Hands-On Review:SWR LA Series Bass Combos

Making the SWR sound accessible to all
By Zach Simms

Every bassist knows SWR. Even if you don’t have an SWR amp yourself, you’ve seen them in action, heard the sound and the universal praise, and wished you had one. It’s a varied line, from the powerful, effects-packed Mo’ Bass head, to the variety of pro combos and acoustic amps. All of it is high-end gear, designed and constructed by bass specialists to more than meet the needs of the modern performing bassist, and to extend the expressive horizons of the instrument in general.


The stars who use SWR are numerous and represent the full spectrum of modern musical styles: Louis Johnson, Jimmy Haslip, Howie Epstein (Tom Petty), Phil Chen, Michael Bradford (Kid Rock), Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam), John Avila (Oingo Boingo), Jack Casady, Kenny Davis (The Tonight Show), Rocco Prestia (Tower Of Power), Ken Gradney (Little Feat), Ian Hill (Judas Priest), Keith Horn (Tanya Tucker), Jason Newsted (Metallica), Charlie Hayward (Charlie Daniels Band), John Paul Jones, Victor Krauss (Lyle Lovett), and John Myung. The list goes on and on. Top players from country, metal, rock, fusion, and jazz use and endorse SWR gear. That even includes bass legend Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap.


Enter everyman’s SWR
The only problem with SWR gear has been its relative priciness beyond many students and casual players. Now that has changed. With its new LA Series Amps, SWR opens the door to players on the lower end of the pay scale. The LA Series Amps are smaller, simplified, and free of cheap plastic bells and whistles. They put the famous SWR sound into affordable packages even beginners can seriously consider.


There are three amps presently included in the LA Series: the LA-8, LA-12, and LA-15. These offer choices from a small but very effective practice amp to a fully gig-capable rig. Like all SWR amps, they’re solidly constructed by hand in America. Though compact, each features a cube-style enclosure that enhances bass response to give a surprisingly big sound. Also important are the custom-designed SWR speakers. Bass-capable speakers are crucial in an amp’s overall performance, and SWR’s expertise in designing speakers for their pro amps has carried over into the LA Series. As a result, these simple amps capture the essence of the SWR sound which is, after all, the point.


The LA-8
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the LA-8 is just a practice amp. Any combo with only a single eight-inch speaker has its limitations, but with 30 watts and an efficient cabinet design, the LA-8 has surprising volume for its size. It’s quite sufficient for acoustic performances and other lower-volume situations. It excels as a practice or warm-up amp, providing a rich tone rare among amps of its size and price bracket. Its tone quality will make practicing more enjoyable and rewarding.


The LA-8 and the other LA amps have a number of features to enhance your practicing: a headphone jack, so you can do it silently; a tuner out jack; and a "mix in" jack for practicing along with CDs or tapes. All have bass, mid, and treble EQ knobs for dialing up a tone to your taste. And the LA-8 has enough volume to play at expressive practice levels and along with recorded music. Also, it measures 14"W x 11"H x 11"D and weighs just 20 lbs., making it highly portable and easy to store.


Most important is the tone it gives you. Most practice amps sound lame or go to shreds when you turn up a little. They are designed to give you minimally functional sound, and that’s all. The LA-8 delivers a solid, punchy, very playable bass tone. I used my passive four-string Fender to try it out, and it worked like a gem. Since it doesn’t have a limiter or a padded input, any active five-string requires the volume to be dialed back several notches. I found it to have ample volume for practice purposes, and the tone is surprisingly deep with just the right tight snap to it.


The LA-12 and 15
Featuring the same design, controls, and practice-friendly features, the LA-12 and LA-15 each step up in overall size, power, and speaker size. The 12 has 60 watts to drive a single 12" speaker. The 15 has 100 watts and a 15" speaker. Both amps are gig-capable. For lower volume, less bass-heavy situations, the LA-12 gives you ample output and a tight, punchy sound well-suited to many current musical styles. With the LA-15 you have a rear-ported speaker enclosure that moves serious air and a fuller, more rounded tone, still with good definition. In short, it delivers the kind of bass sound that makes the whole band sound and play better.

SWR created the LA Series amps to make its sound accessible to us poor folks. But even pro players who could afford to spend more have been putting LA amps to use for practice, back-stage warm-up, and even on stage. Robbie Merrill of Godsmack uses an LA-8 as part of his stage setup, miking it through the house PA for his out-front sound. If you’re just starting out as a bassist or are a growing player feeling the need for a better-sounding amp, the LA Series offers an affordable way to get the real thing.

The good news is that Musician’s Friend has all of the LA Series amps ready to ship. And the really good news is that SWR has authorized a special price reduction for us to pass along to you. The savings are substantial. If you’ve been wanting the SWR sound, now’s the time to order your LA combo.


Features & Specs

  • 30-watt output
  • 8" speaker
  • Weight: 20 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 14"W x 11"H x 11"D
  • Sealed enclosure
  • Controls: volume, bass, mid, treble
  • Connections: instrument input, headphone out, tuner out, and mix in



  • 60-watt output
  • 12" speaker
  • Weight: 36 lbs
  • Dimensions: 15"W x 18"H x 13"D
  • Sealed enclosure
  • Same controls and connections as the LA-8



  • 100-watt output
  • 15" speaker
  • Weight: 50 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 18"W x 23"H x 16"D
  • Rear-ported enclosure
  • Same controls and connections as the LA-8