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Fender Deluxe Amplifier

Tips on Tones – Issue 4

I’ve always found that when it comes to having talks with other guitarists about tone, the conversation inevitably stays within the realm of “the guitar”. It always seems there’s an unsung hero playing on the tone team that just doesn’t get the credit where it’s due. I am talking of course about that box that spits out everything you push into it… The amplifier!

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Perhaps we are mystified by them. After all, the circuitry in an amp is far more complex than that of a guitar. Often a guitarist will leave all of their guitar’s knobs on ten, and then “switch to this pickup for this part of the song, and then back for the other part”. Amps have a lot more controls, (especially ones that are made in today’s day and age) and it’s important that you use one that best compliments you and your guitar, and dial in a tone setting that does the same.

To start, what output are you trying to achieve? Do you need a loud, aggressive punch? A creamy clean tone? Perhaps you are after versatility? Do you need something powerful or is it just for playing at home or small venues? Once you can answer that question you’re ready to go shopping.

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There are so many different makes and models available I could write for days about what to get, so instead I’ll keep it short and simple! Besides, once you have a rough idea it really comes down to your ear and testing things out for yourself.

Let’s say you’re after something that can handle anything from classic rock to metal music. Maybe you need something that really packs a punch, and will let you be heard in a band situation. If that’s the case, the first conclusion you can come to is that you want your amp to be powered by tubes.

A tube amp with the same wattage value as a solid state amp will end up being louder, more responsive, and have a much more lush harmonic content. Some brand names to keep your eye on if you’re looking for this sort of thing would be Marshall, Orange, Mesa Boogie, Laney, and Blackstar.

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Each of these brands has numerous models which all have their pros and cons, so the best way to find “the one” is to go and try some out! Keep in mind that many of these amp models are offered in either 50 or 100watts. Generally, these tube amps sound best when the tubes run HOT – especially for heavier, more saturated tones. That means you need to really crank your volume and / or gain to reach your full potential. So, technically it is easier to achieve that “sweet spot” with a 50 watt amp as you have to crank it more than a 100 watt to reach the same volume. Unless you’re playing very large venues, in my opinion, it’s more efficient to go with the 50 watt.

If heavy rock isn’t your thing and you’re looking for crystal clean tones, or maybe something suitable for blues and light rock, try something made by Fender, Vox, or Roland (specifically the JC120).

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Now, that’s not to say these companies build specific to where I listed them. It’s just where their presence is most notably. You can get some lovely clean tones from Marshalls, and the Mesa Boogie Lonestar sounds great clean. I also know of quite a few people who get killer overdrive sounds by using an amp that has a particularly good clean tone, and driving it with a pedal!

The cool thing about playing as clean as possible is that you don’t need the amp to be ridiculously powerful. The idea is to not break up the speakers, or, at least not too much. The Roland JC120 I listed isn’t even a tube amp nor does it sound entirely like one, but it still ranks right up there with a Fender Twin Reverb or a Vox AC30 as far as I’m concerned. Again, they all have varying tonal characteristics and you really just have to try before you buy!

Happy playing!

Posted by: Vince Schaljo

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

10 Classic Guitar Amps & The Songs That Made Them Famous (PART 2!)

Today, we have the long overdue follow-up to the “10 Classic Guitar Amps” article by Ben Fargen of FargenAmps.com. Ben’s first post has become one of the most popular articles ever published on this site, so we asked Ben another list of definitive amps and songs. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments section below!

11. Ampeg VT 22

Song: All Down the Line
Artist: Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)

Ah, Keith Richards and his Les Paul + Ampeg VT 22 combination. It’s like chicken soup/comfort food for the soul of tone. Holed up on the coast of France during 1969/70 to avoid arrest for tax evasion changes back in the UK, Keith and the boys recorded one of my all time favorite albums. Check out anything off Exile on Main Street for reference. The riff and tone on “All Down the Line” is a standout track to me. PURE KEEF!

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

Keith Richards with the Ampeg VT 22 Amp

12. Carvin X100B

Song: Blue Powder
Artist: Steve Vai

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Steve Vai’s “Blue Powder” on his breakout give away flexi-disc record that was included in the October ’85 issue of Guitar Player Magazine. The sheer melodic content vs. guitar prowess was beyond insane for the time. Steve Vai houses genius, melody and lighthearted feeling in a way that no other guitar player can. The tone and technique offered in the thin piece of vinyl was a small viewing glass into what was soon to become a new era in instrumental guitar technique.

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1986)

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1986)

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1983)

Steve Vai & the Carvin X100B Amp (1983)

13. Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary

Song: Up in the Sky
Artist: Joe Satriani

I had the opportunity to take my stepfather to see Joe Satriani at the memorial auditorium in Sacramento, CA for his birthday on October 29, 1998 during the Crystal Planet Tour. I’ll admit I had stepped outside my earlier hard rock guitar roots at that time and was listening to more alt country and pop stuff then. Seeing Joe on that tour blew my mind and reminded me of why Joe is the KING of all things instrumental rock guitar. I soon went out and purchased the Crystal Planet cd after the concert and was given a heavy dose of all things that inspire rock guitarists to play – including but not limited to – amazing instrumental guitar songs with pure tone and heartfelt performances. In the strange mystery that is life, Joe would later become a client of mine and a good friend. We have talked about how that album was recorded mostly live at “The Plant” in Sausalito. The majority of the core tones were captured with single channel tube amps, including the Joe Satriani staple: Channel One of the Marshall 6100 Anniversary Edition with a Japanese Boss DS-1 pedal pushing the front for the gain. In the hands of the master, even this simple setup can be considered legendary. Check out “Up in the Sky” as a standout track, but every track on this album is pure gold. One of my top ten instrumental albums of all time.

Joe Satriani's 1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

Joe Satriani’s 1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

1992 Marshall 6100 30th Anniversary Amp

14. Hiwatt DR103

Song: Comfortably Numb
Artist: David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

David Gilmour of Pink Floyd has always conjured up jaw dropping juicy tones of mythical proportion for decades. The Wall album feature many classic songs and some of my favorite recorded solo guitar tones ever. It seems Mr. Gilmour’s go-to amp on stage and in the studio is the Hiwatt DR103 100W head with WEM Super Starfinder 200 cabinets loaded with Fane Crescendo speakers. In this case I would say that David’s core tone is crafted from his hands, guitar and the highly elaborate Pete Cornish pedal board that is fed into the amp. More so than the amps stand-alone sound, his DR103 acts more as a clean full range power amp in this setup but is still noteworthy. Check out the solo in “Comfortably Numb” as my standout track. For more great info on David Gilmour and his gear, check out www.gilmourish.com as well.

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour's Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

David Gilmour’s Custom Hiwatt 100 Amp

15. Fender Eighty-Five (Solid State)

Song: Creep
Artist: Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)

When the band Radiohead hit the scene in the early 90’s, I was immediately impressed with the songs and the two unique and original guitar parts on every song. Both guitarists (Jonny Greenwood & Ed O’Brien) seemed to cover so much tonal spectrum, yet always giving way to complimenting the song and never walking over the other players parts. I was surprised to find out at a much later date that Johnny Greenwood used a solid state Fender 85 amplifier as his main set up with pedals (including a Marshall Shredmaster pedal) driving the front of the amp to get his signature overdrive sound. Very early in Radiohead’s career, Jonny’s only amp was his Fender Eight-Five, which he used for both his distorted and clean tones. By late 1993, however, Jonny had bought his first tube amp: a Fender “The Twin” – which is the version Twin Reverb produced at the same time as the Eighty-Five. I think Radiohead is one of the most important and truly original groups to come out in the last 20 years.

