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Best bass amps 2021: killer low-end amplification options for bassists

Best bass amps 2021: killer low-end amplification options for bassists
(Image credit: Ampeg/Trace Elliot/Aguilar/Fender)

Whether you need a bass amp combo for practice, a reliable gig-ready bass amp head or maybe just a 900-watt super-beast to help overpower your guitarist, this guide to the best bass amps has something for you.

Our list features bass guitar amps of all kinds. There are the super-portable options, the micro bass heads and lightweight heads the size of a cigar box. We’ve got the best bass amp combos, too – heavier, yes, but who doesn’t like an all-in-one solution, especially if it’s just going to sit in the house.

There are hybrid amplifiers with tube-driven preamps and Class D solid-state power amps, all-tube heads, and everything in between. Perhaps what’s most noteworthy, and what is so encouraging for today’s bassists, is that whatever you want from your tone – be it an elastic bounce for funk or pure bass-heavy thunder – there’s an amplifier out there that will make it happen.

Guitar World's Choice

What is the best bass amp right now?

We have a couple of recommendations here. If you’re looking for a bass amp that sums up where the craft is at right now, it’s got to be the Aguilar Tone Hammer. The control it offers you over the EQ is exceptional, with a smart front panel that has everything but the speaker and tuner outputs, and the preamp is awesome (and sold as a pedal). It is available in 350-, 500- and 700-watt formats, offering a similar setup and features, it’s good value, ready for the stage, studio, whatever you throw at it.

If you want a bass head with enough power for shows, offers a fuss-free control panel with an excellent 3-band EQ, that sounds great and that you can throw into a backpack, the Trace Elliot ELF has got to be the one. It really is a pocket rocket.

Buying advice

Which is the best bass amp for me?

When you’re out there pounding the sidewalk or bruising your internet browser in search of a new bass amplifier, it is well worth doing a little horizon planning. You first have to assess your current needs. What kind of style do you play? Is your bass guitar active or passive? What level are you at? In what environment are you playing – at home, in clubs… Fenway Park?

What you play and where you see yourself playing in the near future plays a big part in the decision. After all, if you intend to play in the house, an 800-watt head is overkill. Conversely, gigging bassists need enough power to be heard in the mix.

Price is always a concern too, but the good news is that the bass amp market is full of very giggable options that will give you change from 500 bucks.

Which features are essential in a bass amp?

All players want a certain level of versatility. Options are great, and features present options. But for beginners and intermediate players, it’s crucial you can find tones quickly and concentrate on playing. A control panel that is easily navigable is a big plus – even with a condensed features set, the bass amplifier will teach you a good lesson in how EQ can alter the character of your bass tone, complementing whatever style you’re playing in.

Those looking for a more vintage-voiced tone might want to seek out a bass amp with a tube-driven preamp, which can add a sense of warmth and harmonic response that feels eminently musical. While all-tube bass heads are getting thin on the ground, hold-outs such as the Ampeg SVT are formidable performers – heavyweight, but still unsurpassed for old-school bass tones.

For players at all levels, though, a well-voiced EQ is essential. Amp manufacturers know well that mid-range frequencies can be a minefield for bassists, a real matter of taste, and so many amplifiers will offer generous controls over the midrange, allowing you to select your mid frequencies and boost/cut as desired. The Ashfield Studio 15 combo we list here even offers a 3-band EQ approach to the midrange alone. That says it all.

Portability is forever an issue. Bass speaker cabinets are getting lighter but are still unforgiving beasts, so it is a blessing that the amp head is getting smaller and lighter. Bassists who ride the subway to rehearsal have options, and our top two picks – the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 and Trace Elliot ELF – have a combined weight of 5.6lb, less than the Thanksgiving turkey and more than capable of being ferried around in a backpack. 

If you want an all-in-one unit, there are a number of great-sounding combos with lightweight builds. These can be an excellent option for throwing in the back of the car and heading to rehearsal or a show, or if you just want a self-contained unit in which you don’t have to match the impedance on the head to the speaker.

Speaking of connections, it’s worth factoring these into your decision-making. Some connections are invaluable for practice, such as a headphones input or an 1/8” aux input for playing to external audio – a fundamental skill when it’s your job to hold it down in the rhythm section. Others, such as a balanced XLR output, can be essential for live performance, allowing you to send your signal straight to the PA. 

The good news is that there is a lot of value to be had in the bass amp market. So, let’s take a look at some of the best on the block.

