Among rock musicians, bass players have always had the simplest choice when it comes to gear: buy a Fender Precision and a “refrigerator” (Ampeg SVT recommended), plug the former into the latter and start shaking the foundations of every house on the block. While this setup should last you the rest of your career, it has two distinct faults: one, at least two people are required to lift and carry the amp; and two, that big-ass ‘fridge sure as hell won’t fit in a compact car (or a taxi for that matter).
Enter the year 1999 Hartke’s Kickback series of portable and affordable bass combos. Built to be roadworthy, the Kickback HS 1200 packs a 120-watt amp and a 12-inch aluminum-core speaker into a 43-pound cabinet, along with all the fixin’s: three-band tone control, passive/active input jack, headphone jack, XLR and 1/4 –inch outputs. And a Shape control that allows sweepable equalization. (The Kickback was also available with one 10-inch or 15-inch speaker).
Like all Hartkes, the Kickback has a full-bodies tone that is punchy and very present. While many bass amps offer a rather limited eq range, the Kickback’s tone controls have a broad sweep, giving you plenty of room in which to carve out your own sound. The tilt-back cabinet design allows for a directional clarity, a feature that is particularly useful on tight stages and in small rehearsal rooms.
The Kickback’s Shape circuit provides a moderate boost in certain frequency areas and deep attenuation in others. Once the circuit is activated, the Shape knob can be swept to impose the circuit’s filter on specific frequencies within a range of 80Hz to 1kHz. While the circuit can be used to create a myriad of sounds, from thin and pinched to wide and deep, it’s unfortunate that Hartke didn’t equip it with a level control. Although the feature is extremely pleasing when first engaged, the coloration becomes a little tedious and would probably be too drastic for some contexts.
Which brings me to my only other complaint. Hartke pride themselves on their Transient Attack, and have gone as far as to trademark the term. But when playing with a pick, I found it necessary to turn down the mids and highs quite a bit to get a sound that wouldn’t quickly outstay its welcome. The good news is that the chill factor disappeared when I fingerpicked the bass. For pickers, the Kickback comes with an optional paper-cone driver that should soften the harsh sound.
All in all, the Kickback is an impressive alternative to the classic ‘fridge. The Kickback certainly has enough juice for most club shows and amazing tonal flexibility . The fact that you could fit one in a Geo Prism and still have room for a few friends makes it all the more appealing.
Approximate used price $200 – $300.
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