Jonny Greenwood's Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood’s Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood's Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood’s Fender Eighty Five Amp

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

Jonny Greenwood & his Fender Eighty Five Amp (Radiohead)

16. Vox AC30

Song: Apache
Artist: Hank Marvin (The Shadows)

Across the pond in the late fifties & early sixties, The Shadows were cranking out pop and instrumental hits left and right. They achieved over 60 UK chart topping singles during there long and successful carrier. As a result of their success at the start of the 60’s, Hank Marvin had an interesting influence on the current VOX amplifier designs of the day as noted in this interview:

Along with the Fender guitar, another cornerstone of the Shadows sound was the Vox amplifier. According to Hank Marvin:

“Vox was one of the first companies to get onto artists and groups so they could promote their amplifiers. In fact, I tried Fender amplifiers first, but preferred the sound of the Vox with the Strat, because I think it was more of a raw sound. The Fender amplifier, to my ear sounded a little too smooth with a Strat, and I seemed to get more guts out of a Vox.”

Reg Clark worked in the Vox store in London’s Charing Cross Road in the early 60’s, and credits Hank with instigating a major Vox development:

“He suggested we made one with two speakers and it was from that comment that the AC30 came.”

The Shadows had tried the more powerful Fender Twin, but the Vox AC15 provided the sound they wanted, albeit with insufficient volume. Using two amplifiers each was rejected, and Vox finally came up with the legendary AC30, with the group taking delivery of four in late 1959. The AC30 was a 30-watt model with 12″ twin speakers and EL84 output valves. Hank’s amp was modified with a treble booster to provide a cleaner sound at high volume levels and this model was later sold commercially as the AC30 Top Boost.

Soon after, Hank changed his echo unit to the Binson Echorec, and a true legendary combination was solidified!

The Shadows & their Vox Amps

The Shadows & their Vox Amps

Vox AC30 Amp played by The Shadows

Vox AC30 Amp played by The Shadows

17. Gibson EH-150

Song: Stomping at the Savoy
Artist: Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian is the modern godfather of amplified electric jazz guitar. He is credited as a pioneer for taking the humble roll of the rhythm jazz guitar player in non-amplified form and pushing the boundaries to the point where other musicians respected the guitar. He proved the amplified guitar as a viable lead and solo instrument in the context of a large jazz ensemble. The Gibson ES-150 guitar coupled with the very rudimentary Gibson EH-150 tube amplifier paved the way for the future of modern electric guitar. Check out Charlie on the track “Stomping at the Savoy” and think back to how amazing that must have sounded live in the room in 1941 NYC.

Charlie Christian & his 1930's Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

Charlie Christian & his 1930’s Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

1930's Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

1930’s Gibson EH-150 Guitar Amp

18. Modified Marshall 100W Super Lead Plexi (The “Pete” Amp)

Song: Welcome to Paradise
Artist: Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)

When Green Day hit the big time on their chart topping Dookie album in 1994, I was immediately intrigued. Dookie was the band’s third studio album and its first collaboration with producer Rob Cavallo – and its major record label debut. Green Day seemed to come out of nowhere with their punk and thrash attitude, yet the songs were tight & concise hit pop/AOR sensations. Not only is Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day a killer songwriter and performer, his guitar tone is super fat and chunky. Wielding his bastard green Fernandez Stratocaster copy and a modified Marshall Plexi Super Lead 100-watt amp head (with the name duct-taped out), Billie Joe has perfected that tight right-hand rhythm and is so locked in with Trey Cool and Mike Dirnt. They create a modern power trio that is highly underrated IMHO. Check out the opening riff to “Welcome to Paradise” and you realize right then and there – this is the fundamental core sound of modern alternative rock as it stands today.

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his 'Dookie' modified Marshall Super Lead

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his ‘Dookie’ modified Marshall Super Lead

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his 'Dookie' modified Marshall Super Lead

Billie Joe Armstrong on-stage at Woodstock 1994 with his ‘Dookie’ modified Marshall Super Lead

19. Kustom K200A-4 (aka the ‘A4’ or the K200A Model 2-15L-4)

Song: Born on a Bayou
Artist: John Fogerty (CCR)

Another solid state transistor amp to make the list! The Kustom A4 amplifier with 2 x 15″ cab. This was John Fogerty’s main live rig for the classic CCR years, but there is also proof that he did use a a silver face Fender Vibrolux Reverb on many of the CCR studio recordings. The Fender provided more of a natural distortion that the transistor-based Kustom just couldn’t provide. John’s Kustom amps on stage always had the Trem / Vib set at one o’ clock as seen in many photos. Check out this classic performance and tone from Woodstock with the Rik in hand. There’s no doubt in any guitarists mind who the player is when the intro riff of this classic rock song comes through your radio dial.

CCR with the Kustom Amp in the background

CCR with the Kustom Amp in the background

John Fogerty's K200A-4 Amp

John Fogerty’s K200A-4 Amp

John Fogerty's K200A-4 Amp

John Fogerty’s K200A-4 Amp

1968 Kustom Ad for the K200A Amp

1968 Kustom Ad for the K200A Amp

20. Standel Amp

Song: Mr. Sandman
Artist: Chet Atkins

In the mid to late 50’s, all the top guitar players and band leaders of the time were custom ordering Standel amps from Bob Crooks in CA. From StandelAmps.com:

Bob Crooks built approximately 75 amps with the first design (knobs on top of the amp), all out of his backyard workshop at 10661 Freer Street in Temple City CA. Chet Atkins couldn’t order one himself because of his endorsement deal with Gretsch, but he bought one from a guitar player friend and used it on thousands of recordings. You can hear the amp during Chet Atkins appearances on “Classic Country” originally from 1957 but rebroadcast in the mid-80’s on TNN, Chet’s White Standel can be seen behind him on a bale of hay on about half of the performances).

Chet Atkins is arguable the most accomplished and amazing guitar player in US history. This performance of “Mr. Sandman” shows his effortless touch and command of the instrument.

Jim Reeves & Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Jim Reeves & Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Chet Atkins with a Standel 25L15 Amp

Standel 25L15 Guitar Amp

Standel 25L15 Guitar Amp

Neil Young's 1959 Fender Tweed Deluxe Amp

10 Classic Guitar Amps & The Songs That Made Them Famous

The importance of the choice of guitar amp in a recording session can’t be underestimated. In this article, Ben Fargen picks a Top 10 list of legendary songs that were greatly shaped by the guitar amp used to record them.

Hey everyone! Ben Fargen here from Fargen Custom Amps & Mods. I was asked to write a post for MyRareGuitars.com, so I thought I’d write about some famous songs and amplifiers. I’m really looking forward to your comments, so let me know which songs and amps you would include in this list. Thanks!

