The unsung heroes of the music world, bass players are critical to the foundation of virtually every song. While bass players may not always get the credit they deserve, the band would be lost without them.

As a bass player, your role is to lay down a solid groove that acts as the foundation of the song. The interaction between the bass player and drummer can make or break the band. Behind every great bass player is a solid bass rig that provides the tone and rumble necessary for the band to sound great.

As with any piece of musical equipment, there’s way more than meets the eye, and there’s a ton of different things to learn about before you decide on the best gear for your playing. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into everything you need to know about bass amps and take a closer look at some of the best bass amps on the market today.

What is the Best Bass Amp?

best bass amp

What exactly is a bass amp and what does it do?

A bass amp is just like a guitar amp, except it’s specifically engineered to handle the low frequencies of a bass guitar.

Leo Fender developed his first Precision Bass model in 1950, and on completion, Fender realized that the newly invented electric bass would need an amp of its own, as a guitar amplifier wasn’t built to handle the low frequencies of the bass.

What followed was the original Fender Bassman amp, which featured an all tube amplifier feeding into a 15” speaker that was built to stand up to the demands that lower frequencies place on speakers.

Whether you’re looking at that first Fender Bassman, or any of the more modern amps that are available today, the way that bass amps work remains unchanged.

Bass amps usually consist of three basic components: a preamp, a power amp, and a speaker.

The preamp is the first stage of the amplifier that the signal from your bass reaches. This section of the amp boosts the very faint electrical signal from your pickups and sends it to the power amp section of the amp. The preamp is responsible for the tone you hear from the amp.

Next, the signal reaches the power amp, where the signal is amplified and then fed into the amp’s speaker, where it finally becomes audible.

While combo amps which provide a preamp, power amp, and speakers in one enclosure are the most popular type of amp for bassists, you’ll also find amplifiers that consist of a head and separate cabinet. With these amps, the preamp and power amp are in one enclosure, which can then be connected to whatever array of speakers you prefer.

What makes a great bass amp?

While every bass amp is different, the best amps on the market all share a few commonalities. All great amps will provide users with the four critical components or features listed below. Whether you opt for one of the great amps we’ll cover in just a moment, or you blaze your own path with a different amp, you’ll want to evaluate any amp you’re considering based on these factors:

  1. Comprehensive tone shaping controls
  2. Multiple speaker jacks
  3. Direct out
  4. Plenty of headroom

Comprehensive tone shaping controls

One thing that separates bass players and guitar players is that most bass players use a simple “plug and play” set up for their sound. While the average bassist may use a pedal or two as part of their rig, almost all of their tone is derived directly from the amplifier.

For this reason, having a comprehensive set of tone shaping controls is critically important. After all, if your amp doesn’t allow precision control over the different parameters that affect your sound, how are you going to get your tone?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single feature or knob you can point to that offers a definitive look at how well an amp will allow you to shape your tone. Some amps have a built-in graphic EQ that provides you with precise control over each frequency range. Meanwhile, other amps may allow you to dial in incredible tones with a simple 3-band EQ.

But, there are some things you can look for that usually indicate how many different tones the amp is capable of. Look for things like a graphic EQ, a brightness or tone switch, or controls for contour, shape, or presence.

When you’re test driving different amps, it’s up to you to explore as many different tones and styles as you can, as this will let you know whether or not the amp will provide you the type of control you need over your tone.

Multiple Speaker Jacks

Whether you’re in the market for a combo amp, or a separate head and cabinet, an array of different speaker jacks may be an important consideration for you. Speaker jacks will be particularly critical if you’re looking for a separate head and cab.

Even with combo amps, it’s common for bass players to hook their combo up to an additional speaker cabinet to provide more volume, power handling ability, or a more well-rounded tone.

Unlike guitar amps, which almost always use a ¼” phone jack style connection to connect to additional speaker cabinets, bass amps can use an array of different connections.

While the ¼” connection is still a popular configuration, some manufacturers use an XLR or Speakon jack to connect to additional speakers. Speakon jacks, in particular, have grown increasingly popular, as they provide the best connection possible.

Many manufacturers include all three different jack types on their amps to provide players with the most versatile way to connect their amplifier to additional speakers.

Regardless of whether you plan on adding additional speakers to your rig in the future, it’s always best to leave that door open. So, wherever possible, try and look for an amp that provides you with all the various speaker jacks you may need.

Direct Out

Thanks to digital pro audio and recording equipment, a direct line out has become a much-desired feature for guitar and bass amps, and it’s an especially important feature to have for bass players.

