Fender Bassman Dilema

The lowdown on the Mississippi Sax. Just for Google, this section is about harmonicas.

Fender Bassman Dilema

Postby bosco » Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:45 pm

Well I'm at a crossroads, and would like your opinions...

Our bass player, Tom, showed up at rehearsal Sunday with a Fender CBS era silverface Musicmaster Bass amp. 2- 6V6, 1- 12AX7 and rated at 12 watts, wired point to point. The 12" speaker in it was fried so we put a vintage Jensen Special Design 12 in it that is rated for 15 watts. I took the preamp down to 70% with a 12AT7 and plugged in with my dynamic Shaker.

Man, this thing absolutely sings! Nice horn like brown tones and the bottom that only a 12 can provide. It does have a bit of a tendency to feedback, I tried a 40% preamp signal with a 12AY7 and that produced a loud hum, probably because it only has a single tube preamp. Those of you that read this forum, know that I have drooled over Fender Princetons for years and this amp has a very similar circuit, the same wattage but with a 12 in speaker instead of a 10. I've never blown through a 12 as all four of my amps had either an 8, 6X9s, or 10s.

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I borrowed these pics from an identical amp that is on E Bay right now, the one I have is not nearly as mint, it was left uncovered in a garage for years. Here's the dilema. Tom has been shopping for an all tube bass rig and is interested in my RI Bassman. Maybe as a possible trade for the Musicmaster plus a considerable amount of cash. I've only gigged with the Bassman a handful of times in 4 years as it is just too loud and clean for my tastes. I've tried every conceivable combination of preamp tubes and microphones. The one time I got a great tone was at a festival at the Airport a couple years ago when I could really crank it. Although the 45 watts are nice, it's heavy and I just prefer the harp tone of less watts I reckon. Additionally, I don't expect to be playing at the Airport very often.

My Lectrolab 18 watt, 2- 6X9 has been my main stage amp for the last year and a half. I'm going to take the Musicmaster to our gig this Wed night, see if it will have sufficient stage volume and if I can stand and play within several feet of it without feedback problems. I should add that my '65 Champ is identical in width and they look great in a stack together.

The real kicker is that my van is in the shop right now for extensive repairs and the timing for an influx of cash would be good. I know you can mod a Bassman for harp but guys like BBQ Bob and Kim Wilson say they still don't approach a real 59 Bassman. Tom took the Bassman to a gig with his other band last night for a test drive, I'll see and hear from him tomorrow night. To say the least I am torn...this should all wash out in a couple days...I'll know more by Thursday.

Thanks for bearing with this long, sordid, tale! :wink:

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Postby jeffl » Tue Mar 20, 2007 8:26 pm

If you don't expect to be using the bassman, I'd sure as hell get rid of it. Maybe you can play thru the MusicMan for a little while to discover more of its character before you guys consummate a deal.
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Postby Jaybird803 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 10:32 pm

It might be interesting to try the amp with an 12AT7, and take out one of the 6V6's. As far as the 12" speaker goes, I have come to the conclusion that a 10" speaker works best with a low watt amp and a harp. Good luck, I own a Bassman 20 that is plenty nice for harp. It is in a smaller custom cab, and na 10" speaker.
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Postby ricochet » Tue Mar 20, 2007 10:45 pm

Take out one of the 6V6s? Yeah, it can be done and shouldn't hurt anything, but you're lopping off one end of the sound wave. Talk about unbalanced! Makes heavy even-order distortion, mainly second harmonic.
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Postby angerboy » Wed Mar 21, 2007 8:50 am

I'm going to break from the group. Keep the Bassman. You've already got the small amp covered with the Champ. If your Champ won't cut it, that Musicmaster probably wont cut it either.

Just because it isn't a real 59 Bassman, doesn't mean that it's a bad amp.
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Postby dcblues » Wed Mar 21, 2007 11:11 am

My bassman reissue is the best sounding amp I have. I can't tell you how it was modded - the guy who did it tried to explain it to me, but he might as well have been speaking Martian.
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Postby Jaybird803 » Wed Mar 21, 2007 2:34 pm

ricochet wrote:Take out one of the 6V6s? Yeah, it can be done and shouldn't hurt anything, but you're lopping off one end of the sound wave. Talk about unbalanced! Makes heavy even-order distortion, mainly second harmonic.
I was just kidding, but you might try a 12AU7 tube. I like the idea of just a tone and volume for a harp amp. If you were to add a line out to either the Champ or the Musicmaster, you could run them together if you wanted to add some volume.
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Postby bosco » Sat Mar 31, 2007 8:48 pm

Well, here's an update.

