A good bass amp can be your best friend. You’ll want to find something that gives you a good primary tone and then allows you to play around after that. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, as musical gear is very nuanced. Do you want the notes to come through with a nice punch? Or do you want a booming tone that is deep and reverberating?
In this article, we’ll go over some of the best bass amps that you can find for under $500. From amps that you can take on stage, to something you will be able to use to practice in your apartment without waking up the neighbors, we’ll cover it here.
- What Are You Looking For?
- Best Cheap Bass Amps 2020 (Under $500)
- How to Choose the Best Bass Amp for You
What Are You Looking For?
This will all depend on what you are hoping to accomplish with your bass amp. Some people may be looking for something that they can use on stage performing at a gig, while others want something that will give them crisp and clear tones at low volumes. There are ways to tell what you’re getting before even playing an amp, such as:
The Size of the Speaker
Generally the bigger the speaker, the deeper and more booming it will be. These are great for when you really want those low notes to stand out. While bigger speakers don’t generally have trouble with treble, they can be a bit muddier than smaller speakers. On the opposite end, smaller speakers will allow for more punch and space between the notes, giving you a clearer sound.
The Wattage of the Amp
Depending on what you are using the amp for, you can get away with varying degrees of wattage. For those who are just looking to practice by themselves, they can get away with a very low amount. But, for someone in a thrash metal band who has the goal of blasting out the audience’s ears, they will need something with much more wattage. Simply put, the wattage will help determine how loud your amp can get.
Of course, there’s not a bass amp in the world that will make you this good. You’ll need to practice for that. A lot. To help you get there, let’s check out some bass amps.
Best Cheap Bass Amps 2020 (Under $500)
This combo amp is on the small end of the Fender Rumble series, but it still packs a punch. This amp has everything you would expect if you have used a Fender amp before. The top mount control panel is highly intuitive, and even if you don’t know what you are doing with it, a few hours of messing around will have you feeling like a pro.
This comes with Fender’s classic overdrive channel, which can be especially effective when put on bass tones. You’ll be able to adjust the brightness and the roundness of your sound with the click of a button. There’s even a vintage button that gives this amp an old school radio feel.
You will also be pleased to find not only a headphone out but an auxiliary port as well. In classic Fender fashion, this amp is certainly heavier than it looks, but because of the size of this smaller model, it is plenty easy to travel with.
There is a reason this is the number one pick on our list. For the value, you aren’t going to find a better bass amp than the Fender Rumble 25. It handles the low-end alarmingly well for its size and is regularly lauded for the clarity of sound you get out of it.
It doesn’t have as many pre-amp options as the larger offerings in the line, but that is because this amp is very much meant for at-home practice. One of the drawbacks of having less control than the larger versions is that there isn’t a way to control the gain with this amp. Impressively, even when pushed to its highest volume, this amp remains clean and clear.
If you are looking to play gigs, the 40 is considered a really good option. It is more expensive, but it is loud enough to do the trick. The 25 might work for small venue shows, but we wouldn’t recommend this as a regular gigging amp. Note, if you’re serious about touring but are still on a budget, you can stay under your $500 dollars all the way up to the Fender 200.
This is a 75-watt amp, so you know that it can pack plenty of punch. Speaking of which, it has a 7 band EQ that will allow you to determine exactly how much punch you would like! As for setting the tone, you will have the option to adjust your bass, treble, mids, and volume, but lacks some of the overdrive features of the Fender amp.
This amp comes with a 12-inch hybrid cone driver and a 2-inch tweeter. It also has both active and passive inputs. Those looking to practice at home will be able to utilize the headphone out and an auxiliary. This amp also has a built-in limiter.
This amp doesn’t allow for some of the flexibility that the above Fender amp does in terms of overdrive, but when it comes to a crisp bass tone, not many beat out Hartke. There’s a reason they are known as one of the better bass amp manufacturers, and the HD75 Combo is a good example of why.
Passive and active inputs will allow you to play around with your tone, sometimes even allowing you to get a bit of distortion if you set it up just right. The 7 band EQ allows you to put out a range of sounds, allowing you to choose from something nice and punchy to something more booming and full. This is an ideal amp for playing out at small venues and also for touring.