10 best bass amps

The best bass amps right now

Best bass amps: Aguilar Tone Hammer 500

(Image credit: Aguilar)

1. Aguilar Tone Hammer 500

An unbeatable balance of power, tone and portability

Price: $789/£699 | Power: 500 watts into 4 ohms, 250 watts into 8 ohms | Type: Class D head | Features: 3-band graphic EQ with adjustable mids, -10dB pad switch, effects loop, balanced XLR pre/post DI with ground lift, output mute | Weight: 4lb (1.8kg)

Awesome range of tones
Interactive EQ is fun to explore
Well-designed front panel
Lower or higher-powered formats
No headphones output

The Tone Hammer is a truly exceptional solid-state head that offers you phenomenal control over your tone. There are so many usable tones to be found here that you are sure to find a sweet spot no matter what bass you’re using – a street lamp with a fridge magnet pickup would sound usable through this.

The treble control allows for a healthy 14dB of boost or cut at 4kHz, the bass a hefty 17dB at 40Hz, while you can park your mids anywhere between 180Hz and 1kHz and boost or cut by 16dB either way. 

But wait – there’s more. The drive control interacts with the gain structure and EQ, offering a vintage-sounding EQ that rounds out the bottom end as you turn up the gain and takes off some highs. Aguilar encourages you to use those drive, gain and mids controls as base camp for tone exploration. 

Best bass amps: Trace Elliot ELF

(Image credit: Trace Elliot)

2. Trace Elliot ELF

The best compact bass amp you can buy

Price: $349/£219 | Power: 200 watts into 4 ohms, 130 watts into 8 ohms | Type: Class D micro head | Features: 3-band EQ, Gain, Volume, headphones out, XLR out | Weight: 1.6lb (0.73kg)

A super-portable bass head
Excellent EQ and gain controls
Quality build with thermal/surge protection
You want a more comprehensive set of features
No aux-in

To give you an idea of scale, the ELF measures just a quarter-inch wider than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It’s less than one-and-a-half inches tall. You could fit it in your pocket, and you might want to, because you won’t want to let it out of your sight.

The performance is exceptional, with a respectable 200-watts at 4 ohms and all the essential features you need. The 3-band EQ plays the percentages and parks the lows at 80Hz, mids at 500Hz, and highs at 4.2kHz, all very sensible, all usable. There’s a XLR out for going straight to the PA.

But don’t let the portability aspect seem like a gimmick. This will work just as well in the studio, and ships with REAPER DAW, and Peavey ReValver amp modeling software, plus there’s a headphones jack for silent practice.

Best bass amps: Hartke LX8500

(Image credit: Hartke)

3. Hartke LX8500

A tower of power with a valve-driven preamp

Price: $599/£599 | Power: 800 watts into 4 ohms | Type: 2AX7 tube preamp with Class D power amp | Features: Tone Stack EQ (ft Bass, Treble, Midrange Shape and Frequency), Drive, Compression, Output Mute, Brite switch, Balanced XLR Direct Output w/ Pre/Post-EQ switch, effects loop, aux in, microphones output | Weight: 8.5lb (3.6kg)

Very powerful, stage-ready head
Hartke Tone Stack is a rabbit-hole you’ll enjoy falling through
Built like a tank but not overly heavy
Great value

The LX8500 represents excellent value, somehow squeezing what is a vertiginous stack of features into a compact aluminum chassis. It is a hybrid, with a Class A valve preamp feeding an 800-watt Class D amplifier (at 4 ohms).

Hartke’s Tone Stack EQ needs no introduction, though it does take some time to fathom fully. There’s a lot to get into. But even when you set everything at noon, the LX8500 will hit you with a tone that’s naturally wide, robust and musical.

There’s a little analog heat in there thanks to the preamp’s 12AX7 dual triode, and if you want a quick power-up for your upper-mids the Brite Switch is a nice touch. Slap players will naturally love it – that compression is tight and intuitive – yet there is enough range for players of all styles.

Best bass amps: Darkglass Microtubes 900 v2

(Image credit: Darkglass)

4. Darkglass Microtubes 900 v2

A state-of-the-art head to take you beyond thunderdome

Price: $1099/£1,069 | Power: 900 watts into 4 ohms, 500 watts into 8 ohms | Type: Class D head | Features: 6-band graphic EQ, adjustable compression, Microtubes Harmonic Enhancement/Saturation, 2x XLR pre/post DI, buffered effects loop, programmable Impulse Response, 1/8” aux in | Weight: 6.39lb (2.9kg)

Excellent build quality from Darkglass
Microtubes section allows you to really tune its overdrive
6-band graphic EQ for tone shaping
Lots of power

Where to start with the bass amp that can do everything except drive the tour bus? Well, let’s start with the 6-band EQ: set it flat and report a wholly transparent performance, not unlike a top-line acoustic amplifier. But, lo! Just a cursory adjustment of any one of the six EQ parameters delivers a profound effect to your tone. With this, allied to an onboard compression that has its own control (a simple clockwise turn for more, anticlockwise for less), you’ve got everything you need…

Then you’ve got the Microtubes Engine section of the 900, and that really spoils you with controls for drive, level, tone and blend to further eek out the full range of your instrument’s voice.

