(For those that don’t like to wait and want to see an example right now: See the Phil Jones series of amps and cabs. You’ll be amazed at how much punch and power you can get in a small package.)
The smallest and most convenient bass amp one can use that has any “real bass” tone to it is the bass combo amplifier. While true you could use ear buds if you want to go seriously itty-bitty, having the amp in many instances is better to have.
There are legitimate reasons to own a small bass combo amp. If you have a dedicated work area (like a shop) where you put bass guitars together and need a dedicated amp for testing said electric instruments, the small bass combo works really well there. For practice purposes, the small combo works well there also. Another good place for a small combo is in the studio’s control room. If all your amp gear is out in the stage area and you need to quickly plug in and warm up in the control room while the mixer and microphones are being set, the little combo suits very nicely there.
In other words, yes, itty-bitty combo amps do have their place other than for just looking cute.
On most small bass combo amps, the configuration will be 1×8, although there are some that go as small as 1×6.5 or even 1×6. Unless you’re really cramped for space, the 8-inch is the better choice simply for the fact it moves more air and has more “real bass” to it.
You’ll see choices of 10, 15, 25 and 30-watt offerings.
Most of you would most likely prefer the lower-watt offerings because you can make them “growl” easier, and it’s easier to quiet them down for practice purposes.
This goes all over the place. Some offer simple 3-band EQ of low/mid/high while others add in a “Presence” knob or some other type of voicing control like “Shift”. Some also have a separate gain aside from the master volume control as well. And yet others have special circuitry that has “always-on” compression to accommodate for the smaller speaker size.
What makes for a good small combo amp?
Tone considerations aside, what makes for a good combo amp starts with its cabinet construction. Chances are pretty good that your small amp is going to get banged around a lot, so it needs to be constructed in a way that can accommodate or that.
Most small bass combo amps do come constructed with oversized corners, but some don’t. Without those oversized corners, the cabinet will fall apart and do so quickly, and that’s no good, so you want those larger corners.
Small combos that weigh at least 15lbs (6.8kg) are better than those that are under that weight. Combos that are too light in weight usually get knocked over all the time even from something as simple as plugging a cable into it. And believe me, it is seriously annoying when you need to hold an amp with two hands just to plug a cable in so it doesn’t knock over, so heavier is better.
Lastly, no matter what tech is in the amp, it’s helpful if you can use the amp for more than just practice. For example, a practice amp should be able to project enough to keep up with, say, a lightly-amplified acoustic guitar player (such as when playing a small coffee house gig). Amps that can multi-task like that are amps you’ll use again and again and really get your money’s worth out of.
Three examples of small that fit the bill nicely
From left-to-right: Fender Rumble 15 V2, Ashdown Tour Bus 15, Ampeg BA-108.
Each amp has their pros and cons. The Fender, while the most modern and most rugged (especially with its steel grille face), has compression circuitry in it that some players don’t agree with. The Ampeg with its ported baffle might too “boomy” for some, enough to the point where it may be difficult to play it quietly when necessary. The Ashdown is the middle ground between the Fender and Ampeg. Rugged like the Fender, but voiced differently to not be as “boomy” as the Ampeg is.
A small bass amp is good to have and has several good, practical uses. Every bass player should own one.
Do you own a small amp? Where do you use yours?