We all know how important the bass sound is to a band. A roaring bass tone can glue everything together and bridge the gap between the rhythm section and the rest of the band. So while your choice of bass is certainly important, the amp you choose to play through dramatically affects the quality of your tone - and is arguably one of the most essential elements of your rig. It’s crucial then that you take the time to really think about what is the best bass amp for you.
Our list features bass guitar amps of all kinds, from super-portable micro heads to state-of-the-art hybrid amplifiers, high-end all-tube heads, to budget-friendly practice combos - there is something for everyone here. 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.
Best bass amps: Guitar World's Choice
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.
Best bass amps: Product guide
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best bass amps: 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 beginner bass 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.
What are the best bass amp brands?
Today there are many different bass amps available online from a range of different companies - so it can be difficult to cut through the noise. We’ve made sure to only include the biggest names in bass in this guide. The likes of Fender, Orange, Ampeg, Ashdown and Aguilar all have a rich history and have been producing some of the finest bass amps ever made for decades - so you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Each brand has its own distinct tone, so it’s worth trying them out - or checking out YouTube demos - to see which suits your needs the best.
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