The Fender Rumble 500 is one of the lightest 500 watt bass amplifier you can get in 2017. It weighs only 36.5 lbs, but it sounds like a beast.
About a year ago, when I was shopping for a new bass amplifier for rehearsals with a band that has two drummers, and the occasional live show.
I needed something quite loud, with lot’s of low end and that wouldn’t distort at high-volumes, but that also was comfortable to carry around.
What’s usually heavy about an amplifier is the head and the speaker(s) that are enclosed within the cabinet. Also if the cabinet is made out of some solid hardwood, it’s bound to be heavy. So with the Rumble, Fender set out to use lightweight materials only; they re-engineered the head to be only 5lbs (on the 500w version), used the latest generation of eminence speakers and used plywood for the enclosing.
The result is a 36.5 lbs, 500 watt amplifier that you can easily carry with one hand.
But what about the sound? Weight and loudness are the superficial specs of this amp, but in this review for the Fender Rumble 500 we’ll cover everything from it’s portability to its sound variety and performance in scenarios such as rehearsals, recording and live shows.
Also, as we usually do in Guitar Graph, we’ll see how it stacks up to the competition in various aspects. Because there is so much more that you seek out of an amp apart from power and weight. The guys at Fender know this, so the new line of Fender Rumbles has a wide variety to choose from. There’s a 200w version that looks identical to the 500. There’s also the option of buying the head separately and choosing from one of the three available cabs. Not to mention what other brands have. Ampeg has the portaflex and the BA for small-sized but professional bass amplifiers.
Phew! So lot’s of stuff to consider if you’re in the market for a new bass amp. Let’s get started then…
Fender Rumble 500 Head vs. Combo
The option to purchase the head separately does have it’s benefits in terms of look and personalization, but that can certainly come with a bigger price tag.
It’s important to first address a question I see a lot at forums and among fellow musicians:
“Is the head on the Fender Rumble 500 combo the same as the one sold separately?”
This was a question that also haunted me when I was making my purchase. But as a Fender representative assured me, when it comes to circuitry the head that you find on the 500w combo version is exactly the same as the one you can purchase separately. The difference is merely on the output’s design. The combo version is placed vertically and thus has the outputs on it’s top as opposed to the back side, like the separate head does.
So the difference is merely one of personal choice. With any amp, the ultimate sound you’ll get out of your bass or guitar depends on the head and speaker combination. The same head will sound different if played through a single 15’’ speaker than two 12’’ or four 10’’.
Getting the combo version means that you can only get it with two 10’’ speakers but also have the option of outputting to another cabinet. Pairing it up with the 1×15’’ cabinet is a popular option, as it enhances the low end. So if you’re comfortable with this, more power to you. If not, you can purchase a 500w or 200w head and pair it with whatever cabinets (even non-fenders) that you find suitable. Do note, however, that if you stick with Fender that will definitely be more expensive than just getting the combo.
So now that we’ve answered that question, let’s see what else is the Fender Rumble 500 offering.
Fender Rumble 500 Specs and Sound
So it’s light, it’s new, it’s good looking, but how does it actually sound?
Apart from being a ridiculously light amp considering how loud it is (I know, I know, I just don’t get tired of saying it), the Fender Rumble 500 has most of the specs you would expect from a modern working amplifier.
It’s solid state, and has a 3-band EQ with semi-parametric midrange, which in this case means that you get separate knobs for low mid and high mid. You got a Gain knob to the far left and a master level to the far right. It also has integrated overdrive that is controllable through “Drive” and “Level” knobs and the footswitch that, as usual, is sold separately. Damn you Fender!
A cool feature of the new line of Fender Rumble’s is that they all include a three-button tone-voicing system. These are “Bright” which is a high-end boost, “Contour” which is a mid-scoop and a “vintage” switch that emulates old tube amplifiers.
This is a very versatile amp in terms of sound. So rather than going into a wordy and lengthy descriptions of the many sound possibilities it offers, here’s a video we made so you can hear for yourself:
Fender Rumble 500 Outputs
This amplifiers comes with many options in terms of integration and connectivity with other equipment.
Although they are positioned differently between the head and combo versions, the outputs for both of them are the same. Namely, you get an XLR line-out with a ground lift switch, effects send and return in plug inputs/outputs. Also a handy Aux in and a mini-plug headphones jack. Of course, there’s a plug-out for the foot switch and another for the external speaker.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that the head rarely gets too hot. It must have one hell of a ventilation system, because I’ve used it for about six hours straight and it has always stayed at a reasonable temperature.
Fender Rumble 500 for gigs
How does it hold up in a live setting?
So the video above should show you how the Fender Rumble 500 2×10 combo amp sounds like. But how does it perform on a live setting? I’ve used this in small clubs, house parties, 1000-seat capacity venues and even an open-air festival. In all of those settings, I don’t think I ever pushed it beyond 50% on the master knob. It’s just extremely loud, and if you’re playing with a PA, you’re better off hooking it up to the venue’s subwoofers and then it becomes more like your personal monitor.
It may not be as professional grade as the much more pricey Fender Bassman’s or an Ampeg SVT, but considering the price and portability, this thing won’t let you down in whatever gigs you need it for.
So speaking of other brands, let’s go into some of the common comparisons for this amp.
Fender Rumble 500 vs. 200 (combo)
If you’re not sure you need something that loud, is it worth spending more on the 500W version? What’s the difference between the two?
Of course, there is the 200w version to consider. While the enclosing for both amps is exactly the same, the 200 Watt version has a single 1×15’’ speaker instead of the 2×10’’ that you get with the 500.
This is important to consider due to two things. A 15’’ speaker means that you’ll get a slightly more pronounced low end, but it means less power overall. Now, this is not only because it’s 300w less, but also because of the fact that this 1×15 cabinet is 300 watts and because of something called the law of ohms.
The law of ohms says that: “The potential difference (voltage) across an ideal conductor is proportional to the current through it. The constant of proportionality if called “resistance”.
Let’s take a look at what that means in English. In this case, both the 500 and 200 amplifiers are 4 ohms. The speakers are 8 ohms so they can double the resistance of the power sent by the amplifiers. The law of ohms makes it so that of the total watts, you get only half per speaker. So with a 300 watt cabinet like the 15’’ on the Rumble 200, you get only 150w, since it’s splitting the total power it can get (300) by two due to the 8/4 ohm relation.
With the 500, you get a 700-Watt 2×10 cabinet. So each speaker has a capacity for 350 watts. The power that they get is divided by half and thus amounts to 175w per speaker, giving you a total of 350 watts that you can get out of the combo. If you add an extra speaker, like a 15’’ you get the full 500 watts!
So if loudness is important to you, consider that the Fender Rumble 200 combo is usually around $449.99 and the 500 version is $599.99. Getting 200 extra watts for a $150 difference is an insane deal to me. So I went with the 500 version obviously. The weight difference is only 2 pounds.
Sorry if that got too technical. On to other comparisons!
Fender Rumble 500 vs. Ampeg Portaflex
Surprisingly, the Rumble does hold up against the pricier Ampeg Portaflex series. The final decision is a matter of taste and budget.
Aaah, the portaflex. If you’ve ever played one of these in person, you know that they have a deceiving name. These don’t exist on a combo version and the least powerful cabinet (400W) alone weights 55.8 lbs. Add the head, which is at least 8 lbs, and you got more than 60 lbs of amplification to carry around. Unless you have a crew of roadies at your disposal, that’s not exactly portable is it?
There’s also the total cost. If you compare the 500W heads alone, they are exactly the same price. But if you add an Ampeg cabinet to go with that Portaflex head, it will certainly be a bit pricier than with a Fender combination, not even mentioning the money you save with the combo.
But in the end it’s more about sound isn’t it? Ampeg does have the benefit of being probably the most trusted brand out there when it comes to bass amplification. I mean, they are devoted almost exclusively to that. In most big concerts, regardless of genre, the bassist is usually hooked up to an SVT. So if you’re really going after an Ampeg sound but can’t spend more than a grand, (most SVT heads go new for at least $799, cabinets are around $1000) then that’s what the Portaflex line is for. It will set you back more, it will be harder to carry around, but it’s an Ampeg.
In that regard, I’d recommend trying out both of them or checking out video reviews of both amps in different configurations through the net. My personal opinion? I’ve had the opportunity to try out both amps (a Rumble 500 Combo and a 500W Portaflex head on a PF-210HE 2×10 cabinet) and I wouldn’t say the difference was overwhelming. Both are very flexible amps that can hold up really well on the low end, be extremely loud and be as bright as you want them to be.
Fender Rumble 500 vs. Ampeg BA210v2
The budget-line of Ampeg’s is a very close contender to the Rumble 500, but surprisingly close to an SVT.
Now speaking of Ampeg, they also have another line that is even further down the budget lane; the BA combo amplifiers. Among these, the one that might be closer in terms of power and portability to the Fender Rumble 500 combo, would be the BA210V2.
With the second version of BA’s, Ampeg also tried to make lighter amplifiers, but didn’t go as far as Fender. The BA210 weighs 46lbs, 10 more than the Rumble.
Other than that though, it has very similar power capabilities to the Fender. It’s packing 450W of power that feed into two 10’’ speakers. These are manufactured by Ampeg themselves, which might be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for. Rumble’s feature Eminence speakers, which are highly coveted in their own right. So it’s a matter of taste.
Design wise, the BA210 has got a cool sort of wedge on it’s side, which makes it easy to tilt and lay down horizontally. This way it would work great as an onstage monitor for the bass player, which is something the Rumble can also do of course, just not while laying on its side with an interesting angle.
When it comes to controls, Ampeg has got it’s own thing going on. You get a very similar arrangement to the one on most SVT heads, which is a great thing if you’re an Ampeg fan.
Namely, these are “Ultra Hi” and “Ultra Lo” tone voicings, 3-band equalizer, an Aux level to control the Aux Input’s volume (nice!), a mute switch, optional footswitch control (also sold separately, damn you too Ampeg!) and a -15db switch for active basses. Its own version of a built-in distortion comes via the “scrambler” which features Drive and Blend knobs.
The BA210 by Ampeg is $499. $100 USD cheaper than the Fender Rumble, so I would dare to say it’s probably its closest competitor in terms of price, size and features.
Fender Rumble 500 vs. Gallien Krueger MB210
With less features, a heavier package and a higher price, GK’s high-power combo app doesn’t look so good next to the Fender Rumble.
Nevertheless, good ol’ Gallien Krueger is also a strong contender within any bass amplifier discussion. So we couldn’t oversee them (sorry Markbass, Hiwatt, Acoustic).
Their own version of a 500W combo amplifier is the $628-priced MB210. Just as Fender, the guys at GK strived for lightweight speakers on a portable box, with a lightweight head. They did this by using CX ceramic speakers and a mostly digital amplifier with a solid-state power amp circuit. This means that most, if not all, of the tone-shaping in this amp is done via digital algorithms.
There lies the main difference between the Fender Rumble 500 and the GK MB210. The former is also a solid state, but all of it’s tone shaping is done via transistors. At least for people seeking a more analog and warm sound, that’s something to consider.
Furthermore, the Gallien Krueger features all the things you would expect from a 500W amp these days, an XLR line out, AUX input, chain out for an additional speaker, but no effects loop and not much in regards to tone-voicing options apart from a 4-band EQ.
So overall, I guess it’s obvious that the Gallien Krueger is less-equipped than the Fender, not to mention pricier and heavier (39lbs). Some people love the sound that you get out of Gallien’s though, which in my experience is much brighter, more enounced in the high frequencies. In case you’re into that.
Fender Rumble 500 vs. Hartke KB15 Kickback
With even less features than any amp we’ve looked at so far, this high-power Hartke Combo wouldn’t be comparable except for two things: price and weight.
Another common comparison with the combo version of the Fender Rumble amplifier is the Hartke KB15. This is also a 500W amp, which is surprisingly even lighter than the Rumble, at 35.6 lbs. It features a single 15’’ HyDrive speaker made out of aluminum and paper. I know paper sounds weird, but it is. Just a way to keep it lighter I guess.
The KB15 gets its name from the fact that it can be er…, kicked back, in order to better project the sound into your ears when playing on-stage. Something similar to the BA210.
Nevertheless, the KB is very conservative when it comes to controls. Probably the the least feature-packing amp in this review. There’s no effects loop, no Aux input, no tone voicing and no distortion. It’s almost the same price as the Fender Rumble though, so not exactly a better deal.
It does feature a direct out, 3-band EQ and a “Shape” knob that is activated with a switch that enhances either the mid or bass frequencies. It’s not very practical though, as there doesn’t seem to be an option for a footswitch. That means you would have to activate it with your hands whenever they’re free. Tricky if you only want the boost for a certain part within a song.
Maybe I’m biased because I bought the Fender Rumble 500W combo instead of any of the amps here. However, I had no qualms about saying that from the beginning because after more than a year of having purchased, and having tried out several of the amps in this review, I do believe it’s the best option if you consider everything.
It holds up just as well as any of the other amps in terms of features, but it’s the seconds lightest and the second cheapest. It’s just one hell of a deal in terms of money and effectiveness.
Furthermore, I would dare to say that it’s the best looking amp in this review. The guys at Fender revisited their classic “silver-faced” look that was their trademark in terms of amplification back in the 1950’s.
But what do you think? Have you tried the amps on this review but purchased a different one from the Fender? Are you considering getting a Rumble of your own? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.