7 Best Bass Amps for Gigging – Combo Amps & Heads!

Author: Liam Plowman | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

A good bass tone is an often underappreciated aspect of live performances. When it’s there a band sounds rich and powerful, but when it isn’t, the sound will be thin and incomplete.

So as a gigging bassist, it’s important to put careful thought into picking the right bass amp for your band's needs.

This is why today I’ve rounded up 7 of my all-time favorite bass amps that offer a good balance of tone, price, features, and portability which makes them absolute gigging workhorses for the performing bassist.

Best Bass Amps for Gigging

1. Fender Rumble 200 1x15"

The Fender Rumble was designed to give you that classic, vintage Fender sound while also not being afraid of implementing some newer conveniences that modern-day players will appreciate.

The design of this amp is beautifully clean with a simplistic cloth grille that harkens back to the old-school Fender look.

Despite only having a single 15” speaker, it produces a solid amount of bottom end and is perfectly loud enough for most small gigs. 

But should you find the output not enough for your requirements they offer the Fender Rumble 500 and Fender Rumble 800 which will give you that extra volume and headroom.

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that it can still be quiet enough for home practice.

Because of this amplifier's lower wattage, when you really crank the volume some of the body seems to disappear from the tone, which means it does struggle for those very large gigs.

But the good news is Fender has put an XLR line out on the back so you can easily pump it straight out to the PA should you wish.

It’s also incredibly light at just 34.5 lbs, so your drummer will have no excuses to not carry it on and off stage for you!

There are a slew of great tone-shaping controls on the top panel including a 4-band EQ with very responsive overlapping low-mid and high-mid controls.

The switchable overdrive, while pleasant sounding, still very much sits within the realm of vintage tone. So you’ll definitely need to keep your favorite distortion pedal to hand if you’re looking for a more modern gritted-up and high-gain style.

The headphone out is also a nice bonus as it allows you to practice at home silently without bothering the neighbors.


2. Gallien-Krueger MB112-II 1x12"

The Gallien-Krueger MB112-II is one of the most convenient bass amps I’ve ever used.

Immediately upon grabbing it I noticed its weight, at 30lbs it almost feels like a toy. But you’ll quickly forgive this after effortlessly bringing it on and off stage a few times.

It has a plain all-black design and looks very understated on stage which is helpful if you play in multiple bands that span different genres.

GK has thrown in a few modern conveniences such as an aux in and headphone out which allow it to double out as a silent practice amp.

There’s also an XLR direct out so you can feed it straight to the front of house, which for even medium-sized shows I recommend doing as the single 1x12” speaker does start to suffer at high volumes.

This can create further issues as there is no master volume control here so your gain is directly tied to the output. So when you need to go very loud you’ll have no choice but to contend with distortion. 

I recommend pairing this with a few pedals to help give you more control over the distortion independently of the output.

With that being said, the DI quality is fantastic and could easily be used in the studio if needed.

Despite its small size, the speaker has a very nice bass presence. But unfortunately does seem to lose some of its punch when driven hard.

With the power amp only outputting 200 watts and the gain being tied to the volume output, I quickly found myself running out of headroom. 

The good news is GK offers the MB212 500W which offers an extra speaker and a 500-watt power amp that can adequately make up for this shortcoming.


3. Aguilar Tone Hammer 500

The first thing you’ll notice on the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 is the rather unusual front layout. It definitely takes a bit more time than usual to wrap your head around.

But all the controls you’d expect are there, gain, 3 band EQ, master, and even separate drive and master knobs which really helps when managing output level and drive amounts.

The mid control on the 3-band EQ also has a frequency sweep function to help hone in on the exact sound you want. A decent alternative to having separate hi and lo mid controls.

I recommend spending a bit of time with this as it’s easy to make the midrange sound honky if you’re not tweaking it carefully.

One thing about the front layout that is quite troublesome is that the effects loop and balanced out are on the front, meaning you have to deal with ugly extra cables hanging in front of your amp.

In terms of build quality, despite being incredibly like and small it has a tough metal shell and the knobs have a ton of resistance. I’d have zero concerns about it getting damaged in transport.

This has been designed with the intention of pairing it with pedals and there’s a convenient clip indicator to make sure your levels are correct which is extremely convenient.

