The best practice amps for a bass guitar should be affordable, convenient, and, most importantly, reliable. Since you probably won’t be out gigging with a small practice amplifier, you won’t need something that will take a beating; instead, you need something that gets the job done and serves its purpose for a long time, which is for personal practice and jamming at home.
I’ve come across some bass combo amps that share all of these qualities, and in this article, I’ll introduce you to the ones that you can’t go wrong with.
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Why Practice Amps Are Helpful
Before I start sharing my top five amp choices, I want to briefly go over why a cheap practice amp can be much more valuable than it seems at first glance.
Obviously, it’s louder than playing the instrument acoustically, but this can also have a positive impact on your playing technique, especially if you’re going to be practicing with a fingerstyle technique very often.
There is a phrase that sometimes goes around saying, “let the amp do the work.”
When some bassists, especially beginners, play without an amp, they might overcompensate for the lack of tone and hit too hard. Not only is this exhausting, but it can reinforce bad habits. In some cases, it can cause you to strain the small muscles in the hand and wrist.
The bass is a dynamic instrument, and if you’re not running a compressor, some notes might be too loud or delicate. There is a time and place for dynamic playing, but getting an amp can prevent you from hitting notes too hard, but it can also make soft notes more audible if it’s an issue with your technique and a lack of control.
Related to some of these reasons, you’ll also want to specifically get a bass amplifier and not a guitar one so that it can handle the dynamics and frequencies of your instrument.
Overall, hearing yourself better will start to get you thinking more about how to achieve a more consistent tone.
Regardless if you play fingerstyle or with a pick, having solid technique is essential for great bass playing, and although the actual act of practicing is king, an amp can certainly help you build the skills you need by allowing you to hear what you’re playing clearly.
That’s why I highly recommend a practice amp because it will make the hours you spend with your instrument much more effective. You probably have heard the phrase “practice makes perfect” a few times if your life, but a more accurate one is “perfect practice makes perfect.”
You’ll be able to hear your flaws initially, but it will allow you to address them much quicker than if you weren’t using a practice amp. By making the corrections sooner, you’ll make mistakes less frequently. Eventually, if you practice something repeatedly with precision and great technique and tone, things will become second nature to you.
You don’t need a super loud amp to achieve these results, which is why next, I will show you some of the best bass practice amps that will serve your needs, even if you decide to get something bigger down the line.
Like their instruments, Fender has put out consistently good amplifiers. In fact, Leo Fender originally started his business as a radio repairman, so some of his earliest work was with speakers and amplifiers before branching out into making guitars and basses.
The Fender Rumble 15 is a tiny, no-frills combo amp with the most basic features needed to sound decent when practicing. It contains a single 8-inch speaker, and you’ve got a 3-band EQ for shaping your sound, and that’s about it, but for a bass amp, that’s all you really need for the most part.
Overdrive and compression are great for bassists, but you probably won’t need a bunch of effects that come on regular guitar amps.
At the end of the day, you get that classic, rich Fender tone, and that’s perfect for most people.
The auxiliary port is awesome for hooking up your devices so you can play music through the 15-watt speaker, and while it’s not designed to be an extremely loud and powerful amp, there is a headphone jack in case you need to be extremely quiet, such as if you want to practice at night without waking anyone up.
These features are pretty standard on most amps these days, though, but they’re always a good thing!
Typically, you can find this amp going for under $100, but If you want a little bit more power, there is a 25-watt version as well with the same features if your budget permits it – it’s still under $150, and it’s something to think about if you might benefit from the extra power.
- The Fender Rumble 25 V3 Bass Amplifier features 25 watts, a 1/8 inch auxiliary input jack, a 1/4 inch headphone output jack, and three band EQ
- An 8 inch Fender Special Design speaker pumps 25 watts of pure Fender bass tone
- The newly-developed overdrive circuit and switchable contour controls supply this bass amp with a rich, satisfying tone
- The top-mount control panel features ivory “soft touch radio” control knobs
- 2 Year Limited Warranty: Fender amplifiers are designed for players and built with unmatched quality, down to the last screw—Fender warrants this amplifier to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for two (2) years from original purchase
One of the most portable bass practice amps you can own is the Blackstar FLY 3 Bass. Looks can be deceiving, This is a 3-watt amp (yes, only 3-watts!), and it has one 3-inch speaker, but where it lacks in power, its strong points are in its versatility.
While the Fender Rumble has a minimalist approach to its design, the FLY 3 Bass amp comes with a few more features on its interface. Instead of a 3-band EQ, you have a single EQ knob that controls the depth. This may seem like a loss in comparison to the Fender, but it works just fine, and you’ll be able to hear how it sounds shortly. You can also work around this by getting an EQ pedal for bass.
Perhaps the best feature of this practice amp for bass that you can get for under $100 is that it is super-compact and can be entirely battery-powered, making it the most portable option in this list. It lives up to its name – it’s as light as a fly (well, not exactly, but it’s very light), and you play on the fly. However, you can plug it in, too, if you want to, but the adaptor is sold separately.
- 3 Watts; Clean and Overdrive channels; 3″ speaker
- On-board Compressor; Patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature)
- MP3/Line In for jamming along or listening to music
- Emulated Line Out for ‘silent’ practice or recording
You can also connect to a 2nd FLY 3 to make it a stereo amp system, and there is a bundle with two 3W amps, which also come with a couple of power supplies while still being under $150.
