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Vintage amps as primary rigs...Wisdom or Folly?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by bdahlmann, Mar 6, 2003.

  1. bdahlmann


    Jan 21, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I am currently looking for my first proper rig. I find myself drawn to older gear specificaly because of that rock and roll lineage thing (i.e., Noel Redding in front of two Sunn 2000s heads with a wall of 15's). Nostalgia, tone, aesthetics? All of the above.

    That said, could you long time players comment on the wisdom of purchasing a 30 year old head for every day use? With love and care, will a 2000s pump out sound for a long time to come with the understanding that maintenance will be a part of the relationship?

    Thanks for your thoughts.
  2. Yep, I use gear that is older than me all the time. Treat it right and it will probably last longer than you or me. I don't use any new gear.

    I work on my own gear, so when I get an amp I go through it and replace the filter caps, check everything out, resolder any suspect bad joints and then put it into use. As long as you don't throw it around, the stuff will last for years and years.

    Think of it this way - a 30 year old amp that is still working has just survived a 30 year endurance test. Replace the parts that need to be replaced and there is no reason it won't go on for another 30 years.

  3. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    What throbbinnut said. You could always carry a small but powerful SS head as backup, just in case.
  4. I've got a 30 year old Ampeg V4 that I've fully restored, and if it weren't so darn heavy I would gig with it for small gigs, no hesitation. I regularly gigged with a 30 year old Kustom (tuck and roll) until the power amp circuit board went up in smoke, mid-gig (and it had been restored too prior to its spectacular demise). When the Kustom amp fried, I pulled out my 30 year old Peavey Series 400 head and finished the gig.

    But if it were a really important gig or where carrying a backup wouldn't be pracitcal, I use either my new(er) Hartke 5000 head + an old restored 2x15 Sunn cab, or I just carry a Peavey Databass combo, it's only 6 or 8 years old.

    Aside from reliability, the other problem with old heads is that they really aren't that powerful, unless you've got an Acoustic or Sunn Coliseum or Ampeg SVT. The Kustom K250, the Peavey Series 400, and my Sunn Concert Bass (30 years old too) all put out around 125 or 130 watts RMS into a 4 ohm load at clipping. The V4 is only 100 watts.:bawl:
  5. bdahlmann


    Jan 21, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Thank you all for you comments.

    In regards to the caution regarding the low power of the old heads-I am of the frame of mind that with carful selection of cabinet, power should never be much of a concern. For instance, if using a well designed folded horn you should be able to get planet flattening volumes with a 120 watt head....in theory at least.

    To be honest, I am struck by how inefficient most of the cabs on the market are currently. Albiet, you sacrifice portability when using high efficieny folded horns, but sometimes it seem crazy how much power you need to push some of the contemporary offerings. Especially when you begin to consider the deminishing returns when trying to achieve high SPL's with low sensitivity cabinets. Its no wonder people are using 1000+ watt heads.

    Do you all find that this type of argument looks good on paper, but does not tend to work well in practice?
  6. BillyB_from_LZ

    BillyB_from_LZ Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2000
    If you're using a "old school" type cabinet (or cabinets) with a similar type amp, and follow the recommendations above you should be in good shape.

    Modern bass cabinets have a much wider frequency response than older ones (especially in the low end). Plus many bassists are unable (like me) or unwilling to haul around huge cabinets like we used to. Three attributes have to be balanced when designing a bass cabinet...small, low or loud. You can have two at the expense of the third.

    Folded horns don't go very low (at least ones that are portable) and their impedance is relatively high due to the efficient loading of the horn so your amp doesn't work very hard and the power that it is asked to produce goes a long, long way.

    With the advent of basses with B strings (or lower), vast inprovements in PA systems and the affordability of 1000 watt plus power amps, many bassists can take advantage of the small and low and use the PA and their 2KW amp to make 'em loud enough.

    I recently found an old Guitar Player article on The Ox's mid '70s rig...they went on and on about how it had 1200 watts of power (through 1x15 folded horns, 1x15 horns, 4x12 and 3x12 guitar cabinets. I remember thinking back then...WOW 1200 watts!!!! Now, such power isn't considered to be all that much...I use a 21 lb QSC PLX2402 that is rated at 1200 per channel into 2 ohms. Granted, I run it at 4 ohms per channel where it's rated 725 watts...and if I use my Acme B2 on one channel, it's not that loud....very unlike the Marshall Major head and EV SRO loaded 2x15 that I had in college.

    I've rambled...but take care of your vintage head and carry a spare and you should be fine.

    Have fun and PLEASE be sure to lift with your legs!!!
  7. In response to Bdahlmann:

    You are correct, efficient cabinets are the key to using old low power amps. The tradeoff is the size. Efficient = big! I don't care though. I like the old big cab sound.

    Today's sound is all about those 1000 Watt amps and an 89 dB/1W/1m small cab. I am not into that.

