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BMM: PJB Briefcase vs. Bass Cub

Originally published in the April, 2012 issue of Bass Musician Magazine

It’s one of those problems I like having; which amp do I take to the gig? It’s usually pretty easy, and comes down to the big rig or the little one. Since October, that little rig choice has gotten harder.

I’ve been using the Phil Jones Bass Briefcase for a couple of years now, and love it. Simply put, it’s the amp I wish I had purchased far earlier than I did. But out of curiosity I bought the PJB Bass Cub in October, thinking it was just a smaller, lighter updated version of my beloved Briefcase. What I found out was that the Cub is a completely different amp with its own sound.

I’ve included the specs below. As you can see, there are are some similarities between the two. Both have active/passive inputs, headphone outs, DI, a limiter and are both rated at 100W. However, that’s where it ends, as I’ve found that both are very good at different things and applications.

Model Bass Cub BG-100
Type Lightweight bass combo
Size 7.8 x 12 x 10.8 inch (H x W x D)
Net Weight 13.2 lbs / 6 kg
Power output 100W RMS
Speakers 2 x PJB NeoPower Type A
Channels 2
EQ 3 band, limiter
Inputs Active/passive, AUX, Mic
Outputs Headphone, DI, Pre-amp

Model Briefcase
Type Practice/studio combo with battery power option
Size 15.5 x 6.7 x 17.3 inch (H x W x D)
Net Weight 30 lbs/14 kg
Power output 100W RMS
Speakers 2 x PJB Piranha Type B
Channels 1
EQ 5 band, limiter
Inputs Active/passive
Outputs Headphone, DI, Pre-amp

First the Cub. One advantage that the Cub has is the fact that it’s so light, you can carry it into a gig over your shoulder; the bag that comes with it facilitates this nicely. You can also pick how you want to set the amp up; it has feet for vertical or horizontal placement and even has a stand to allow you to tilt the amp up in the horizontal position. I have used this amp for a couple of theatre runs already, and have mainly used it in the vertical position. However, you can use it in the horizontal position and slide it under your chair, which for a very tightly cramped pit may come in handy.

The Cub also has two channels, perfect for those of us that double on electric and upright, or in my case, upright and ukulele. With channel one accepting an XLR in, this amp is also suitable for those upright bassists that use a microphone in addition to a pickup to get their sound. The one downside is that you cannot switch between channels; they’re both always on (although the second channel does have a “mute” function). Not a big deal for when you’re using two instruments that have volume knobs, but since my ukulele doesn’t, I have to turn the volume down on the amp instead of being able to leave it set when not using it.

The biggest difference I noticed are the speakers. The Bass Cub uses the newer PJB NeoPower drivers, and they are quite a bit different from the PJB Piranhas that I’m used to. The sound is more mellow and natural, and not as hi-fi sounding. The clarity and definition is still there, but does not have that sparkle that the Piranhas are known for. I’d say the NeoPower drivers are what a “traditional” speaker sounds like in the PJB world. I’ve found that I prefer the Neos for when I’m using my NS Design CR-5M electric upright. It brings a warmth to the instrument that makes it sound more authentic (or, as authentic as you’re going to get). I bought the Cub out for a theatre run of “White Christmas,” and the sound of the Neos really helped me sit in the mix better than I think the Piranhas would have. I’m currently using the Cub for a run of “The Last Five Years,” where I’m playing my Warwick Corvette $$ fretless next to an acoustic guitar and three string players. Again, the warmth that the Neos have over the Piranhas is perfect for this application, allowing me to sit in the mix and not on it.

While the Bass Cub has a lot of great features, the Briefcase is one amp that should not be discounted in the slightest. It’s an older, more well-known model in the PJB line. It does only have one channel (doublers would need an A/B pedal to utilize this amp effectively) and it much heavier at 30 pounds. The Briefcase has a 5 band EQ over the Cub’s 3, which I find to be more powerful to help shape my overall sound. Little moves in one of the sliders make a very large and definite tonal shift.

Probably the coolest feature of the Briefcase is that it has the option of being battery powered. I’ve never had the need for this feature (or the time to grab a battery for it), but it’s a brilliant option for those musicians that are busking on a street corner or at a spot where power may not be readily available (I’ve had gigs at folk festivals where I’ve wondered about the safety of those extension cords running through the grass).

The sound that many people (as well as myself) attribute as “the Phil Jones Bass sound” comes down to the Piranha drivers in the Briefcase. These are very tight and punchy, while retaining a very clear and focused lower end. They are extremely articulate and precise, while still letting the distinct sound of your bass come through. I prefer using this amp when I’m doing theatre runs that require an electric bass. The sound is so clear that I can keep the amp at a low volume, and it will cut through the entire pit, allowing me to anchor the show.

The Bass Cub and Briefcase from Phil Jones Bass bring a lot of similar features to the table, while still offering something unique that makes each of these small amps perfect for different situations.

Bass Cub:
Lightweight, easy to carry over the shoulder into a gig
2 channels make doubling easy
Neo speakers bring warmth and more traditional, mellow bass sound
Ideal for situations using acoustic instruments or for more laid back gigs

Briefcase:
Very intuitive and powerful 5 band EQ
Battery powered option, perfect for busking in the summer
Piranha speakers have a brilliant hi-fi sound, perfect for cutting through
Ideal for situations involving electric bass, or anything where that
hi-fi sheen is required/appreciated

For me, the tonal needs and goals of the group I’m playing in will determine which amp gets the call. With either, I still get the transparency and reliability that PJB amps are known for, allowing my bass to sound its best, no matter the gig.

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