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With humble beginnings as a Toronto music store repairman, Peter Traynor started selling his first bass amp, the DynaBass, back in 1963. Even though the Traynor brand was phased out for years before being revived by Yorkville, Traynor products have long had a reputation for quality at a reasonable price.
This year Traynor introduced their latest line of bass combos with the Small Block series. These compact and lightweight amps have a single 10", 12", or 15" speaker, and their combination of power and portability is aimed at the working musician. We tested the SB115, the most gig-friendly of the three.
New Kid on the Block
The 200-watt SB115 looks and feels great out of the box. How can an amp “feel” great? Well, it only weighs 31 pounds, impressively light for a combo. The plywood cabinet measures a scant 21" x 18" x 15", making it small enough for a subcompact car, or for that matter, the subway. But don’t let the footprint fool you—the Traynor folks have packed some useful features into the SB115.
The SB115 has both passive and active inputs, and the latter is padded with a -6 dB cut. The amp also boasts 4-band EQ plus a low-expander control, which I couldn’t wait to use to test the limits of the 15" speaker. The control panel’s pots felt a little loose, though that may be a matter of personal preference, since I like making slow, small adjustments.
The SB115 also has a tweeter, along with a topside defeater switch to disengage it if desired. There’s a balanced XLR (pre EQ) DI jack, plus a limiter on/off switch and a ground switch. Rounding out the control panel appointments are 1/4" headphone and aux jacks.
Block Rockin’ Bass
I auditioned the SB115 with a Music Man StingRay and a Gretsch Electromatic. Powering up with the StingRay plugged in, I was greeted by a little red light that turned blue to indicate that the amp was ready. I set the gain, master, and EQ controls to 12 o’clock, with the low expander control turned all the way down.
The amp sounded a little throaty and thin at this initial setting. But when I eased up the low-mid, mid, and treble knobs and brought the low expander up halfway, the StingRay sprang to life. The SB115 sang beautifully, and the amp didn’t color or interfere with the bass’s innate tone. When I pushed the bass EQ up to 2 o’clock, the amp started sounding massive. It suddenly became the little amp that could.
I put the amp through its paces from top to bottom. And for the bottom here, I dropped the StingRay’s tuning to D while easing up the low expander. This reduces mids and compresses the bass tone while adding massive low end and moving more air from the amp’s rear port. The SB115 showed power and guts as I played louder and louder. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I had the amp’s gain and master volume maxed. The signal was as clean as can be and the speaker didn’t mind it at all. With the StingRay, I felt that the amp sounded best with the tweeter on, though players who dig a mellower tone may switch it off.
As cool as the low expander is, it’s not even necessary to make this amp sound good. There’s plenty of low end with the expander off and the bass EQ bumped. Adding the expander to the mix with the 4-band EQ just provides more shaping options.
I took the SB115 for a spin in a large club gig, using the hollowbody Gretsch. (The band was a quartet with piano, cajón, and acoustic guitar.) Again the amp did well tonally, and I liked how the low expander paired with the Gretsch. Set halfway up, it enriched an already smooth tone. The FOH engineer admired the DI’s transparency, which allowed him to EQ to his liking.
Considering the size of the venue, though, I may not have given the amp a totally fair chance. Even with the SB115 directly behind me, I came away thinking the big club was just a bit too large for it. A kickstand or tilt feature might have helped, but any amp can only do so much. However the SB115 will perform beautifully in smaller clubs, and it certainly has enough power for the rehearsal hall, or to rattle the pictures on your bedroom wall.
The Traynor SB115 is powerful for its small size, if not as massive as some other current combo options. Its features and tones will keep many working bassists happy. It travels well from the bedroom to venue, though its size and output might not be quite sufficient for bigger clubs. Traynor has a reputation for reliable amps at respectable prices, but the SB115 may be a little on the pricey side. But with its lightweight design, low-end presence, and quality features, the SB115 could be the last practice/small-gig amp you buy.