A direct out allows the amplifier to either be run directly into a house sound system or recording interface.

In larger venues, the sound guy will sometimes run the bass directly through the sound system, bypassing the speakers on the bass amp entirely. While you can send a bass through the sound system using a DI box, this will send a completely dry bass signal to the mixer. That way, bassists have no control over their sound and must rely on the sound guy to shape their bass tone.

But, if you use the direct out on the amplifier, you’ll still have total control over your tone. Instead of relying on a preamp that isn’t explicitly designed for bass and the knowledge of the sound guy, you can rest assured that your bass tone is making its way to the sound system.

A direct out can also be an incredibly valuable feature to have for recording purposes, especially if you record at home, or with friends. While large studios have large selections of microphones, and a library full of expensive bass plugins, the average home studio or affordable recording studio doesn’t boast nearly as many of the niceties found in top quality studios.

With a direct out, you can record your bass tone directly from the preamp, eliminating the need for expensive microphones or additional gear.

Some amps offer a direct out that has some additional features, such as cabinet simulation, a gain control, or EQ switch. While these aren’t a necessity, having additional control over the direct out of an amp is never a bad thing, especially for bass players.

Plenty of Headroom

Every guitarist or bassist needs an amp that delivers the power they need to sound great in any situation and venue. For bass players, the amount of power their amp can provide is an especially important concern. Players often refer to the amount of power an amp has as headroom.

The reason why this is so critical is that when you’re dealing with the low frequencies of a bass guitar, you can easily reach a point where the amplifier and its speakers simply aren’t capable of producing a quality tone anymore. While many guitar amplifiers will actually sound better when they’re pushed to their breaking point, the opposite is true with bass amps in most instances.

One major issue you’ll run into if you don’t have enough headroom is clipping. Clipping is a type of distortion that occurs when the amp is driven to a point where the output voltage is more than what the amp is capable of producing.

Clipping will not only rob your amp of its tone, but it will also place undue stress on your speakers, causing the voice coil of the speaker to overheat until it’s completely fried. The number one reason for blown speakers is clipping, so not only will avoiding clipping provide you with a better tone, but it will ensure that you aren’t putting excessive stress on your speakers.

The best way to ensure a great bass tone and a long lifespan for your gear is to ensure that the amp you’re looking at provides the headroom you need to play in any situation.

Bass Amp Reviews – Our Top 5 Recommendations

Markbass CMD102P

Best Overall

What Makes It Special?

A compact powerhouse that’s full of innovative new features like Markbass’ VPF filter and VLE vintage speaker emulator, this diminutive yet powerful combo provides the headroom you need in different gig scenarios, and a round, powerful bass sound that you’d never expect from an amp this compact.

  • 500w at 4 ohms, 300w at 8 ohms
  • 2×10” speaker configuration with piezo tweeter
  • 4-band EQ
  • Effects loop

The Markbass CMD102P hasn’t stopped turning heads since it arrived on the scene, and rightfully so; never before were bassists able to enjoy so much power, and such tone from such a tiny amplifier. The CMD102P offers ample headroom, with simple yet effective controls that allow you to shape a variety of bass tones.

On the front of the amp, you’ll find controls for master volume, gain, low, low-mid, low-high, high, VPF, VLE. There’s also a line out volume control. Between the VPF filter and the VLE emulator technology, it’s easy to dial in tons of different tones.

The rear panel of the amp provides a Neutrik Speakon combo jack that accepts Speakon or ¼” connections. A pre and post EQ button offers versatility for studio or live sound applications, and there’s also a ground lift button to eliminate any ground hum in your signal. To top it off, the CMD102P even features an effects loop.

What Customers Like

  • VPF/VLE allows for a myriad of different tones
  • Effective EQ
  • Crisp and punchy bass tone

What Customers Dislike

  • May clip easily with active basses
  • Not enough headroom for large gigs or extremely loud bands

Hartke HD75

Best For the Price

What Makes It Special?

A switchable 7-band EQ and Hartke’s popular Hydrive paper and aluminum speaker technology make the HD75 one of the best sounding amps available, and it’s tone rivals that of many higher priced amplifiers.

  • Standard 3-band EQ with additional 7-band EQ
  • Hydrive Speaker Technology
  • Effects loop
  • Aux in and headphone out

With a unique configuration of a 12” speaker with a 1” tweeter, the HD75 provides a round and full bass tone while still maintaining the responsiveness that modern bass players demand. The aluminum and paper Hydrive speaker is punchy and dynamic, lending a much more expensive sound to this budget bass amp.

