I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Choosing a Bass Amp
If you only have $500 to spend you want a bass amp that will give you the most for your money. Ideally, your amplifier will be loud enough to use for rehearsals with a band, and will sound good enough for gigging, for use in recording situations or for just jamming in your home.
There are a many options to consider when choosing a new amp. The first is whether you want a head and cabinet setup, or a combo amp. In this price range, combo amps are going to be the more reasonable option.
The problem is many of the amps around $500 are lodged somewhere between good enough to gig with, and for home use only. A 50-watt bass amp doesn’t do you much good with a band no matter how good it sounds, and a 300-watter that sounds awful won’t be much fun to play through. We need to dig up those gems that are good in both situations.
In this article you'll find some advice on choosing the best bass combo amp for under $500. They're great bass amps for small gigs, or for home use. And, they are made by some of the top bass amp builders in the world. If I were looking for a new bass amp today, this is where I would start.
But before we get to the amps, let's think about what we are really looking for in a powerful, portable bass combo.
How Many Watts?
This is one of the first questions that comes to mind when choosing an amp. How powerful should your amp be? There are a lot of factors to consider, but here are some basics:
If you expect to be heard over a heavy-handed drummer, and if your guitar player has a 100-watt tube stack, you need to be thinking at least 250 watts. If you play a lighter-style of music, and don’t need to be that loud, you can go as low as 100 watts.
When you’re considering the power of your amp you need to think about headroom. This is just a weird way of saying your amp has more than enough power for the situation. For example, you’re better off with a 500-watt amp you never have to turn past 4 on the volume knob, than a 200-watt amp you have to crank to 9 or 10. Unlike guitar amps, bass amps generally sound better when they aren’t pushed to their limits.
This makes it sound like the more power the better, and that’s generally true. But remember that it’s relevant to your situation. The same amp that works for a bassist in a loud heavy metal band won’t necessarily be good for the bassist who plays coffee-house gigs with an acoustic guitarist.
You also need to consider whether or not you intend to put your bass through a PA system. Many bassists choose smaller amps that capture the tone they love, and run a line to the house system. The amp then serves as an onstage monitor. If you choose to go this route, you can get away with using a much smaller amp for gigs. In this price range, that's a more realistic expectation.
What Size Speakers?
Where 12-inch is the standard for guitar speakers, bassists often have the option of 15, 12, 10, and sometimes even 8 and 18-inch speakers. What’s the difference, and why should you care?
Because, in theory, different sized speakers bring more focus to different frequencies of the instrument. Some players like the punch of 10-inch speakers. Some prefer the depth of 15-inch speakers. Some stack a 4x10 cabinet on top of a 1x15 for the best of both worlds.
But with most combo amps you have to choose one or the other, so which one should you pick? Don’t lose too much sleep over it. The sound of a combo amp is determined by the overall design, not just the size of the speaker.
Now that all that is out of the way, let’s look at some amps!
Fender Rumble 200 v3
I have always loved the Fender Rumble series. I've owned a few, played a bunch, and still have a small Rumble 15 as a practice amp. These amps are loud for their size, tough and sound amazing. Fender has stepped it up with the v3 series, a new breed of bass amps with awesome Fender tone and plenty of power.
The Rumble 200 is the second-biggest combo in the lineup, next to the mighty Rumble 500. The Rumble 200 combo is rated at 200 watts and features a single 15-inch speaker.
There is also a head version of this amp, but of course you'd need to find a cabinet to go along with it. In this price range I think the combo is the perfect choice.
- Notable Features: 200 watts @ 4 ohms, 140 watts @ 8 ohms, 1x15 speaker , overdrive, bass, low-mid, high-mid and treble EQ controls, effects loop, XLR out, headphones jack, aux line in.
- Pros: At 200 watts this amp will be loud enough for many situations. If not, the XLR out lets you run a line to the house system. The four-band EQ is a nice touch, and combined with the tone-shaping switches offers a wide range of sounds. A footswitch will control the overdrive, so you don’t need to worry about a separate pedal.
- Cons: While rated at 200 watts, it's really pushing 140-watts as a combo. Still a decent amount of power, but to get the full 200 you have to employ an external speaker. But again you may not need it for your situation.
- This amp is best for: Players looking for loud, punchy bass tones in a portable package, and who use overdrive a lot. The Fender Rumble Series are some of the best bass combo amps on the market, and the Rumble 200 is a great amp for a gigging musician.
Check out the Fender Rumble v3 Series!
Ampeg is a premium name in the bass world, and you’ll see their gear in the backlines of many major bands of just about all genres. Their big tube amps are some of the best in the business, but you aren’t going to grab one and keep within your budget.
