REVIEW: Ashdown Little Bastard 30 bass amp
You know this is not your grandpa’s bass amp when the first thing you read on the Ashdown wesbite about it is “Rebellious, uncompromising and cool as f***, James Dean – and the car he nicknamed the Little Bastard – are the inspiration for this iconic, all-tube mini bass amp head.” Even a quick glance at the amp is enough to tell you it’s probably not going to sound overly polite, and that’s before you even see what’s written on it. It looks like something you’d find on the dashboard of a vampire punk’s hot rod in an alternate universe futuristic 1950s. Check out all that chrome. All the vinyl. The cool illuminated VU meter. Chunky-ass switches. This is an amp that means business.
The Little Bastard preamp stage includes both ECC83 and ECC82 tubes, while the 30 watt power section packs quartet of EL 84s. Preamp controls include and features High and Low gain inputs (active or passive if you want to read it that way), front panel-mounted Effects Send and Return jacks, Bass, Middle and Treble pots with Mid Shift, Bass Shift and Bright switches (which kinda remind me of hardcore chunky versions of the switches on the old Atari 2600 – ask your great grandparents what that is), Mute switch, and Volume pot. The VU meter gives you a visual indication of the amp’s output, rather than the input gain as you might somewhat reasonably expect if you were worried about things like distortion. Don’t worry, if you’re playing the Little Bastard we know you’re looking for a little grit.
Around the back you’ll find the power switch and the fuse, as well as the speaker outputs (dedicated 1/4″ jack connectors for 4 and 8Ω load speaker cabinet configurations) and an XLR DI output. This DI output, which can be connected to a low impedance, balanced input on a PA system or recording mixer, is taken from a separate winding on the output transformer, allowing the full character of the valve tone to be sent to the PA or recording console.
So how’s this little bastard sound? Well, it’s not a raging distorto-beast designed to sound like a crapped out fuzz box. Rather, it taps into that gloriously rich, sonorous, punchy, fat bass tone of days gone by. The kind of low-end grind that made vintage Van Halen rock as hard as they rolled, and which makes Steve Harris’s bass stand out so boldly in Iron Maiden. There’s a nice range of tonal variation available with the various switches (my favourite setting: Middle at 4, bass at 5, treble at 6, mid and bass shifts on, bright switch off, rocking my passive bass through the high channel). This little monster handled the full force of my Ibanez TR series 5-string bass’s low B string on only the neck pickup without a sweat. The FX loop came in very handy for adding a little bit of external reverb to play up the vintage vibe, and for adding chorus and compression for a more modern attack. And one special thing to note: the jacks themselves feel extremely solid and ‘grippy.’ Little things like that always give me a lot of confidence in an amp.
The Little Bastard is definitely loud enough for bar and club stages, and with the DI it will be loud enough for arenas too since you’ll be feeding it through the front of house. While it makes some effort to give you a lot of sound sculpting, it doesn’t overload you with options, and when you find your sound it’s a real ‘set and forget’ gem. I love this little bastard.