Friday, May 6, 2011


I'm a drummer, but I've been playing, or more accurately, playing at guitar and bass since I was in junior high school. Most of that time, my bass amp has been a tube Fender Musicmaster Bass amp, a low wattage bass amp that is for home practice for bass. They haven't made them in thirty years. I'm on my second one, which I'm convinced is not as well made as my first one, which I foolishly sold.

The beauty of the Musicmaster is that it does very well as a guitar amp, in fact, far better as a screaming tube guitar amp with that Fender tube "break-up" sound but at a lower volume than most other Fender amps because the Musicmaster is just putting out 12 watts.

I, however, have always liked the tube tone of the Musicmaster with short scale and fretless bass guitars. Without sounding like a lead guitarist talking about "his tone", I guess I just got used to the sound of tube tone from my Musicmasters over the years and other tube amps just don't seem as warm at low volumes.

Nowadays, the only true tube amps for bass cost in excess of $700, and that's catching the new Ashdown amp on sale. The Ashdown has 30 watts, which is ok for bedroom practice and home recording, but it's expensive. All other true tube amps cost in excess of a grand and have too many watts for home use. Their quiet setting is just too loud.

And therein lay my problem a few weeks ago, when my Fender Musicmaster once again took a crash dive unexpectedly and began buzzing and humming. From prior instances and the sound of it, I knew it was the caps or tubes and likely a combination of the two. If you listen real closely and turn up the tone knob slowly, you can almost hear how much it's gonna cost to get an ampman to fix it.

I'm thinking I heard it say about $300.

More money I didn't want to pay again for amp repair. Tube amps, bu their very nature, vary greatly. My first musicmaster tube amp was played A LOT by me with both bass and guitar for over ten years, and was still running flawlessly on it's first set of tubes and caps when I sold it. Dummy.

This second amp, which was in pristine condition when I got it years ago, has been a consumer of tubes. Every component in it has tested to spec or been replaced with NOS that tests to spec. I cannot understand why this amp keeps failing, given the fact it is babied.

I didn't want to look for another overpriced vintage tube amp from the seventies, because no matter what you have to repair those usually as well, no matter where you get them. And once again I've already got a broken amp waiting to be put into the repair line at the ampman.

So in my interneting and lookin' for a cheap bass tube amp, I found a bunch of threads on the Talk Bass forum talking about using the inexpensive Epiphone Valve Junior 5 watt true tube amp as a bass amp. 

I got one off of ebay, very cheaply. In great condition. Hasn't been messed with. Works flawlessly. Now, by true tube amp, I mean an amp has a tube preamplifier and then a tube power amp. Most tube amps nowadays have a tube preamp section but a solid state class D amp section, because to get 500 watts of power with a tube amp, you're going to be carrying a heavy amp with a lot of tubes.

So most tube amps for folks who gig nowadays have tube preamps and solid state amps, to save on weight.

So the Epiphone Valve Junior is a two tube amp, one tube preamp and one tube power amp, that puts out five watts. It's made for guitar, but it has plenty of power for playing bass in my bedroom or even recording through a mic'd bass cabinet into my computer. It sounds great, very tubey and warm, through a recent Austin Speaker Systems 10" NEO bass speaker in a SWR cab, and it sound fantabulous through a vintage 12" CTS speaker from a Musicmaster sitting in a Musicmaster cab.

Although this Epiphone puts out only 5 watts, it's five loud watts, because I have not even cranked it as loud as it will go on either the amp or the guitar. It's louder, and clearer and more defined, than the Musicmaster sound.

So for the home recording bassist or the bassist who wants to try some tube sound and see what they think about it, the Epiphone Valve Junior is a great amp for home practice and recording. I especially like how the fretless sounds through a tube amp, and this Epiphone brings to life my fretless. And for less than a hundred bucks, it's far cheaper than a Musicmaster repair and actually sounds better to me. More tubey.



  1. HI Phishing man,
    i keep reading and reading this post, as lately I've become so courios about the VJ that I'm searching the net for more and more opinions and facts.
    I got few questions for you, as I like the way you wrote about the cheap head. And my problem is I cannot find anywhere a sound sample, an audio track or video of this amp palyed with a bass... Do you have anything to point to me that might be useful for me to better have an idea on how this amp+bass really sounds? Thank you.

  2. Andrea, thanks for writing! I don't know any source, but if you got one off of ebay and didn't like it, it's pretty easily resold there. I've also found that some of the bass guitar forums have had posts about using tube guitar amps for home practice/recording amps.

    Everything is so high tech now. I'm fixing to buy a cheap Squier Strat that will hook via usb to my mac laptop for garageband. Still, the coolness of a tube bass vibe can't be beat for home messing around.