Today’s Class D amps and improved speaker technology make bass rigs ever smaller, lighter and cheaper which is a good thing for the gigging bass players among us. I don’t think there can be any argument about this but I’m not a gigging bass player – I’m a guitar player who plays the bass for fun – so I’m more interested in tone, size and power output. I want my bass rig to sound good at a sensible sound-level and to be small enough to fit into a home environment. I have an old Park (by Marshall) practice amp but the sound quality is pretty dreadful and dialing in a decent tone is almost impossible. If I play the bass through a simple headphone amp, leaving the tone-controls flat, the sound quality is hugely improved but I don’t like using headphones. So I need a new rig and that’s it in the picture; an old valve amp sitting atop an Ashdown Mi10. I love the size of the mi10 cabinet; the rig doesn’t even reach my knee. It probably isn’t a very efficient speaker but, in this application, it doesn’t really need to be.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work yet and it probably won’t work for some time. The amplifier is a “Northcourt Fifteen” that dates from the 1960s and needs some TLC and a bit of a redesign to tailor it for a bass guitar. I can’t find much information about these amplifiers anywhere but I did find this snippet on an eBay listing:
A lesser-known part of the story of British amplifier manufacture in the sixties, Northcourt specialised in affordable “cage” amplifiers for guitar and bass. They were closely related to R.S.C and Linear, who sold similar amplifiers to be used for music playback and P.A applications. Like their ‘Hi-Fi’ cousins, Northcourt designed their amplifiers to be used in “ultra-linear” mode, which resulted in very clear, transparent amplifiers with a low degree of distortion. Due to their linear nature, Northcourt amps never really reached the output levels suggested by their names. The Northcourt 15 was realistically somewhere between 10 and 12 watts before clipping.
If anyone has any information I would be very grateful.
Looking at a schematic I found on the web confirms the ultra-linear design. This approach is more common in hi-fi amps than in guitar amps but I think it would be very suitable for a bass and 10 watts of output will be quite enough for my needs. The output transformer has a 3Ω tap and the Ashdown Mi10 is a 4Ω speaker so there are no problems there. The tone-stack is closer to a Baxandall tone-stack than the usual guitar tone-stack but it’s not one thing or the other. The input is also peculiar, having a volume control for each input placed before the first valve. My immediate thoughts are to use the two inputs for active and passive pickups and use one volume control to govern pre-amp gain and the other as a master volume to control the input to the power stage.
The reservoir capacitors seem rather large for the pre-amp valves where only a milliamp or so is pulled so I am not sure whether I should try reconditioning the can capacitor or replace it with more sensible values. Looking at the inside of the amp reveals a lot of old carbon resistors and some ceramic capacitors that should probably be replaced. The paper-insulated transformers appear to be intact. It may be that the output transformer is a little small for bass but I don’t have a five-string and the feedback loop should compensate to some extent.
The next step will be to sketch out some ideas for the new schematic. I won’t get it right first time – I never do – so please feel free to share any thoughts on you have on this project.