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This article was originally published in issue #28
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Sometimes we can all get a bit caught up in the speed with which new technology forces obsolescence onto consumer goods. What was new last year is suddenly deemed inferior to the latest gadget we're being urged to buy. Many of us have succumbed to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) me included, always in the search for sonic nirvana and often driven by the promises of new technology. So where am I heading? Well, I guess with all of this going on around us, it's nice to know that out there, there is bass gear that has stood the test of time, so much that there's still demand for 40 year old technology and a return to a time when things seemed a whole lot simpler.
If you aren't lucky enough to have an original 1970s SVT in your collection, and in any case dread the thought of the weight and size of the gigantic 300 Watt original model, you'll be happy to hear that Ampeg has recently recreated the smaller, 100 Watt version of this legendary bass head, the V4-B, which means not only do you get something more manageable but it also comes without the worry of vintage internals and insurance premiums!
The reissue, like the original 1971 V4-B, is every bit a classic, like its more famous sibling and it delivers a similar real 'tube tone' from its four power amp valves and compliment of four valves that make up the pre-amp and driver stage.
The Ampeg's front panel is simple and rather sparse. The input gain and master volume flank a three band EQ which, for all it seems limited, offers surprisingly wide tonal shaping. But before we get to describing their effect, above the EQ stage are three rocker switches. Starting with the left most, this offers a 'deep' tone option. It boosts the lows a little and cuts the mids drastically, something that sounded superb in the studio with the SVT-212-AV cabinet we also had on test - but more on the cabinet specifically later. Moving on, to the far right, there's a bright boost for some extra top end zing - again a really nice addition especially if you are using a dull-ish passive bass that you want a bit of sparkle from. The rocker switch in the middle is a simpler version of Ampeg's familiar five way frequency control, giving you the option of three frequency centres to choose from when honing those mids, in conjunction with the mid control knob.
The whole amp is sleeved in a 15mm birch ply wooden shell which does add to the weight, however roadies (and bass players who have to lug their own gear!) will be relieved to learn it does so nowhere near as much as a tour-ready 6 x 6550-powered SVT head! It's still a substantial beast, though, at 41lbs (18Kg).
Round the back some of the connections differ from the original specification: The head features a set of separate speaker outputs instead of an impedance selector switch and I would urge you to check with the manual if you are in any way unsure about how to hitch up your cabinet! Valve amplifiers need to be correctly matched to their cabinets. Also available on the back are inputs and outputs for connecting external devices such as slave amplifiers, or running an outboard pre-amp into the valve power amplifier. Also very useful, there's a DI output with ground lift to run your valve signal out to P.A or recording device.
The SVT-212-AV cabinet that is recommended to go with this head features two offset custom Eminence LF speakers and a tweeter with variable level control. Tweeter level comes courtesy of a three way switch and a custom internal crossover. The ported cabinet weighs in at 66lbs (30Kg) which is to be expected for a non-Neodymium loaded cabinet. It's not a back breaker by any means and I'm pleased to say it delivers a fat, rounded tone with ease. Down the sides of the cabinet are a pair of heavy duty handles to make lifting and transportation easier and the Tolex covered box also features some nice dishes for your amp to sit in and not slide around on top. Connection comes in the form of just two parallel 1/4” jacks. There are no Speakon connections on either units.
So, it's pretty cool to look at, that's for sure. And does it produce that Rock bass sound for which Ampeg has become the watchword? Of course it does! With all those valves inside how could it fail to? You do need to consider, however, that 100 Watts, even 100 Watts from a set of glowing tubes, is not a huge amount of power by today's standards, especially if you are pairing it with a 2x12, even one with an added tweeter. When it was launched, the 100 Watt SVT was usually driven into a thundering great pair of 15” speakers - more in some cases! You might want to bear that in mind if you find yourself up against a manic guitarist. To get the best out of this old school head, you might just an to retaliate with some old school speakers, too!
For the right player - essentially someone looking for that definitive 1970s Rock bass sound - but who can't afford a full SVT head, or just couldn't face lugging that much weight around, this is a great amp. I personally wouldn't ask it to handle down-tuned active bass duties in a tech Metal band, but that's not what it's intended for. But for recording or use with the right Rock band, it's still a force to be reckoned with.