For a lot of musicians, nothing beats the feeling of playing a live gig. Performing live captures your band’s raw energy night to night in an environment that’s way less sterile than the studio. And depending on the style of music, there could be more room to cut loose and put on a show. Bassists holding down the groove will want to pick the best bass amp for gigging — one that combines power and portability with amazing tone.
How Many Watts Should a Bass Amp for Gigs Be?
Bass amp wattage and guitar amp wattage are different beasts. Bass amps usually have higher wattage because they need the extra juice to sufficiently reproduce low frequencies. 200 to 300 watts is a good range for smaller venues; 300 to 500 watts can get you to cut through in midsized rooms; 500+ watts is plenty of power for loud bands and larger spaces.
One other thing to keep in mind is that bass amps, unlike guitar amps, sound their best when they’re not being pushed too hard. You’ll want to leave a bit of headroom so the speakers are driven efficiently without breaking up or rattling around beyond their limits. So if you’re on the fence between a higher or lower wattage amp, perhaps go for the higher wattage one.
Remember, too, that the amp will be miked. The house will get your signal. For more stage volume and to really hit the front few rows of the audience, you’ll want more power.
- RELATED: How to Record Bass Guitar at Home
Choosing a Speaker Size
Bass amp speakers come in many configurations and sizes. The most common arrangements you’ll encounter are 2×10, 4×10, 1×8, 1×15, 2×15, 1×18, and 8×10. The 4×10 cabinet is one of the most popular choices, balancing a good deal of low-end oomph and midrange cut. Larger speakers really boost the lows but sometimes at the cost of clarity. Besides the actual size of the speakers themselves, the size of the cabinet is going to be a big factor. Do you feel like lugging around a massive 8×10 monstrosity that’s 5′ tall, or does a 1×15 sound more manageable?
Using a Direct Input (DI) Box vs Bass Amp
It’s common for FOH to run a standard DI box in tandem with the amp on stage. This lets the engineer blend both signals for a more versatile mix or even just take the DI for the PA and let the amp fill the stage and first few rows. The shortest answer here is find yourself a great amp that you love the sound of regardless, and let the FOH engineer at the venue take a DI if they choose.
The Best Bass Amp For Gigging Based on Gig Type
The Fender Rumble 800 is a versatile 800-watt, 2×10 bass amp with digital amp and cabinet simulation. It also includes a compression tweeter which helps adjust the right amount of treble for a live tone that cuts through the mix. An XLR output makes it easy to record or run straight to the PA.
The Rumble 500 is great for smaller to midsized gigs. It packs 500 watts into a 2×10 cabinet with a 4-band EQ and three voicing options (bright, contour, vintage). There are also gain and blend controls so you can add some overdrive to the signal for more grit. This amp also has a dedicated XLR output to run straight to FOH.
G-K is a popular name in bass amplification. The MB212-II is a 500-watt 2×12 combo amp that weighs a feathery 40 pounds. This is thanks to G-K’s efficient digital power amps that shed a ton of weight in the interest of portability. Tone-shaping options include a 4-band EQ, gain, contour, and even a boost at the output section. It also features an XLR output to take straight to the board in the venue.
By itself, the Blackstar Unity 30 is more of a bedroom practice amplifier. However, you can pair it with the U250ACT powered cabinet to increase the output by an extra 250 watts. Shape the tone with three distinct preamp voicings: classic, modern, and overdrive. Further adjust the sound with a 3-band EQ as well as built-in effects like compression and chorus. The Unity 30 is a highly portable and flexible amp with plenty of connectivity for the stage or the studio.
5. Markbass Little Mark Tube 800 & Standard 104HF Speaker Cabinet – Best For Large Gigs
Nothing beats a head/cabinet for bigger gigs. Markbass is an exceptional Italian company well known for their premium bass amplification. The Little Mark Tube 800 is an 800-watt head with a hybrid tube and solid-state preamp section. It aims to satisfy the tube versus solid-state dilemma by offering both in a combinable configuration. Power it with a Standard 104HF 4×10 cabinet for plenty of power on stage.
The Peavey MAX 100 is a lightweight and portable 100-watt 1×10 bass combo amp. While best for practice or smaller gigs, the direct XLR output means you can go straight to the PA system to be heard in the venue. Tone-shaping includes a 3-band EQ in addition to controls like overdrive, contour, mid shift, and brightness. It even includes an integrated bass-specific tuner for accurate tuning.
The Orange Crush is a classic. Despite being only 100 watts, this little beast packs a punch thanks to its single 15″ speaker. All-analog circuitry recreates a long-beloved sound favored by many of the world’s top bassists. 3-band EQ with gain keeps tone-shaping to a simple minimum, and the onboard tuner keeps you in tune at all times.
Aguilar’s Tone Hammer is a powerful, ultra-portable 500-watt solid-state bass head. What’s really cool about this amp is that you can safely run it without a speaker load — basically as an active DI with all the tonal benefits of an amplifier. At just four pounds, you can easily toss this in your case and show up to the gig with all the power and tone you need to perform.