Combo Amps and the 12-String Bass

In July of 2006 Tom Petersson gave an interview in Bass Player magazine, and included with that interview were Tom's 12 Tips for bassists. His #1 Tip was: "Use multiple amps. It isnít possible to get the 12-string bass sound that you want out of one speaker cabinet. Get your distortion and highs out of one amp and the low end out of another. The more amps, the better."

We respectfully disagree with Tom. Multiple amps are absolutely not a requirement for getting a 12-string bass to sound its best! Multiple amp rigs are fine if you have the money to invest in them and would like to have a more complex sound. They take up more space on the stage and in the van, plus they increase the wiring complexity and set up time. Many players choose multiple amps, which is cool, but frankly we think that Tom promoting the use of multiple amps could be scaring players away from the 12-string bass.

From personal experience, it IS possible to get a great 12-string bass sound out of a single cabinet. Using myself as an example, I've played hundreds of gigs using a single 2x15 cabinet and have always been able to get the sound I wanted. Perhaps my sound wouldn't meet with Tom's approval but it fit in perfectly with my band and the music we were playing.

And even the larger speaker cabinets are unnecessary - combo amps are quickly becoming the rig of choice for many 12-string bassists. Combo amp quality has increased dramatically over the past years. They have the advantages of small size, light weight and lower cost. Plus it's often possible to get a better sound out of a small amp that's cranked up than a large one that's barely working.

Here are a few examples of combo amps used by working 12-string bassists:

David Henning (Big Wreck) writes, "99% of the time I plug my basses into my studio monitors via a Bass Pod Pro. But as far as amps, I have a GK MB150 combo, I've had it for 15 years. Small and unobtrusive. It actually sounds great for guitar as well. I also have two or three guitar amps kicking around."

Ken Ritchie relates how he started using a small keyboard amp with his Hades 12-string bass: "I spotted our daughter's Roland KC-550 piano combo amp in the corner. The 550 is a 180-watt amp with a 15" woofer, a decent tweeter and a ported cabinet. Come to think about it, the keyboards have a wider range than my 12ver, so this just might work, I speculated..."

"And work it did! The KC-550 has great tone and presence and sounds good to my ears. The 15" woofer is plenty capable in the low end and the tweeter could hurt my ears in a hurry. Our family room is vaulted, two stories high, and together with the kitchen, almost 20 feet wide and 50 feet long. I tried cranking it up a bit, but I couldn't take the 550 very far. The alarm system's glass-break detectors started complaining, which means I may break the windows if I crank it any louder - and I'll surely hurt my ears if I get too close without ear protectors! I don't 'need' to turn it up. I just know that it's there if I go somewhere where I do need to fill a larger space."

Jim Morgan writes, "I completely agree that when playing small venues, large rigs are just overkill. I still use my bigger amps for a lot of jobs but whenever we play a small club or load-in is a pain I use smaller amps."

"Lately Iíve been using two small combo amps to accommodate my 12ver. I use an Ampeg BA210SP 2X10 bass amp and a Fender Blues Junior 15-watt tube guitar amp. Both amps stacked together only stand about 3 feet tall."

"Yes, I know itís still two amps but I get virtually the same sound that I aim for in a small package. I can get the guitar crunch and distortion along with good low end from the Ampeg."

Philip Snyder's combo: "I have at times used the two-amp setup (guitar amp + bass amp) for my personal bass rig and that does work very well, even when using small scale combo amps. I don't believe that you have to use two amps to get good 12-string bass tone though. My current rig is incredibly simple and, while not having the more complex tone of the two-amp rig, does produce good tone with nice clarity."

"I typically run three pedals and a 50-watt bass combo amp. The signal path is as follows:
        - 12-string bass
        - Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner
        - Keeley Compressor (early version)
        - MXR Distortion +
        - Crate BX-50 50-watt 1x12 combo amp"

"With this rig I can closely mimic most of the desired 12-string bass sounds from clean and chimey to distorted and growly. The 12" speaker is great for producing the mids that are so important to getting clear tone and it mics well too. When the Distortion+ is on, the settings that are shown here create a pretty distorted sound. A certain amount of fret buzz and new strings enhance the overall sound I am going for."

There are even 12-string bassists who don't use an amp at all during live performances!

Richard Savoie told us, "Gear wise, I kept it to a minimum. Live, a SansAmp Bass Driver DI direct to the PA and through the monitors did the job quite nicely and I had no heavy cabinets to drag around. The guys in the band liked that a lot!"

As with every other aspect of music, what works and sounds good is in the mind and ears of the musicians involved.