The HD75 is tough to beat for its tone shaping capabilities, providing controls for bass, middle, and treble along with a 7-band graphic EQ that you can toggle on or off. There’s also a built-in limiter to help ensure that you never have to worry about clipping issues.

What Customers Like

  • Sounds as good as many higher priced amps
  • 7-band EQ
  • Great for practice

What Customers Dislike

  • Too small for most applications
  • Cabinet rattles at louder volumes

Fender Rumble 500 v3

What Makes It Special?

It may look vintage, but the Rumble 500 packs decidedly modern features, such as a class-D power amp, three voicing modes, overdrive circuit, and even a headphone jack, this Rumble 500 is a great choice for players who need an amp for practice as well as live performance.

  • 500w of class-D power
  • Bright, contour, and vintage voicings
  • 2×10” Eminence speakers and compression horn with on/off switch
  • Headphone out and auxiliary in

For players who love the look of vintage Fender amps but need a more modern array of features, the Rumble 500 is a viable option that’s packed with enticing features. A 4-band EQ combines with three different voicing modes provides a broad variety of tones, which can be further enhanced with the footswitch-able overdrive that offers drive and level controls.

Other controls include gain and master volume. The rear of the amp provides an effects loop, headphone out, line in, and footswitch in, and the on/off switch for the comprehension horn. There’s with a balanced XLR line out and a ¼” speaker output, for recording purposes and connecting an additional cabinet.

What Customers Like

  • Three voicing modes
  • Great sounding overdrive
  • Weighs only 36 pounds

What Customers Dislike

  • Lacks low-end definition
  • No Speakon output

Orange Crush Bass 25w Combo

Best for Beginners & Students

What Makes It Special?

Simple and intuitive controls, unbeatable portability, and a 3-band active EQ with a parametric mid control allow you to dial in an impressive variety of tones with little effect. Add to that a cabinet simulated headphone out, a line in to jam along to your favorite bands, and a built-in chromatic tuner and you have a powerful practice amp that’s perfect for beginners and students.

  • Active EQ with parametric mid
  • Onboard tuner
  • CabSim headphone output
  • All analog signal path

It’s tough to pack big bass tone into a tiny practice amp, but Orange manages to succeed with this tiny and bold looking amplifier. Standout features include an active 3-band EQ with parametric mid and frequency control for added control, and the Orange CabSim headphone out, which accurately simulates the sound of one of Orange’s pricey speaker cabinets.

This amp also features an auxiliary input for jamming along to backing tracks or your favorite songs, and a chromatic tuner to ensure that your bass is always in tune no matter where you’re playing.

What Customers Like

  • Impressive and versatile tone controls
  • Great sounding headphone out
  • Built-in tuner

What Customers Dislike

  • Limited headroom
  • Lacks low end

Ampeg BA108V2

Best on a Budget

What Makes It Special?

With classic controls and legendary Ampeg tone to spare, this small but mighty 20-watt amp is ideal for players on a budget who still demand the best tone possible. A 60° monitoring angle and a -15db pad for active basses make this versatile amp an affordable option for practice or acoustic performance.

  • Ampeg Custom8 speaker
  • 3-band EQ

The BA108V2 is the most affordable option in Ampeg’s newly redesigned BA line. This amp provides 15 watts of classic Ampeg bass tone and simple controls for the 3-band EQ and master volume. There’s also an auxiliary volume control for getting the volume dialed in right when playing along to your favorite songs or backing tracks.

While it doesn’t provide much headroom or a broad tonal range, it’s a trusty amp for a great price that provides everything you need in a practice amp.

What Customers Like

  • Unbeatable price
  • Legendary Ampeg tone

What Customers Dislike

  • Very basic controls
  • Lacks low end

6 More Really Good Bass Amps

Gallien-Krueger MB410-II

One of the most solid and gig ready amps on the market, the MB410 is powerful, practical, and built for the stage. This amp dishes a powerful 500 watts of power to four specially designed 10” speakers which provide all of the response and midrange that bassists expect from 10” speakers as well as a compression horn.

This amp features an active 4-band EQ, gain, boost, and master volume controls, plus a contour button, and a built-in limiter. The tone is sweet and responsive with plenty of low end. If there’s anything to knock about this amp, it’s that it lacks an effects loop and can only be used with additional cabs when chained in series to a powered cabinet.