The overdrive on this amplifier is exceptional too, with two voicings – the modern, pugilistic B3K and the vintage VMT – selectable via a switch, with a colored LED to let you know which is engaged. This is a top-line, professional bass head, with all mod-cons in the back making it ideal for stage or studio.

Best bass amps: Orange Little Bass Thing

(Image credit: Orange)

5. Orange Little Bass Thing

Little by name, huge by nature

Price: $699/£549 | Power: 500 watts into 4 ohms | Type: Class D head | Features: 3-band EQ, compression, 6dB input pad switch, Balanced XLR Direct Output, buffered effects loop | Weight: 6.5lb (2.95kg)

It’s portable but powerful
An excellent option for rock players
Potent EQ
Lacks a little headroom
Orange glyphs on the dials take some getting used to

The Orange Little Bass Thing is an excellent example of a fine Orange bass head. It has a tonal power that could give you a black eye, a stage-ready voice that is perfectly attuned to the needs of the contemporary rocker.

Sure, there is a tendency for it to show a little teeth, and that might be too much Bass Thunder Demon for some players, but so long as you’re not looking for pristine cleans at block-leveling volume there is a lot to love here. Besides, the -6dB pad does a reasonable job of cleaning things up otherwise.

Once you decipher the controls, you’ll find this a very intuitive, plug-in-and-play head. There are no great mysteries but plenty of sweep in a 3-band EQ that can apply 15dB of cut and boost to the bass, middle and treble, and the onboard compressor is excellent at tightening your tone up.

Read the full Orange Little Bass Thing review

Best bass amps: Blackstar Unity Bass UB500

(Image credit: Blackstar)

6. Blackstar Unity Bass UB500

A state-of-the-art modern combo

Price: $699/£669 | Power: 500 watts | Type: Solid-state combo | Features: Single-channel amp with 3 voices and 3 drives, 3-band EQ with sweepable mids, 2x 10" Custom Eminence Opus speakers, compression, chorus, octave, 3 amp models (Linear, 6L6, 6550 power) 2x XLR outputs, effects loop, headphones out, USB, footswitch | Weight: 48.5lb (22kg)

Very modern set of features
Smart multi-voiced preamp design
Three responses adds to versatility
Very useful footswitch
Not much at this price

The U500 has got a lot going on but kudos to Blackstar for laying out the control panel so it all makes sense. There is a preamp section where you can choose from three voices.

Classic offers a vintage tube-amp tone, Modern goes for super-clean with a contemporary EQ profile, and Flat is exactly that, totally transparent. The power amp section, meanwhile, offers a choice of three responses – Linear, 6L6 and 6550 – that shape the amp’s natural dynamics and compression.

Of course, there is an independent compression control, plus an onboard octave and chorus effect, and you can change the gain structure for overdrive, distortion or fuzz. Hey, it’s good to have options, and the UB500 feels like many amps in one box – an attractive quality in any amp, but especially a combo where you are not of a mind to carry it with you everywhere. You may want to.

Best bass amps: Mesa/Boogie Subway TT-800

(Image credit: Mesa/Boogie)

7. Mesa/Boogie Subway TT-800

A super-versatile hybrid head from the original boutique amp company

Price: $1099/£1,149 | Power: 800 watts into 4 or 2 ohms, 400 watts into 8 ohms | Type: Class D head with Class A tube-driven preamp | Features: 2 channels, Tri-Tube (3 x 12AT7) preamp, Bright switch, Deep switch, High/Low Gain switch, mute switch, Boogie channel: Input Gain, variable high-pass filter (25Hz–125Hz), passive 3-band EQ w/ Bass, Mid w/variable Mid-Shift control, Treble, and Master Volume; Subway Channel: Input Gain, variable High-pass filter (25Hz–125Hz), fully active 3-band EQ (±12dB Bass, Mid, Treble) with sweepable Midrange frequency control (150Hz–2kHz), and Master Volume, footswitch, tube-drive pre-EQ and post-master balanced XLR DI Output with Line/Mic and ground lift, USB, 2x SpeakON outputs, tuner output, headphones output, effects loop for each channel | Weight: 7.18lb (3.3kg)

Mesa/Boogie build is faultless
Full feature set
Wicked range of tones
It will take some time to get used to

There is no getting away from the quality and the imagination behind the Subway TT-800 head’s design. This is Mesa/Boogie going to town on an amp head to make it as versatile as possible. The Boogie channel is old-school Mesa performance a la the BASS 400+ units, while the Subway channel is more neutral, tightening up the low end, dialing up the clarity across the rest of the frequency spectrum and offering semi-parametric control over the midrange.

