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Monday
Oct032011

Ampeg 1965 B-15N Fliptop

I hesitate to call this bad boy the "grand poobah" of bass amps, but only for one reason:  I wouldn't drag this thing around from gig to gig because it's 46 years old! Other than that, hands down, this is the holy grail of bass amps.  It's hard to find these in good condition nowadays, but that's also what the good people over at FLIPTOPS are for.  If you do own one of these amazing amps - FLIPTOPS has any and every replacement part that you'll ever need.

Now, on to the amp.  I found this guy on eBay. It's an original 1965 B-15N, but it's had some cosmetic upgrades.  It has the original CTS speaker, original tubes, transformers, cabinet, and electronics, but the previous owner had it recovered with the Ampeg blue tolex, a new logo, new transformer covers, and a new tube cage.

It's rated at a whopping 30 watts, but the B-15N is louder and has better tone and response than most solid state amps rated at 4 or 5 times that power.  This amp has been the absolute standard in bass recording ever since James Jamerson used it on just about every Motown song ever recorded.  The SVT and 8x10 cabinet might be the touring standard, but the B-15 is still the go-to set up for recording.

This amp just has the warmest, fullest bass sound that can't seem to be fully replicated.  Not to mention, it just looks really cool.  The fliptop feature was designed to solve the heat problems that combo amps were having and also provide better portability than head & cabinet stacks.  My favorite feature has to be the glass Ampeg emblem that is lit from the glow of the bass tubes.  Doesn't get any cooler than that.

It took years of scouring eBay and online shops until I found a well priced B-15N that was in good shape at a time that I was ready to take the plunge.  I recommend buying local if at all possible so you can take a bass that you're comfortable with and test it out.  Be sure to let the tubes warm up for a couple of minutes before you start playing...the only time this amp sounds bad is if you try to play it right away.

 

Saturday
Oct012011

Epiphone Jack Casady 

I first read about this bass from an interview with then Roots bassist Ben Kenney (now with Incubus).  He basically sold me on this bass in 1 paragraph.  I found this one a month later on eBay and it's been a mainstay in the rotation ever since.

It's a semi-hollowbody, but it has a center block under the bridge which helps eliminate feedback and gives this bass a huge, booming tone.  It's got single, passive low-impedance JCB-1 humbucker with the traditional volume and tone knobs, but where it's gets interesting is the 3-way impedance selector in the "Vari-tone" knob.  You can really dial in a lot of different sounds with this versatile setup. 

I use the Ernie Ball Flatwound strings on this bass and it sounds and feels great.  It's a comfortable bass to play and the neck is "medium fast".  This bass really comes to life with a little overdrive or distortion - it can sound really amazing!

Thursday
Sep292011

Ampeg BA500 2x10 Tiltback

An oldie, but goodie.  This is my go-to big gig amp.  It's a 2x10 combo and it's surprisingly loud.  It has a ton of punch and low-end for a 2x10 combo.  I used to play with a 1x15 cab and I thought I would never be ever to live without it...this amp changed that.  It's been a workhorse for me for years and years.  I used to play on an Ampeg stack (SVT 4-pro, 2x10, 1x15) and then you start getting closer and closer to 30 and looking to scale down by any means necessary.  

You can add an external cabinet, so I could add the 1x15 back if needed.  The 9-band EQ is great and very responsive.  I really like the tiltback feature because at bigger gigs you can just run the XLR out and then turn the amp to you, tilt it back and use it as your monitor.

If you are looking for a good 2x10 combo - you should really try to find the BA500.  

Here's my warning:  I cannot recommend the new Ampeg BA600.  You'll notice on this blog that the "Amps" category is 100% Ampeg.  I'm not sponsored by them or anything, I just like they way they sound.  I have 4 different Ampeg amps, and I have not had a problem with any of them.  That being said, I recommended the new BA600 to my church when they were looking to get new gear (because of how much I like my BA500).  They bought 2 of them for our church campuses.  Neither one lasted 18 months.  They are both completely dead.  The BA600 couldn't have been a bigger downgrade from the BA500.  They took away the tiltback feature, tried adding a "vintage" ampeg channel that was supposed to simulate the old school Ampeg sound (which it didn't) and it seemed to be made very cheaply.  I was extremely disappointed in the Ampeg BA600.

We've already replaced one of them with the new Ampeg Portaflex PF-500 head and just run the line out.  I'll do a post on the PF-500 soon...that bass head is a great little amp.  I'm not sure what was going on with the BA600, but it looks like Ampeg is back to making the solid amps that I've known and loved for years.

Thursday
Sep292011

'58 Danelectro Longhorn Bass Reissue

I originally bought this bass strictly for the novelty of it.  I found it in the used section at a Guitar Center in Fort Worth, and it needed a setup, new strings, the pots were dirty, and one of the tuning pegs was really loose.  After a few hours of work, I was in business.

This sound of this bass is huge! It always surprises people.  It weighs less than 6 pounds and is a shortscale bass, so after playing a p-bass for a while, you won't even know the Longhorn is on your shoulder.  The Danelectro lipstick pickups have a booming low-end.  It's actually the only bass I've ever played that I have to roll off the bass on the EQ a little bit or it's overwhelming.

