MR. BASS MAN / YOU’VE GOT THAT certain something / Mr. Bass Man / You set that music thumping.
Granted, when teen sensation Johnny Cymbal crooned those lyrics in his 1963 smash hit, he wasn’t heaping praise on Fender’s Bassman amplifier. But perhaps he should have been; by that time, 11 years after its introduction, the Bassman had revolutionized bass and guitar amplification, establishing an amp blueprint that continues to be aped today.
Of course, a lot has changed over the years. So while Fender’s latest take on the Bassman—the 300-watt, all-tube Super Bassman—has rather little in common with its 26-watt ancestor, this modern machine seeks to cop the visual vibe and warm nature of the original. Fender has also launched a new line of matching Bassman Neo cabinets in 4x10, 6x10, 8x10, and 1x15 configurations. To take the Super Bassman for a spin, we paired it with a 4x10—a classic configuration that dates back to the amp’s early days.
The Super Bassman has two channels that differ significantly: the VINTAGE channel is the more mellow of the two, and features a passive tone stack, while the OVERDRIVE channel has an active EQ voiced for more modern, saturated tones. The two channels are switchable via a front-panel switch or a footswitch (included). With a passive P-Bass and the EQ set flat (BASS at 2, MID at 10, TREBLE at 2), the VINTAGE channel sounded downright dreamy—creamy, but with a hint of grit when I dug in. At 300 watts, the Super Bassman has ample headroom (an understatement…), and rolling back the VOLUME and bumping up the master yields a cleaner sound. Still, “clean” is a relative term with the Super Bassman; even with the VINTAGE channel, it felt as if there was always a barely-contained beast within, grunting under its breath and longing to let out a righteous roar.
Without a doubt, that creature finds its voice in the OVERDRIVE channel. With or without the GAIN boosted, this channel seemed to offer more control for fine-tuning my tone, thanks to its active EQ and selectable midrange control. Of course, the real fun is in cranking the gain and letting the beast howl. As with the interactive passive tone stack on the VINTAGE channel (where the BASS, MID, and TREBLE cut frequencies change depending on where each of the other two knobs are set), there was a massive array of tones available via the GAIN, BLEND, VOLUME, and MASTER controls, giving the amp overdrive nuance that’s near impossible to attain with a stompbox.
The Super Bassman’s VINTAGE channel features a passive 3-band (cut-only) tone stack. Around back, the Super Bassman sports modern accouterments that help take the guesswork out of tube amplifiers. Tube amps can be finicky, and if current doesn’t flow precisely as it should, the amp won’t perform—or sound—as it should. The Super Bassman’s Automatic Bias monitors and controls the current running through the tubes. By allowing the user to set the bias to run WARM, NORMAL, or COOL, Automatic Bias lets you to further tweak your tone to sound more aggressive or more mellow. The Super Bassman also features a SPEAKER OUTPUT switch, which disengages the power amp and allows you to run the amp without a speaker cabinet for recording.
An inevitable bummer with tube amps is that they’re heavy. . . . Very heavy. Fender takes the sting out of this potential rig fatigue by going with Neodymium-loaded speaker cabinets. At 55 pounds, the 410 Neo is refreshingly light. And with included casters, it functions quite well as a dolly for the hefty Super Bassman. In terms of sound—perhaps because the head itself colors the bass tone in such a big way—the cabinet seemed able to handle whatever I gave it, whether it was deep and dark or bright and aggressive.
Grille power: stare long enough and you’ll see spots run. Fender has stepped up its bass amp game at all price points in recent years. For the pro set, the Super Bassman is the most exciting thing to come along in a good long while. If you’re looking to get that warm, fuzzy feeling that can only come from a tube amp, definitely check it out. But be careful—this machine just might melt your face.
Pros Wooly passive VINTAGE channel, gnarly active OVERDRIVE; Automatic Bias a bonus.
Cons Like any tube head, it’s dang heavy
BASSMAN 410 NEO
Pros Light weight, big bottom
Head turning: the Super Bassman’s Automatic Bias feature adds a nifty modern twist on this instant classic.TECH SPECS SUPER BASSMAN
Power rating 300 watts into 8Ω, 4Ω, or 2Ω (selectable)
Type Tube preamp, tube power amp
Tube complement 3 x 12AX7A, 1 x 12AT7, 6 x 6550C
Inputs INPUT 1 (-0dB), INPUT 2 (-6dB)
Vintage channel controls VOLUME, BASS (15dB range @ 40Hz with MID and TREBLE at 5), DEEP (-18dB @ 640Hz), MID (15dB range @ 400Hz with BASS and TREBLE at 5), TREBLE (9dB range @ 4kHz with BASS and MID at 5), BRIGHT (+10dB @ 6kHz), MASTER
Overdrive tone controls BASS (±15dB @ 80Hz), DEEP (-18dB @ 640Hz), MID level and FREQ (±18dB @ 200Hz–3.3kHz), TREBLE (±15dB @ 4kHz), BRIGHT (+10dB @ 6kHz), MASTER
Back panel switches POWER, STANDBY, SPEAKER OUTPUT (disables power amp), SPEAKER IMPEDANCE (2Ω, 4Ω, or 8Ω)
Back panel jacks MAIN SPEAKER, FOOT SWITCH, TUNER OUTPUT, PREAMP OUTPUT, PWR AMP INPUT
DI XLR OUT with LEVEL control, PRE/POST preamp switch, GROUND/LIFT
Other Automatic bias panel
Dimensions 10" x 24.5" x 13.5"
Weight 65 lbs
Made in Mexico
BASSMAN 410 NEO
Cabinet type 4x10 + horn
Construction Sealed, front-ported
Power handling 500 watts
Speakers Fender Special Design Eminence Neodymium drivers
Inputs Two ¼", one Speakon
Controls HORN LEVEL
Frequency response 40Hz–15kHz
Dimensions 16.25" x 26" x 24.5"
Weight 55 lbs
Made in Mexico