Although guitardom had a brief fascination with solid-state designs around the advent of the transistor, since then the mighty tube has reasserted its authority in 6-string realms and the evolution of solid-state amplification has primarily come as a boon to bassists. But before all that—back in the first heyday of loud rock and blues—bassists had to have rigs that could not only keep up volume-wise with the rest of the band, but also have enough clean headroom and power to fill the space between the instruments. And good grief, some of those rigs weighed a ton. Because those amps used tubes in their power sections, massive and heavy transformers were required to provide the juice needed to keep everything regulated and powerful. Of course, back then tube amps were still in their infancy, and reliability issues were even greater than tube aficionados have to contend with today.
Yet, as we all know, nothing sounds quite like a bass through a good tube amp. Scarlett Amplification understands this, and has recently introduced the Bass 200 into their guitaroriented line of handbuilt, all-tube designs.
A Knight in Shining Tolex
The Bass 200 is truly a thing of beauty. The “white knight” garb of the birch-plywood cabinet has a bit of an industrial look reminiscent of amps like the Matamp GTO 120 or the Orange OR80. While many amps with this type of build and look are pretty hefty, Scarlett’s tube-powered darling clocks in at just a hair below 45 pounds. And its pair of top-mounted leather handles allow for easy moving without feeling like a lead weight is pulling on your shoulders.
Scarlett used their rackmount bass preamp as a starting point for the Bass 200’s circuit, essentially just adding an output stage and packing the innards in the same chassis as their 50-watt guitar amps. Inside, the turretboard circuitry is expertly handwired and relies on a quartet of JJ KT88 power tubes to generate 200 watts at either 4 or 8 Ω. The preamp—which is shaped by pre-gain, treble, mids, bass, and mid-shift knobs—uses three JJ ECC83S preamp tubes working in tandem with a new-old-stock RCA 12BH7A long-tail phase inverter. One other cool thing is that the EQ was designed to have a pretty big low-frequency response at lower volumes, just in case you don’t want to blow the roof off the joint at your gig or practice session, but still want the lows to really fill the room in a natural way.
The mids and lows can be tailored via the 6-position mid-shift knob, which is pretty handy for voicing the amp for the particular bass and cabinet being used. The control also makes it easy to stay in the same tonal ballpark when quickly changing basses and helps round out the sparse set of features. If you’re looking for amenities like an effects loop, wattage selector, or a footswitchable boost, you’re out of luck with the stock model. Luckily, these options can be requested as custom features by contacting the company directly.
Headroom for Days
Scarlett amps are primarily known for having very smooth tones, especially when they approach the breaking point of a powertube workout. I realized the Bass 200 was no exception after spending several days running it into a vintage Ampeg Isovent 2x10 and 2x15 combo cab and playing a Kramer Striker bass. The way the Bass 200 filled my practice space with smooth, velvety lows and rounded, punchy highs was awe inspiring. At low volumes, each note I picked belted out of the cab with an immediate, quick attack and lows that were tight as a drum. As I turned up the pregain and loudness (master volume) knobs, the amp took on a beefier, more expansive stature while relenting slightly in its midheavy onslaught. This balancing out of the tone helped my bass’ onboard controls react more effectively and allowed me to go from clean and driving Geddy Lee-type tones to burly southern rock sounds without touching the amp’s controls.
The mid-shift control was pretty effective at shaping the amp’s unique midrange response, which tends toward the meatier side (imagine the midrange of a Marshall Major crossed with the smooth power section of an early-’70s Ampeg SVT). The first couple of mid-shift positions reigned in the subs when the low end got too heavy for certain volumes—all it took was a quick flip of the mid-shift knob and a slight adjustment of the bass knob to rope them back in.
If you’re thinking the Bass 200 is capable of serious overdriven grind because it has a preamp gain control, you’re just as wrong as I was when I made that assumption. There’s a large amount of headroom on tap, even with the control cranked. Pushing the amp hard like this and hitting the Kramer’s strings with more force than usual didn’t really cause the preamp to break up anywhere near as much as you’d expect, and certainly not in a way that would be considered raunchy and saturated. Rather, the preamp control was more useful as a tool for changing the overall EQ response. Setting pre-gain above 1 o’clock softened and warmed up the sound, which was nice for jazzier playing that called for more dynamics and low-end detail. Conversely, lower settings helped the amp dish out crispier tones for progressive and funk styles.
Given that, it’s heartening to find out that the Bass 200 was designed to take to overdrive and fuzz pedals extremely well. If you love the sound of an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff coating your low-end rumble but hate that it usually comes at the expense of low end, you should be quite pleased with how one sounds through the Bass 200. Maxing a Big Muff’s fuzz treated me to a wall of grind so full of blistering mids and heaving lows that even the most jaded stoner- metal fan would turn down his Electric Wizard record to take a closer listen.
For smooth, tube-infused bass tone that can perform well in several musical situations— and at varying volume levels—the Bass 200 is hard to beat. Its ability to fill a room at low levels makes it a great choice for studio cats, and the tones it can produce when pushed into oblivion are even more impressive—though not as overdriven as one might expect considering the amp’s tube topology. As a stock model, it doesn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles that a lot of bassists consider indispensible, but if you’re looking for a workhorse that will haul huge loads of satisfying low end, the Bass 200 is well worth checking out.