Ampeg BA-210

What’s not to like about classic BA series tone and the proven reliability of Ampeg in a gig-ready amp for a great price? The BA-210 delivers 450 watts to twin 10” speakers and a high-frequency tweeter. The cab is ported, and it delivers impressive low end despite its small size and 10” speakers.

Other impressive features include an auxiliary in with level control, effects loop, balanced line out, and perhaps most notable, Ampeg’s Scrambler overdrive circuit, which delivers all the grit and grind that fans of Ampeg’s SVT series tube amplifiers have come to love.

Ashdown AAA Five15

Ashdown is relatively new to the bass amp world, but they’re making up for being short on experience by producing affordably priced and incredible sounding bass amps. The AAA Five15 is a solid option for players looking for the balanced low end of a 15” speaker in a portable package that’s perfect for practice, rehearsal, or small gigs.

The AAA Five15 delivers 125 watts to a single 15” speaker and offers a 3-band EQ and a truly impressive sounding overdrive circuit which delivers tones ranging from slight tube-style grit to all-out distortion. There’s also a level control for the ⅛” line in, a headphone in, balanced line out, and an effects loop.

Hartke HD500

The crown jewel of Hartke’s HD line, the HD500 delivers a broad range of tones ranging from classic, vintage thump to tight and focused growl. At only 35 pounds, the HD500 is perfect for gigging bassists hoping to take it easy on their back. The HD500 delivers a powerful 500 watts to twin 10” Hydrive speakers which feature Hartke’s patented aluminum and paper cone technology.

The amp only has a 3-band EQ, but it offers a treasure trove of tones thanks to the Hartke Shape EQ knob with variable filter. This intuitive system makes it easy to dial in several different incredible sounding tones with little effort. The HD500 also features a ported cab, so it offers incredibly punchy and responsive bass despite its small size.

Gallien-Krueger MB110

All the legendary Gallien-Krueger tone in a compact practice amp that provides enough headroom for small gigs, the MB100 is a powerful amp that’s ideal for the traveling bassist. This amp features a nearly identical head unit as the pricier amps in the MB series, and it offers precise control over your tone.

A simple 4-band EQ with variable Q provides a dynamic frequency response that adapts to provide you with an incredible bass tone. A contour button allows you to add additional color to your sound. The MB110 also features a line in, headphone out, and it can be chained in series with powered cabinets.

Bugera Ultra Bass BXD15

For bassists who demand an incredible amount of power, this 1,000-watt powerhouse from Bugera is sure to please. With 1,000 watts of class-D power, there’s virtually no stage that this amp can’t tame. It also has plenty of impressive features.

The BXD15 offers a simple 3-band EQ with a mid-frequency selector switch. There’s also a built-in compressor and limiter, and a -15db pad switch for basses with active pickups. A high-voltage MOSFET preamp delivers impressively tube amp response.

While we’re suspicious of the single 15” TurboSound speaker’s ability to handle 1,000 watts, the BXD15 is a fantastic choice for players looking to add additional speaker cabinets to their rig.

5 FAQ’s about Bass Amps

What are the different types of amps?

When it comes to bass amps, there are essentially two types of amps you’ll find.

  • Tube bass amps
  • Solid-state bass amps

Tube bass amps are the original type of bass amplifier. When the first electric instruments were developed, there was another piece of the puzzle that needed to be in place before we could actually electrify our electric instruments. We needed an amplifier.

The premise was simple: early amplifier manufacturers used radios and PA systems as the basis for the amplifier design, and they applied the same concepts to instrument amplifiers. The first amplifiers featured a preamp and power amp section consisting of vacuum tubes which were then hooked up to a speaker to turn the electrical signal from the instrument into sound.

When Leo Fender developed the first electric bass, it became immediately clear that the same amplifier used for a guitar wasn’t going to work for bass. The frequency range is simply too low for a guitar amp to accurately produce.

This led to the development of the first bass amp. While the speakers used were different, the preamp and power amp sections of the first bass amp were fundamentally the same as a tube guitar amp.

But, tube amps have some inherent drawbacks. They’re heavy, somewhat delicate, and they require occasional maintenance to keep them running in top shape. To mitigate these problems, manufacturers began to produce solid-state amplifiers, which are lighter and more durable than tube amps. Plus, they don’t require the same level of maintenance.

When it comes to the guitar, most players were happy to accept the drawbacks of tube amplification, because it provides them with a much warmer and more musical tone than you can derive from a solid state amp.

But, when it comes to the bass, it’s entirely possible to create incredible tones without the help of tubes, so most bass players go the solid-state route.

