The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Small Bass Amps
It can be tough to upgrade your bass amp if you need to stick to a $200 budget. You probably still have the small amp you started with when you began learning the instrument, and you're now ready for something bigger and better. In this price range, you can get it, too, but you need to know what you are looking for. If you aren’t careful you can end up with a brand-new amp that’s not a whole lot different than your old amp.
Around the $200 mark, I’m basically looking for combo amps with three attributes that will set them apart from the basic beginner amp.
- Speaker Size: I want a combo amp with at least a 10-inch speaker. Ten-inchers sound punchy and strong, and professional bassists often use them in their amp cabinets. Six or eight-inch speakers are fine for a starter amp, but if you are going to spend a little more you should expect a little better.
- Power: These amps aren’t going to be loud enough to play in a band, but they should be good enough for small gigs or jamming with acoustic guitar players. But overall volume isn’t even as much of a concern as headroom. Headroom is basically a way to describe how much power is at your disposal. The more power you have, the better your amp will sound at moderate volumes. In this price range, 40-50 watts is a good rating.
- Cabinet Size: The size and construction of the cabinet play a big role in the projection and resonance of the amp. I want a sturdy, decent-sized cabinet. Again, wimpy little cabinets are fine for beginner amps, but we can do better here.
Finally, it should go without saying I am going to look at amps made by brands I know and trust. I’ve played bass for over twenty years and owned gear from a bunch of different manufacturers. Some are simply better than others.
There are some awesome beginner bass amps out there, but these are a notch above. Here are my top choices, along with some honorable mentions.
Top 3 Bass Amps Under $200
Here's the shortlist. Read on to learn more about each amp.
- Fender Rumble 40 v3
- Hartke HD50
- Ampeg BA110
1. Fender Rumble 40 v3
My top pick here is the Fender Rumble 40. I really like the Rumble series, and have been using an older-model Rumble as my bass practice amp for a few years now. A 10-inch speaker, flexible EQ, plenty of power for small gigs and an XLR-out for big shows are what earned the Rumble 40 my top spot.
These things are sturdy, great sounding and louder than you’d think. Of course, you should expect nothing less than awesome from Fender.
The Rumble 40 features 40 watts of power coming at you through a single 10-inch speaker. There are a few noteworthy features I really like here:
- 4-band EQ: Rather than the typical 3-band seen in many amps this size. There are also Bright, Contour and Vintage switches to help further shape your sound.
- Overdrive: OD is a nice perk in a small amp like this. You can dial in warmer, tubey sounds, or crank it up and allow the spirit of Lemmy to guide you.
- XLR Out: Even though this amp is too small to use with a band on its own, the XLR out allows you to connect with a PA system and use the amp for tone shaping. That means you can actually play not only small gigs with this little thing, but also plug it into a PA and compete with loud guitars.
The Rumble 40 finds itself in the middle of the Fender Rumble Series, with the Rumble 15 and 25 below it and the 100, 200 and 500 above it. While the specs obviously differ, the Rumble 40 shares many of the same top-panel features as the big boys.
2. Hartke HD50
Hartke is another brand I really love, and back in my gigging days, I used a Hartke HA3500. That’s a 350-watt amp that’s beyond the boundaries of this discussion, but you can find much of the good sound I loved in that amp in these smaller Hartke combos.
In this case, we’re looking at the HD50, an amp with a 50-watt power rating and a 10-inch speaker. Here are a few reasons this amp made my list:
- HyDrive Speaker: Hartke speakers are historically made with aluminum rather than paper cones, and players have always had mixed feelings on that. However, the HyDrive cones are a combination of aluminum and paper, and when I had a chance to check them out a little while back I thought they sounded absolutely amazing.
- Power: At 50 watts, this is the most powerful amp in this review. If you intend to play live with a low-volume group this makes it a strong contender for use at small gigs.
- Built-in Limiter: This is to protect your speakers and a nice feature in a small amp.
There are some reasons the Fender edged out the Hartke for my top spot. The 3-band EQ on the Hartke isn’t a big deal. It’s actually a really simple setup, and I like it. But I do wish it had an XLR out, and that gives the Fender a slight advantage in my opinion.
Still, the HD50 is a great-sounding amp for not a lot of money, so if you have no intention of trying to hook up to mixing boards don’t let the XLR thing deter you.
3. Ampeg BA110
Ampeg is another legendary builder of bass amps. I think of them as kind of like the Marshall of bass amps, in that you often see big Ampeg stacks in the backlines at rock concerts. They make great bass amps for metal and rock, but I think just about any kind of bassist can find something they like in Ampeg gear.
While you likely won’t ever see the BA110 used at a rock concert, it’s an awesome choice for intermediate players or home hobbyists. This is a 40-watt combo with a 10-inch speaker. Here are some of the things I dig about this amp:
- Bass Scrambler Overdrive: Another small amp with onboard OD, this time designed after the Ampeg SVT tube sound. The SVT is one of those amps you would find in the backline at a rock concert, or at least at one time you would have.
- Tilt-back design: Or more like the tilt-to-the-side design. This makes it possible to use the BA110 as a monitor, or just angle it so you can hear it better.
- -15dB input pad: This is useful for active bass guitars and can help prevent clipping.
Again there is no XLR out, which is kind of a bummer since the tilt design is so useful on the BA110. It would be the perfect amp to bring to a show, run to the PA and tilt back on the floor near you so you can hear yourself. As it stands, it’s a pretty good practice amp for intermediate players, especially if you like distortion.
Here are a few amps that I really like, but didn’t make my top three for one reason or another:
- Orange Crush Bass 25: Orange Crush guitar amps are fantastic, and you can expect nothing less from the low-end side of the Orange lineup. The Bass 25 is rated at 25 watts and features an 8-inch speaker, 3-band EQ, and a built-in tuner.
- Acoustic B30: This is a fantastic amp that gets great reviews, but is a little underpowered in my opinion. But it does have a 12-inch speaker, and I am a huge fan of twelves for bass. If you don’t mind sacrificing just a bit of volume, it’s a great choice. It also has a 4-band EQ and built-in compression. Nice!
- Eden EC10: This is a cool little amp with 50 watts of power and a 10-inch speaker. It checks all the boxes, but I just don’t feel as strongly about it as the amps listed above. But that doesn’t mean you can’t check one out and see what you think. Eden makes great amps.
- Peavey Vypyr VIP 2: So, you’re thinking: This is a guitar amp! Has Guitar Gopher finally lost his marbles? Actually, the Vypyr is a powerful modeling amp built for use with electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass. Pure bassists might give it a pass, but if you play guitar as well this is the perfect all-in-one practice amp.
Which Bass Amp Under $200 Should You Choose?
So, which amp should you choose? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself! This article is all based on my opinions, and I encourage you to do your own research and form your own conclusions. Make sure you check out the amp builders' websites for the latest info on their gear.
But I can tell you what I would do. For me, it would be a close class between the Fender and the Hartke. I do love the HyDrive sound, and I’ve always loved Hartke.
But the Fender Rumbles are amazing little amps, and the one I own has been rock solid for years. If I was going to even consider playing in a group I’d certainly want the XLR, too. I think I’d go with the Fender by a narrow margin.
Of course, there is also a good chance I'd go with the Peavey Vypyr VIP 2, but that’s only because I play guitar as well as bass. If you need to save some space a multi-purpose amp like this is a lifesaver. And they sound great. I own an older model Vypyr, which is a guitar-only amp. I also had the chance to demo the VIP 2 and was very impressed. Good luck with making your choice!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.