Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Henriksen JazzAmp 12 Bass Amp

Amplifying an acoustic bass is always a challenge. Putting together a sound that is a reasonable facsimile of the instrument involves that magical combination of a good instrument setup, pick-ups, and a clean, properly equalized amplifier. Most jazz bassists are looking for a clean sound that accurately reproduces the voice of their instrument, only louder. Distortion, reverb and other effects are taboo amongst bass purists and manufacturers of amplifiers for acoustic basses have worked hard to accommodate the distinct needs.

Beginning in 1949, the sound reinforcement devices of choice for upright bassists were the tube amplifiers made by Ampeg. These still sound great, but do have a bit of tube distortion that many bass purists find troublesome. In the early 1980s Walter Woods revolutionized the bass world with his line of solid-state amplifiers that could reproduce the instrument with a clarity that became an industry standard. I can easily recall a time when, if you walked into a club and saw that tiny red amp with its tiny shiny bright red light, you knew the bass player was going to have a sound and that he was there to play. Since then there have been a handful of new amplifiers for bass that have challenged the benchmark set by Woods. In the ’90s the Acoustic Image Clarus amplifier and Contra combo challenged the Woods legacy and more than equaled it. The Acoustic Image amplifiers possess a warm tone and the ability to fine-tune the equalization for any sized room. The thrust speaker built into the combo unit is a critical innovation that enhances the bottom of the instrument’s voice (but also adds a lot of weight to the amp and makes it surprisingly heavy for its size).

And so we come to the present. In 2007, the Henriksen JazzAmp is the standout amplifier among the more recent entries to the arena of acoustic bass sound reinforcement and the innovations it introduces may well reset the bar for the music industry. Having stated this, I should point out that it comes with a steep learning curve that may keep some bassists from wanting to use it. It is not an amp that you can simply plug in and play, and for the first two weeks I used it, I wasn’t a fan. It takes a bit of work and fine-tuning to understand the nuances of its structure. Once mastered, however, many bassists are going to find this amplifier is capable of capturing sound qualities they didn’t even know their instrument possessed.

Henriksen’s primary innovation is to replace the traditional amplifier structure of volume and tone control with a five-band equalizer that controls the volume of each of the five levels of tonal frequency. This means that each frequency on the equalizer has its own volume control. Once the balance has been established with the equalization, there is also a main volume that controls the dynamic level of the amplifier.

It is pretty difficult to get a tonal balance that allows for all four strings to sing with equal weight and quality and most bass amps tend to emphasize the sound of either the upper strings or the lower strings. Since each string on a double bass functions at a different sound frequency, the innovative equalizer sound controls on the Henriksen bass amp allow for much greater control over the sound for the individual strings. But, with great control comes a great learning curve. Getting this high-quality balanced sound from a Henriksen amplifier involves a lot of time tweaking the equalizer controls and experimenting to get this ideal sound. Also, one problem that the Henriksen people will want to address in the next generation of the amplifier is that the controls are fairly fine tuned, but the knobs turn a bit too easily. Even a slight turn of the controls can have a noticeable effect on the overall sound. Because of the sensitivity of the equalizer and the slipperiness of the knobs I’d recommend taking notes and writing down your settings to avoid any sonic train wrecks. There are at least two other advantages to the equalization controls: the first is that you can modify your sound to compensate for bad-sounding rooms, and the second is that you can modify your sound to compensate for your instrument. When I travel I use a Gage Czech-Ease bass. With the Henriksen amplifier, I found that I could boost the low end of my Czech-Ease’s voice and emphasize some lower frequencies that could not be heard as easily when I played the bass unplugged. I guess that’s cheating, but the Henriksen amplifier gave the bass an incredibly full sound.

At 29 lbs, with a 12-inch, eight-ohm, 120-watt Eminence speaker, the Henriksen amplifier is relatively light and most bassists will be pleased to learn that the price tag is also significantly less than most other comparable combo amps currently on the market. I didn’t like the quarter-inch send line and would have preferred a stereo connector with a built-in DI so that the amp could hook up directly with the soundboard, and I would hope that Henriksen will consider such a modification in the future.

Originally Published