10. Fender Showman (Blonde Brownface)

Song: Miserlou
Artist: Dick Dale

The unmistakable sound of surf guitar was created by Dick Dale’s Fender stratocaster and a Fender Showman amp. One of the most important pieces of his signature sound was a custom Fender reverb unit (built by Leo Fender and given to Dick Dale as a prototype) driving a cranked up dual showman into 2 X 15-inch JBL D1 30 speakers. On the opening low E run from Dick Dale’s version of Miserlou you knew surf guitar was born, and that super cool reverb-laden sound would change the history of instrumental guitar music.

Dick Dale's 1965 Fender Showman Amp at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ

Dick Dale’s 1965 Fender Showman Amp at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ

9. Marshall JTM 45 Combo (Series 2, Model #1962)

Song: Hideaway
Artist: Eric Clapton (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers)

In the mid 60’s – after Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds – he joined with the John Mayall Bluesbreakers. Within one year earned a huge reputation and the nickname “Slowhand”. The Bluesbreakers recorded the Beano album in April 1966 and Clapton used a Marshall Series 2 1962 JTM 45 combo with KT 66 tubes. This amp coupled with the Les Paul guitar created a new kind of sound no one had ever heard before in blues. Some dubbed this the “woman” tone, and players have been chasing it for decades.

The Marshall Bluesbreaker: The Story of Marshall's First Combo

The Marshall Bluesbreaker: The Story of Marshall’s First Combo

8. Fender Deluxe Reverb

Song: Sweet Dreams
Artist: Roy Buchanan

Roy Buchanan and his trusty, well-weathered 50’s telecaster never abused a finer vintage amp than the Fender Deluxe Reverb. Roy was known for cranking his Fender Deluxe Reverb full blast and facing it toward the back of the stage to cut the stage volume. Roy gave his fans one screaming note after another and some of the sweetest tear-jerking blues you’ve ever heard. If there was ever a player that could wring blood, sweat and tears from a guitar, it was the late, great Roy Buchanan.

1960's Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb Amp

1960’s Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb Amp

7. Fender Bassman (Blonde Brownface)

Song: Rock This Town
Artist: Brian Setzer

Brian setzer is the king of cool when it come to rockabilly guitar style. He brought 50’s style blues/jazz guitar back in a time when AOR rock and new wave ruled the airwaves. One of the secret weapons in his tone is a Roland RE-201 Space Echo between his Gretsch guitar and two blonde Fender Bassman amps. That setup creates a great rowdy slap back echo which has become part of his signature tone.

Brian Setzer's Blonde Brownface Fender Bassman 6G6-B Amps setup with Roland Space Echo

Brian Setzer’s Blonde Brownface Fender Bassman 6G6-B Amps setup with Roland Space Echo

6. Fender Tweed Deluxe

Song: Like A Hurricane
Artist: Neil Young

Neil Young is the godfather of grunge. bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana pay tribute to Neil’s wild, unleashed crunchy chords and ruckus feedback swirls in many of their songs. Neil sports his worn black beauty Les Paul, feeding his 1959 Tweed Deluxe on many of his classic tunes live and in the studio. One amazing part of Neil’s rig is the Whizzer. In order to access the Deluxe’s varying degrees of overdrive and gain, Young uses a custom-made amp-control switching device known simply as “the Whizzer,” which consists of 2 parts: the foot pedal and the mechanical switching device that physically turns the amp’s knobs. The Whizzer allows Young to stomp a footswitch on the floor to command the unit to twist the Deluxe’s volume and tone controls to any of a number of determined preset positions. This allows Neil to run a pure tone set up: guitar-cord-amp. No booster, overdrive, or distortion pedals are needed to achieve his classic agro-tone…just the little 50’s Fender Tweed Deluxe and the Whizzer.

Neil Young's 1959 Fender Tweed Deluxe Amp

Neil Young’s 1959 Fender Tweed Deluxe Amp

5. VOX AC30

Song: Bad
Arist: The Edge (U2)

The Edge is one of my all time favorite guitarists. He created a signature sound early on in his career with a Fender Stratocaster, Electro Harmonix Memory Man delay pedal and a VOX AC30 on albums such as WAR and The Unforgettable Fire. This winning combination has served him well from the early days all the way through recent records and live work. The Edge creates complex echo manipulations coupled with the airy chime of the Vox AC30. The Edge has used a massive catalog of guitars and multi FX units over the years, but the AC30 has remained a staple regardless of the other changes. These gear details coupled with his brilliant parts make U2’s catalog of songs distinguishable with just one note of the Edge’s guitar. Very few guitar players in history have created such a powerful and recognizable signature sound like The Edge.

The Edge's 1964 Vox AC30TB (Top Boost) Amp ['64 chassis in a 70's cabinet]

The Edge’s 1964 Vox AC30TB (Top Boost) Amp [’64 chassis in a 70’s cabinet

4. Supro Thunderbolt

Song: Communication Breakdown
Artist: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

There has been a lot of speculation over the years regarding the amps that Jimmy Page used in the studio during the groundbreaking debut release Led Zeppelin. Jimmy will neither confirm nor deny which amp(s) were used in the studio, and there are no known photos in the archives to corroborate my story. But…based on the tones heard on the record, it is entirely possible that the Supro Thunderbolt was used. So in keeping with the mythical ethos of Led Zeppelin, I added it in to the mix.

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (front)

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (front)

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (back)

Supro Thunderbolt Amp (back)

Now, just to add to the mystery, here’s the Supro amp that Jimmy page gave to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s actually a Supro 1690T Coronado, but the features of the amp do not match up with details Jimmy previously provided when questioned about the Supro amp he used on Led Zeppelin. And the mystery continues…

The Supro 1690T Coronado that Jimmy Page gave to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Supro 1690T Coronado that Jimmy Page gave to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Supro 1690T Coronado Amp (catalog ad)

Supro 1690T Coronado Amp (catalog ad)

3. Marshall Bass 50w #1986 (Head)

Song: Statesboro Blues
Artist: Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band)

Anyone that loves electric guitar cannot deny the impact Duanne Allman had on the legacy of blues slide guitar. His liquid lines and fluid tone seem to jump from the neck of his Gibson Les Paul without effort. He used a simple rig of two 50 Watt Marshall heads into two 4 x 12-inch cabs. His tone on the legendary Allman Brothers recording Live at the Filmore East is a destination for anyone wanting to capture the ultimate blues tone. Nobody plays it the way Duane did. If you don’t own a copy of this record, I recommend you head to the record store and pick it up immediately because you are missing out on a legendary sound and performance.

Marshall Bass 50w Head Model #1986

Marshall Bass 50w Head Model #1986

Duane Allman's Last Show (Oct. 1971, Los Angeles)

Duane Allman’s Last Show (Oct. 1971, Los Angeles)

2. Dumble Overdrive Special

Song: Josie
Artist: Larry Carlton (Steely Dan)

During the 1970’s and 80’s Mr. 335 laid down over 500 tracks a year as a session player and on his own records. He is definitely one of LA’s guitar royalty. Armed with his trusty ’68 Gibson ES-335 and two Dumble Overdrive Special amps, his monster jazz fusion guitar line are unmistakable and can be heard all over popular music. Steely Dan’s 6th release, Aja, employed a huge jazz influence and was their most guitar heavy record to date. This was mostly in part to the amazingly tasty tones and licks from Larry Carlton. Aja is one of Steely Dan’s best and most popular records for sure. Mr. 335 obviously helped push that record to the top.

