In this magazine, I once characterized a bass amp as “an appliance.” Dave Boonshoft, President/CFO of Aguilar Amplification, takes a more sophisticated view. “It completes the bass guitar,” he says. “We look at the electric bass as an incomplete instrument, because it has no sound box. Carefully considering all the transducers in the system is a huge part of our design process. Once the string starts to vibrate and the sound goes to the pickup and then the amplifier, what’s the character of it? What’s the musicality of it?”
In the early ’90s, Dave was a freelance bassist in New York City. His appreciation of the studio equipment that he was working with led him to acquire Telefunken and API preamps, Fairchild compressors, and other high-quality gear, which he rented to other musicians. After he met guitarist/engineer Alex Aguilar, they drew up a design on a napkin that became the DB 680 preamp, the product that launched Aguilar Amplification in 1995. Alex left the company eight years later, but Dave signed up Goran Stankovic as chief technical officer; they have continued to expand the product line, and Aguilar now offers bass amplifiers, cabinets, effect pedals, preamps, and pickups.
The foremost consideration in designing and building every Aguilar product, Dave emphasizes, is musical expression: “Today’s players are aware of what makes a good musical sound—of what they have to accomplish dynamically and what they have to accomplish harmonically. It’s a symbiotic relationship with what we try to do as designers. With amplification, what is going to be the correct dynamic response? And in that dynamic response, what is the harmonic content that you want to be present? Because what you hear when you play a note is everything about how it feels to you and makes you want to play the bass.”
Aguilar’s latest heads are on the cutting edge of Class D design. “It’s a misnomer to call them digital amps,” Dave explains. “They’re lightweight because they have a switching power supply and a switching power amplifier. The amps are 100 percent analog; there is no digital signal processing. They’re very efficient because you’re not losing power to heat, so you don’t need a big heat sink or a lot of air space.” In contrast to old-school bass heads that can tip the scales at 60 pounds or more, Aguilar’s Tone Hammer 500 weighs only four pounds. “The key to that amp is really simple,” Dave says. “We understand that the quality in the shape of the tone comes from the preamp—overtones, distortion, dynamic response, and the functionality of the EQ. These create possibilities for the tone. With the power section, it’s largely reliability: the ability to produce the wattage consistently without any thermal shutdowns. Overall, it’s simply a question of good design.”
To pair with its lightweight Tone Hammer heads, Aguilar recently expanded its SL (super lightweight) line of cabinets. “We came out with the SL 112 a few years ago, and it’s been a hit product for us. Now we also have the SL 410x, a 4x10 cabinet that weighs 49 pounds.” The key to the weight reduction is the use of drivers with neodymium magnets, which offer strong, focused sound at about half the weight of speakers with Alnico or ferrite magnets.
Whether it’s an amp, a pedal, or a pickup, the crucial consideration for Aguilar is sound, not specs. “There’s no substitute for listening,” Dave says. “When we made the DB series and the GS series [of cabinets], the impedance curves looked the same. But they don’t sound the same at all, because they work mechanically a bit differently. It’s easy to hear.” In product design, he emphasizes, “you end up refocusing and rebalancing different mechanical and electrical elements, so you get something that actually sounds like a musical instrument.”
For more about Aguilar Amplification, go to guilaramp.com.
Jim Roberts was the founding editor of Bass Player and also served as the magazine’s publisher and group publisher. He is the author of How the Fender Bass Changed the World and American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player’s Guide (both published by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard).