Markbass really hit it wit this tube-driven rock amp. Words by Steve Henderson.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Markbass is now well and truly established as the go-to amp for the pro bassist. Generally, they are small, light, and loud. They also sound great and are easy to operate (especially if you don’t have those VPF and VLE controls to figure out), providinga wide range of tonal options. The range now includes 23 (!) bass heads and 22 (!!) cabinets which can be mixed and matched for that perfect tone. There are also 16 bass combos (!!!)... But let’s not go there.
Let’s just say they pretty much have it covered, no matter what “it” may be. There are some serious players who know about tone and have leant their names and ideas to some of these products. Marcus Miller and Richard Bona spring immediately to mind, and now Stu Hamm has joined the stable with the release of the Markbass STU 1000 head, a very smart-looking amp with a different vibe to the usual Markbass philosophy.
Hamm’s rock roots have brought a new tonal aesthetic to the Markbass line and, with it, a new approach to achieving that tone. The control layout is straight-forward: a seven-band graphic and three volume knobs. But before you think this is a multi-channel amp, as the volume array might suggest, it’s simpler than that.
The STU 1000 does, indeed, have two preamps but they work in parallel and are always on. One is solid state; the other is tube-driven, with a single 12AX7 doing the business. The volume controls are Solid State Gain, Tube Gain, and Master Volume. Dial in as much tube preamp or as much solid state preamp as you’d like, or a combination of both – and the blend of these two technologies is where the magic happens.
This isn’t the first Markbass amp to incorporate a tube: the Little Mark Tube has one, but the LM has a single dial to balance the tube/solid state stages, so you can’t have either running flat out without eliminating the other. The STU 1000 offers every degree of mix from zero of either preamp to absolutely slamming the power stage with both.
Tonally, the STU 1000 has range – unbelievable range. The tone circuit has 16db of boost and cut on each of its 7 bands, starting at 40Hz (the bottom E on a bass is 41Hz) right up to 4KHz (the top harmonic of a bass) and all the critical points in between. With seven tone controls spread across that range, the STU 1000 can zero in on just about any tonal shape that a player might imagine. Add to this the effect of the two preamp stages and there’s every chance that no two players will sound alike, no matter how similar in technique.
SMALL CAT, BIG ROAR
Alternating between a 410 and a 115, the STU gave up pristine cleans via its solid state channel, with a sweet top end, a tight, clear bottom, and mids that had a chirpy bite that pokes through a mix. Winding in some tube warms up that midrange and takes the edge off the treble (in a good way). The more the tube was blended in, the more compressed the mids became – but not squeezed like a compressor effect, because the solid state circuit was still ever present.
This preamp arrangement is a great way to produce big rock tones without the usual excess of volume. In fact, winding back the master volume has very little effect on the harmonic balance or the attack. Do that with an SVT, or similar, and all the punch and presence disappears. Not so with the STU: there’s ample tone wherever the master is set.
Reversing the roles of the preamps yields even more tonal flavours. Using the tube as the primary preamp source, the tone is more driven and blooms a little into the mix. Blending in the other preamp adds weight to the fundamentals. The low notes have a kind of clear “shadow” behind the breadth of the tube tone while the mids and highs have a clean “snap” to their attack.
This is a great sound when you want to rock out and there’s two guitars chugging away (or a keyboard player who doesn’t know his place!). And, with 1,000 watts to deliver all of these sounds, the STU will not go unnoticed.
OLD MEETS NEW
The STU 1000 is not the lightest Markbass out there but, at three kilos, it’s still an easy lug. Also, it is two units tall (and comes with rack ears) so it probably won’t go in the pocket of your bass gig bag but it’s still supremely portable.
The rear panel is also uncomplicated while providing contemporary features: effects loop, tuner out, assignable DI, and a pair of speakons. The simple front panel layout and unusual control set harken back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, when bass amps were functional rather than tricky. The STU’s simplicity of design is where its cleverness lies.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Markbass STU 1000 does what it does really well, and doesn’t try to make n appearence in every possible scenario. If you’re after something that will do operate in every gig imaginable, Markbass has 22 other amps to consider. But for a rock or funk player, even a contemporary country player, this may be the one that does the job. The STU 1000 is a pro-level power plant that doesn’t distract the player with bells and whistles, but allows him or her to concentrate on the music while the gear delivers great tone with oodles (absolutely a technical term) of volume.
For the serious live bassist, the STU 1000 may just be the new benchmark, one not likely to be met by anything else, at least for some time.
• 1,000 watts
• Tube preamp
• Seven-band graphic
• Built-in DI
• Effects loop
• Great tones
• Pro build quality
• Very portable
• Limited colour choice
Ph: (02) 9905 2511