It’s a robust and portable head for gigging, but the bizarrely loud fans can make it difficult for home practice.


4. Hartke KB15 Kickback 1x15"

Hartke has done a great job at creating about as simple of a bass amp as you can get while throwing in just enough unique design features to make it fun and entertaining to use.

The KB15 Kickback has a wedged cabinet design which allows you to place the amp on the floor but angle it up towards your head. 

The intention of this is to give you a more accurate and direct impression of what’s coming out of the speaker.

The single 15” speaker sounded fantastic with a deep bass rumble and adequate brightness which helps things pop.

It’s made from a unique paper and aluminum speaker cone and utilizes a neodymium magnet which Hartke call their HyDrive speaker. 

Another helpful feature is that this speaker can be unplugged from the head allowing you to use a different cabinet should you wish.

Between the 500 watts of output and the fan, it’s not great for practicing at home using the speaker. The good news is there is a headphone output for silent late-night jams.

The front layout is very simple with just a single volume and 3-band EQ, despite not having an effects loop it does take pedals in the front very nicely.

The one extra front feature it has is a sweepable boost between 100-900hz which can be helpful if you have a specific section of a song where the bass just needs to be a bit ‘extra’.


5. TC Electronic Thrust BQ500

If budget is a driving factor for you then the Thrust BQ 500 offers a ludicrous amount of bang for your buck.

It’s a super light and portable unit with a very pleasing brushed aluminum front panel and rugged metal chassis.

There are also two convenient handles that protect the front knobs from getting crushed and make it easier to grab and carry around.

TC Electronic has designed this with a MOSTFET preamp which aims to emulate the warmer tone and higher dynamic response of a tube amplifier.

The front panel has your typical 4-band EQ with separated master and gain switches.

There’s also a controllable compressor TCE calls Thrust which has a nice helpful LED light that shows you when it’s active or not. 

This visual indicator can be helpful if you want just a little compression as it’s often difficult to hear this with your ear.

However, a compressor with only 1 knob can be very ambiguous as it’s unclear if it’s affecting the ratio, threshold, or both. 

Fortunately, this compressor can be toggled off if you don’t like the sound of the compression (I didn’t).

The DI output also has an additional toggle switch that can bypass the front EQ which is very helpful if your sound guy wants to handle the EQ or if you are looking to record and wish to process the signal in post.


6. Ampeg Rocket Bass RB-210 2x10"

Originally popularized back in the 1960s, the Ampeg Rocket amps were the pinnacle of bass tone and as a brand still carry a heavy authority in the world of bass guitar.

This has a beautiful design with a vintage cloth grille and a unique diamond-wrapped cabinet, just like the originals.

The Rocket Bass RB delivers that classic Ampeg tone and its distortion sounds wonderfully authentic. I was exceptionally impressed with both the saturation and the power of the cabinet.

In addition to the regular drive or grit knob, they have a switchable overdrive that adds a ton of extra distorted overtones and gives it the authentic grunt you’d expect from an Ampeg preamp.

Despite the overall vintage vibe of the amp, they’ve worked in a few extra conveniences to help the modern player out.

First is a separate 0db and -15db input jacks, which is going to help if you’re using high-output active pickups to get a bit more headroom back.

There are also separate ultra-hi and lo toggles which give you a sharp frequency boost in the top or low end to help you achieve more of a modern sound.

The 3-band EQ is responsive, but I would have preferred to see a 4-band EQ for more detailed control over the mids.

The phones and aux-in are both 3.5mm jacks which may be troublesome if you don’t have the right adapters and equipment, it’s far easier to downsize ¼’’ than the other way around.


7. Blackstar Unity Bass U500 2x10"

What Blackstar has delivered with the Unity Bass is a really fun amp with a ton of bells and whistles that will keep those who like to constantly tweak and dial in their sound happy for a very long time.

Between the 3 pre-amp voicings, 3 distortion types, and 3 power amp models I was able to achieve virtually any tone I could think of.

While there is a little bit of that Blackstar harshness on the top end which seems to be present on all of their amplifiers, I felt there was enough control over the tone to dial myself out of any problems I found myself in.

This can take a bit of patience as there are so many tweakable options. If you’re not a big tone chaser then the versatility of this amplifier may be more of a hindrance than a benefit.