It’s heavy, but compared to some others, it’s not so bad. This amp even does a good job of having a keyboard hooked up and playing at the same time through the auxiliary input. The built-in limiter allows you to play loudly without clipping.
Though this amp doesn’t come with built-in effects, it might just be the perfect amp if you have a big pedalboard. Considering the main function of this amp is to get a good crisp tone, those effects are going to sound even better going through a system with this much power and precision.
This small amp is packed with plenty of surprises. First off, it has a wide range of effects that you can play around with. The six effects included are a flanger, a phaser, chorus, delay, tremolo, and reverb. The speakers themselves are only four inches, but there are four of them, and they are surprisingly loud.
This amp is truly a practice amp, as it comes with a drum machine that allows you to customize the type of beat you are playing with several variations of each and a tap tempo feature which allows you to do exactly that; tap out the tempo you want to play.
There are 7 different pre-amp settings, from acoustic to metal, plus a built-in tuner. The headphone out allows you to do this all quietly in the comfort of your own residence. This amp can run off of 6 AA batteries for up to 11 hours, or you can plug it in with an AC adapter.
We’ll start with one negative because there is so much positive to say about this tiny package; if you are looking for an amp where you can really fine-tune the tone you are playing with, this isn’t the amp for you. That isn’t to say that you have no control over your tone. Between the presets and the three EQ knobs, you’ll be able to play around plenty, but compared to the Hartke HD75, not as much.
This amp is so small you wonder if it could even hold up to a practice session in your bedroom, but you find out it is loud enough and clear enough to use for a small venue gig. Not only that, but the effects are super clean and really fun. The drum machine with the premade beats gives you an extra bit of creativity, whether you are playing a solo gig or just jamming out at home. Not only does this pump out an impressive amount of volume, but the depth of the tone is surprising as well.
While we do think that this can be used in small venues, larger and louder groups would probably find this too quiet for their liking. It is one of our more expensive budget amps too.
4. Vox AP2BS
This product clearly has very limited use, but that use is pretty awesome. For those of you who want to just plug their bass into a pair of headphones, Vox has made that possible. This little amp runs off of two AAA batteries which should be good for up to 17 hours of continuous playing and is small enough that you can put it in your pocket. It has one input for your instrument and another auxiliary input. You are in control of your tone up to a point, but considering the size of this item, any control is pretty impressive. These little amps give you three amp presets to select from, plus three different effects to play with. The plug itself rotates 180 degrees so you don’t have to worry as much about accidentally unplugging this as you are playing.
Vox’s headphone bass amp sounds incredibly clean. You don’t have too much control over the tone you are using, but considering the size of this amp, you get a decent amount. The sound itself is crystal clear – as if you were playing through a combo amp or a cabinet. The difference, obviously, is that this is meant for headphones, and no one will ever hear the beautiful music you are making with it. The three preset effects are good but not great, but they can certainly serve their purpose. More than anything, you’ll be charmed by how warm and clean the bass tones you get out of this amplifier are.
There are other models of this that might be fun to try out as well, such as blues or metal, though this is the only one in the line specifically made for the bass. This amp is also not only $500 but under $100.
The top mount control panel is as simple as it gets. You have three knobs that will control how you sound: volume, tone, and gain. Next to the tone knob is an overdrive button that clicks on or off switching you between two channels. This amp helps eliminate buzzing and outside noise such as radio interference. This amp can run off of 6 AA batteries or you can power it with the 9V adapter that comes with the amp. There is both an auxiliary input and a headphone input. It’s also very pretty, with a futuristic and sleek feel to it.
This is a really good product for the price. Those looking for a more refined sound will want to look elsewhere, but this little amp offers plenty of punch when dialed in correctly. Of course, with only three ways to adjust your tone, dialing in won’t take too long. This is not an amp that could be used for playing gigs and is more suited for someone who just picked up the bass. This is a really good amp if you want to jam with your friends who happen to be playing acoustic instruments, and all you have is your electric bass.
This might be a product you buy knowing that you will outgrow it soon. That said, it may be useful for inspired recording engineers looking for different tones or cheap amps to blow out in fun ways. It’s certainly cheap enough for you not to feel bad doing that.
This is a no-nonsense practice amp that could also be used for small venue gigs. The control panel is on the front and allows for standard options. Here, you control the volume, bass, mids, and treble. There is a built-in limiter that you control yourself by the simple press of a button.
