Hands-On Review:Fender Bassman Amps
Fender Bassman Amps
Living up to the legacy or a bass legend.
By David Lampkin
If you know anything about the history of electric bass it is likely you have heard the name Bassman. In 1951, Fender introduced their first Bassman model to complement their first electric bass guitar. In crowded dance halls and smoky bars across America, the electric bass and Bassman amp laid down lows with greater power and drive than ever before and had a big impact on the sound and feel of early rock, blues, and country music. Needless to say, a new line of bass amps sporting the Bassman name has large shoes to fill.
When I received the newest Fender Bassman combos for review, I immediately noticed how they resemble the more expensive PRO series models. The industrial look of the anodized aluminum face and simple black knobs creates a very serious vibe. The two smaller models are designed to be hand-carried and have a nice tilt-back design. The two larger models have removable casters and spring-loaded handles. Also, all of the models are very lightweight for their size. After sizing them up, I called my band mates to come over so I could really get a sense of how these new amps feel in a musical situation.
Featherweights with a punch
The Bassman 100 is an amazing little 25-lb. tilt-back combo that pumps out a full 100 watts through a 10" Eminence speaker and piezo horn. With XLR output, the Bassman 100 makes a great medium-volume amp or short-range monitor for any larger gig involving a PA system. I had a blast slapping through the punchy-sounding 10" speaker with the Contour control maxed out for the big scooped mid tone. Once we started grooving, my drummer was as impressed as I was.
My friend who plays electric upright took it on a coffee house gig and was amazed at the tight and warm sound. He preferred to switch the horn off to better represent the darker upright tone. The amount of power and quality of tone in this little box must be heard to be believed. He also loved its portability. At only 25 lbs., the Bassman 100 will make a lot of players with back issues very happy.
The Bassman 150 is a big brother to the 100. It weighs about 38 lbs. and packs a full 150 watts through an Eminence 12" speaker in a bigger cabinet that sounds deeper. The 150 adds a simple yet effective compressor (fixed threshold, adjustable ratio) to even out your musical performance and an input volume to easily maximize an incoming bass signal. Turning the piezo horn to -6 from the attenuator switch on the back, I pumped my vintage Precision Bass full blast with the combo angled up at me as my rock trio blasted through some Motown. The result was a throaty midrange honk that commanded its rightful place in the mix. Turning to my Jazz Bass, I turned the Contour control way up, which scooped the mids out for an instant slap tone that was maximized after I turned the horn back on full. Overall, I had a hard time deciding which model I liked better. The 150 was clearly deeper and louder, but the 100's light weight gives it its own appeal.
Hanging at the club
The Bassman 250 comes as either a 2x10 or a 1x15 combo that delivers a full 250 watts internally and will fill the gig with thick bottom-end bump. These larger combos have removable casters and spring-loaded handles and are light enough for me to load into my trunk without help! The compression driver horn is very smooth for the high frequencies and the full attenuator lets you tailor it for any gig. With real wood cabinets and convection cooling, these models are light and quiet.
First I took the 2x10 on a funk-style gig and found my tone to be tight and focused with enough headroom to hang just fine with the group. The horn was silky smooth when I slapped. Using the semi-parametric EQ to punch up the low mids, I was able to favor the back pickup of my bass and really punch through the group with some inspired finger-style lines. I took the 1x15 version to a hard rock rehearsal and was happy to have the large bottom of a 15" speaker combined with the tight response of the 250's preamp.
Tuning to the room
The Room Balance control on the Bassman 250 is a true secret weapon. It tilts the amplifier's EQ range to quickly and easily "dial-in" a room's particular acoustics from deep to bright. I found setting it on the deep side was helpful for getting an extra-dark sound for some of the heavier tunes. I also used it toward the end of the rehearsal to brighten up my tone as my strings began to seem dull. By comparison, the 1x15 version has a warmer, rounder sound that is equally as cool but distinctly different from the 2x10. Listening to them side by side, I liked them both for different reasons.
The new Bassman models are full-featured, have plenty of power, are extremely versatile, and sound unbelievable. Each model will speak to a different player but all four of them are truly gig-worthy amplifiers. They are, after all, from the company that started it all 50-some years ago. And I can say with confidence that these new Bassmans will proudly carry their name into the future.
- 250W of internal power
- Front-ported cab design
- Available in 1x15 or 2x10 speaker configurations
- Also available in a head only model
- Combos equipped with a compression driver horn with full attenuation
- Onboard compression with adjustable ratio
- Volume and gain controls
- 4-band EQ (bass, treble, and 2 bands of semi-parametric mids)
- Contour control (mid scoop)
- Room EQ (boosts lows and cuts highs, or vice versa)
- Balanced XLR output (with mute, level, and ground lift)
- Switchable input for active or passive basses
- Effects loop
- Tuner out
- Headphone out
- CD input
- Removable speaker jack so external speakers can be substituted