TUBE—THE WORD ITSELF JUST SOUNDS sexy. For the bulk of guitar players, an alltube rig is the ultimate, a symbol of success and sonic sophistication. Sure, solid-state amps can get the job done, but the truest tones are tube tones, many would say. For bass players, it’s often a different story. After all, we have needs of our own; the bass is a beast of an instrument to amplify, requiring far more power than guitar to get equal volume. Push a tube amp hard with guitar, and you can get the creamy, overdriven tones that just scream “rock & roll.” Run a bass through that amp, and you’re likely to hit fuzzy, flatulent territory before you can get enough volume to keep up with a drummer. Words like “crunch” and “grit” just don’t have the same cachet among bassists, who often require a clean, clear sound in order to be heard.
For those of us who like to live dangerously, however, the mystique of tube bass amps—born in ’50s with the Fender Bassman and raised in the ’60s by the iconic Ampeg B-15—engenders a kind of gear lust like no other. With its LB30 Drophead 15H, Ashdown seeks to tempt and tantalize that we might feed our obsession.
The Drophead owes an obvious design debt to the fliptop B-15, which allows players to fold the amplifier itself into the cabinet for compact transport. [Note: For more on the Ampeg B-15, head to bassplayer.com.] But the Drophead has a few key features that distinguish it from the B-15. Perhaps the biggest difference is in tube type; whereas the B-15 utilizes 6L6 power tubes—a tube traditionally associated with American amps like the Fender Bassman—the Drophead employs EL84s, like the British Vox AC30. There’s a whole lot of voodoo in describing a particular tube type’s tone characteristics, but 6L6s are generally regarded as having a beefy low end, while EL84s are thought to have a strong midrange character and chirpy highs.
In theory, EL84s seem an odd choice for a bass amp. In this instance, I found them to work very well. With the 3-band EQ set roughly in the middle, the Drophead certainly sounded a bit on the bright side, and the midrange was a tad honk-y. But dialing in a deeper sound with EQ was easy-peasy, and the Drophead’s MID SHIFT, BASS SHIFT, and BRIGHT switches went a long way to give the head a great deal of flexibility. At low volume, cutting the mids and boosting bass bathed the room in rich, buttery booty; with the volume pushing past noon, the Drophead started to show its teeth with a guttural growl. With mids and highs boosted and the volume kicked up a notch, the Drophead turned on a dime, ditching Jamersontown for Lemmyville.
The Drophead cabinet itself, loaded with a 15” neodymium driver and a highfrequency horn, is a remarkably compact box, with dual ports at the rear to optimize speaker efficiency. Its multiple handles— on the side of the cabinet and on both the top and underside of the head—make the Droptop relatively easy to move, whether the head is flipped in or up.
Thirty watts may not sound like a whole lot of power for a bass amp—it isn’t. On a 5-piece rock gig, I had to crank the Drophead up to a level (with VOLUME around e full up) where notes started to sport a woolly coating. Playing an active 5-string, I opted for the Drophead’s HIGH input, which pads down the signal so as not to hit the preamp too hot. Taking a feed from the Drophead’s rear-mounted DI, our soundman asserted that the grit was groovy, and that the fundamental bass sound was still coming through strong in the house. He voiced disappointment, however, at the Drophead’s lack of a ground lift and a DI pad or level control. From the stage, I dug the dynamics I felt while pushing the amp hard. The Drophead seemed to convey the subtleties of my attack—growling when I dug in and mellowing out when I laid back—in a way that only a tube amp can.
If clean is your thing and you’re looking for a gig rig, you might be better off sticking with a solid-state head/cab combo with a lot of headroom. But if you’re looking for a hotrod rig with dynamics you can play, the Drophead is a delight. In the studio, this bitchin’ convertible might just be the vehicle you need to burn tracks that will stick. For its dreamy, creamy tone, elegant design, and undeniable cool factor, the Ashdown LB30 Drophead 15H earns a Bass Player Editor Award.
ASHDOWN LB-30 DROPHEAD 15H
Pros Deliciously dynamic; sexy as all get-out
Cons Lacks DI level and ground/lift controls
Power output 30 watts
Tube complement 1 x ECC82; 2 x ECC83S; 4 x EL84
Controls BASS, BASS SHIFT, MIDDLE, MID SHIFT, TREBLE, BRIGHT, VOLUME, MUTE
Speakers Ashdown 15" neodymium driver, H-F horn
Cabinet construction Dual rear ports
Weight 67.3 lbs
Dimensions Open, 19" x 29" x 141/4"; closed, 19" x 221/2" x 141/4"
Made in UK