Unlike the Fender Rumble, you get an overdrive, compression, which can control with the ratio knob, and a sub-bass option to use, which I think can be very useful. I pretty much always use compression to help keep my tone very even.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s important not to go too crazy with the overdrive and volume on this little amp. Most of the demos you’ll find online are mic’d up, but you can still get this gist of how good it can sound; just don’t push it to its limits!
Like Fender, Peavey is another brand that has been involved with instruments and amps at the same time. I think Peavey has made some really underrated instruments over the years, and my favorite 5-string bass that I own is a Peavey Foundation from the mid-90s. While Peavey still puts out good guitars and basses, they are probably best known for their amps these days.
Peavey makes impressive entry-level amps for their price, and this one, while it’s very similar to the Rumble 15 in terms of features, there are a few differences that help it stand out.
The Peavey Max 126 has 10 watts and a 6½-inch speaker, compared to the 15 watts from the 8-inch speaker in the Rumble 15, but the Peavey comes with a vintage gain control and is made with TransTube technology, which helps try to emulate a tube sound, as best as it can at this price point.
Even if it’s not comparable to the sound of a real tube sound from a much bigger amp, you can still get a lot of grit from your bass tone, which works well with practicing those older classic rock tunes.
If you love overdriven tones, this is definitely the amp for you!
While all of the amps that are discussed in this article are durable, Peavey stuff tends to be constructed pretty solidly. My old Peavey bass is built like a tank, and this little bass practice amp seems to be as well. Sure, you might be losing out on some wattage, but you win with Peavey’s history of reliability.
- 10 watts (rms) into 4 ohms
- Selectable Vintage Gain control with patented TransTube circuitry
- Volume control
- Low and High EQ controls
- 6.5 inch speaker
Now we’re getting into brands that are well known for their bass amps specifically! Hartke is one of the top bass amp manufacturers, and while they are involved with guitar amplifiers, the bass ones are where they shine.
The Hartke HD15 is no exception, and the quality that goes into making their bigger, more expensive amps is still here with this practice amp.
In this amp, you get 15 watts from a 6 ½-inch speaker, a 3-band EQ, headphones, and auxiliary inputs, so all-in-all, it’s nearly identical to the Fender Rumble, except for their HyDrive technology on the speaker.
HyDrive is a concept created by Hartke, which involves a speaker made with a hybrid of paper and aluminum. This allows you to achieve a great balance between roundness and attack, which is something I think people are always trying to dial in.
All of these little details might not mean too much to the beginner, but it’s still important that your amp sounds good. I think something that sounds great at a low price can definitely be motivating for new players, and it encourages them to keep going.
Like the Peavey, this amp is extremely well-made, and it is reinforced with metal corners, and it’s also pretty nice to look at as well. I’d go as far as saying it’s the second-best-looking amp here, following the one that we will go over next.
- 15 watts of output power
- 6.5″ HyDrive paper and aluminum cone driver
- Top-mounted amplifier with Volume, Bass, Mid and Treble controls
Finally, the last bass amp under $200 that we’ll cover is the Ampeg BA-108. Ampeg, along with Hartke, is one of the titans of the bass amp market, and I think they’ve consistently put out great products from the top to the bottom level.
I’ve had the pleasure of trying out all of the amps in this guide and giving them their fair share, but I think Ampeg takes the cake. It’s the best-sounding amp for the money (in my opinion!)
It doesn’t have as many features as the BlackStar, and on paper, it’s similar to the amps in this list, but it’s my personal favorite one here. I think this and Hartke strike a wonderful balance between the highs and lows, and you can comfortably adjust things to your liking on both of them, but this particular amp is #1 for me. I think that this one is just a bit more powerful compared to Hartke.
- 20-watt output
- 8″ Ampeg Custom8 speaker
- 3-band EQ
- 1/8″ stereo and 1/4″ mono auxiliary inputs with level control
- 1/8″ headphone output
It’s also the most powerful practice amp in this list (unless you decide to upgrade to a Fender Rumble 25 from the 15); it uses an 8-inch speaker and 20 watts, so you get a little extra “oomph” to your playing.
I also like that you can have the option to have the amp at an angle, so you don’t have to lean over too much to adjust things if you prefer to keep it on the floor since the controls are on the front of the amp, rather than on top like most of the amps we’ve talked about.
Overall, you won’t be let down if you go with this one. Even at this price range, it still sounds like an Ampeg, despite lacking the power of its big brothers.
Although my top bass practice amp was the Ampeg, I still vouch for the other ones here. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t have made my list, after all! These are definitely the best practice amps for bass under $200, and if you can get your hands on any of them, I think you’ll be happy.
Not only do they sound good, but the value that a reliable amp will add to your practice sessions will is so significant that it’s nearly impossible to put a price on it.
We’ve already gone over the benefits of using a practice amp earlier, but compared to not using one, you should see an improvement in your playing much quicker. You won’t have to use as much effort to hear yourself.
While adding pressure to your strings can add expression, doing excessively and playing with too much tension will slow you down, and this can be a hard habit to break. You will need to learn how to keep these dynamics under control, and that comes with time, and a compressor, of course.
Hopefully, I could help you find a practice amp that you’ll be able to enjoy and keep improving with for years to come. You might come across something bigger and better when you need to perform, but you can always rely on and come home to a small amp meant for practicing.