Hartke HA3500 and HA5500 Bass Amp Review
The Hartke HA3500
The Hartke HA3500 bass amp is a great option for bassists who are looking to put together an inexpensive rig that sounds amazing. If you play in a band the 3500 has plenty of power to get the job done, and it has enough flexibility to nail just about any tone you’re looking for.
I write a lot of reviews on this site, but seldom do I get to talk about a piece of gear that gets me as excited as this little amp. As a guitarist I can be really finicky when it comes to tone. I tend to bounce back and forth between different amps, depending on my mood, or perhaps the phase of the moon.
But when it comes to bass amps I pretty much know the Hartke HA3500 is the one. I’ve used it with every band I’ve ever played bass in, from metal bands to cover bands to jam bands, and I’ve never been disappointed.
This Hartke bass amp review looks at two great amplifiers from the perspective of a working musician, and a hobby player. If you are looking for a versatile, inexpensive bass amp head that sounds great, you might find, as I did, that the Hartke 3500 is the best bass amp for you.
Hartke 3500 Power
The power rating for the Hartke HA3500 is 350 watts at 4 ohms and 250 watts at 8 ohms. For a long time I ran the 3500 with an 8 ohm Genz Benz 1x15 cabinet. It was more than loud enough to be heard with a heavy-hitting drummer and our guitarist’s Marshall Valvestate half stack.
I even used it on small gigs alongside our band’s little 600-watt PA system and it hung in there just fine. Later I switched to a pair of Avatar cabinets, a 2x12 and 1x15, which changed the load to 4 ohms, and the amp sounded even better.
The benefit to adding another cabinet and pushing the amp to 350 watts is partially the additional air moved by more speakers, but also the extra headroom. This means you don’t have to crank your amp up so loud to be heard, and you’ll get a clearer, richer tone.
You may have lower volume needs, and be happy pairing the 3500 with a small and portable 8 ohm 1x12 or 2x10 cabinet. Or, you may use the line out to the house PA and it won’t really matter as much what cabinet you are using with it, aside from stage volume.
The point is, the Hartke 3500 is a very flexible amp. It’s powerful enough to hang in with a loud band, but small and portable enough to use for coffee-house gigs.
The Hartke HA5500
I found the HA3500 had plenty of guts for what I needed to do, but if you like the look of the 3500 but feel like you need more firepower, you may want to consider the HA5500. This is the big brother to the 3500, and puts out 350 watts at 8 ohms, and a whopping 500 watts at 4 ohms.
As for tone, features and specs, most everything that applies to the HA3500 also goes for the HA5500. But if you need more power, this could be the better choice for you. Again, more power gets you more headroom, and better tone.
Check out legendary bassist Billy Sheehan and his Hartke amps in the clips below!
Billy Sheehan on the Harke HA5500
Sound, Graphic EQ and Tone Shaping
One of the things about these amps that puts them over the top for me is the 10-band graphic EQ. Many bass amps in this price range feature three or four-band EQs, or a three band with parametric mids, but the 10-band EQ really give you some incredible tone-shaping options.
I had my 3500 dialed in all over the place, depending with what kind of band I was playing. For more rock and jazz oriented music where I played using my fingers I would roll off the highs and accentuate the mids and lows to get a smoother sound.
For metal, where I played with a pick, I’d scoop it a bit to get some gravelly low-end texture.
You can play with the EQ to bring out different frequencies of your bass, and conjure up exactly the tone you are looking for. Or, you can bypass it altogether. There’s also high and low-pass knobs you can use in conjunction with the EQ, or on their own if you choose to bypass the equalizer.
The Hartke HA3500 and HA5500 feature a dual preamp system, tube and solid state. You can blend the two sounds using a pair of knobs on the face of the amp. You aren’t going to dial in Ampeg-like tube sounds, but depending on your style you might find the options here very useful.
Finally, the 3500/5500 has a built in compression system, controllable by a knob on the front panel. Again, depending on your style you may find this useful, or shut it off entirely, but it’s nice to know its there.
More from Billy Sheehan on the HA5500
That’s most of the important stuff, but the HA3500 and HA5500 have more going on that you ought to know about. There is a pair of inputs, one for basses with active electronics and one for passive. The volume of the bass is managed via one master volume control.
On the rear panel, along with a pair of speaker jacks the 3500/5500 has jacks for effects send and return, with a balance control. You’ll want to use pedals “in-line” between the bass and the amp, but if you want to use an outboard effects processor this is an easy setup.
In fact, you can mount the Hartke HA3500/5500 in a rack if you want, and include an effects processor along with any other fancy gear you wish. It takes up two rack spaces (2U), and comes with the attachable “rack ears” for mounting. I had my 3500 in a 2U rack bag for a while, and it was super easy to lug around and set up.
For hooking up with mixing consoles there is an XLR direct out with a pre/post switch for bypassing the EQ section. This is useful if you wish to allow your sound guy to manage your EQ settings. As a musician it seems kind of like blasphemy to allow someone else to arrange your tone, but as bassists we sometimes must endure such things in order to get the bass to sit right in the mix.
Again, this is testimony to the flexibility of this amp. No matter what situation you end up in as a gigging bassist, these amps have you covered.
More from Harke
To me, the Hartke 3500 and 5500 are the perfect answer to my tone and power issues as a bassist. Especially if I were playing in a band, this would be my go-to amp. But if you dig the idea of the 3500 but you're on the fence, there are few more options that might get it done for you.
The HA2500 is a head similar to the 3500, but it puts out less power and is significantly less expensive. The 2500 version pushes 250 watts at 4 ohms, and 180 watts at 8 ohms. It also comes in at around $250, which means you can add a 1x12 cabinet and put together a portable bass rig for a reasonable price. For coffee-house gigs, or as a rig you depend as a monitor while you run a line-out to the PA, it would be a great idea.
However, I personally feel like 250 watts is a little light to hang with a rock band. If that's your intention, I'd suggest considering the 3500 or 5000 instead. Or, you can go with the VX3500.
The VX3500 is a 350-watt combo amp which features the 3500 head plus a 4x10 cabinet in one package. This thing is a beast of an amp, and a great gig-worthy combo for a good price. It's big, it's bad, and it's all you'd ever need to drag to a show.
It's also pretty heavy, though it does come with casters. I think I'd rather go with the 3500 head and separate cabinet, but perhaps you are braver than I am.
The Hartke 3500 also comes mounted in a whopping 4x10 bass cabinet. This monster has all the power you need for gigs and rehearsals, all wrapped up in one package. This is the bass combo amp that 100-watt guitar stacks fear!
Obviously, I really like these amps. Sure you can spend more on some big name brands, or grab some micro boutique amp, but it’s hard to imagine you’d find more value.
Even the powerful HA5500 comes in at a street price of under $500. These might just be the best bass amp heads out there. You can pair one with a Hartke XL or VX cabinet and land yourself a half stack for under a grand.
And, they're flexible amps. You can mount the 3500/5500 in a rack bag and bring it to a small gig along with a small 1x12 cabinet, or throw it on top of a 4x10 and 1x15 bass stack. The EQ lets you dial in tones for funk, jazz, metal and rock. No matter what the situation, this little amp is ready for it.
I hope this review was helpful, and I hope you find the Hartke HA3500 bass amp as useful as I have. If you choose the HA5500 instead, more power to you!