Chris doffs his hat to Ampeg’s venerable V4-B
After Ampeg’s successful launch of the SVT in 1969, the world looked to be a changed place as far as we bassists were concerned. No longer did we strive for volume, as 300 watts seemed ample for the larger rock venues that the SVT was designed for. It was strange, however, that Ampeg decided to launch another bass amplifier only two years later – and stranger still that it was only 100 watts.
Ampeg launched the V range in 1969, which included the V4 guitar amp. Bass players soon started to adopt the V4, enjoying its power and tone. Ampeg were quick to spot this and launched the V4-B in 1971. It was almost identical to the V4, the only major difference being the removal of the reverb unit. The V4 used a sealed 4×12 cab that was very effective for bassists. For the bass version, Ampeg offered a matching V4-B cabinet that featured a folded cabinet design and two 15” Altec Lansing 421A speakers. The result sounded huge, with fabulous low end. Unfortunately the low end projected several metres away from the cab, leaving the player needing more volume when standing next to it. To overcome this problem, it was often paired with a second 4×15 or 2×12 cabinet as a monitor, while the V4-B cab catered for the audience.
The V4-B design used four 7027A valves for its power section and two 12AX7s – a 6K11 and a 12DW7 – for the gain stage. This gave the amp 100 watts, although this figure underrates the output as it pumps out over 120 watts. The front panel features dual inputs, each with their own volume control. Alongside are Treble, Mid and Bass controls. Above the tone controls are three black rocker switches – ultra high, ultra low and a mid shift selector switch – offering three frequency settings at 300Hz, 800-1000Hz and 2500-3000Hz. The mid pot boosts and cuts above and below the selected frequency. The original V4-B was adorned with silver knobs and black switches, but the entire V range had a facelift in the mid-70s, adding white rocker switches and black knobs.
I am lucky enough to own an original mid-70s V4-B, so I can give you some insight into the rich tone of this amp. Next to modern-day amps, the V4-B is bulky. It’s 68cm wide so it hangs off the edge of most cabinets, and it weighs in at a whopping 25kg. Try lifting that up a few flights of stairs on a gig! However, plug it in and you immediately see what all the fuss is about: pure, creamy rock tone pours from this thing. For an amp rated at 100 watts it’s seriously loud and can more than keep up with my 500-watt digital amp. The sound is punchy and defined; the three mid settings all offer different, but unmistakably Ampeg, tones. Mine has become my go-to amp for recording. At low volume it provides thick tube oomph, and on cranking the volume you enter grind heaven. I actually prefer the recorded sound of my V4-B to any SVT I’ve tried.
The V4-B was re-launched in 1995, adding an ‘H’ to its name. The V4-BH had a redesigned preamp using two 12AX7s, two 12AU7s and four 6L6s. This reissue also included a few additions such as dedicated gain and presence controls, a five-position selector for the mid shift and an XLR output. The chassis was also narrower than the original in keeping with the Ampeg range at the time.
Ampeg reissued the V4-B in 2013 as well, a testament to the amp’s prolonged popularity. This model uses two 12AX7s in the preamp and four 6L6GC tubes for power. It has the gain control of the 90s reissue and also the balanced XLR out. Instead of two identical inputs, it had a 15dB cut for active basses. It’s also slightly smaller and a lot lighter than the 70s version.
While most bassists regard the SVT as Ampeg’s greatest achievement, the V4-B should receive due recognition. It offers bass players a viable option without having to spend a fortune on an SVT. Some say that the V4-B is responsible for Ampeg’s increased popularity in the 70s, and it certainly creates the sound of that era. Anyone looking for authentic rock tone should definitely give the V4-B a try.