Tired of lugging that 4-speaker cabinet for your bass around? Or you‘re buying your first rig?
It’s good to have a simple, sturdy, and portable amp. Whether for everyday practice, busking, or jamming, that’s a serious boost for any musician. Easy to move around, with simple knob settings at your fingertips – that’s all you need to keep your skills sharp, and easily get to a gig.
Question is – which one’s the best small bass amp for playing live? I’m guessing you don’t want to spend a couple of weeks researching, so let’s get started.
Best Small Bass Amp For Gigging
The best amp is the one YOU like most. Go out and try the recommended models with your own instrument and see which sounds the best.
If you don’t have the time or opportunity to test loads of different amps, get an Aguilar ToneHammer 500.
It’s a light, powerful amp with a crisp, modern tone. Together with a small Aguilar cabinet (1×12) it weighs less than 15kgs, but can deliver a powerful sound for rehearsals and most gigs, and not get drowned out by a drummer!
You can plug it directly through line output into a venue’s PA, or use it with an Aguilar cabinet (or any other cabinet that fits the specs). Two speakers of 10 or 12 inches are the most versatile choice – that is, 2×10, or 2×12.
You’ll find more info about this stack, and my other 4 recommendations below – of amp-cabinet stacks, as well as combos.
Feeling a bit lost? There’s also a quick Buyer’s Guide at the end of the article.
1. Hartke TX600
Powerful, extremely lightweight amp with a warm, vintage sound. Mixes a classic tube pre-amp section (that gives it character) with modern Class D amplification – that makes it really easy to carry. 4-band EQ (with shape and frequency knobs to precisely control the mids). There’s a Brite switch for boosting the high frequencies, and, naturally, gain and volume controls. Other perks are a compressor, active and passive pickups input, aux input and headphones output; and XLR output, twist-and-lock speaker jack, as well as an effects loop at the back.
- cheap – around $400. The amp in this list that respects your budget the most;
- vintage tone – sounds like a tube amp, at a much lower price;
- a lot of features – a great compressor and precise controls for the mid-range frequencies;
- powerful – at 600 watts, you’re getting a lot of band for your buck.
- a bit quieter than other 600-watt amps;
- has a loud fan;
2. Ampeg PF-800
A great solid-state amp with the signature Ampeg sound. Class D, which makes it easy to transport. Mounts directly to Ampeg’s PF cabinet series – the PF210HE is a great choice to go with it. With this amp, you can adjust your tone precisely. It has all the basic features other heads offer – a 3-band EQ, with gain and volume knobs, and also extras such as a compressor and 5-position mid-tone control. Costs around $600.
- great, vintage tone;
- precise, flexible controls;
- not too loud – much quieter than you’d expect from a 600-watt amp;
- a bit expensive, considering the features it has;
3. Aguilar ToneHammer 500
The ToneHammer is a 500-watt amp head that’s extremely easy to carry. It has 4 bands of EQ, gain, volume, and drive settings – all with a weight of under 2kg. It’s a class D amplifier – a modern technology that makes an amp more powerful, lightweight, and generates much less heat than the common A, or A/B class amps. A bit on the expensive side at, roughly, $700 – but worth it!
The design is clean and easy to use, with all the basic settings you need. The effects loop and line out are placed conveniently on the front. There’s also a -10dB switch for active pickups.
- extremely lightweight – one of the lightest amp heads of its price range;
- great tone
- expensive, compared to other amps on this list – retails for around $700.
4. Peavey MAX 300
Sometimes a combo is the perfect choice for your needs! Peavey 300 is probably the best budget combo, loud and sturdy. The 2X10 built-in speakers make this a versatile choice for small to mid-size venues. At around $450, it won’t break the bank!
Apart from basic functions (3-band EQ, effects loops, speaker out), it has serious sound-shaping capabilities with the overdrive, contour, mid-shift, and bright controls. Peavey’s speaker protection technology makes this amp perfect for slapping, and all sorts of loud playing styles.
- really sturdy;
- cheap, a great price for the features you get;
- the tone is a bit stiff, for some;
- no XLR out;
5. Markbass Micromark 801
The perfect combo, if you have money to spare. Still cheaper than most stacks, it gives you a professional, clear sound you can depend on. A plug-and-play solution, with only 3 knobs – volume, gain, and a single knob that allows for a warmer, more rounded, or a rougher vintage sound. Works for acoustic live applications. It can also be plugged into a cabinet and serve as a head for it. A great buy, for $550.
- surprisingly loud for its size;
- clear sound, none of those buzzing, muddy lows;
- great for small acoustic jams, practice, or small-venue gigs.
- very few sound controls (no EQ!);
- quiet – on its own, it can’t compete with a drummer.
Short Buyers Guide
If you’re playing with a band, I’d recommend a stack – amplifier, and cabinet. This way, you can mix and match different cabinets and heads (as long as their impedance and power, etc. are compatible ) for a more versatile sound. You could even plug just the amp (head) into the PA. On the other hand, cheap combos – amp with built-in speakers – can be portable, and even powerful and clear-sounding, but they usually find it hard to contest with a drummer!
OK, next step – picking the amplifier and cabinet for a stack!
First, how powerful should the amp be? Anywhere between 100 and 300 Watts, you’ve got a versatile gigging amp!
You might ask, what size cabinet do I need? When it comes to amplifier stacks, two 10-inch, or 12-inch speakers (2×12 or 2×10) will work well in most situations.
In the end, no review can replace testing out amps yourself. Depending on your playing style, instrument and strings, some will sound better than others.
What’s The Conclusion?
Don’t be afraid to grab your favorite bass, go out to your local music store and try a lot of amps. Check out my recommended pick, Aguilar TH500, or Hartke TX600 and Ampeg PF-800. If you’re on a tight budget, or just need more portability, try the Peavey MAX 300 and Markbass Micromark 801 combos.
In the end, trust your ears and get what sounds best to you!
Various Talkbass threads with recommendations https://www.talkbass.com (like this one: https://www.talkbass.com/threads/buying-my-first-bass-amp-for-gigging.846345/)