The Bassman gets a tune-up

I’ve just spent the last hour and a half annoying my wife and dog by practicing through my 1959 Fender Bassman reissue, an amp I rarely play any more (but that’s about to change).

The Bassman (that’s it on the right in this photo of the Amps I Own) long has been the standard through which other amps are judged. Originals from the 1950s fetch close to $5K (or more) these days; Fender currently makes a hand-wired copy that runs about $1,200; this particular amp cost about $750 new but isn’t an exact copy of the original. It uses printed circuit boards and, when stock, puts out more wattage than the classic Bassman; the reissues of this era are typically brighter, cleaner and less compressed-sounding than the originals.

This particular amp was built in 1990 — the first year of the reissues — and I picked it up on the cheap in the mid-1990s. I immediately loved it because it was ‘spongier’ and less clean-sounding than the typical reissues, but in the last year or so, it had gotten softer- and softer-sounding and needed a trip to the shop. Since I used it so little, I was in no particular hurry to do that.

Then, a few weeks ago, I played through longtime area harp player Steve Levine’s Bassman — an amp I once owned but sold to him because I found it too sterile-sounding — and my jaw dropped. It was the best-sounding Bassman reissue I’d ever heard and I knew someone had gotten his hands on it. Steve told me that Dru Lore — a longtime area musician and amp tech — had worked on the amp. Since my amp needed a shop visit anyway, I gave Dru a call.

He took the amp, replaced a handful of caps and resistors, separated the cathodes on the pre-amp tubes, cleaned up the amp a bit, reversed the polarity on all of the speaker outputs (the reissue is ‘wired backwards’ to the speakers when compared to the original) and — wow.

I was shocked — shocked! at the tone of this amp when I got it home. When you hit the sweet spot with it, the amp is extraordinarily punchy and has fantastic, traditional amplified harp tone. I cannot imagine a room this amp could not fill.

Dru also tossed me a simple diagram to bridge the two channels and insert an echo into the mix –I’ve never bridged channels because I always found that it led to too many feedback woes — and that also works fantastically. And with a little adjusting, the Bassman still sounds good at low volumes as well. I’m really happy with this work and I look forward to gigging out with the Bassman.


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