You can find these on eBay and different online used bass shops (the guys at Bass Northwest sometimes have one or check Elderly) - and they're pretty cheap.  If you're looking to buy a funky looking short scale that is extemely easy to play with a big sound - you should definitely track down a Longhorn reissue.  There are some intonation issues as you go higher up the neck (around the 10th fret), so stay low where you belong!

I've dubbed this bass "the imodium".  Not that is sounds like crap, but for it's uncanny seafoam green likeness of Imodium AD. Gotta love it.

Thursday
Sep292011

Strings

ahh, strings.  I get asked every once in a while about what strings to use.  This one can be complicated because there are a thousand different kinds of strings out there.  Different cores, materials, wounds, gauges, lengths, and on and on.  

I've tried a handful - mostly D'addario, Elixir, GHS, DR, and Ernie Ball.  For me - I stick with Ernie Ball.  I really like the way the Ernie Ball regular slinky strings feel and sound.  Once I found a set that I was happy with, I stuck with it.  There are so many strings out there that this could be a neverending quest.  I only try out new ones when something different comes around.  I really like the Elixir acoustic guitar strings, so when they finally put out coated bass strings, I gave them a try.  Couldn't stand them.  I thought they sounded muddy and I was sliding all over the place.

I use the Ernie Ball flats too.  I play flatwounds on the Martin EB-18 and the Epiphone Jack Casady.

If you don't know where to start, I recommend this awesome string breakdown that bassplayer magazine did.

Thursday
Sep292011

Fender Jazz Bass - Geddy Lee Signature Series

I think I had 15 basses before I owned my first Fender.  Blasphemy, right? There was something about the Jazz basses that I never liked, and I could never justify playing a big fat p-bass neck when I was so used to much thinner/faster necks.  But deep down, every bass player over 30 has spent a little time wishing they were Geddy Lee.  I've only seen Rush in concert once - and it was when I was 15.  Candlebox opened for them at the now defunct Reunion Arena in Dallas.  The show blew my mind!  It was only a matter of time when these signature series came out that I would own a Geddy Lee.

First off - they look amazing.  I love the black fingerboard inlays.  The neck is very slim and fast and you have to love the Badass II bridge upgrade. It's got 2 U.S. Vintage Jazz Bass passive pickups with the traditional volume-volume-tone knobs setup.  

It didn't come with a case, so I use this one.

Thursday
Sep292011

Ernie Ball Music Man Sterling

This was the first legit bass I ever bought.  I switched over to bass from electric guitar when I was 18, and for years I just played on pawn shop basses.  When it came time to upgrade, I went with the Ernie Ball.  You would think I would get a P-bass, but I was just drawn to this one.  

The Sterling is a lot like the Music Man Sting Ray, but it's smaller and a little shorter.  It's extremely comfortable to play and has incredible tone.  There have been many times where I've taken a handful of basses to record (many of which "better" than the Sterling) and this one gets voted to sound the best.  Since it was the bass I cut my teeth on, I compare every other bass to this one.  I highly recommend an Ernie Ball Music Man - they are great basses.  The Humbucker has a fat sound with enough of a mids-punch to cut through the mix, and the 3-way switch and 3 band preamp gives you a ton of flexibility in your sound. 

The only downside to learning how to play on an Ernie Ball is that when you play any other bass you'll always instinctively grab thin air trying to find the tuning peg for your D string underneath the headstock...you'll feel pretty stupid when you look down and realize the peg isn't down there on a Jazz bass.

Thursday
Sep292011

Roland Juno 6 Synth

Ok, I'll admit - owning this is pretty ridiculous.  This is how you know you have too many pedals, you're making too many weird noises, and yet you just want to get weirder.  When you hit that spot, you find yourself picking up a Juno 6 on Ebay.  

Don't get me wrong - they are awesome! The Juno 6 is a six voice polyphonic analog synthesizer.  It's old school (mine was made in 1980) so it doesn't have midi or patch memory storage, but if you mess around with it you can make some of the best bass synth tones on the planet.

Here's a video of Jarod at Blackwatch Studios in Norman, OK laying down a bass track on the Village Church "God of Victory" CD:

 

Thursday
Sep292011

Ampeg Micro Stack

The Ampeg Micro Stack is my everyday small gig/church amp.  It's less than 3 feet tall, 12 inches wide, and less than 30 lbs.  It sounds incredible and has a direct XLR out - what more do you need?  I'm just an ampeg fan.  I've tried plenty of other amps, and I always end up coming back to Ampeg.  To me, it's just how the bass is supposed to sound.  This amp can get you that sound in a tiny package and you can find the whole stack online for around $500.  I used this amp on about 80% of the Village Church - God of Victory album.  

Thursday
Sep292011

Battery Tester

The Batt-O-Meter is genius! No more switching out your pickup batteries just because you THINK you MIGHT be close to running out of juice.  Just plug this thing in, and it will tell you how many hours you have left.  It does the same thing for effects pedals that you run off 9-volts, acoustic guitar pickups, and anything else that you've been throwing away perfectly good batteries before a show just to make sure they don't die in the middle of a song.  Trust me...you need one of these.  The rest of your band will thank you.