Something I found super helpful when dialing my tone in was the mid-sweep function, the ability to adjust where your bass’ mids sit between your drummer's kick and guitar is invaluable for achieving clarity in live performances.

The in-built compressor didn’t sound great and just seemed to make the pick attack mushy. Fortunately, it can be toggled off.

And the in-built chorus and octave effects are good fun to play with.

There are also a few more conveniences thrown in including a -10db pad switch for those with active pickups, and even a USB output which is a very welcome addition if you like to record or demo songs at home.


Key Features on a Gigging-ready Bass Amp

As a buyer, you’re spoiled for choice these days as there is a plethora of budget-friendly bass amplifiers to fit any kind of style.

But all the gimmicks and marketing lingo companies use can make it hard to hone in on what really matters.

So here are a few features I find essential for a good gigging bass amplifier that you may wish to consider for yourself.

3 or 4-band EQ

Unless you’re a pedal fiend and are doing your EQ’ing elsewhere, the majority of your tonal shaping is going to be done using the onboard EQ controls.

These usually consist of 3 bands called bass, middle, and treble. But what you’ll often find on bass amplifiers they will split the middle band into two separate controls called mid-high and mid-low.

This can be very helpful when it comes to really dialing in your sound to work with your band.

While having a 4-band EQ isn’t an absolute necessity, if you find yourself unable to achieve the tone you want on a 3-band EQ, you may wish to consider using an EQ pedal to give your further options to sculpt your sound.

DI Out

Live sound engineers like to receive a DI (direct input) out from your amplifier so they can either blend it in with the mic’d sound of your speaker cabinet, or sometimes pipe it straight out to the PA.

It’s an essential part of keeping control and managing the bass sound in a live setting, and these days the overwhelming majority of modern bass amps have some kind of DI out.

But the problem is not all DI outputs are made equal, and on cheaper amplifiers sometimes the DI sound can be pretty poor. 

So getting an amp with a nice sounding DI output is going to dramatically improve how good you sound live.

Separate Gain and Master

Something that was particularly prevalent on older amplifiers was that the gain control often doubled up as the volume control which meant the louder you went, the more distortion was introduced.

This prompted manufacturers to introduce a master volume at the end of the power amp section which allowed you to control your overall volume and your distortion amounts independently.

While this feature is widely found on most amplifiers, there are a few out there that still blend these functions together as a homage to vintage amplifiers. 

It’s not an inherently bad thing either, but you should be aware of how this works and identify if it’s going to work for you.

Why So Many Watts?

If you’ve ever used a guitar and felt the skin peeling from your face while standing in front of a measly 100-watt amplifier, you’ll no doubt be apprehensive about bringing a 500-watt behemoth back home.

Don’t worry! Bass amplifiers require this much more power to drive the speaker and produce bass frequencies that are loud enough to keep up with the guitars and drums.

Doubling the wattage of an amplifier only results in a 3db increase in perceived loudness.

A good general rule of thumb is that your bass amplifier should be double that of your combined guitarist's wattage. 

So let’s say you have 2 guitarists each using 100-watt amplifiers for a total of 200 watts, then your bass amplifier should be at least 400 watts.

Now it’s ok to have more than this as the more watts you have, the more headroom your bass will have and the less it will need to work to achieve the desired volume level.

While 500 watts is often too loud for home use, most modern amplifiers integrate a headphone input so you can practice at home without angering your significant other.

The Modern Bassist

Being a gigging musician isn’t easy these days, transportation costs are high, venues want merch cuts, and checking a big heavy amplifier into luggage is almost unthinkable.

So having a bass amp that has all the features you need while remaining both portable and affordable is really important.

All the amplifiers presented today aim to present a good balance between price, affordability, and functionality and will serve any gigging bassist well for their live performances.

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About Liam Plowman

Liam is a British musician who specializes in all things guitar, audio, and gear. He was trained as a guitar technician at the Oxford Guitar Gallery and currently teaches at multiple music schools across the UK. Key skillset includes purchasing unnecessary guitar equipment and accumulating far too many plugins.

1 thought on “7 Best Bass Amps for Gigging – Combo Amps & Heads!”

  1. Thanks to musicstrive and Liam Plowman for this helpful information and advice. Im a guitar player that just has begun his journey with the bass. The two instruments and the equipment are very different so having read this article was helpful to understand the bass side better.

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