Larry Carlton's Dumble Overdrive Special Amps (2005)

Larry Carlton’s Dumble Overdrive Special Amps (2005)

1. Marshall Super Lead #1959 (12,000 Series Metal Panel Plexi 100-Watt)

Song: Running With The Devil
Artist: Eddie Van Halen

With the release of Van Halen I in 1978, the world of rock was changed forever. Edward Van Halen hit the scene with a new guitar sound that was so fast and furious no one had ever heard anything like it before. Eddie was a do-it-yourself kind of guy, always tweaking around with modded guitar pickups, different fx pedals on the floor and different ways to drive his Marshall amplifier into saturated overdrive. In the legend of EVH, many myths about how he created his early guitar tone have run rampant for decades. Speculation about DIY mods like power resistors across the power tubes plates, AC variacs to raise or lower the input voltage of the amp, and large resistant power loads over the speaker out have spawned endless articles and arguments on forums about how the legendary early EVH sound was created. Sketchy details from the era and no solid proof of what was used from EVH or his camp during those days continue to feed the tone chasers fuel tanks. And to this day the holy grail tone from Van Halen 1 has players frothing at the mouth. But you and I know the only real truth: The tone is 95% in the hands, and Eddie’s legendary sound has more to do with the notes he played rather than the tone in which he played it with.

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen’s Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen’s Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen's Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Eddie Van Halen’s Marshall Super Lead #1959 100-watt Plexi

Mack Amps Heatseeker HS-18

How Much Guitar Amp Power Do I Need?

Do I need to have a loud amp? Is it worth buying a 100-watt guitar amp, or 15-watts will do? Our blog will answer all you need to know about how loud your guitar amp REALLY needs to be!

Amp wall

DInosaur Jr’s amps… most people will be fine with much less than that…

I believe that a guitar amp doesn’t need to have more than 50 watts of power… ever!

Heh! I can hear the clicking of many keyboards preparing their rebuttals to that comment!

It’s never wise to make such a sweeping generalization. But there is some sense behind my comment – at least I think so! My belief that more than 50 watts is a waste has to do with where guitarists play, the type of equipment available in live venues if a guitarist gigs, and how output power affects a guitar amp’s performance.

Guitar Amp Power Requirements Have Changed Over The Years

Back when rock and roll was young guitarists required huge amounts of back line power to fill ever larger live venues. Public Address or PA systems just weren’t up to the task of being used to amplify electric guitars so everyone in the room could hear. So, walls of 100 watt amps became a common site.

Today, if a guitarist plays a venue that would require 100s of watts of amp power to fill the room the venue will have the capability to mic the guitar amp. In that case, a 4 watt Gem or a Fender Champ could work just fine!

There’s also the unfortunate fact that some bands still insist on playing with punishingly high stage volume levels regardless of whether their amps are mic’ed. I’m not going to address this topic here – musicians should protect their hearing and the hearing of their audiences!

So, why aren’t all guitar amps under 10 watts? Because of tradition – that’s a BIG reason why lots of manufacturers still make high powered amps – and because different styles of music require different tones and varying amounts of clean headroom.

Guitar Amp Power Determines Clean Headroom

If you could compare two guitar amps that were identical in every way except one had more power than the other, what would you find?

Well, interestingly, Mack guitar amps make that comparison easy! For example, our Heatseeker amps – the Heatseeker HS-18 and now discontinued Heatseeker HS-36 – are identical amps except that the 18 features two EL84s producing about 18 watts and the 36 features four EL84s producing about 36 watts.

How are they different? The 36 has more clean headroom than the 18. Otherwise, in a ‘blind; testing they sound the same.

What? The 36 has to be MUCH louder than the 18 doesn’t it? After all it has twice the power! What gives??

Guitar Amp Power and How It Relates To Volume

OK, here’s the deal with power and how it relates to volume..

  1. Double guitar amp output power – increase volume by 3 dB. The decibel, or dB, is the unit of measurement for audible sound volume. The more dB, the louder the sound. An increase in sound volume of 3 dB is generally considered to be the smallest change in sound volume that the average human ear can detect!! That’s why the 36 doesn’t produce much of a noticeable difference in volume compared to the 18.
  2. Increase guitar amp output power 10 times – double the sound volume. It takes TEN TIMES the output power to double volume!! That means you have to play through a 100 watt amp to produce twice the volume as your 10 watt amp!!

So, jumping from a 25 watt amp to a 50 watt amp and then to a 100 watt amp will result in higher volume for sure. However, there won’t be nearly as much volume difference between the 25 watter and the 100 watter as you might expect. The 100 watter will be about 6 dB louder than the 25. You’ll hear the difference, but it won’t be huge. 25 watts is already REALLY LOUD! In fact, as you can now guess, 10 or 15 or 18 watts is LOUD AS HELL when you turn it up.

The above information is based on physics and how the human hear translates changes in air pressure – sound waves – to what our brain perceives as sound. It is also based on all things being equal other than output power – primarily that means that to perform comparisons you plugged the amps into the same speaker cabinets and played the same guitar through them with the same intensity.

How Many Guitar Amp Watts Do You REALLY Need?

This is how I help customers decide on how much power they really need. Bascially, we determine together how much clean headroom is required and select the amp on that basis.

Headroom is defined as being the volume at which the amp starts to overdrive or distort the incoming signal from your guitar. Fender Twins are known for producing LOUD clean tones – it’s extremely difficult to get that amp to overdrive. Therefore, it has LOTS of clean headroom.

A 1 watt amp designed to produce overdriven and distorted tones (basically more of a distortion pedal than an amp!) will overdrive at very low volume. This type of amp has very low clean headroom.

So, how do we figure out how much clean headroom and output power is required?

  1. Determine the syle of music. There are two extremes that relate power to music style to clean headroom. AC/DC cover band? Crunch all night with extra distortion for solos. Country band? Predominantly clean all night. The cleans have to be loud enough to keep up with your band’s stage volume.
  2. Determine how to get distortion for solos. Are you going to rely on your amp for distortion or are you going to set up your amp for cleans and use pedals?
  3. Determine the venues where the amp will be played. Do you only play at home? Do you occasionally jam with another guitarist or two? In a garage/basement band? Gig in small venues only? Large rooms? Stadiums? The jump from playing by yourself or with another guitarist to playing in a band is step that may require more clean headroom regardless of music style and method of generating distortion. The jump from a band setting in a small venue (basement, small bar) to a larger venue (bigger bar, halls, etc.) may require another increase in clean headroom. The key is to determine when/if your amp will be mid’ed and your band’s stage volume.

The louder you need clean tones the more headroom you need and the more power you require.

  • Playing music that requires lots of clean tones and you have to be loud enough to keep up with the band on stage? You need more headroom.
  • Do you rely on pedals for overdrive and distortion and your amp to be clean all the time? You need more headroom.
  • Do you want your amp to produce overdrive and distortion and loud cleans are not as important? You don’t need as much headroom – you want the amp to overdrive at lower volumes. You need to drive the amp into its sweet spot at a volume level that won’t make the first 5 rows of the audience look like those guys riding rocket sleds.

