Low Down on the Low End


October 23, 2009 by esarsea

Fender Jazz Bass 004

The saga continues…

Back in early August I posted The Itch Demands Scratching Again in which I talked about picking up the bass again. Some interesting things things have happended since that time (well, interesting to me, anyway).

I received both the Ibanez Artcore bass and Ampeg combo amp, and wasn’t really satisfied with either one. The amp had wonderful tone, but seemed to be underpowered. Rated at 220 watts (which should have been ok), I found its volume lacking. The bass had nice tone but just felt ackward and limited in its applications. I ended up selling the bass on eBay, and the amp on Craigslist. Fortunately I bought both at very competitive prices, so I was able to sell them for nearly what I paid for them.

Fender Jazz Bass 003aI was browsing Craigslist recently and saw a listing for a Fender Jazz bass that said, “First $400 takes it.” I had managed to get $400 for the Ibanez so I contacted the guy who owned it. He was a retired social worker, and a guitar and bass instructor. He turned out to be a very nice and interesting fellow by the name of Michael Green. You can check out his website here).

The bass was a 1986 or 1987 white Fender Jazz bass that was made in Japan. I did some quick checking on a couple bass forums I visit, and was surprised to learn that Fender basses made in Japan from that era were very highly regarded by those in the know (and in several instances even considered to be preferable to their  USA made counterparts). I jumped on the ferry after work that same day and headed to West Seattle…and brought her home.

Next up was finding a replacement amp and cabinet. I decided to stay away from combo amps and go back to a more traditional (and louder) set up.

I found a used Ampeg SVT Pro III amp on eBay and managed to win it at $350, which was close to what I had just sold the combo amp for. This is just an amp (no speaker cab) but it pushes a respectable 450 watts into a 4 ohm load and features an all tube pre-amp, which will allow for that classic warm tone. Nice unit at a nice price (the new ones sell for anywhere from $800 to $1000).

UPS tracking report this morning says it’s on schedule for delivery on Monday. Here’s a photo of the actual amp head from the eBay listing:

SVT Pro III (1)


Next up was to find a speaker cabinent to go with this amp. I’ve had many different types and sizes over the years, from a fire-breathing 8×10 cab that was like moving a refrigerator every time I took it anywhere, to most recently a ported Ampeg 4×10 HLF cab that was ok on the low end, but lacked that tight, punchy definition.

I kept my eye on eBay and Craigslist but there was nothing that really appealed to me at a price I could afford. I then visited the website for Bass NW, the “Largest all bass store in the world” located in Seattle, WA.

Bass NW is a really great place. I’ve exchanged a few email over the years with Evan Sheeley, the owner. I was talking about the late, great Allen Woody one time when Evan told me that Allen was a friend and a customer of his, and that he’d stop by the store when Gov’t Mule was in town and talk about all the cool older basses that they both loved. 

Ampeg SVT410HEAnyway, Bass NW had a used Ampeg 410 HE cab available for $399 (new ones sell for $650). An HE cabinet is a sealed cabinet, as opposed to the ported 410 HLF cab I once had. A characteristic of sealed cabinets is a faster speaker response, resulting in a tighter, more punchy tone. The trade off for this tight response however is a loss of performance for the real deep low notes. But one still gets that classic, old-school Ampeg tone. I put the cabinet on layaway. The photo to the above is the actual cabinet from Bass NW’s website.

Consistent with my latent and occasional obsessive/compulsive personality, the idea that I would give up a little bottom in exchange for a tight bass sound bothered me. I revisited Bass NW’s used section and found a SWR “Son of Bertha” cabinet. It’s a single, 15″ speaker in a ported enclosure for $349 (new ones sell for $650). BINGO!

SWR Son Of BerthaSWR is known for having a more modern tone and sound than Ampeg, and this cabinet in particular is known for a punchy sound, as compared to other ported 15’s…yet it does real well for the lower registers; much better than 10″ speakers. Running them together will give me the best of both worlds, a mix of classic and modern tone, with that punchy tightness AND good bottom end. I put it on layaway as well, and the photo shown is the actual cabinet from Bass NW’s website.

I’ll still have a few incidentals to pick up, namely a rack case, tuner and power conditioner but those are relatively inexpensive items. Plus I still have to get the 2 cabs out of layaway – but when I’m done, for around $1500 (less than what many people pay for a bass guitar alone) I’ll have managed to piece together what (I hope) will be the best sounding set up I’ve ever had. 

As you can probably tell I’m like a wide-eyed school boy; excited beyond what would be considered normal for a guy who has 3 grandchildren…but I’m ok with that!

3 thoughts on “Low Down on the Low End

  1. ericczar says:

    …the MIJ basses ARE nice basses…good score…but it needs another 3 strings to even QUALIFY as an instrument of any consequence….hehe

  2. esarsea says:

    Yeah well my SIGNATURE bass isn’t done yet :-)

  3. Bill says:

    Fender and the Ampeg head. Delightful! I’m surprised you didn’t just go find a used V-4 and call it a day for tone and volume.

    I’m glad you’re going through this. I play two of three guitars almost every night, plugged-unplugged, whatever.

    I sat there alone last night, plinking away on the same mood and sound, unhappy about being in a bit of a playing rut and realized how lucky I was to have a wonderful, mind-expanding, challenging, self-entertaining hobby and outlet that doesn’t require a license or ammo or lawyers or insurance or a medic standing by.

    On a musical note, Girlfriend went to Vegas with her sisters to see the Cirque de Soleil-Beatles Show Thursday night and U2 last night. She’s speechless about The Beatles show, btw. She said it was the most incredible show or she’s ever seen and that I have to over come my Vegas gag-reflex and return with her to see the show before I die!


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