Like tube amps, solid-state amps usually consist of a preamp, a power amp, and a speaker. Instead of deriving their tone and power from vacuum tubes, solid-state amps use transistors and diodes. These components are lighter, and less delicate than tubes are, and they don’t burn out over time as tubes do.

Does the size of the speaker matter?

While speaker size matters in any amplifier, it’s especially critical when it comes to bass guitar.

Bass speakers come in 8, 10, 12, 15, and 18-inch sizes, with 10 and 15-inch speakers being the most popular.

As a rule of thumb, the larger the speaker, the rounder and fuller the bass. The smaller the speaker, the more responsive it is.

Depending on the style of music you play, you’ll find that one speaker size sounds better than the rest. Smaller speakers are popular among bassists who play fast or aggressive music, as the speaker can quickly respond to the notes they’re playing.

Many bass players find that a more diverse speaker array provides them with enhanced versatility. The smaller speakers provide them with lightning fast responsiveness while larger speakers deliver the type of round and full bass tone that you can physically feel, and using both small and large speakers provides the best of both worlds.

If you’re looking for the most versatile amp possible, search for a combo that offers a 15” speaker along with one or two 10” as well. Or, if you’re purchasing separate speakers for your amp, you may want to consider buying one cabinet with 10” speakers and another with a 15”.

What are the top bass amp brands?

Ampeg is one of the most legendary bass amp companies in the world, and their amps have graced virtually every stage in the world. One of the original bass amp companies, Ampeg was born in 1946, and they’ve been one of the leaders of the industry ever since. They’re also one of the few manufacturers that still offers a tube powered bass amp line.

Markbass is one of the new kids on the block, and they’re barely twenty years old as a company. But, that lack of heritage hasn’t stopped them from producing some of the most sought after amps on the market. Their amps employ Class-D technology, which allows Markbass to produce the smallest and lightest amps possible, and every amp they make delivers an exemplary bass tone.

Gallien-Krueger is a California-based amplifier company that was created in the late ‘60s by two engineers working for Hewlett-Packard. They developed some of the first ever solid-state amplifiers, and Carlos Santana even used one on stage at Woodstock in 1969. In the ‘80s, they began producing bass amps which would end up becoming the company’s singular focus. Today, they produce a broad array of some of the best bass amps on the market.

How many watts do I need on a bass amp?

A lot.

I know it seems vague, but this is truly the best answer to the question. Since the bass deals with such low frequencies, the number of watts the amp can deliver affects not only the power of the amp but also the amp’s tone.

Of course, the wattage of an amp is less of a core concern if you’re looking for a practice amp to use at home, by yourself. But, if you play in a band, and especially if your band plays gigs, the power of your amp will be critical.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that unlike guitar amps, bass amps need an extremely high wattage to accurately produce your tone without clipping. So, while 100 watts may seem like a huge number, it’s actually rather small when it comes to bass amps.

An easy and virtually foolproof way to determine the wattage you need is to ask your guitar player how many watts his amp is. Triple that number, and you’ve arrived at the lowest wattage amp you’ll need to keep up in your band. So, if your guitarist plays a 100-watt amp, you’ll want a bass amp that delivers 300 watts or more.

If your band plays mostly smaller rooms, or if your amp gets miked or sent through the house sound system in larger rooms, an amp with around 300 watts should be perfect for you. But, if you regularly play large rooms and use your amp’s speakers to deliver your sound, or if you play in an especially loud band, you’ll want to find an amp somewhere in the 500-100 watt range.

Where can I learn more about bass amps?

The Hub by Musician’s Friend is a great resource to learn more about bass amps. Musician’s Friend is primarily a retailer, but their Hub blog is chock full of useful information, interviews with players, and tone tips and tricks every bass player should check out.

Sweetwater is another retailer, but they go above and beyond to deliver musician’s an unbeatable service and shopping experience. Virtually all of their product pages offer detailed demo videos and audio recordings so you can get an idea of how a piece of gear sounds without having to find it in a store to try it out.

Bass Player magazine has been the most trusted publication for bass players for over 20 years. In their print magazine and on their site, you’ll find a collection of useful information for bassists including interviews, gear reviews, and tone tips.

Conclusion

While they may never receive the glory they deserve, bass players are one of the most important parts of a solid band. As a bass player, finding a great bass amp for your tone is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a musician, so make sure your next amp is a good one!

Are you a bass player? What are some of your favorite amps? Sound off in the comments and let our readers know!

When shopping for a bass amp, bass players often also check out:

  • Bass preamps
  • Speaker cabinets
  • Bass overdrive
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