Now, not all amps are designed the same. Some amps of equal power are specifically designed with more or less headroom. It’s rare to get the opportunity to play an amp in your chosen venue before buying – whether you buy online or from a local store (ever tried to determine an amp’s clean headroom when the kid next to you is practicing tapping using that 100 watt Marshall?) – so you need to rely on knowledgeable players and the manufacturer to guide you. It also helps to have an unconditional, money-back guarantee so that you can get ALL your money back if for whatever reason it turns out that the amp you bought is not suitable (see Mack’s 100% Money Back Guarantee).

How Much Guitar Amp Power Is Enough?

Getting back to where we started, why do I think that 50 watts is all that would ever be required?

Because regardless of the clean headroom required, you should never be in a position where stage volume demands more power than 50 watts. A 50 watt amp turned up enough to get it into its sweet spot is PUNISHINGLY loud.

So, before you assume you need 100 watts because that’s what ___ uses, think about the music you play, how you get your overdriven/distorted tones and where you play. Then carefully consider how much power you REALLY need!

– Don Mackrill
http://www.mackamps.com/

1960’s Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

I’ve only owned two Kay tube amps, and they were both keepers. One was a pretty standard (for its era) dual 6V6 with tremolo (a really rich and deep tremolo). It had a tone pretty close to the Silvertone 1482, its Dano-made Airline counterpart, the rare 1964 Ampeg Reverberocket with 6V6’s (wow, what an amp!) Lectrolab 600B (though this is the best of the bunch, IMO) and any number of other cheapie versions/variations of a Tweed Deluxe. It’s interesting that all these Chicago and New Jersey bargain companies were churning out these amps that now get called a “poor person’s Tweed Deluxe”—these great 6V6 amps with tons of snarl and growl long after Leo Fender had left Tweed pastures for the cleaner, tighter sound of the Tolex models. By 1964, when Danos and Lectrolabs were still sounding like proto-Neil Young dirt, Fender had long left behind the loose sag and grit of the Tweed Deluxe, replacing it with the much tighter, much stiffer (though still a cool amp) Deluxe Reverb.

Don’t get me wrong. The Deluxe Reverb is a great amp. But the Fenders I love pretty much all fall in the tweed era, where there wasn’t a ton of great headroom and you got into a nice snarl pretty early in the sweep of the volume knob.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

You don’t see a bunch of the dual 6V6 single 12” Kays. The models you tend to see the most are the little (and somewhat anemic) single-ended practice amp, the 703. And the Kay tube amp you tend to see the least is the VERY cool duel 6L6 (sometimes) Kay 507 Twin Ten.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

As the name suggests, the amp pushes two (ALNICO) 10” speakers powered by a pair of 6L6’s. What’s weird is that a LOT have 7868’s as output tubes and use a 7199 in the circuit. 7868’s have a great tone, in general. They are, from what I’ve read, essentially the same tube as a 7591, but with nine pins instead of eight. 7199’s got used a lot in Ampegs and Sanos and they are very rare and they aren’t made anymore, so they tend to cost a lot of dough. So, buyer beware (especially about the 7199) on this amp. BUT, the model I have has what are obviously original 6L6’s and no rare or obscure preamp tubes (five 12AX7’s do the preamp and phase inverter jobs) and the old stand-by 5U4 for rectification. Mine is all original—as the schematic inside matches what’s in the amp. But there seem to have been some variations on the construction of the 507—so, ask the seller about/check the tubes when buying so you know what your 507 has in it.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

Also, it’s one of the coolest looking amps you’ll see. It has two channels (two inputs per channel), a VERY snazzy chrome rear control panel with six knobs (tone and volume for each channel and speed and intensity for the tremolo). And it has a very 50’s-looking two tone appearance (even though it lists that they were made 1960-1963), brown rear and light brown front with a white swirl on brown cloth grill. It’s a great size—not too heavy and 24” wide by 20” tall.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

OK, it looks cool, but how does it sound? Pretty freaking cool. It sounds a lot like the other great Chicago amps of the same period. And this is where things get kind of interesting—who made these Kay amps? It has a tone very much like the great Valcos (which ended up branded, at various times, Supro, Airline and, in the 400 series, Harmony). And, like a Valco, it has a tone a bit like some of the great Lectrolabs, too (I’ve seen Lectrolabs branded under their own name and also with Philharmonic and the 300 series of Harmony amps). But, it’s not made by either Valco or Lectrolab (I get this info from a friend of mine who knows more about off-brand amps than anyone I know and has a collection to prove it). It also doesn’t look like a Valco or Lectrolab under the hood. It’s simply made differently (though it is point-to-point like both of those brand—no hand stuffed circuit board like on a Tweed Fender). According to my friend, it was Kay who actually made these Kay amps over these years (go figure). As I say, this friend knows a lot more than me and has written several books on the Chicago giants. Plus, it’s easy to tell from looking that it wasn’t made by Valco or Lectrolab. So, if it isn’t easy to tell who DID make it, at least we know who DIDN’T.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Whoever made it, though, it’s a wonderful amp. At low volume, you get a VERY rich and textured clean sound. The two ten inch speakers sound great and the cleans are very complex, much like a Tweed Fender Super from the early 50’s. This is one of the richest, thickest (without being overly dark) cleans I have ever heard in a vintage amp. And when you add the tremolo, wow! It moves from a VERY slow, pulsing tremolo, to a pretty fast one—but it never gets totally choppy and helicopter-sounding like a lot of the late 60’s tremolos. Throughout the range of the “strength” control, the tremolo stays watery and smooth. Just a killer sound.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Turned up, it sounds more like a 6V6 amp than most 6L6 amps I’ve ever heard. Very Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If you push the volume on the channel you’re using to 6 or higher, it starts to really snarl and have a complex great sounding distortion. The volume and tone controls are interactive, too, so you can get some very nice textures of distortion by either coupling the channels with a short cord, or just playing with the volume of the channel you’re not using. Open it up full and put the other channel around 5 or 6 and it sounds VERY much like Neil Young’s tone on RAGGED GLORY—that opening of “Country Home” sounds spot on when this amp is cranked.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

It’s a sleeper. And there don’t seem to be too many of them out there. I haven’t heard the 7868 output tube version of this amp, but I’d sure like to. In any case, if you see one of the 507 Twin Tens with 6L6 output tubes, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. I’m doing a MAJOR purge around here—selling at least five guitars and five amps. And I kept going back and forth on the Kay 507. Then I plugged it in to write this and I decided I’d be nuts to get rid of it. There simply aren’t that many of them. And I don’t want to feel like I felt about letting go of my 4X6V6 Danelectro Challenger with a 15 inch speaker. That was another super rare amp I let go of, and I still get angry at myself. From now on, I’ve vowed to only get rid of stuff I could easily replace if I truly regretted the sale. So this one stays.

The Ideal Guitar Amp: Survey Results

Last month 233 readers filled out the Ideal Guitar amp survey! Based on your responses everyone had a lot of fun, but maybe not as much fun as I had reading all of your comments! Many thanks to all those who took the time to complete the survey.

So, what’s the ideal amp? Let’s find out!

The Ideal Guitar Amp

The following composite descriptions of the Unlimited Budget and Limited Budget Ideal amps are based on the most selected features (in some cases I used the mid-point of a range of selections if they were equal in popularity).

