Ampeg Heritage B-15

March 15, 2011
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bp0311_sr_ampeg1_nrAs Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion journalist Robin Givhan would like us all to keep in mind, we are what we wear. Though I shudder to imagine Ms. Givhan’s assessment of my current office getup, I definitely find that to be the case: stuff me in a suit, and my posture improves. Hand me some “skinny” jeans, and watch as my long-buried teen angst bubbles up from the core of my being.

When it comes to strapping on and plugging in to bass gear, I find the old fashion adage to be equally true. After all, armed with a Gibson Thunderbird, a wall of Ampeg SVTs, and a stack of picks, who in their right mind would show their sensitive side with, say, a take on Bach’s Partita in A minor for solo flute?

No, we are what we play. At least that’s what I tried to tell myself as I eagerly watched the tubes warm on the new Ampeg Heritage B-15, moments after it arrived at BP HQ.

For those who’ve lived under a rock for the past 50 years—or who carelessly flipped past Chris Jisi’s comprehensive cover story—the Ampeg B-15 is the legendary studio amp that, since the 1960s, has come to define the sound of recorded electric bass. Scan the list of players on pages 38–41, and you can bet who’s licks I was trying to cop as I fingered the flatwounds on my Fender P-Bass.

The latest in Ampeg’s series of American- made amps, the Heritage B-15 is a fresh take on the classic fliptop design that borrows elements from two of its most iconic iterations: the 25-watt 1964 B- 15NC, and the 30-watt 1966 B-15NF. Both the ’64 and ’66 channels offer dual inputs (0dB and -15dB), VOLUME control, and a two-band Baxandall tone stack.

Plugging first into the 1964 channel, I was instantly smitten with the amp’s meaty fundamental. Rolling the TREBLE back and boosting the BASS at moderate volume, I was able in moments to dial in that rich, smoky sound that so many of us grew up on. But the real fun started when I pushed the VOLUME past noon. While some overdrive pedals get close, there’s really nothing quite like the sound of an all-tube head pushed hard. Like the guttural growl of a grumpy gnu, the B-15 barked with a voice that was aggressive, but never shrill. Switching to the 30-watt 1966 channel had the expected result of increased headroom, with the added benefit of a beefed-up midrange profile.

I find Ampeg’s Portaflex design—in which the head detaches and folds into the cabinet for transport and storage—a brilliant one. The combo fit neatly into a sedan, and the accompanying dolly made rolling down the road a breeze. On an outdoor gig with a 4-piece country-rock band, I came to understand why the B-15 was hugely popular among studio musicians, and somewhat less favored by the gigging set; it seems that aggressive growl I dug so much in a controlled studio setting was a bit unsettling for the drummer on the gig. “A little underpowered, isn’t it?” he observed as we began packing up. A fair criticism, but given that we lacked proper PA support, I take full blame for pushing the poor little Portaflex a bit too hard. (Sorry, little buddy….) Though it might not exactly jive with the vintage vibe to stack the B-15 atop another cabinet, it’s cool to know that the Heritage has the capacity to power additional cabs via its speaker output jacks.

With Ampeg’s initial 2010 run of just 50 units, don’t expect the Heritage B-15 to be popping up at all the music shops around town. But should you come across one, plug in and check it out. You may not have the scratch in your pocket to get it out the door, but for at least a few minutes, you’ll sound like a million bucks.

 

 

AMPEG HERITAGE B-15

Street $3,999
Pros Righteous response when pushed hard; utterly cool vibe
Cons With its hefty price tag and limited availability, this B-15 flies beyond reach of most players.

  

TECH SPECS

Power output 1964 bias: 25 watts @ 5% THD; 1966 bias: 30 watts @ 5% THD (both @ 4Ω or 8Ω)
Bias 1964: cathode, per 1964 B-15NC; 1966: fixed, per 1966 B-15NF
Inputs Two per channel: input 1 is 0dB, input 2 is -15dB
Tube complement 6SL7 (3 N.O.S. JAN Philips ECG 6188); 6L6GC (2); 5AR4 rectifier
Controls 1964 channel: VOLUME, TREBLE (+18dB @ 5kHz), BASS (+10dB @ 40Hz); 1966 channel: VOLUME, TREBLE (+18/-30dB @ 5kHz), BASS (+11dB @ 40Hz)
Back panel jacks EXT AMP (unbalanced line out), SPEAKER OUTPUTS (4Ω x 2, 8Ω)
Speaker Custom Eminence 15" driver with a die-cast aluminum frame, ceramic magnet, 4" voice coil, 400-watt handling, 8Ω
Cabinet Baltic birch and poplar, with dovetail joints and proprietary dualbaffle ported construction
Accessories Matching dolly (included)
Weight 96 lbs w/ dolly
Dimensions 27" x 21" x 14"

Made in U.S.A.
Warranty Electronics: five years; speaker: two years; tubes: 180 days
Contact www.ampeg.com

AMPEG HERITAGE B-15

Street $3,999
Pros Righteous response when pushed hard; utterly cool vibe
Cons With its hefty price tag and limited availability, this B-15 flies beyond reach of most players.

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