I played a gig with the Musicmaster and the tone and volume were fabulous for harp! It has the smooth Princeton tone I've been after and was plenty loud for the size venues we play. Best of all the tone was warm and round at our standard band volume, nothing harsh or piercing at all...a product of the amp and the Shaker Dynamic mic I'm also hooked on. Tom is willing to sell the Fender outright and still wants to play through the Bassman a bit more.

I'll keep you posted on further developments.

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Postby bosco » Wed Nov 28, 2007 3:44 pm

Time to resurrect this thread with an update.

Tom got laid off and decided that he couldn't afford to buy the Bassman, so I still have it. Unfortunately, I had completely reset it to stock configuration for bass and didn't write down the tube combination that I has tweaked it to for harp, so I'll have to start over there.

As for the Musicmaster Bass, I bought it outright and love the thing! The 15 watt Jensen ended up being a bit inefficient. Although I loved the brown horn tones, it was a bit weak on the bottom end- especially for a 12 inch speaker. We miked it to the PA playing outdoors this summer and it sounded fine, but my stage volume was lacking in the tight space we had to play in.

I found a Gulietti 18 watt tube accordian amp this summer at a garage sale. It's a '62 Magnatone 440 chasis which I ended up giving to one of our guitar players. It needed a couple hundred dollars worth of TLC and I didn't want to fool with it. He replaced the 12 inch Utah speaker with a JBL and it absolutely shines for guitar. Last night we put the Utah alnico (voiced for accordian) in the Musicmaster Bass just for shits and grins. We were impressed to say the least.

I've always known that organ speakers work well for harp because they have small voice coils and are designed to handle 100% saturated tone. The Jensen was underpowered and was handicapping the amp's potential output. The Utah adds much more midrange and bottom end like a 12 should, and still retains the horn like tone qualities that all harper search for.

As an experiment, we decided to digitally record both speakers for an A/B comparison instead of just using our ears. I played and recorded two songs, on two different key harps, with the Jensen speaker. Same green bullet, same amp settings. We then traded out the speaker and recorded the same two songs with the Utah, same mic, same amp settings. As a kicker, we used a near field and a far field mic- one about a foot from the amp face and the other a little higher and about 6 feet back to have two recorded channels to compare. My ears told me the Utah was more efficient and had a wider frequency response, but what really said volumes was the far field visual evidence. The less efficient speaker had a wide dispersion pattern at the near mic, but dropped off to half of that at 6 feet away. The Utah had so much more projection that the dispersion and frequency response at 6 feet was virtually identical to the signal at the source. And what audio quality will help an amplified harmonica cut through a close quarter stage mix? Projection.

I absolutely love experimenting with tube amp/tube/speaker/microphone combinations for harmonica and you're missing out on a lot of the fun if you've never tried it. As a result, I'm starting to rethink some of the old axioms for amplified harp. Tradition has harpers using 8 inch a/o 10 inch speakers which they can overdrive in a 5 watt rig. Unfortunately, this is mostly outdated information given the modern advances in guitar, bass and keyboard amps often occupying the same stage. Moving up to an amp in the 12-18 watt range will help put you on a level playing field, but using underpowered speakers at that point handicaps the output section of the amp. More and more, I'm leaning toward overdriving the output section of the amp, rather than the speaker, to achieve optimium amplified harp tone. Diminish your preamp values so you can throttle the output transformer a bit, but use a speaker that will still let the amp breathe and doesn't diminish the amp's capacity as well.

I hope that many of you will find this informative, interesting, or at least food for thought and or discussion. If so please chime in. If it's your opinion that this is just a lot of blather, state that as well. Less time posting and sharing my findings means more time for me to experiment with my gear!

keep on harpin'...

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Last edited by bosco on Wed Nov 28, 2007 4:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby jeffl » Wed Nov 28, 2007 3:55 pm

I'm wicha Bosco. I've jus' about given up on my 5-watt amp for stage though; your past remarks about the lack of headroom in the 5-watt stuff have rung true. Most bands I've been sittin' in with jus' play too loud for these little amps to cut into the mix (mic'ing and monitoring can solve it,but that's not practical for sittin' in with some bands) . If you have a gain knob, sometimes there's a sweet spot where the gain helps you cut, and it still isn't causin' feedback issues or wreckin' the tone. So, I think your postulations can depend on the gear. I find that it changes alot depending on whether I'm using my 520D or my BluesBlaster. The Hohner mic wants to be in the upper stages of the switch while the Green Bullet is more even across the knob, with the volume changing more than the tone as you roll it up.
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Postby bosco » Wed Nov 28, 2007 4:15 pm

depending on whether I'm using my 520D or my BluesBlaster... The Hohner mic wants to be in the upper stages of the switch while the Green Bullet is more even across the knob, with the volume changing more than the tone as you roll it up.

