Why Tim Commerford Will Never Give Up His Ampeg SVTs

Best known for his work in Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and more recently with the Prophets of Rage, bassist Tim Commerford has a truly distinctive sound. Although he used to slap on occasion, nowadays he's entirely a fingers-only player, often using just one or two fingers. He's heavily focused on how his sound is affected by things like where he holds his bass (higher today than in his early years with Rage) and the type of strings he uses (nylon strings, recently). But one thing that has remained a constant for Commerford is Ampeg amplification.

"I've always used an Ampeg SVT head, and I've always been a multiple amp kind of guy in that I have one amp that is on all the time and one that I turn on when I want to make the sound different," Commerford muses. "In Rage, I used two Ampeg SVT-2PRO heads and two Ampeg 8x10 cabinets." When recording with Audioslave, he even had a triple-SVT-2PRO system, sending a clean signal into an 8x10 cabinet and increasing levels of gain into additional 4x10 cabinets.

It's hardly surprising that the tone-conscious Commerford favored the SVT-2PRO: The rack-mount bass amplifier is all about tone. For example, it offers a Frequency control that allows you to select the center frequency for the Midrange control, so you get a choice of five distinct midrange voices. You also get a nine-band graphic EQ to custom tailor your sound. With two (or even three) of them, Commerford was always ready to rock.

Even so, for the reunion of Rage Against the Machine, he switched to two new Ampeg SVT-VR tube amps, retaining his older Ampeg cabinets. The SVT-VR is a reissue of the early 1970s "Blue-Line" SVT head in which the preamp stage, power section, and even the rocker switches emulate the exact signal path, tone, and vibe of the original-all the way to its six 6550 output tubes. Commerford liked the sound a lot.

But when playing with Prophets of Rage, he made a thrilling discovery that induced him to switch amps again. "I had been using the SVT-VR in the Rage reunion, and I liked it, so I continued using it with Prophets of Rage," he recalls. "But one day, I went into my storage unit and found two 1970 or 1971 SVTs. I don't remember where they came from; they were just sitting there! So I got the two amps repaired, which didn't cost much-the tubes were still good for the most part-and I started using them for the next tour."

It's not that Commerford was at all disappointed with the SVT-VR. "Oh no, I think the SVT-VRs are great," he insists. "They have a bit of a cleaner sound, where these early 1970s SVTs are really raw sounding. I don't have to add much distortion with the old amps because they distort naturally, which is what I want now. The amp distortion is beautiful. I don't see myself ever switching again! Ampeg makes the best bass amp you can buy."