Hands-On Review:Heigh-Ho Silver! SWR Silverado Special Bass Amp



by Douglas Baldwin


Every so often, a guitarist needs a bass amp. Maybe you have to cover the bottom on those occasions when your regular bassist is playing a wedding gig. Or perhaps you hooked up with a couple of six-stringers who are so solid that you just have to take the bass chair. Whatever the reason, it’s good to know that the engineers at SWR have the Silverado Special waiting for you. This all-in-one combo amp has everything required to cover gigs of all levels, and it’s built to last for years.


The Silverado comes armed with 350 solid-state watts, a tube-gain preamp and two 12-inch custom-designed SWR drivers and one high-frequency piezo horn in a front-ported enclosure. About the size of a small-half stack, and weighing in at 90 pounds, the Silverado is designed with almost all of its jacks and switches on the front panel. These include an XLR output that can be switched between direct (bypassing the preamp and power amp) and line (via the preamp and amp circuitry). The XLR output can be further regulated with a push-pull pad control that regulates the volume and, in the “pull” position, lifts the ground. The amp also includes effects send and return jacks, a fully isolated tuner output and separate inputs for passive and active basses.


The Silverado has controls for gain and master volume, and active (+/-15dB) tone controls for bass, mid level, mid frequency and treble. An onboard aural enhancer filters muddy mid frequencies while it boosts lows and highs, and a push-pull effects blend control defeats the internal limiter in the “pull” position. In addition, a bevy of amazingly bright LEDs alert you to preamp clipping, limiter activity and power status. Around the back you’ll find a three-way selector switch for “full range output” (all speakers engaged), “tweeter off” and “headphones” (all speakers off). Outputs here include one for headphones and one for an extension speaker (4 ohms or greater).


Putting all this circuitry into motion was a breeze, and the range of useful sounds at all volume levels was most impressive. The amount of air the Silverado moves is deceiving, by the way. Although most of our testing was done at what seemed like “conversation” level, windows almost 20 feet down the hall rattled continuously, and a framed drawing of Charles Mingus hit the floor. (We took it as a vote of approval.) For testing purposes, we employed a custom-built P-bass clone and an active Alembic Distillate, both of which shone brightly in the Silverado’s chrome-fronted presence. With the amp’s controls set nearly flat, the P-bass instantly felt tight and present. The feeling was one of effortlessness, as if the amp knew what we were about to play and played it for us. Experimentation with the Silverado’s tone controls revealed a diverse range, one that’s well suited to everything from bottom-heavy reggae to “slap ’n’ pop” jazz-funk to tight-and-clicky Sixties rock and warm, round blues.


The Alembic’s powerful electronics delivered some spunky input volts, but the Silverado hardly broke a sweat. Fans of grungy, growly bottom-end raunch should note that the Silverado produced some very aggressive Harley-in-heat settings with the preamp gain pushed. However, such sounds were made practical only by disengaging the piezo speaker, which otherwise would emphasize an annoying high-end fizz. On the other hand, the little piezo saved the day on some of the funk settings, giving definition to low notes and allowing high accents to pop out.


We tested the XLR output by running the Silverado direct to our mixing console and into a multi-track recorder. The aforementioned Harley-in-heat setting drove the console’s meters into the red, but rolling back the XLR pad tamed the peaks. In another high-gain instance, we maxed out the Silverado’s mid eq to create raging feedback. While it sounded great in the room, it had a kazoo-like quality when reproduced on tape. The solution? We switched to the direct output and recorded the “uncolored” signal as it was driven by the amp. It’s this kind of versatility that makes the Silverado shine in any setting.


The Bottom Line
If you’re halfway serious about bass amplification, skip the junior high–level practice amps and check out the Silverado. It’s pure gold.