The speaker itself is 8 inches, which supports the 20-watt output nicely. This amp comes with two auxiliary inputs, one of which is an ⅛ inch stereo input and the other is a ¼ inch mono input.
One of our least favorite aspects of this amp is the headphone input. This is because it is an ⅛ inch input, meaning you’ll have to dig around to find one of those pesky ¼ inch adaptors that are so easy to lose.
Ampeg is known for its full and deep tones and you’ll find the same with this practice amp. Finding the optimal tone with this amp is easy, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it’s easy, but it is bad because there isn’t much you can do with the 3 band EQ.
There is only one channel, so those looking to play with overdrive will be disappointed, though if you push an Ampeg hard enough, you can certainly get it to put out some level of distortion. This is definitely not recommended, especially if you want your amp to last. This isn’t an amp that is meant to get too loud, but it is perfectly suitable for coffeehouse gigs or smaller venues.
This is another good amp for those with pedals that they want to work into their rotation because it only has one channel. The reason for thinking this is that once you set your tone on the amp, you leave that where it is and can then really dial in where you want your pedals to be.
For those who like the simple and retro aesthetic of Vox equipment, you’ll notice that they have strayed away from it here. It is on the small side. The 5-inch Bulldog speakers are powered by a 10-watt amp, delivering a crisp, if not deep, bass tone.
The top mount control panel gives you a drive option, but we wonder why we lost the option to equalize mids in the process, as there is only a bass EQ and treble EQ. There are two channels you can switch between; clean and drive. The drive channel is less crunchy and warmer, which tends to sound better with a bass guitar. Also on the top mount control panel is a multi-use ¼ inch headphone/input jack.
Pushing this amp to higher volumes may leave you disappointed, but if you use it for its intended purpose, which is practice, you should be plenty fine with it. The Vox combo amp gives off a warm sound that isn’t too deep but has a nice punch to it.
The drive channel adds an extra layer of warmth as opposed to a harsher crunch you might get with some other amps. One of the issues we have with this amp is that it has a hard time handling the low end, which, for a bass amp, is not great. Middle and higher notes sound terrific. They are clean and defined, but the lower notes tend to muddy up quickly, and considering the lack of options for dialing in your tone, there really isn’t much you can do. Some people might find this amp suitable for playing gigs in smaller venues, but we think there are better options at the price point.
Considering the price and performance, this is a great amp for beginners. Why not start your bass playing career with a classic looking amp made by a classic company? For a beginner amp, it has a beginner price. For what you pay, you’ll be happy how long this little combo amp lasts you.
This is a great piece of equipment because it is simple while giving you tons of options. Behringer has made an amp head that has two channels, and you fully control both. One of the first things you’ll notice is the full 7 band equalizer that gives you the ability to dial in your tone to your exact specifications.
There is a light display behind the sliders that goes up and down as each note is played, effectively showing you the shape of the sound you have at any given time. The drive channel has its own set of knobs for control, allowing you to adjust the level of drive and the shape of the sound. The clean channel has a dedicated gain option. For both of these channels, you will be able to use the built-in compressor to avoid any peaking when you are really pushing your amp.
The Ultrabass option is a subharmonic processor that allows low notes to really shine. There is an XLR direct input in the back, as well as a ¼ inch headphone in, stereo in for a CD or record player, and three line outs which can be used for effect pedals you already have or the drive switch that comes with the amp head. Also, any gigging musician will appreciate this, it is super light.
Interestingly enough, this is an amp with two excellent channels to play with, but it is hard to change between the two and have it feel seamless. The drive channel gives you a defined warm distortion, while the clean channel gives you wonderfully crisp tones.
As for power, you’ll never be lacking with this head. It can compete and stand out in some of the loudest settings imaginable. The compressor is not the best, and those with a pedalboard might want to consider using their own compressor instead.
The Ultrabass option might not do much for someone with a less than finely tuned ear, but for those who will be able to hear it, you’ll notice deeper lows and punchier highs. This option is meant to be used when the bass is put at the forefront of a song, such as a solo. For those who don’t have pedals and aren’t used to them, you can start practicing with the included footswitch which toggles between the clean and drive channels.
