On Amplifiers

Issue # 403 February 2016

Amps, Pedals & Plug-Ins / Planes Trains & Automobiles  … More or less the same idea – they get you where you want to go. This edition sees me address the first of the choices.

Amps; I’ve had a few; and here’s my view; of which I’m certain … but most of all, I did it My Way.

So there’s this chain, see? In terms of ‘hardware’, it starts at the guitar, most likely through some pedals, and ends at the amplifier. (Cables and power supplies are part of this chain too.) One old adage springs to mind: “A chain is as strong as its weakest link” – so to obtain the optimum sound, each component had best be doing the job.

Let’s talk about amplifiers. Over the years, I encountered many that make me smile. I’ve also come across some real dogs, but that’s mostly a personal thing. There are some that I really would not want to use, but these amps are esteemed and endeared by many. It’s just about individual taste. (You’ve probably heard me say that before.)

A little about my own history with amps: My first was very unmemorable; in fact I don’t remember which (off-brand) it was, but for a twelve year old, it was fine. One volume and one tone control, an 8” speaker, not a lot of power – but so what? It was heaven …for a while.

Next up was a 1960 Fender Concert amp. Four 10” Oxford speakers, all of 35 watts, and tone to die for – it was magnificent. I stayed with the 4×10 design for decades. Loved it then, and now. By 1969 I’d moved to the Fender Super Reverb – pretty much the same design, but with the addition of a ‘reverb tank’. Over the years I had it souped up, and in its current state it sports 4 JBL speakers, a full 100 watts RMS (with the addition of a 2nd power transformer and extra 6L6 tubes). A gem.

Then in the ’80s I began a relationship with Marshall amps. But it wasn’t until the early ’90s that they produced one that really caught my ears. It was the first iteration of the ValveState 80. Honestly, the solid state factor was completely overcome with brilliant design – you’d swear you were listening to a valve amp. It’s comparatively light-weight, and delivers everything from warm/clean to overdrive to downright filthy. In fact, it can sound like a herd of 100 watt stacks.

Needless to say, I still use these today, and intend to keep using them – forever!

But wait – there a more. Wienbrock Amps (based in West Yorkshire) designed one for me with 2x10s. It employs some very vintage Fender circuitry, and has the ability to morph from an old Fender Bassman to a Vox AC30 – both characteristics are most desirable. It sits in my studio, and warms up everything that goes through it.

Then a few years ago I came upon the Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18. This head is light (approx 2 kilos), and it sounds like a million bucks. Pretty darned perfect for schlepping to studios and producing consistently winning sounds. Again, this one will do every tone from immaculate to roaring grunge.

Finally, the little fellow – my Yamaha THR-10. It looks a little like a boom-box, and holy cow, does it deliver. Its Virtual Circuitry Modeling (VCM) technology; reverbs, effects and hi-fi quality stereo audio playback make this one a real winner. Heck, I’ve started using it as a recording amp too, and trust me when I tell you – it won’t disappoint.

But hey, those are my personal choices. Yours may be completely different, and if they give you the sounds you need, the ones that inspire your playing, then ’nuff said. There are many great amplification products out there, and if I had twice the space, I’d continue waxing poetic.

Groove on…

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