The proliferation of lightweight bass rigs makes it easy to forget that we once all boasted about how heavy our gear was, how far we had to carry it for a gig, and how big of a car we had to own to haul it around. Yeah, those were the days. Okay, not really.
One of the companies that has significantly contributed to the growing number of bass players with happy ears and happy backs is Aguilar Amplification. Well established as a leader in bass innovation — from amps to pickups to pedals — Aguilar has been pushing the envelope of what lightweight gear can offer with the Tone Hammer amps and the SL series of cabinets. Recently, we tested the newest members of these lineups: the Tone Hammer 700 (big brother to the Tone Hammer 500) and the SL 115 cabinet. Aguilar sent along three SL 115s, the TH 700, and a SL 410x, so I was able to put together various configurations.
My first chance to test this gear came when I was leading a music workshop with Victor Wooten at a local university here in Nashville. When playing with another bassist, Vic tends to privilege the higher end of the sonic spectrum, leaving the lower range for the other player. As such, I decided to build a rig that was all about the bottom. I took two eight-ohm SL 115s, the Tone Hammer 700, and my MIJ Fender ’75 Reissue Jazz Bass (with a Sadowsky three-knob preamp installed). With a SL 115 in each hand, the amp in my gig bag’s outside pouch, and the bag strapped on my back, I only needed to make one trip from the car. Super-light, indeed.
As expected, this setup delivered meaty lows, but I was surprised by the punchy, clear, and crisp tones coming from the midrange and even the upper end. Dave Boonshoft, president/CFO of Aguilar, explains that while some 1x15s are specifically created to act as a subwoofer, Aguilar designed the SL 115 with full-range capabilities. Its frequency response is listed as 35Hz–4kHz, but it had no problem reproducing tones beyond that. I could easily see gigging with two SL 115s and the TH 700 head.
Back home, I set up a couple different rigs. First, I paired the TH 700 with an eight-ohm SL 115 and the SL 410x. For the other, I ran the TH 700 with a single four-ohm SL 115 to try that out as a standalone option. I then played a variety of basses through each. Both setups produced distinctively warm and punchy tones without any heavy coloration. Not an accident, says Boonshoft. “We don’t want our speakers to act like filters, but rather simply be a good transducer.” I should also mention that I own a variety of amps and cabinets from Aguilar, including DB 412, GS 410, and AG 500 heads (none of which are lightweight), so I had a good baseline for testing the SL series. While the SL series has its own character, I found it to be comparable in quality, power, and transparency.
Stacking the SL 410x (44Hz–16kHz) on top of the SL 115 made for the perfect combination. I couldn’t believe the rumble it produced when I played one of my 5-string basses through it. I stood in front of it for about an hour just playing tunes that required the use of the B-string so I could revel in the way the low notes spoke with authority. Again, no noticeable filtering here, just a good transducer doing its job. Did I mention it rumbled? Seriously — I vibrated one picture and a signed drum head off my studio walls. What amazed me more, however, was that through all that rumble, each note’s distinctive quality and overtones stood out. Of all the ways I tested the SL 115 and TH 700, this configuration was my favorite.
As expected, pairing the TH 700 and the four-ohm SL 115 resulted in the cab putting out serious volume. I never pushed it as far as it could go (I still had some pictures on my wall and wanted them to stay there), but I cranked it enough to convince me that, as a standalone cabinet and head, the rig would serve me well for small to mid-size stages. Whether at low or high volume, the SL 115 delivered, and that is probably the best praise I can offer overall; each of these setups provided similar high-level performance at all volumes, and the Tone Hammer 700’s volume, gain, and drivecontrols let you dial in about as much grit as you want at any decibel level.
The TH 700 is set to deliver 700 continuous watts into four ohms and also into 2.67 ohms. That means you could connect an 8 and a 4 ohm cabinet at the same time without causing an amp shutdown. I don’t recommend mismatching cabinets like that, since one cab will draw more power than the other and thus produce uneven volume levels, but the Tone Hammer 700 allows for it. When I asked Dave Boonshoft about it, he said, “At Aguilar, we are in the business of making tools for bass players, and we never want them to fail, regardless of the reason why.” That’s an attitude I can get behind.
We currently live in a bass world dominated by 10s and 12s, but my experience this past month with the Tone Hammer 700 and SL 115 makes me wonder if 1x15 cabs might be gearing up for a rematch. If so, expect Aguilar to be coaching from the corner of the ring. Designed to serve players well, on and off the road, the TH 700 and the SL cabinet series promise to be easy on your back and awesome in your ears.
Street Tone Hammer 700, $899.00; SL 115, $999.00
Pros Powerful, super-light gear that packs a heavyweight punch.
Bottom Line Light gear, heavy sounds.
Tone Hammer 700
Power output 700 watts @ 2.67Ω or 4Ω, 350 watts @ 8Ω
Preamp section Solid state
Power Section Class D
Transformer Switchmode power supply (SMPS)
EQBass ±17dB @ 40Hz, mid±16dB @ 180Hz–1kHz, treble±14dB @ 4kHz
Inputs One ¼" input jack, compatible with all active and passive basses
Effect Loop Series operation, adds 6 dB of gain
Outputs Two Neutrik Speakon speaker outputs, XLR balanced output with pre/post EQ and ground-lift switch, tuner output
Cooling Two high-quality whisper fans with thermal speed control
Dimensions 12"W x 9"D x 3"H
Weight 4.9 lbs (2.2 kg)
Warranty Three years limited
Power handling 400 watts RMS
Frequency response 35Hz–4kHz
Sensitivity 99dB (1W/1M)
Impedance Available in 4Ω or 8Ω
Dimensions 19.6"H, 21.9"W, 15.4"D
Weight 34 lbs