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What is the Aguilar sound? To some ears, it is a unique combination of vintage warmth and modern clarity. And since 1995, bassists of all styles have relied on Aguilar gear, both onstage and in the studio. The evolution of Aguilar’s creations began with their renowned DB680 preamp and the DB728 power amp. This all-tube duo would establish the foundation for future Aguilar amplifiers, from the mighty DB750 (now upgraded to the DB751), to Aguilar’s latest offering, the Tone Hammer 500.
Tools in the Forge of Bass Tone
In essence, the Tone Hammer 500 is based on Aguilar’s popular Tone Hammer pedal, combined with a class-D power amp. The amp’s rugged exterior protects a clean and well-organized interior, ensuring that the Tone Hammer 500 could certainly handle an accidental drop.
The user-friendly front panel contains only the necessities— Gain, Bass, semiparametric Mid, Treble, and Master controls. Added to the array is a Drive knob, which is based on Aguilar’s adaptive gain-shaping circuitry (AGS). It works with the Gain and Mid controls to give the sound some vintage flavor. By increasing the Drive, one can achieve a tighter, warmer tone, or push the gain structure into overdrive. The diminutive design also provides convenience, with the DI and effects loop located on the front plate for easy access. Other handy features include an input pad, clip indicator, and an illuminated mute section. The back of the Tone Hammer 500 is also straightforward, with two speakON outputs, a tuner out, and a voltage selector.
In recent years, Aguilar has diversified their product offerings to include pickups, pedals, and speakers. Their most recent speaker line features lightweight components and is appropriately dubbed the Super Light series. Aguilar’s Super Light 1x12 (or SL 112) is the anvil to the Tone Hammer 500, but this is no cumbersome cabinet. The impressively light design houses a custom 12" Eminence driver, equipped with neodymium magnets. Adhering to the modernvintage ethos, the SL 112 has an old-school aesthetic with its black, textured-vinyl covering and black-and-white grille cloth. A nice highlight of the SL 112 is the custom crossover, which minimizes the 1 kHz “honk” associated with neodymium speakers.
The combined weight of the 4-pound Tone Hammer 500 and two, 25-pound SL 112s is equivalent to the average 1x15 cabinet with a ceramic magnet. With that in mind, it’s safe to say this rig combination has “one-trip” portability along with its cool, classic looks.
But How Does It Sound?
I put the Tone Hammer 500 and two SL 112s through their paces using a 1964 Fender Jazz bass, a Nash P-style bass (with flatwound strings), and a carved German upright equipped with a Fishman BP-100 pickup. The Aguilar products were also combined with Glockenklang amps and cabs to assess the compatibility of the Aguilars with other brands.
It was clear from the first three notes that the test rig had that Aguilar sound. Set flat, the TH500 and SL 112s created a tone with warm midrange and a solid, but not overbearing, low-end punch. With the tweeters turned down, it was easy to hear the crossover at work. The highs were present, yet smooth, with no harshness or edginess. The rig could bark, particularly when soloing the bridge pickup on the ’64 J bass and boosting the mids. What was most surprising was the way in which the warm, vintage-like tone of the Aguilar rig could be modernized with a twist of the tweeter controls on the SL 112. Setting the level to 12 o’clock on the tweeter’s Volume control gave the rig some zing, great for slapping on the Jazz bass.
The sound of the upright came through fairly well and the accuracy of the lightweight rig brought out the “string sound” of the Fishman BP-100 pickup. If you are pleased with your current bass and pickup, there is a very good chance that the Tone Hammer 500 will complement your sound nicely.
Of all three instruments, the Nash was the winner when paired with the Aguilar rig. The growl and heft of each note was delivered with authority. Slides and vibrato techniques came through so well, it gave the Nash an articulate, Barry White-style timbre. Oh baby.
Combining the Aguilar amp and cabinets with other brands garnered some interesting results. The warmth of the Tone Hammer 500 sounded great with the Glockenklang Space Deluxe 112 cabinet, establishing a tonally balanced rig. The aggressive midrange of the SL 112s added some life to a Glockenklang Soul head, evoking a responsive and articulate combination. This brief experiment provided evidence that these Aguilar products have the potential to play well with other amps and cabs.
I used the Tone Hammer 500 and the SL 112s in a variety of live performances. The test rig worked well with a jazz trio by bringing out the mids of the German upright, which made intonation adjustments easy. On a cover-band gig, the rig could not quite compete with two, 50-watt guitar amps and bombastic drums. Fortunately, running a line to the house provided enough volume to convey the Aguilar sound with the ’64 Jazz bass. Armed with the Nash P-style bass, I treated a cabaret show audience to some Tone Hammer-tinged bass lines. Pairing the Tone Hammer 500 with a Glockenklang Space Deluxe 112 created so much sound that I could fill a 700-seat theater without PA support.
As one would expect when using any lightweight amplification, the biggest benefit is the portability of the components. The size of the Tone Hammer 500 is small enough to fit in most gig bag pouches, and the handle placement on the SL 112s allows for balanced transportation of the cabinets. During my time with the review rig, I developed arthritis in my right foot, which dramatically limited my mobility. It was a relief to have this rig, because I was able to minimize the stress on my foot with such easy equipment to transport. The Aguilar rig also passed the gig obstacle-course test—navigating flights of stairs and enduring long walks from the stage to the car.
The Tone Hammer 500 and SL 112 are solid additions to the Aguilar family. These are ideal products for the bassist on the go, as well as a player with back or feet problems. The Tone Hammer 500 gets close to replicating the tone of its predecessors, and outrivals the many mini-amps on the market. While the SL 112 is one option to pair with the Tone Hammer 500, Aguilar also has a wide variety of other cabs to fit a bassist’s particular needs. All said, if you are looking for a portable, eyecatching rig that gives you a taste of that Aguilar sound, try plugging into the Tone Hammer 500 and SL 112.
Tone Hammer 500:
you want a user-friendly, superportable amp with warm tone and decent power.
you need more power, prefer a more hi-fi tone, or can’t play without tubes.
you need a lighter rig, and have an ear for a midrange-friendly cabinet.
you like a cabinet with a fuller low end, or prefer the tone of ceramic drivers.