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By Sean Simms
Trace Elliot is known in bass circles as the thunderous British sound behind Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones, Doug Wimbish of Living Colour, and the late, great John Entwistle of The Who. Now back under the guidance of managing director/former owner Clive Roberts and former head of research and development Paul Stevens, Trace Elliot has launched a new product line from its home base in Essex, England, that ties classic elements of their sound with updated designs.
The goal for the 2005 lineup was to get back in touch with the elements that made the name a professional staple: research and development, quality British production, and consistently good tone. Musician's Friend sent me the 715 and 1215 combo amps to see if Trace could live up to these standards.
I started out with the 715. It cranks 200W of MOSFET power through a specially designed 15" Celestion woofer. The cabinet is compact, so it's easy to move about and will fit on the smallest of stages. Thanks to its special tuning and slot-style port it produces an enormous amount of low-end punch and rumble. A high-frequency tweeter adds glistening upper-midrange and high-end touches.
The 7-band graphic EQ is the heart of the 715's tone-shaping controls, but there are a few extra surprises that provide instant tweaking as well. The Pre-shape button gives an immediate boost to the low and high frequencies for the classic, punchy tone Trace Elliot is known for. The onboard compression is fantastic, with self-adjusting attack and release times producing a smooth, natural sound rather than a processed one.
I admit that I've never considered a graphic EQ a vital component in a bass rig; I'm an old-school guy who's happy with bass, mid, and treble knobs. Playing through both the 715 and the 1215 helped me realize that a graphic EQ can be an incredible asset for a bassist, particularly those who like to touch on different styles in their playing.
Another nice touch is that the EQ, compressor, and Pre-shape are all footswitchable, along with an output mute that silences all outputs except the tuner out — a valuable feature that any gigging player will appreciate.
Given the great sounds I was getting with the 715, I couldn't wait to fire up its larger cousin. The 1215 delivers 500W of power through a specially voiced, 15" Celestion speaker and a high-frequency horn. As its name would indicate, the 1215 has a 12-band graphic EQ, as well as the same Pre-shape switch as the 715. It has a lot of other tone-shaping tricks up its sleeve as well.
The 1215 is one of the most versatile bass amps I've played thanks in no small part to the additional Valve circuit. A simple press of the Valve switch engages a parallel tube circuit, complete with Drive and Blend controls that let you create a number of variations on the amp's sound. Crank the Drive control for a growling, overdriven tone, or turn it down to add tube warmth to the clean signal. There's also a Blend knob that controls the mix of the natural and Valve circuits. Between these controls and the 12-band graphic EQ, the tonal possibilities of this amp are virtually limitless.
Another feature I fell in love with is the 1215's dual-band compressor. Separate knobs allow you to apply compression to both the low and high frequencies rather than to the entire signal. Increasing the low-end compression results in a rich, fat bottom end without losing any attack. I found it particularly beneficial on my band's straight-up rock tunes, where I tend to do a lot of runs in the first position — each note was precisely articulated.
The high-end compression knob directly affects the attack characteristics, and I found it most useful when used to balance the overdriven sound of the Valve circuit with the Drive knob up high. The dual-band compressor was also handy for tweaking the amp's response when I switched between playing fingerstyle and using a pick — something I've always struggled with when playing live. No matter what style you play, you're sure to get an accommodating tone from the 1215.
Built with the pro player in mind, the 1215 incorporates other high-end features like pre-EQ and post-preamp balanced XLR direct outs and a sophisticated effects loop. Like the 715, the cabinet is tuned to 42Hz with an unobstructed slot-style port for maximum low-end response.
Without a doubt, Trace Elliot is back. Both of these combos exhibit the professional construction, signature tone, and killer control that for years made Trace Elliot the choice of bassists throughout the industry. Both the 715 and 1215 are solid amps that will serve the gigging bassist well — choosing which one is right for you all depends on your power requirements, control preferences, and budget.
* Footswitchable features