THE LOW END
Last month we were talking about the
early stuff. By today’s standards this technology is Stone Age, but I will say this—
more records, jingles and soundtracks
were (and are) recorded with this gear
than any other gear. In this instance new
technology does not always mean better.
New gear is more reliable, but I still have
not found a better sounding amp then a
“blue check” B- 15. In the late 1960s there
were major strides in amp technology in
terms of volume, reliability and size. Let’s
look at the options.
Years ago I played a large gig. My rig was
two Plexi Marshall Majors and four huge
4x15 cabinets that I throttled my beloved
1964 Tbird IV through. The band played
all originals, except for one cover, “I Don’t
Need No Doctor” from Humble Pie. This
rig nailed the bass tone from the Fillmore
album. It’s not that tight modern sound but
that vicious old-school wall of volume and
Unsung Heroes of Tone: The SVT Era
The SVT Era
An absolutely appalling use of technology took place in the late ‘60s involving
bass amplification. The same invention
that helped put a man on the moon
helped make some of the worst amps
ever: the transistor. The late-‘60s transistor amps were hands down some of the
worst sounding, most unreliable amps ever
made. Fender made a short-lived transistor
amp in the late ‘60s, as did VOX, Marshall
and everyone else. If the amp did not
short out or burn to the chassis, it created an overwhelming urge to put knitting
needles through you ear drums to stop
the tonal torture. From ten feet away, the
Fender and Vox amps looked like the tube
amps those companies were known for.
The Marshall (I have not seen one in 20
years, thank the lord) looks like a longer
Acoustic 370 head, but it’s dressed like a
Marshall. Most of Marshall’s torture devices were stripped for their logos, knobs and
switches. The carcasses are used as doorstops. For the collection or static display
of gear that sucks, these amps are fine.
in awe watching their bass player. A few
weeks later, I saw a local band where the
bassist had a Fireglo 4001 going through
a full SVT rig. Not a bass, but an amp
influenced me as a player. The best way to
describe these amps is pure balls, pure tone
and lots of volume. An old SVT will do a
formidable job with an active bass and even
a 5-banger. It is one of the few vintage amps
that can. In a stage situation, this maybe
the ultimate amp for a vintage bass. The
Ampeg line also included the V-4B, B- 25 and
B- 15. Each head had a specifically matched
cabinet. The V-4B was almost like the SVT’s
little brother, where the B- 25, rather then
being the underling to the V-4B, was the big
brother to the B- 15. Ampeg also made a
solid-state line and quite frankly these were
not to my palette.
tone. Most mortals need to experience this
at least once. This rig will produce the Jack
Bruce, Noel Redding and Overend Watts
tone. For club work, you would be amazed
how well a Major or Super Bass performs at
a reasonable volume.
This is the BIG stuff!
My thoughts—I love this amplification.
Using a passive bass and one of these amps
is the only way to achieve real old-school
tone. There is nothing like having an SVT
or a Marshall rig behind you. These days I
rarely use them. My 47-year-old bad back
and lack of desire to drive my wife’s mini-van to a gig are the reasons. If I drive the
van, it means I’m lugging the PA system,
too. Quite a few of the amps I’ve discussed
can be purchased at very reasonable prices.
SVT heads and vintage Marshall gear
remain quite expensive.
On the other hand, some of the most
amazing high-volume, reliable, “tone of
the gods” amplifiers came out of this
era. Ampeg produced the most robust
product line. Marshall had the Major and
Super Bass. Acoustic had the 360 and 370
series and the short-lived 320/408 rig, and
Sunn had the Coliseum, Concert Bass and
Model T. Fender had the old standby, the
Bassman line. I’d say 95 percent of gigging
bass players used the above-mentioned
gear from these manufacturers.
There is one very serious drawback to owning an old Marshall. The Major runs on
KT88s. I have found the newer KT88s just
don’t sound as good as the real Mullards.
The Asian KT88s blow like mad in these
amps. Have you priced a set of NOS
Mullards? A quartet is between $800 and
$1200 or more!
The Low Down Wrap Up
4 SVT heads—$7000; 4 SVT cabinets—$3500. The looks of terror from the
soundman and the guy in the front row
directly in front of you? Priceless! Next
month we will continue through the SVT era
and on to the modern era. Until next time,
drop the gig bag, bring the cannolis!
As a young teen, I went to a KISS concert
at Madison Square Garden. The opening
band, Detective, had SVTs on stage. I was
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975 and
is currently the principle and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben
Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works: kebosbassworks.com.
He can be reached at: Kebobass@yahoo.com.
Feel free to
call him KeBo.