Unlimited Budget

  • Head configuration
  • 50 watts
  • 6L6 power tubes
  • Tube rectifier
  • Treble-middle-bass tone controls
  • Tonality: great cleans and ‘shred’ preamp distortion
  • Two preamp channels
  • $2,500

Limited Budget

  • Combo configuration, 1×12
  • 18 watts
  • 6V6 power tubes
  • Tube rectifier
  • Treble-middle-bass tone controls
  • Tonality: great cleans and ‘shred’ preamp distortion
  • One or two preamp channels
  • $750

Following are the compiled results from each question.

Musical styles:

On average each respondent selected 2 music styles.

  • 80% play rock music.
  • 40% play blues. (DOH! I can’t believe I left this category out. Thanks to all you blues players for using the ‘Other’ category to write in your preference.)
  • 25% play country.
  • The rest are spread out over jazz, metal, fusion, surf, garage, noise, grunge, ska, gospel, swing, “folk noise Americana” and “post-rock biiiing biiiing sounds” (whoever plays that PLEASE send me a sound clip!).

Price
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As you can see, it is quite clear that $2,500 seems to be the sweet spot of the ‘Unlimited Budget’ (UB) price point. It’s interesting that there are about as many people willing to pay no more than $1,500 as there are those willing to pay $5,000 for their dream amp!

The ‘Limited Budget’ (LB) sweet spot is wider spanning $500 to $1,000.

Use

When asked “What are you going to do with your ideal amp” the answers were evenly spread across playing at home, jamming, rehearsal, gigging and studio recording. There was slightly more interest in using the UB amp for gigs and in the studio, while the LB amp would get slightly more use at home.

Head or Combo?

The UB amp is slightly more likely to be a head (55%) than a combo (45%). The LB amp is most likely to be a combo as selected by 65% of respondents vs. a head selected by 35%.

Output Power
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UB amps will have a fairly wide range of power spanning 30 to 100 watts.

LB amps will be lower powered with 15 to 20 watts being the clear preference. There’s a reason why there are so many amps available in this power range!

Almost all of the respondents who selected the ‘Other’ choice identified a desire for the ability to adjust the power of their UB or LB amps whether that be a continuous adjustment or switching power levels.

Power Tube Preference

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Clearly 6V6s and 6L6s are the preferred tube for the ideal amp. As can be seen, V6s are the preferred choice for LB amps while L6s are the UB choice. This makes sense when desired output power is considered: 6L6s produce more power than 6V6s, which matches with the UB vs. LB desired power output.

Power Supply Rectifier
70% of UB amp designers selected tube rectifiers for their ideal amp compared to 50% for LB amps. Of the non-tube rectifier responses most said they didn’t care whether the rectifier was tube or solid state.

Flexibility: Range of Tones
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These results surprised me, which makes me think that I didn’t do a good job of selecting the categories. However, the data shows that, regardless of budget, EVERYONE wants an amp that does great cleans and produces shred levels of preamp distortion. That’s surprising because virtually no one said they played shred-type music!!!

Preamp Channels

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Predictably, LB amps were designed to be more simple with fewer channels than UB amps. However, there was a strong desire for even the LB amps to have built-in flexibility from 2 channels.

Single Channel Design

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These results underscore my belief that the questions regarding tonal flexibility were not well conceived. The above chart shows that in a circumstance where an amp has only one channel, guitarists DO NOT want preamp distortion. That contradicts the Flexibility results shown above where it appears that most guitarists want shred preamp distortion in their amps!

The single channel preamp design question was much more clear than the flexibility question, which leads me to believe that its results are more reliable than the flexibility results.

Tone Controls
No surprises here. Regardless of budget, guitar players prefer treble-middle-bass (TMB) tone controls. They would be found on over 70% of UB amps and 60% of LB amps – 20% of LB amp owners would be OK with treble and bass controls. A presence control was a popular addition for those who selected ‘Other’.

Effects
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There was widespread response regarding the inclusion of effects. However, no one effect received support from even one half of respondents. The most popular effect is reverb, only one in three think it should be included in their ideal amp.

Thankfully, digital multi-effects were generally ignored by the ideal amp respondents. As can be seen, reverb and tremolo/vibrato were relatively popular, but none of the options provided were wildly popular. That would indicate that guitarists questing after their ideal amp are mostly focussed on tone and not effects.

Combo Configuration
60% of UB amps would feature two speakers and 70% of respondents wanted 12″ speakers in their UB amp. LB combos were more or less evenly split between one and two speakers (49% and 46% respectively), but a strong preference was still shown for 12″ speakers with 65% of respondents selecting them.

The Last Word
When asked what else they would add to their ideal amps, LOTS of ideas were thrown out including:

  • Stand by switch
  • Wheels
  • Various colors
  • Ceramic tube sockets
  • Hand wired circuit board
  • Specific tube rectifier models
  • Switchable negative feedback
  • EF86 preamp
  • Speaker impedance selector
  • Dual power amp – high power for cleans, low power for distortion
  • Fire-spitting jets that flame up during a solo!

Send me an email with your comments about the results of the Ideal Amp survey: Don@MackAmps.com.

Build Your Dream Amp! (Guitar Amp Survey)

This month you get to configure your DREAM AMP! By filling in a survey you can choose almost every design detail as if you were having a custom amp built just for you. Next month we’ll review the results and see what interesting trends and insights we’ll learn from all you twisted gear heads!

Below you will find a link to a survey that will step you through the design questions that would have to be answered to build your DREAM AMP. But wait… what’s this???? As you will see, you are actually going to configure TWO amps!

One amp will be the ‘I won the lottery’ toy where you can spend as much as you want. The other amp is what you would build if you had a limited budget (I know, the real world sucks!). The survey is not sophisticated enough to restrict choices so that your design decisions will match the budgets you set for yourself. So, to make the results reasonably realistic you will have to restrain yourself depending on your budgets. But, that shouldn’t reduce the fun! Will the amps be the same or radically different? You get to choose!

The survey can take as little as a few minutes, or if you’re like me, each technical answer will require hours of agonizing soul searching to end up with just the right configuration! Well, not really… the survey shouldn’t take more than five minutes!

Have fun and I’ll see you next month!!!

GO TO THE SURVEY!

I’d like to know what you think is happening in the world of tube amps. Send me an email at: Don@MackAmps.com.

What Is A Boutique Guitar Amp?

Most guitarists instantly create an image in their minds when they think of ’boutique’ guitar amps. But, what does the term really mean? Perform a Google search on the term “What is a boutique amp” and you will find many threads from many gear related forums where members debate the meaning of the term and the criteria by which a boutique amp is defined. This month we’ll sort through the debate and see if there is an underlying theme that describes what makes an amp worthy of being called ’boutique’.

The Meaning of Boutique
Boutique is a French word whose literal translation is “shop”. It appears to have come to prominence worldwide in reference to the fashion industry: boutique fashion designers and boutique clothing stores that sold pieces made by boutique designers.

Two dictionary definitions of the word boutique reads: “a small business, department, etc., specializing in one aspect of a larger industry” and “a small, exclusive producer or business”.

