big into the warmth of certain heads because I feel like there's an inherent warmth in bass as is. For comparison sake, I'd prefer to stay away from the warm/creamy Orange type guitar tone and head more in the direction of a cleaner, brighter sound, a la that Vox. I tend to scoop the mids out of every bass (if applicable) and amp I use; it just is more pleasing to my ear that way. Another comparison would be something similar to the tone on recent Marcus Miller albums. I understand recording and live tone are two different animals, but I like how his sound is crisp and tight, with enough low to tickle the short and curlys, but still articulate and clean, if that makes sense.
  11. mbelue


    Dec 11, 2010
    If you're planning on playing metal live forget everything you just said about tone. Bass is a completely different instrument than guitar. You just described, to a T, "bedroom tone." Which however nice it may sound by itself, basically doesn't exist with a couple of distorted guitars that are scooped as well.
    If you want to sound like Marcus Miller great, but you'll need 10 times the amplifier and cabinet to be heard like that.
    Mystic Michael likes this.
  12. WhtMtnGrv

    WhtMtnGrv Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2015
    Los Angeles, CA
    I see what you mean, and again that makes total sense. What good is a $3000 custom made boutique head if it's being run through some POS cab that's going to completely change/degrade the character?

    I probably would have done the same thing- Go home and try and build something even though someone infinitely more knowledgable than me told me i'd be better off going a different route. But those are the best lessons!

    Thanks a bunch for the input, I appreciate the response!
  13. WhtMtnGrv

    WhtMtnGrv Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2015
    Los Angeles, CA
    I feel you. I probably should have specified- This hypothetical rig would be more geared to the jazz/blues band. The applicability to metal would be an afterthought.

    Hell I can run my Behringer at the metal shows and get away with it since most of the sound at local metal shows blows anyway.
  14. mbelue


    Dec 11, 2010
    Ouch, but does it have to?

    Again heavy music gets no respect, sad to hear it from someone who "plays it."

    Have a nice day.
    Fingerpickingood likes this.
  15. WhtMtnGrv

    WhtMtnGrv Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2015
    Los Angeles, CA
    Oh that wasn't a rip on metal music. That was a rip on how a lot of kids handle their live sound, at least what I've seen.

    Generally the methodology is "louder is better" at which point everyone gets their ear drums blasted when it isn't necessary.

    Didn't mean to offend if I did. Either way, my comment wasn't disrespectful to metal music, so I'm sorry you interpreted it that way.

    Anyway, back on track...

    It seems like the general consensus is go cab first, which I sort of suspected.

    Thank you everyone for your input and knowledge, I do genuinely appreciate the help. I'll do some more research on what will fit my tonal desires and go from there!
    topcat2069 likes this.
  16. mbelue


    Dec 11, 2010
    I'll give you smileys next time. Most of what I've got to say is tongue-in-cheek so don't think me offended.

    Again IMO a good metal tone at volume is very difficult because of the things you listed and others. It requires good equipment to do day in and out reliably.
    A good jazz tone comes from technique and a DI.
    Different strokes for sure but i like to put my money towards the point of most likely failure.
  17. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    Normally, I would get the amp first, then find a cab that is a good match. If you buy a cab first, you limit what amps you can use with it.

    A conservative rule of thumb is that the cab capacity should be at least twice the RMS rating of the amp. So your 450W RMS output amp should be coupled with a cab whose capacity is at least 900W RMS. With two identical cabs daisy changed together, the power handling adds. So you would look for cabs that can handle at least 450W each.

    How long between the purchases matters a bit. Upgrading a cab now could improve your sound. Let's say that it is rated 800W RMS. Then you are limiting yourself to an amp rated at no more than 400W.

    Choose carefully. Ideally, you should know what amp and cab that you want, then get one and then the other as you can afford them.
    Whippet likes this.
  18. Sweet Willie

    Sweet Willie

    Dec 31, 2014
    Former moderator for now non-active Nordstrand Forum
    If you might have as much as $2K-$3K for the whole thing (did I read that correctly?!), and if that cash is available to you now, why not upgrade both at the same time and find the combination of amp and cab that speaks to you? Otherwise, I, too, would suggest cab first and then amp shortly thereafter.
    SanDiegoHarry and Marko 1 like this.
  19. WhtMtnGrv

    WhtMtnGrv Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2015
    Los Angeles, CA
    Ok good. As an overly (and overtly) sarcastic person myself, it sounds like we're in the same boat with humor at times.

    Yeah I know what you mean. I've still got plenty of learning to do myself (clearly) so I'm hoping to build on my experience so that I have some semblance of an idea of how to manipulate and use my gear to achieve the desired results.

    Thanks again for your input, seriously.
  20. Sweet Willie

    Sweet Willie

    Dec 31, 2014
    Former moderator for now non-active Nordstrand Forum
    Oh! And you can likely do quite well for yourself spending less than that budget. Didn't mean to imply you should put that much into it all in one shot.

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