This is a do-it-all amp, for players of all styles. Each channel is footswitchable and has its own effects loop. While the two-channel setup encourages in-depth tone hunting, the global gain switching and Bright and Deep switches offer you the ability to make quick changes to your tone. Kick in Deep to let that low-end bloom, or use Bright to add that bouncy electricity slap players just love.

Best bass amps: Fender Rumble 100 v3

(Image credit: Fender)

8. Fender Rumble 100 v3

The best bass combo for practice and beginners

Price: $299/£305 | Power: 100 watts | Type: Class D head | Features: 4-band EQ, footswitchable overdrive, 1x12” Eminence Special Design speaker, effects loop, XLR out with ground lift, 1/8” aux in, headphones out | Weight: 22lb (10kg)

It’s cheap and easy to use
It’s impressively loud
Good EQ
You might want to size up

If you are looking for a bass combo, reasonably priced, reasonably spec’d, that doesn’t feel like you’re carting the Undertaker’s fridge around with you, the relatively compact 1x12 Rumble 100 should see you right.

It’s got the classic Fender styling, the black vinyl on a ported plywood cabinet and the silver grille cloth, with a well-designed control panel on the top of the amplifier featuring controls for gain, drive, level, bass, low-mid, high-mid, treble and master volume.

There’s an overdrive on/off switch that can be accessed via an optional footswitch for, well, for some dirt at the touch of a button, and Bright, Contour and Vintage switches for changing the amp’s voice – Bright will give you a high-end boost, Contour will scoop the mids (hi, slap bassists), and vintage emulates the dynamics of a tube amp. Pretty neat. The Rumble comes in various formats but for practice and small gigs – and for the money – this is our pick.

Best bass amps: Ampeg SVT-CL

(Image credit: Ampeg)

9. Ampeg SVT-CL

The best all-tube head for old-school tones

Price: $1,999/£1,958 | Power: 300 watts into 4 ohms, 250 watts into 8 ohms | Type: Tube head | Features: 3-band graphic EQ with 5-position mids,Ultra Lo and Ultra Hi switches, -15dB padded input, XLR out, slave out, bias adjustment controls | Weight: 80lb (36.3kg)

Vintage bass tones
Classic design
Built tough
It’s expensive
It’s heavy

We know that bass amplification is evolving apace but no best bass amps list could be complete without an all-tube head that offers a premium brand of vintage thunder that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Now, it’s heavy and it’s expensive, and tubes are tubes which means maintenance at some point down the line, but the tone – primal, primeval, vintage Bootsy Collins, vintage Sting – should strong-arm you into submission.

The controls are spartan but there’s everything you need; a padded -15dB input for active basses, a five-position mids selector and dial, an Ultra High/Ultra Low switch that allows you to boost highs and lows without swamping the respective frequency ranges, 3-band EQ, bias adjustment on the rear. Just plug it in and turn it up.

Best bass amps: Ashdown Studio 15

(Image credit: Ashdown)

10. Ashdown Studio 15

The lightweight combo with the big deep voice

Price: $549/£499 | Power: 300 watts | Type: Class D combo | Features: 5-band EQ, shape switch, passive/active switch, footswitchable valve-emulated overdrive, 1x15” Studio NEO speaker, tweeter, tweeter mute switch, effects loop, balanced XLR out, 1/8” aux in, headphones out | Weight: 24.6lb (11.2kg)

A solid performer offering full control of mids
Deep bass from back-ported 15” speaker
Well-arranged control panel
Lightweight build

The Ashdown Studio 15 is the Sam Elliot of bass combos, deep, sonorous, authoritative, and musical in its own right. It’s a lightweight combo, housed in a frame of poplar-ply, which is to say it’s quite heavy but not for a combo.

Like the Rumble, this has got a straight-ahead control panel, with a pad switch for active basses and a shape switch for a quick, pre-EQ tone fix, effectively changing the voicing of the amp. You’ve got 300 watts to play with and a 5-band EQ that pays special attention to your mids.

All the important stuff is on top, so that balanced XLR out, effects loop, headphones out, footswitch and line in are all right there in front of you. Speaker-wise, there is a lightweight neodymium speaker and a hi-fi tweeter that you can mute if you’re sick of high frequencies.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.