From the massive, heavy beasts of old to their ultra-portable, modern models, bass amps have made significant progress. So, what’s next?

Bassists are typically knowledgeable about the specifics of their instrument, from the smallest details to the most precise technical specifications. We’ve all experienced a fair share of intense discussions on the smallest distinctions between a particular instrument and another. (And occasionally, these discussions get interrupted when someone says, “It’s all in the fingers.”) But behind us and at the bottom of one of our cables for output there’s a whole realm of tone-shaping that we often avoid or simply do not want to explore too deep. The transition from gear discussions to the bass to the amp is the perfect method to bring it to an abrupt halt.

In the early days of the instrument’s history bassists have had to deal with the most fundamental and essential issue of being heard. This is now resolved but a lot of musicians do not seem to be curious about the process of getting here. It’s not just the bassists. Some amp makers aren’t concerned about the finer details. For my investigation, I phoned an amp maker with a great reputation to find out his perspective on class-D technology. The response was astonishing: “We simply checked some Asian-made modules and chose the one we thought sounded best, but I don’t know and never cared how they work.” Even the idea of a brief technical overview was met with complete ignorance. They’d probably just go on and bet randomly. So, if someone thinks they don’t need to learn what their amp does it’s at least with the right people!

Through the past about 80 years the technology that is used in our amplifiers was replaced, not only once. Technology advancements took place in waves, and a new wave could be coming soon.

Through the majority of the century, bass amps were based on tube circuitry. However, it was not until the mid-century to build decently powerful, yet extremely heavy and fragile amps. Unfortunately, guitar players used the same technology, sometimes even those amps initially designed specifically for us. (Remember that our low-end requires around 10 % more power than an amp for guitar to get through!) Therefore, as their volume increased, our requirement for power just got larger. The issue remained unsolved until the 1960s when amps like Ampeg’s Portaflex B-15 and SVT came onto the scene. Amplification companies with high output sprung up everywhere and allowed loud rock groups to relocate from venues to stadiums.

While the transistor was quietly changing the radio landscape and small solid-state amplifiers in the 1950s but it was not until the mid-’60s before the technology was integrated into our devices. The first companies that produced solid-state amplifiers were those that had a more advanced engineering background. Vox was one of them. They introduced their first solid-state bass amplifiers due to their previous experiences with circuits made of solid-state from their organs. A number of smaller companies followed, but most gained an unpopular reputation for their reliability. However, technology was evolving at a rapid pace.

In the 1980s, clear and powerful hi-fi-like synth sounds became popular. It was a boon to bassists thanks to the introduction of innovative tone-shaping options, hybrid circuits that included bi-amping, tube preamps internal DIs, much more power.

After we had been sure to be heard and heard, it was time to find other benefits, such as reduced weight and size. Then came other new amps called class D. The principle that underlies Class-D is called Pulse width Modulation (PWM) that appears to suggest that people with more engineering skills will once more be ahead of the curve. There are only a handful of manufacturers who build class-D power components and amp builders could utilize them as the base of their own amplifiers. Simply purchase one of these modules, which are available with different power ratings, and then add the power supply, as well as an adjusting circuit for tone, and you’re good to go. With a variety of competing brands with identical power amplifiers, the strengths of each have changed to the characteristics of their tone-shaping circuitry, as well as other add-ons and gadgets.

We are currently in the last generation of amp technology dropping from 300 watts at 40 kg or 88.5 pounds in the 1970s up to 500-1000 Watts in the range of between 1 and 3 kg, or 2 to 7 pounds in the present. What’s the next step? It seems like the ratio of power to weight has come to an end for a long time, but the ability to shape tone in preamps could switch from conventional circuits to modeling or profiling amps in an additional wave. It’s clear that it’s engineering expertise that makes the difference. Do you think of what the instruments that we’d play today be if our basses had been able to make similar strides?

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