But Ampeg does make some great gear for working musicians who need a bass amp for small gigs that’s loud, reliable and sounds good.
Every Ampeg I've owned or played has had a warm, deep sound. In my mind, that's where this brand shines, and the BA Series doesn't disappoint here.
The BA115 v2 replaces the old BA115 in Ampeg's lineup. It carries on the tradition of powerful, portable bass amps while adding some innovative new features and a little more power.
- Notable Features: 150 watts, 1x15 speaker with switch-mutable high-frequency tweeter, XLR line out (on control panel), 3-band EQ, Drive and Blend controls, Lo/Hi tone shaping, master volume, headphone jack, effects send/return on control panel.
- Pros: Plenty of power for moderate-level rehearsal situation, and even for small to medium-sized gigs. The XLR out makes it easy enough to hook up with the house PA if need be. I find the "Scrambler" overdrive function interesting. It's nice to have blendable overdrive in an amp this size.
- Cons: Maybe not powerful enough for situations where you need a ton of volume but you can always run it out through the PA and use the amp as a stage monitor.
- This amp is best for: Any bassist looking for a compact, powerful combo with plenty of depth and clarity. Ampeg tone is legendary, and they manage to capture it well even in their small combo bass amps.
Hear the New Ampeg BA-115 v2
Gallien-Krueger is well known among bassists as a top name in amplification. With their MicroBass series they created compact, great-sounding bass amps for home use, studio sessions or other moderate-volume situations.
These are awesome little amps, but at only 100 watts they might not do it for some players. So Gallien-Krueger expanded on the MicoBass series, with more extensive line of amps that are larger and more powerful. The MB112-II fits the bill.
- Notable Features: 200 watts, 12-inch speaker, digital power amp, 4-band EQ, XLR out, contour switch, headphone jack, aux in.
- Pros: It’s a simple, straight-forward amp that’s going to sound great because it a GK. At only 28 pounds it’s easy to lug around, and 200 watts is enough power for most situations. I like the top-mount amp controls too!
- Cons: No extension cab jack, but it does let you connect to a powered enclosure.
- This amp is best for: Working bassists who want a nice, light rig with decent power. A couple of hundred watts goes a long way, particularly for bassists who are looking for a combo amp for lower-volume settings.
The Gallien-Krueger MB Series
Hartke is another great name is bass amps. One of my favorite amps in the world is the Hartke 3500, and while you can land one for under $500 you’d still need a cabinet to go with it.
The Hartke HD Series utilize Hartke's HyDrive hybrid drivers, which blend traditional speaker cones with Hartke's classic aluminum cones.
I was on the fence about the HyDrives when they first came out. The traditional Hartke aluminum speakers have a distinctive sound, but then again I've always learned toward paper cones with Hartke amps. But, after spending a little time around the HyDrives, I have to admit they've won me over.
- Notable Features: 150-watts, 15-inch hybrid driver, tilt-back design, bass, treble and 7-band EQ, Limiter control, passive / active input, XLR out
- Pros: At 150 watts this little guy might not be loud enough to be heard over a Marshall stack, but that’s not the point. You can run the XLR line out to the house system, and use it as a stage monitor. Carting less stuff to a gig is always a good thing. Plus, for lower-volume uses like small, intimate gigs, or for home practice, this is an amazing amp all on its own. Even at only 150 watts, it’s a Hartke, and one of the best bass amps under $500 you’ll find.
- Cons: Some bassists aren’t in love with the Hartke aluminum speakers, but they’ve been around for a long time so you be the judge! The hybird cones sound really good, in my opinion. Personally, I like them. I also think I'd rather see the XLR line out on the front panel here, but that's my preference
- This amp is best for: Bassists who need an amp for low-volume applications, or those who know they’ll be putting their signal through the house system at gigs. Some bassists will hear that unique Hartke sound and know it is just what they are looking for.
The Legendary Vic Wooten on Hartke HyDrive Speakers
Peavey MAX 250
A Peavey amp is always loud and always reliable. Many of them sound great too. With the MAX series you can even add the words “feature rich” to that description.
These amps are built for playing live in a band, and incorporate some nice unexpected bells and whistles a bassist will appreciate.
Peavey does everything pretty well, and the Tour series bass amps carry on the tradition.
- Notable Features: 250 watts (max), 15-inch speaker, three-band EQ, active/passive inputs, overdrive, mid-shift, bright and contour switches, master volume, gain control, Kosmos-C bass enhancement, XLR out, chromatic tuner.