These are somewhat vague explanations and if we were to get really philosophical we would examine the terms “specializing” and “exclusive” in an attempt to achieve a precise definition. You’ll be please to learn that we won’t go there in this article!

It appears that there is a common theme developing regarding the concept of business size: to be considered boutique a business must be small.

However, is there more required of an amp company to be considered boutique?

The Boutique Debate
If you spend any time at all browsing online forum threads that address this topic you will see a number of different criteria discussed relative to defining a boutique amp and/or amp company.

Following is my assessment of the most commonly mentioned characteristics. And, I’ll give you my 2¢ worth on each one!

  • Size: Yes, as the tired joke goes “size does matter”, but in this case small is better (if only my wife would agree…). Virtually every participant in the online boutique debate agrees that to be considered a boutique amp company small or limited production capacity is a requirement. A common example is Mesa Boogie. Often considered the first boutique amp company, Mesa seems to have outgrown the genre. I agree that mass production is not a characteristic of a boutique builder. There are some fine amps that are mass produced – many by Mesa – but, that is not the essence of a boutique builder as will be discussed below.
  • Philosophy: There’s that word again. Don’t worry! A few thoughtful forum dwellers brought up the idea that boutique amp companies have a different mission than non-boutique companies. They believe that a boutique amp builder’s primary focus is on the integrity of their product concept: “built to a standard not to a price” was how one put it.I think this is a critical characteristic of boutique amp companies. Whether a builder focuses on replicating vintage designs or developing unique creations, each one follows their own recipe to make a ‘better than mass produced’ amp.Evidence of this is seen in any boutique builder’s product line. There is almost always a direction or common theme to which their products adhere. You don’t see boutique builders going after widely divergent market segments as some ‘big’ companies do: $200 entry level amps all the way to multi-thousand dollar, hand wired reissues!
  • Hand wired vs. printed circuit boards: There is much lively debate concerning the authenticity of boutique amps that use printed circuit boards (PCBs). Is this an oxymoron? Many guitarists think so. The hand wired camp believe that only an amp whose every component and wire has been hand soldered can be considered boutique. However, there are many amp companies that are generally considered to be boutique, such as Soldano, Rivera, Fuchs and THD to name a few (Mack uses a PCB in the Gem) that use PCBs. Note that while these amps use PCBs, they are hand assembled and, in at least the case of the Gem, are hand wired to the chassis mounted components.Does an amp have to be hand wired to be considered boutique? Not in my opinion. The manner in which components are attached and soldered to a circuit board simply does not affect tone. A poorly laid out eyelet board will sound just as bad as a poorly designed PCB. A well designed PCB amp will sound indistinguishable from a hand wired example.Reliability is often cited as a problem with PCB amps. While a poorly designed, mass produced amp is a recipe for problems, a well designed PCB amp will be at least as reliable as a hand wired amp. After all, PCBs are used in spacecraft and military electronics – two of the most inhospitable environments on or around the planet – and, since in both of those applications cost is insignificant compared to reliability, hand wired electronics would be the norm if PCBs were unreliable.
  • Price: Many guitarists believe that boutique amps are very expensive – and many are. As we all know boutique amp prices can easily run from $2,000 up to tens of thousands for Dumbles and the like. However, there is a growing segment of boutique builders who offer amps at prices in the $1,000 range and sometimes less. While $1,000 is not inexpensive, it is much less than many guitarists believe possible for a boutique amp. Plus, there are many mass produced amps from big companies that are in this price range – and higher!Nonetheless, relative to a small builder (there’s that size thing again) price is indicative of what goes into their products. Building amps completely by hand or hand assembling them simply requires more labor than if the same product is mass produced. That means a higher price. When you add in the additional cost of high-end and sometimes custom components that some boutique builders use, the price quickly escalates. BTW, my explanation of high priced, mass produced amps is that their price reflects what the company thinks they can get for them.
  • Location: Most if not all participants in the boutique debate seem to agree that to be considered a boutique amp builder, production must take place locally – not in Asia or other areas of the world where labor rates are low. To my knowledge there is no small amp building company from these areas that claims boutique status (although there is a Malaysian maker of reportedly high quality amp kits that many consider be in the boutique category).I tend to agree with the assessment that an amp builder should not be considered ’boutique’ if it has their product manufactured by a third party company in, say, China. I believe that the ability to maintain product integrity relative to component quality, build quality and functional consistency is compromised if production is not close at hand.There appears to be a growing body of evidence supporting this belief based on a North American amp company that would have previously been considered boutique, but who has, it appears, elected to manufacture at least some of their product overseas. While their amps have proven to be popular and are now sold at GC (the boutique builder kiss of death?), anecdotal reports suggest that the tone and build quality of the amps are not on par with their past, domestically produced, products.
  • Tone: It’s interesting to note that in all of the online forum threads that I studied, VERY few participants mentioned tone as a defining factor of a boutique amp! A few commented that not all boutique amps sound good to them. Most did not mention relative tone quality at all!I think this reflects the reality that while many boutique amps produce exceptional tone, there are mass produced amps that sound good too – or at least ‘good enough’. This is where price enters the thought process of guitarists. Is the improvement in tone worth the extra money for a boutique amp? Or, is there even an improvement in tone at all? Since tone is such a subjective assessment there are many answers to the above questions. That said, I think there are many guitarists who don’t equate significantly better tone with a boutique amp simply because they would never consider buying one.Nonetheless, I believe that if an amp claims to be boutique, that it should produce very good tone indeed. This leads to another personal belief: once in the boutique price range every increment in price should produce a noticeable improvement in tone – otherwise the value of the higher price amp is degraded.

What Is A Boutique Amp?
I believe that a boutique amp is made by a small manufacturer who follows their own philosophy of how to build amps that are better than mass produced products.

Yes, there are lots of ways to interpret that… and that’s why there are lots of boutique amp companies!

Mack Amps Heatseeker HS-18

Mack Amps Heatseeker HS-18

Send me an email and let me know what you think!

Don Mackrill
Don@MackAmps.com
MACK AMPS

1960’s Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

I wasn’t in the market for any more amps, but how could I pass up this Lafayette LA-75? A buddy of mine (thanks Rob S.!) sent me an email, letting me know that this baby was on eBay for a really good price and that I should snatch it up. “If you love the (Valco-made) Harmony 415,” he said, knowing it was one of my favorites, “you’ll love this one. Similar output and tone, only out of one 12” instead of two.” And he was right—and then some. I do love the duel EL84 Valco/Harmony 415, but I think I like this little sleeper even more.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

What’s to love? First of all, its Jetson-era Mid Century Modern styling that makes it pretty as a piece of vintage furniture. It’s a classy looking little box—the only American made amp it resembles is the nearly-equally cool looking Dano-made Silvertone 1432 (itself a bit of a sleeper, as it was a predecessor to the classic and easier to find 1472 and 1482 series). But while the 1432 relies on the classic duel 6V6 setup for its bluesy grind, the Lafayette runs two 7189s for output.