This is a really good beginner amp head. Those who have been using combos and want to start playing with cabs and stacks can look at this as an inexpensive option to start figuring out a setup that works for them.
As for why it is so low on the list? Because it requires a speaker that it doesn’t come with, which could easily put it over the $500 mark.
As far as amp heads go, this is a great value. You’ll spend under $500 with some money left over to get the rest.
With the Blackstar FLY headphone amp, you’ll be able to control gain, tone, and volume. There is an ⅛ inch auxiliary input, with the headphone jack also being ⅛ inch, which is a bit frustrating as you’ll probably need an adapter. The thing that makes this little amp stand out is the built-in drum machine.
As far as sound goes, this is just okay. The flimsy feeling gain, tone, and volume knobs don’t give you too much room to play with when it comes to how your bass is going to sound. The neat thing, and why we put it on this list, is the included drum machine. Though, as cool as it is, it doesn’t come with a straight 4/4 beat, which is very curious.
Considering how good the Vox option sounds, this is really only for those who want to play through headphones and have a drum machine going while doing it. If there is a gimmicky option on this list, this is it, but the gimmick is very cool.
How to Choose the Best Bass Amp for You
Now that you’ve seen some options, you might have a better idea of what it is that you are looking for. Let’s take a bit more of a nuanced look at some of the options you might consider.
What Type of Amp Do You Want?
These are meant specifically for practice. They are what they sound like they are. Headphone amps are tiny little interfaces that you plug into your bass and then run headphones out so you can practice easily and without disturbing anyone around you. The top headphone amp on our list is the Vox headphone amp.
These are the most common amps you will find. Both the amplifier and speaker are included with combo amps. These can be tiny practice amps that have 4-inch speakers up to huge amps that can totally blow out a room. The Fender range at the top of our list are mainly combo amps.
Heads and Cabinets
These are effectively combo amps stripped down to their two basic roots. The head is the actual amplifier which will allow you to equalize and tinker with your sound. The cabinet is the speaker. These are generally larger setups, though some swear by heads and use them even with smaller speakers. Some people refer to this setup as a “stack.”
So Now What?
After you’ve decided what kind of setup to get, you’ll want to go into more detail. The first of those would be:
Tube Amp or Solid-State
This is an age-old debate among audiophiles, though most would probably lean towards tube amps. These amps push sound through by sucking the electrical signal into what looks like a light bulb and then pushing it out. These amps are known for their warmth and naturally distort more easily than a solid-state amp. They are also less durable as you can easily blow out a tube, but they are pretty easy to fix as it is akin to changing a light bulb (more complicated, but similar).
Solid-state amps use transistor circuits to make sense of the input it gets from your instrument, and then they turn it into sound. These amps have less warmth but are known for having a clearer sound when played clean. You can look at the history of music and see all sorts of legendary players that have used tube amps and solid-state amps.
Delay the Chorus!
Once all of that is decided, you’ll want to figure out the bells and whistles. Some people which can produce many effects. Every musician remembers the first time they played with delay and laid it on thick. Unfortunately, the more effects an amp has built-in, the more often it diminishes the sound quality of the amp. Beginners may not notice this, but experienced players will.
Keep It Clean!
Others will opt for a no-frills approach. Some people don’t even want a drive channel on their amp. These are the folks who are seeking to find the clearest and cleanest tone that they can. Does that sound like you? If so, you’ll be looking for an amp with as many EQ settings as possible, like the Hartke HD75.
Since it is a fairly expensive purchase, there can be pressure to get the perfect amp when you are shopping for your first one. But, as all musicians learn, one is never enough and down the road, you’ll find reasons to buy another. One day you’re sitting on top of your Fender 5 inch practice amp, and the next you’re in a basement with 80 different drum kit pieces, 42 guitars, and amps surrounding every wall of the house. Well, one can dream.
The beauty is that as long as they work, there is something you can do with any amplifier. Maybe you love the clean sound of your Ampeg but want to hear what it sounds like with the cackle of your half-blown stack. That’s easy! Go buy a splitter and plug your guitar into both at the same time. It may wake up the neighbors and also the rest of the block, but you’ll be in heaven.
So, even if you don’t get the perfect amp the first time through, there’s always the next one. And we have a good feeling you’ll love your first one anyway.