    It's the standard tradeoff - size versus efficiency. Most people today would rather carry a smaller, less efficient cabinet and a 1000 Watt amp. I don't mind big cabinets, so I'll choose a huge cab and a 100 Watt tube head. That's what wheels are for. :D

    Also, if my 100 Watt head and big cabinet is putting out the same amount of acoustic power as the other guy's 1000 Watt head and ineffecient cabinet, where are his other 900 Watts going?

    Heat, of course. :eek: That can't be good for your speakers.

  8. Paul A

    Paul A

    Dec 13, 1999
    Hertfordshire U.K!
    Nothing wrong with a vintage head as long as:

    a:) Have ALL the capacitors replaced (not as costly as it sounds)

    b:) Fit new power tubes and have it properly "re biased"

    You would not believe the difference it makes, plus it'll last for an age before anything needs looking at.
  9. bdahlmann


    Jan 21, 2003
    Boston, MA
    This is starting to sound like a valuable educational experience. In the past I have had interest in DIY tube amps for home audio. This maintenance may indeed provide an excellent foundation for future projects.

    Luckilly I am chummy with an EE Demigod.

    At this point I am pretty much sold on the idea.

    Thanks again for all of your help.
  10. i own a sunn 2000s. it is my main rig coupled with a pair of old ampeg b40 (4x10) cabs. with proper maintenance these can last along long time..Now, granted, they are heavy, bulky and the like..but...they have soul, and can be dialed in enough to provide you with a great tone..i really think as bassists we have gotten obsessed with gear..it used to be enough to plug in and play imo thats what the old rigs represent.. a time of simplicity and a more pure musical expression. the less you complicate things, the more you can concentrate on playing..any way..didn't mean to digress so much.. i am just a proponent of the old stuff. not for everyone, but works for me
    ..good luck!
  11. I'm a tube nut and I design, build, and repair tube amps for bass, guitar, and hi-fi. It actually got me into and through EE.

    Go for it. And pick yourself up a tube stereo amp for your house too. They rock too.

  12. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    I am a new gear advocate, only in one area: Instruments. Amps and electronics, (depending upon function) can always be salvaged.

    The one exception is my own rig. A mid-70's Fender Bassman 4 x 10 combo. Just today I got a new Hartke 4000, and a custom built 2 x 10(with tweeter) made locally here. (Low Down Sound: Ferndale Mi)

    The side by side tone and volume comparison was astounding. So, I've upgraded my tone.

    Everyone's going to be different. I just want minimal trips to the car to stage and back. With more BASS, I can now play less notes and still hold up the low end.
  13. bdahlmann


    Jan 21, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Concerning the replacement of capacitors-
    Would you all advocate putting higher end (i.e. better than computer grade) caps in the preamp section? What about the power section? Is this perhaps getting into the realm of esoterica?

    So long as the iron is out and the amp is on the workbench, why not throw in a black gate here or there? Would twenty or thirty extra dollars on preamp capacitors yield a solid return on investment?

    Thanks Again.
  14. Dude, you want to sell me that Bassman 10? I've wanted one forever, but they're always too expensive.

    Most people hate them for bass because they don't have any low-low bass, but most people are dumb. Their sound is exquisite and perfect for jamming.

    I use an old Bassman 10 amp driving a pair of Altec Lansing 15's in the world's largest combo amp. 50 Watts is plenty when your speakers know what to do with it. :D


  15. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Call me crazy, but when it comes to amps, I think newer is better.

    I rehearse in a studio that always has a couple of old Ampegs and Acoustics on hand. 50% of the time they go down in the middle of a session.

    The Ampeg at least sounds good. I don't understand what the fuss is about the Acoustics.
  16. That crap is nonsense. Plain and simple. Just use Sprague or Nichicon or Tech Caps. Absolutely no measurable return on investment for the Doctor/Lawyer grade capacitors.

  17. When you put together a rig for playing out, you have to keep several things in mind. 1 is it going to be loud enough for me to hear myself? 2 is it loud enough to fill a moderate size room without PA assist? Can I get a tone with it that I can work with? Will it be dependable? If the answer to all these questions is "YES" then I start considering using it as my main rig. It really doesn't matter if it's new or old as long as it does the job. It's real easy to become obsessed about amps. Tube vs. SS, 4x10 vs 2x15 etc. etc. If your band sounds good and people like you, it really doesn't get much better than that.
  18. RichBriere

    RichBriere Guest

    Jan 1, 2003
    Upstate NY
    This could be one of the happiest days of my life!! I haven't seen Sunn given the credit that they're due (in a single thread) in ages. You guys are either getting smarter........or you've been hiding your true passions until the time was right to come out of the closet!

  19. RichBriere

    RichBriere Guest

    Jan 1, 2003
    Upstate NY
    Throbbin.......I hope I can count on you to keep repeating the statement that you've made above as all of the "Newbies" here are continuously told that they need enough power to supply a third world country in order to play out??

  20. But of course! I'm a proud member of the "100 Watts is more than enough" club. :D

    And I just realized where I recognized your name from.... Excellent website! I've read it from stem to stern a couple of times. Jimi and Noel cooked!