Oh crap, we don’t have any more demos, I need to come up with a third thing to write about this week…
Brandon wrote about this subject a little while ago. I thought I’d add a bass player’s perspective. I think most guitar players agree that tubes are king. There are some nice solid state amps out there but tube amps really dominate the top end of the market. I am very happy that I recently upgraded my guitar amp to a tube amp.
The bass world is a bit more divided on the subject. First, from a purely pragmatic perspective, tube amps for bass are heavy! A bass amp needs to put out roughly 10 times as much power as a guitar amp to keep up in terms of volume. A 200 watt guitar amp is big and heavy but you don’t need one. A 200 watt bass amp is considered the minimum you probably want to play with a band. A 300 watt Ampeg SVT CL head weights 80 lbs! (this is WITHOUT the speaker cabinet) Maybe some day I’ll have roadies, until then, that’s not something I really want to deal with.
Second, overdrive and distortion matter much less important on bass. You’d actually be surprised at how many rock bass tracks sound clean in the mix but sound overdriven when played solo. It adds some extra richness but for the most part it gets lost under the guitars. There are some bassists who are well known for a distorted sound. Christopher Wolstenholme of Muse is one of the biggest examples. He clearly gets his somewhat synthy tone through pedals and not through a tube amp though (he may play through a tube amp and that may contribute to his tone, I don’t know, his tone isn’t a tube amp distortion though).
Third, people have been hearing guitars through tube amps on all their favorite recordings for years, but bass is often a different story. Guitars are almost always recorded by micing amps. For various reasons it’s harder to capture bass that way. Often bass players plug straight into a direct input box or straight into the mixing board. Generally bass is captured more transparently than guitar.
Forth, often you want to feel the bass as much as hear it. The attack of the note is a very important part of a bass sound. Tubes get saturated and distort in pleasing ways and we’re all used to that on guitars. Another side effect of tube saturation is dynamic compression. Tube power amps often just don’t have the same kick that solid state power amps have.
So tubes are a bigger hassle, help your tone less than on guitar and can even hurt it in some ways. Are all tube bass amps bad? No way, there are lots fantastic sounding bass tube bass amps out there. A lot of the tubier amps don’t quite line up with my personal tonal goals on bass. Lots of people love them though. I also agree with a lot of tube aficionados that solid state amps can often sound harsh, thin or sterile.
So, what do I play? My amp is a hybrid, actually. An all tube pre-amp into a small form factor solid state power amp. Tube warmth, solid state kick, 500 watts, fits into the laptop pouch in my backpack, yes please. Specifically it’s a Gallien Krueger MB Fusion. A lot of hybrid amps, especially those put out by companies know for tube amps, try to sound like all tube amps. GK is known for making solid state amps and the GK hybrid embraces it’s hybrid nature a lot more than most others. It’s in that GK family of tone but it’s got the extra tube warmth and depth. It’s a pretty unique combination and I’ve really been digging it. (FWIW all the bass tracks on our demos were recorded using the direct out on that amp.)