While there is still a host of large, heavy bass amps out there that require significant muscle to move, most players, like myself, have embraced the small, lighter-weight Class D amps that take up very little real estate and pack enough of a punch to play most small to medium-size venues. One of the main benefits of their size is their mobility. I’ve toured Europe a few times with this size of amp stashed in my gig bag. I needed a cabinet to be backlined, but I always knew what kind of head I was going to be working with for the gig. Respected Italian amp and cabinet builder Markbass has been participating in this small-amp market for some time via its “Little Mark” series; the most recent offering, the Little Mark Vintage 500, brings together the best of the old and the new.
Before I get to the actual testing, I want to say that I dig the way this head looks and feels. The vintage-style knobs look cool and roll smoothly, and I appreciate the big master-volume knob (too many master knobs look like every other knob on an amp). The clear window that shows off the tube is the centerpiece, though. I had to see how it looked under stage lighting, so I turned off all the lights in my studio to check it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. True, how an amp looks matters little when compared to how it sounds, but I like rigs that look good on stages small enough where the audience can check out your gear. The soft orange glow of the input jack and preamp tube looks great.
With “Vintage” in the amp’s name, I felt that it was only fair to test out the head with my ’76 Fender Jazz Bass, so I hooked the head up to an Aguilar GS 410 (a 4Ω cabinet). I began with the EQ settings at 12:00 and the 3-way front-panel tone-selector switch set to old, which is where I left it for most of the testing. I tried out the flat and cut settings, but I enjoyed the tone created by the old setting most, at least for this bass. It offered plenty of bottom, yet still sounded clear and crisp on the top when I played funk-style lines. The tone overall is as promised: warm, full, and traditional in vibe.
A few other front-panel controls offer features that go beyond the usual options. The limiter provides players the rare option to vary the amount of this effect, although I preferred it either all the way on (for a modern, clean tone) or all the way off (for that vintage-style distortion). I also appreciated the DI-level option, for those times when you want to regulate how much signal you are sending to the front of house; I’ve played small clubs where that mattered to the sound engineer. The front-panel footswitch option, fsw, can be used with the Markworld Footswitch Dual for muting the amp and/or engaging/disengaging the 4-band EQ. Herein lies my only issue with the amp: I prefer an amp to have an onboard mute option. I don’t want to have to attach a pedal to the amp to mute it. The Little Mark Tube amp has a “pull to mute” option built into the master volume knob, so I wondered why that isn’t offered here. It would be great to see it added on later versions.
Whereas the name of this amp implies it was designed for players looking for an old-school tone and vibe, rest assured it can deliver for modern-genre players, as well. For part of the test, I plugged in my Alleva-Coppolo LM-4 with active electronics, which I use for a variety of modern-style gigs, and I was quite pleased with the results. Still, if you are like me and still have your record player in use, have vintage instruments in your arsenal, and think James Jamerson and Chuck Rainey should be declared national heroes, then you will surely want to give the Little Mark Vintage a test spin. It will take you back musically to a place that inspires us all.
Pros Legit vintage tones, beautiful aesthetics, tube preamp, real transformer in DI line out
Cons No onboard mute switch
Bottom Line The Little Mark Vintage is a compact but powerful amp with classic tones and stylish looks.
Inputs ¼"; 500kΩ
Outputs ¼", Speakon; xlr balanced DI out (600Ω); ¼" tuner out
Effect loop Unbalanced; return impedance 33kΩ
Front-panel controls Gain (–46dB–+23dB), master volume, DI level, limiter (0–max), 3-way flat/cut/old switch
Rear-panel controls Ground-lift switch, pre/post EQ switch
EQ Low, ±16dB @ 68Hz; low mid, ±16dB @ 400Hz; high mid, ±16dB @ 2.2kHz; high, ±16dB @ 10kHz
Power 500 watts rms @ 4Ω, 300 watts rms @ 8Ω
Weight 5.5 lbs
Dimensions 10.87" x 3.27" x 9.84"
Designed in Italy, built in Indonesia