What’s the difference? Not much, actually in the tone of the amp. The design of an amp has at least as much to do with its tonal makeup as does its output tubes, and this little Japanese combo sounds much like Danelectro’s and the Chicago beasts of its era (Valco, Lectrolab and so on). It’s got the familiar thick, dark, lush tone at under 4 on the volume knob, and it has an impressive and small gig volume when it starts to get into its grind around 5 and up on the volume knob. And it has two channels, which you can jump to enrich both the chewy grind and the thickness of the amp.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

Mine seems to have the original ALNICO speaker (Japanese amps don’t always share our speaker codes, so it’s hard to say what make it is) that sounds very much like a Jensen ALNICO I have in a 1958 Ampeg Mercury (I switched them and the tones are nearly identical).

What makes this amp unique among some of the great Japanese made amps of the same era? Its tone is actually very Valco. Dark, chewy, biting and fat, fat, fat. While some of the Guyatone’s and Univox’s have a tone all their own (which, no doubt, is very cool), the Lafayette 75 really has that great thick grind that the Chicago (and New Jersey, in Dano’s case) amps had that is perfect for jump blues and, when pushed, unhinged overdrive into Neil Young territory.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

And now that Valco’s have become increasingly expensive (though still worth it in many cases), it’s put the amp lover on a budget hunting for other great amps that are still super affordable. Brands like Premier (in some cases), Hilgen, Univox, Guyatone, Alamo, Lectrolab and some Danelectro’s can still be found in nice shape in the $300 range. For hand-made point-to-point (or hand stuffed circuit boards) amps with good iron and great tone, you’d have to pay a lot more for a new boutique amp. And these can be had needing only minor work (in many cases). What’s not to love?

But back to this model 75. The lush depth of the 7189s is apparent throughout the volume range of the amp. The tremolo is rich and VERY 60’s sounding. It has more of a rounded, gentle wave than a sharp cut-off helicopter tremolo, with no noticeable (or apparent) volume drop when the effect is engaged.

Also, one of the cool things about the 7189s is that they are not like the 7189A’s that are in some great amps, such as the killer Magnatone M10 (and most of the Magnatone Suitcase series). Whereas the very expensive (and increasingly rare) 7189A can’t be substituted with 7189s OR with EL84s (without modification), the 7189 CAN use a rugged EL84 with no modification.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

So, an amp with rich clean tones and a super overdrive sound that looks rad and weighs well under 30 pounds. Keep your eye out for this amp (and other Lafayette models—some of which were made by the same factory that made Univox amps—some don’t seem to be. It’s a crapshoot with 60’s Japanese amps).

Are there any problems with this amp? The handle rattles. Annoying, but hardly the end of the world…just use a little form when you’re recording. Not so bad.

It also digs pedals. I’ve added a germanium boost to this and it positively blooms on the notes. Add some reverb and the lower volume cleans are lush and astounding. In an amp/tone world where so many players are looking for the tone and range of the classic Tweed Deluxe, there are so many great tonal options in the 15 to 20 watt range. Enjoy and explore.

Vintage 1960’s Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

A few months back I talked about how great the Univox U-45 is. And I figured I’d talk about more vintage Univox’s this month—specifically the 305-B which is a really great amp with 6973 output tubes. And I will (promise) do a column about that model Univox, but I stumbled onto this rare Guyatone this month and wanted to share this rare bird with the My Rare Guitars world. So, while I am stepping away from the Univox models, I’m still stuck in Japan in the 60’s with this Guyatone GA-530A.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Japanese-made tube amps from the 60’s represent, in general, one of the great values left in the vintage market. Frequently, you can pick up little combos like this Guyatone (or the Univox U-45B) for under $300. Real vintage tube tone for under $300 (and frequently even lower)? What’s not to love?

This Guyatone, along with coming cheaply and sounding great, is a looker. In white Tolex (or Tolex-like material), this is a stunning looking amp that was a popular model (though not for export) in the Mid-60’s Japanese “Group Sounds” movement. A great amp for chiming Beatles-inspired sounds or tremolo-drenched surf-styled instrumentals, the GA-530A is one to keep your eyes peeled for. It’s a classy looking amp, and one that probably looked just fine gracing the stage of the 60’s Japanese TV show Kachinuki Eleki Gassen (“Electric Guitar Tournament”—a highly-rated audience-participation guitar show…something of a Ventures-inspired proto-American Idol for guitar players—guitars were HUGE in the 60’s in Japan).

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

What’s under the hood? It’s a pretty simple and well-made amp. Three 12AU7’s (for preamp, tremolo and phase inverter duties), two EL84’s for output and a solid state rectifier and not much else. The speaker is labeled “Guyatone”, though I’m not sure if it was made by Guyatone or rebranded (there are no codes on it). Whatever its source, this is a sweet-sounding ALNICO speaker in the 20-watt range.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

The sound of the amp is very cool and unique. Where most of the Univoxs I’ve heard are little blues and garage-rock machines, this amp is all about chime and cleans. Part of this, of course, comes from the low-gain 12AU7’s. A 12AX7 has, for instance, an amplification factor of 100. The 12AU7’s have an amplification factor of 17. The amp is voiced for cleans and isn’t (as you might guess from the tube line up) the loudest dual EL84 amp you’ll ever hear. Without mods, you can heat things up a bit with a 12AT7 in the preamp, but anything much higher than that makes it start oscillating and wailing a bit. Without some mods, it’s not going to be a high (or even mid) gain amp.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

However, played clean (which it stays until about 7 on the volume knob), this thing really shines and sparkles. Byrds and Beatle type tunes sound incredible and it takes to a 12-string really well. Chords are articulate and well-voiced and the amp rings like a bell. Pushed into overdrive (from 7-10 on the volume), and the amp retains its trebly voice, but pushes the EL84’s into a Vox-like chime and grind (albeit at a lower overall volume than, say, an AC15).

And, while this combo may lack reverb for true surf tones, it’s got the awesome gritty sparkle to base your surf tone on, along with an absolutely KILLER tremolo. With tremendous range of depth and speed, it’s a very musical tremolo effect. One of the best I’ve heard in ANY amp. Add a ‘verb pedal, and you’re catching a wave!

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Issues? Well, you are going to have a few when you buy a mid 60’s amp for under two hundred bucks. First of all, unless you know how to do relatively simple work like cap jobs and basic trouble-shooting for bad resistors and so on, the trip to the tech could cost more than the amp is worth. So, it’s probably not a great deal unless you know some basic repair and maintenance.

AND, there is a design flaw on this amp. The tubes are not mounted separately on the chassis, as they should be, but, instead, they’re mounted on the printed circuit board. This is problematic for a few reasons—the main ones being that it’s not nearly as study or durable as the proper mounting on the chassis and that it’s much easier for microphonic issues to arise (whether from the tube or the circuit board and then amplified through the tube).

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Also, it’s not nearly as easy to modify a printed circuit board amp as it is on a hand-stuffed circuit board or a point-to-point amp. And you might want to modify this model for a little more gain on the preamp, via a nice 12AX7, pushing the rest of the signal down the chain. Or add a bypass cap to fatten up the sound. Both of these are still easy mods—just not quite as easy as if it were a point-to-point amp with a lot of space to be noodling around in the chassis.

Still, you want perfect for under two hundred clams? These are great-sounding, great looking little tone machines. And while the build quality may not equal Fender or Marshall (or even Univox), they are still pretty easy to fix and modify, and you can’t beat a little 12” combo with two EL84’s jangling and grinding for this kind of price. The Guyatone GA-530A is worth checking out—if you can find one!