Hands-On Review:Gallien-Krueger Backline Bass Amps
Gallien-Krueger Backline Bass Amps
Gig-ready amps with the GK sound, affordably priced
It's a wonderful thing when gear becomes more affordable. It also calls up such questions as "is it any good?" This was precisely my concern when given the assignment to review GK's Backline series bass amps and speakers. I have used a GK combo for years—a 700RB—and have liked it a lot. It is strong, clean, and a highly adjustable bass rig. Since the Backline models cost about half what the RB amps cost, I knew they couldn't match the RB features, but would they have the sound? GK amps have always had a character and quality that have won the respect of bass players over the years. Would the Backlines dent that reputation or build on it?
Two for the show . . .
I was given two rigs to try as representative of the Backline series: a Backline 600 head (the newest addition to the series) with a 410BLX speaker cab, and the Backline 112 combo. I decided to start small, so I hauled the 112 out of its carton.
Immediately I saw its resemblance to my 700RB combo—same rockback-style cab, same carpet covering, same 16-gauge stamped grille, same corner protectors. Only the amp face is different—definitely a GK look, clean and businesslike. They've done away with the red Backline logo, which makes it look more like an RB. It has fewer controls, a three-band EQ, and a simpler line out setup, but it is definitely a little brother of the RB.
The sound check
I plugged in and started thumpin' away and what I heard amazed me. It sounded so much like my RB I couldn't believe it—that same clean, strong tone with solid, tight, very defined lows. It lacks the horn biamped feature, so you don't get that sharp top edge, but otherwise it has the GK sound square on. One recent improvement in the Backline combos, I was told, was a speaker upgrade to SBX speaker specs and that is one reason for the similarity in sound.
Though only three bands, the EQ is active and works very much like the four tone controls I'm familiar with, and the contour button was essentially the same as on my RB. I understand that many of the components used in the Backlines are the same as in the RBs.
One thing the Backline amps have that the RBs lack is a second channel for overdrive. It's not a fully independent channel, but it has gain and level knobs for dialing up any degree of distortion you want from just a bluesy touch of grit to a full-on grind. Quite a few current bands play a style that wants a degree of distortion, so it's a nice feature.
I would sum up the Backline 112 as a great-sounding, quite versatile and very portable combo with enough volume to cover smaller gigs. Compared with others in its price range, it has to be a standout. It delivers an amazing high ratio of what you get for what you pay. And it's all GK. The series also includes a 115 and a 210 with more power and several step-up features.
Next, the big gun
The 410BLX speaker cab has the look of quality: heavy-duty grille, recessed steel handles, interlocking corner protectors, and wheels! The wheels are important. It weighs 70 lbs. so it's great that you can roll it instead of carry it. And the wheels are removable once you get it there.
It's a fairly compact cab. The four tens pretty much fill it. It's just under two feet high and wide, and a full 18" deep, which is good for low-end response. It's unported, wired for 8 ohms, and the speakers rate at 100 watts each for a total of 400 watts handling. It's just what you need for a powerful head like the Backline 600.
The Backline 600 is just the head to put on top of a 410BLX or two. It is the powerhouse of the Backlines, with 300 watts. It can easily push the 410BLX or even two of them for the really big gigs. It's not just a matter of volume, although the 600 can crank up enough to shake the nails out of the floorboards. With this kind of power, you can get such clean, focused lows—the kind of sound that can punch you in the face or blow puffs of wind at you. And with this reserve power connected to four tens, the result is a very defined sound, the kind that assists your articulation and timing. It's an amp that works with the bass player striving to improve.
The Backline 600 is fully equipped as a gigging amp. The output section has a master level and boost control. The EQ is the same active four-band used in the RBs, and it sports the same contour control as well. The direct out features an XLR connection, pre/post switch, and a ground lift to silence any hum that shows up when you plug into a board. On the input there's a -10dB switch for active basses, and a mute switch for silent tuning (it mutes the speakers but not the tuner output). It has a clip LED that lets you know you're clipping before it becomes audible.
The Backline 600 has the same distortion channel found in the combo. I wish my RB had it. It lets you get a tone as nasty as you like it without astronomical volume. Some of us aren't playing in big coliseums regularly, and with the drive channel, you can get extreme tone at any volume.
Overall, I was quite impressed with both Backline rigs I tried. They certainly have the GK sound I am used to hearing. Both are perfectly gig capable with all the essential features you want in a working amp. And be prepared for a reverse sticker shock when you check out the prices. They are jaw-droppingly low. Now the GK sound and the power to groove is within reach of any bass player.
Features & Specs:
|112 Combo:||410BLX Cab:|