Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Vintage 1999 SWR Workingmans 12 Bass Amplifier Review


Today we looking at a solid little bass amp I found on my local social media site, a SWR Workingman’s 12 that was made sometime between 1999 to 2002. This is a well-made combo amplifier that sounds good and is pretty portable, making it a real cool find!

SWR was founded by Steve W. Rabe (a former engineer for Acoustic amplifiers) in 1984, and he set up shop in the San Fernando valley. He designed and built a lot of cool amplifiers and speakers, such as the Goliath and the Super Redhead. He sold the company in 1997 and the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation bought it in 2003 so they could run the business into the ground, like they do with almost everything they acquire.

The Workingman’s 12 was introduced in 1994, and was part of a series of amps that included the Workingman’s 10 and Workingman’s 15. These were SWR’s first “cheaper” amplifiers, and they were very popular with consumers. The one we are looking at today is fairly compact, measuring 16 inches wide, 23 inches tall, and 16 inches deep, and weighing in at a stout 47 pounds. There is a metal grille for the speaker, and the chassis is covered in fuzzy black carpet that attracts pet fur and dust as if this was the purpose that SWR designed it for. By the way, this was made in the USA, which cannot be said about later SWR products.

The amplifier puts out 100 watts RS through the onboard 8-ohm 12-inch driver and separate Piezo tweeter, and output is upped to 120 watts if an 8-ohm extension speaker is added. This seems like a pretty accurate power rating, judging by the amount of sound this thing can push out.

On the front panel you will find an XLR direct out, a ¼-inch tuner out, passive and active input jacks, a Gain knob, an Aural Enhancer knob, 3-band EQ knobs, an Effects Blend knob, the Master Volume control, and the power switch. Around back is an IEC power cable socket, a selector switch that turns off the horn or puts the unit into headphone mode, a ¼-inch headphone jack, and the effects loop jacks. Pretty simple, really.

The knobs do not need much explanation. The Effects Blend knob mixes the signal from the bass with the signal from the effects loop. With the control fully counter-clockwise, no signal from the effect is heard. As you turn this control clockwise, more of the effect can be heard in the overall sound. When the control is fully clockwise (or pulled out), the dry signal is completely out of mix.

The Aural Enhancer knob is kind of a magic turbo boost control that I do not really understand. To quote the Owner’s Manual, “The Aural Enhancer was developed to bring out the fundamental low notes of the bass, reduce certain frequencies that can “mask” fundamentals and enhance the high-end transients. The effect becomes more pronounced as the control is turned up. The result is a more transparent sound. Listening to a passive bass with the control set all the way down, and then turning it all the way up, can be likened to listening to the bass suddenly become “active.”” Whatever.

There are not any surprises when plugging into this combo. I have owner SWR products before, and have always been impressed with their tone and power output, and the Workingman’s 12 is no exception. The EQ and Aural Enhancer controls allowed me to get a nice variety of tones, from a warm character that would be perfect with an upright bass to edgier sounds that would be appropriate for harder rock. In between those extremes I was able to dial in a nice round sound that would be great for blues and soul. The overall volume is pretty good, making this amp appropriate for smaller gigs, and I found that the DI works really well. So, if you are able to go through the PA, this amp would be pretty much all you would need for a bigger gig, as long as the stage is not ungodly noisy. I think it is a winner, and I plan on keeping it around for a while.

When the SWR Workingman’s 12 amplifiers were new, they had a retail price around $700, and a street price around $500. I am seeing used ones online for $150 to $300, which is a reasonable price for a solidly performing American-made combo amp that can pull it together for small gigs. If you ever get the chance to check one out, see what you think and post a comment below!



  1. awesome amp...very portable deep and bright very clean sounds...need scheumatic just in case

  2. Agreed absolutely...
    I have an early example (silver only logo) which has been in constant use for rehearsals and smaller gigs since I bought it used in '96.
    I love it's ability to sound transparent when appropriate, but also snarl and growl when pushed hard with the limiter in. Sounds superb running flat eq with a Jazz!!
    Rick, Hertfordshire UK

  3. Estoy interesado en comprar una placa nueva de un amplificador como este

  4. I bought a SWR Workingman's 12 a few years back. I use it in my studio, the XLR direct out records excellent for the Root Blues and Swing stuff I play. I got lucky and bought for $130. I tried it with my band but it just doesn't cut through the drums.
    I'll never sell this SWR I like it : )
    Los Angeles

  5. 20+ yrs. Upright & elec. Next step up is an SVT.

  6. Hola estoy por comprar un cabezal SWR working Mans el 4004. Pero dice ( By SWR) por qué? Es 2da marca ?