- Pros: This amp really has some great features. But at the same time it’s a very straight-forward design, and the Peavey name means it’s going to be tough and reliable.
- Cons: The way the power rating is listed for this amp is a little confusing. It says "Up to" 250 watts, which makes me think that’s maximum power, not RMS (continuous) power. This means the amp is not as powerful as it seems by the 250-watt rating. That said, Peavey stuff is always louder than it should be, so it still may be enough for your situation.
- This amp is best for: Players who need an amp with moderate power and a lot of flexibility. If you want a powerful, near-bulletproof bass amp, Peavey is your brand.
The Peavey MAX Series
Which Bass Amp is Best for You?
So which amp will work best for you? How the heck do I know? But I can tell you that, while all of these amps are fantastic, my favorite by a slight edge is the Ampeg. It’s got a nice combination of power and portability, and I really like the top-mount controls.
I'm also really impressed with the redesign of the Fender Rumble series. These were great amps before, but the v3 versions are lighter and have the power and features perfect for the working bassist.
Which amp you choose is up to you! But let me leave you with a little perspective:
Geddy Lee from Rush is one of the most revered bassists on the planet, and certainly an authority on great tone. A few years back when Rush went on tour they incorporated washing machines in the backline of the stage show where his bass cabinets should be, to offset the visual appearance of guitarist Alex Lifeson’s massive 4x12 stacks.
Why? Because Geddy’s bass rig basically consisted of a direct box (to the house system), a preamp and a speaker emulator. He had no giant bass cabinets and amps. Didn’t want ‘em, didn’t need ‘em (and the washing machine thing was darn funny).
The point is, don’t sweat too much over thinking you need a massive 1000-watt amp that will blow the roof off your house. In most live situations you’ll be going direct through the house PA. You really need an amp that sounds good, and gives you enough volume for your specific situation.
These are five of the best bass amps you’ll find for under $500. Hopefully they provide you with a place to start your search!
Your Opinion: Bass Bass Combo Amp Under $500
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Michael James (author) on October 29, 2018:
@Skybolts - Any of the amps mentioned in that article would be fine for small gigs. I like the Hartke HD25. Here is another article with some choices for small amps:
If you are playing somewhere there is a decent PA system you can always choose to bring a direct box and skip the amp altogether.
Michael James (author) on July 27, 2018:
@T.C. - If you intend to use it for small gigs, you might like the tilt-back feature on the Ampeg. Good luck with your choice! They are both great amps.
T.C. Bombinski on July 26, 2018:
I have a Fender 100. still using it for practice and small jobs, I prefer an old amp Yorkville, To darn heavy. But that amp fits the ticket, still am interested in the Fender 200 or the Ampeg BA-115
Michael James (author) on April 07, 2018:
@Thomas - The 500 watts will certainly give you more headroom, and depending how loud you are playing that could result in better sound. "Better" is a subjective term so you'll have to decide for yourself if the amp itself is better.
I like Hartke and Fender both. You'll want to hear the Hartke speakers before deciding, and as always its a good idea to get out and play both amps. Good luck with your decision.
Thomas Maynard on April 06, 2018:
What about the newer 500 W Harke 12" and 15"? Must sound a lot better than the older HD 150.. Any comments? Trying to decide between rumble 500 and one of these Harkes.
Michael James (author) on November 21, 2017:
Thanks to Relayer71 for pointing out an error in this article. I try my best to ensure my articles are accurate, but mistakes can and do happen from time to time. Feedback like this is always appreciated.
Relayer71 on November 20, 2017:
"The other option is the Rumble 200 combo, a 200-watt amp with two 10-inch speakers."
This is incorrect. The 500 comes with the dual 10-inch speakers. The Rumble 200 comes with a single 15" speaker.
MrB on September 05, 2017:
I use the Fender Rumble 200 with 15 inch and a Eden preamp to add some extra tone.
tommy huff on September 03, 2017:
you forgot the bugera bdx15a combo bass amp
Alberto on June 07, 2017:
Very helpful review. Thanks!
william arnold from Alabama, usa on May 12, 2016:
Thanks! Thinking about two more in case I ever play on a large stage!
Michael James (author) on May 12, 2016:
Brilliant solution, Mr. BschecterD4!
william arnold from Alabama, usa on May 11, 2016:
I am an older bass player, 66, and can't haul the heavy gear around. I purchased two Rumble 100's , built a splitter cable and now get the benefit of two 12 inch speakers. These Rumble 100's are very light weight and put out a great tone. Using the two amps, I tweak one slightly more 'mid' and the other slightly more 'bassy'. I get the range I want, the volume, tone without the back ache! Use right angle plugs and stacking is easy.