Another astute observation.

Which is precisely why I used the same mic, same mic volume control setting, same amp volume and tone control settings and identical recording levels for purposes of our speaker comparison experiment.

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Postby angerboy » Wed Nov 28, 2007 9:40 pm

I think the usefulness of 12-18 watt amps depend on the amp.

I own a 15w Pro Jr. I've got a 12AY7 in the pre-amp socket. It can get fairly loud, but it can easily be drown out. I upgraded the stock ceramic speaker to a Weber 10A125-O alnico. There was a tone improvement, but the volume is about the same.

One of my buddies has an almost original Fender tweed Deluxe. They sound great, but are easily drown out. Another one with a tweed Deluxe clone has the same issue.

I think there have been some huge strides in the past couple of years that make 12-18 amps really useful for harp. The custom boutique amp makers have done some really nice work in that arena.

Recently, I purchased a Harpgear Double Trouble. It's a killer amp and it has exceeded my lofty expectations. Sitting in with the same group of people that drown out the Pro Jr, the Double Trouble cuts through with fabulous tone. It's ultra-feedback resistant. It gets so loud, that I've been asked to turn it down.

It sounds so good that I decided to dump my Bassman. I'll also be selling off my other amps including the Pro Jr and a vintage Valco.

A friend of mine has a hot-rodded silverface Princeton with an upgraded speaker and output transformer that sounds absolutely hellacious.

I dig the small amps. I don't have the need for a large one at the moment, but I'm not playing with people that use cranked Twin or Super Reverbs, either.
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Postby jeffl » Wed Nov 28, 2007 9:59 pm

Angerboy, I'm jealous of ya', me bucko... I've always wanted to try some of Brian Purdy's Harpgear stuff, but I haven't been able to rationalize spending the bucks since my last gigging band crashed about two years ago.
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Postby dcblues » Thu Nov 29, 2007 5:16 am

I'm glad this discussion got revived because I was going to start a new one on harp amps with a lineout. When I play with my band they always mic my Bassman. They don't need to for volume, they do it so we can have the horns, harp and vocals in the monitors. I've been asked at a couple of recent gigs if my Bassman had a lineout and it doesn't.

At a gig this week they put my mic through a direct box and split the signal through the amp and the monitors. I think Charlie Musselwhite used to do that.

I'm really considering buying a Harp Gear now, but I'm not sure which one. I don't think I need the Double Trouble - I think I want something smaller, maybe the 1 or 2 (probably the 2, which I've been in touch with Brian before).

Seeing as sometimes I make $400-500 cash on gigs a month, I could justify spending around $700 for one. I think I might look into one soon.

Before I do that, are there any other great harp amps that have a lineout I should consider?
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Postby jeffl » Thu Nov 29, 2007 1:30 pm

dcb: you might wanna check out the Epiphone Valve Special (5W) or Valve Standard (15W). I bought the Valve Special earlier this year 'cuz I wasn't happy with the low end response of my Silverface Champ. I picked the Epi-- and I wasn't even plannin' on buyin' anything that day-- by wandering into a store that had a buncha small output tube amps lined up in a row on the floor. They had arranged about 10-15 of 'em left to right in order of price range & features. So I ran back out to the van and grabbed my harps & mic and jus' started movin' up the line. The Epi Special has the power of the little Valve Jr., but it's got more features (incl. lineout), a bigger speaker, and most importantly...a cabinet the size of a 30-watt single 12, thus much better frequency response. Anyway, point is, the store's lineup included amps of any price, including Victorias, the new Gibson Skylark, and Fender's little boutique retro Champ doll (not the 600), the 5f1 clone with the distressed cabinet-- AND, after playin' most of 'em, I concluded that the bigger cab of the Epi set it apart from even the higher priced amps. I didn't play the bigger Valve Standard, 'cuz it wasn't in the lineup, but I'd like to. I don't like the attempt at retro looks that Epi made, 'cuz imo it's done cheaply (I think it's about a $250 amp), but it looks great in the semi-dark at the back of the stage. You've been around long enough to trust your ear over marketing and brand hype. I'd throw away the pricelist and check out those Epis and see whacha think.
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