2001 - An Amp Odyssey

Huggy Love

Vintage member
Joined
Mar 10, 2015
Messages
2,766
Well, this is my 2001st post here, hence the title (no other significanceo_O), but odyssey it sure has been.

First off, let me take this time to say that I hate you guys:mad:, it's because of you that I have the most insane case of Amp GAS that I'm burping pots, farting 12ax7's, and my whole bowel system is one big effects loop:confused:.
That's right, I hate you guys .................... but in a good way:p.

On the other hand I'm becoming an amp expert due to trying out almost every head I can get my hands on, worst thing about it though is that the more I learn, the less decided I am on my next purchase. There's still a lot I haven't got my hands on to test out, but I have ran most of the lunchbox heads through the paces and even explored boutique amps. It's like a rabbit hole that's left me with as many questions as things I've learned. Sometimes it ends up as "OK that one didn't work for me .... but what about that new one from (insert company here), gotta find who stocks one". ... and on and on. It's kind of a maddening quest for tone that you have to do logistically, unless you're just gonna order something online without trying it out, which brings up the 1st question:

- Would you buy an amp based only on online sound samples from vids? (If you can't find one within driving distance to try out)

I did it with a guitar and although I wasn't totally disappointed, I probably won't do that again. Besides let's face it, the amp is the sonic world for your PRSi, don't you have to at least stick your toes in the water?

Now speaking of boutique amps, that's another twilight zone of gear. Good thing I found a shop that specializes in it within driving distance, bad thing is it's all over the top price wise and I want to own half of their inventory:D. As beautiful sounding as these boutique amps are, they raise more questions for me:

- For the amount of $$ they fetch, why are they so specialized? (i.e. low or mid gain only, sgl channel) Aren't cork sniffing tone snobs versatile and want to switch tones quickly instead of having to tweak knobs?

- Why only low or mid gain? For the amount of $$ I'd expect the gain to go from glassy clean to shred and do it all exceptionally well.

- In the youtube demos I've seen people throw dirt boxes in front of the amp to get more gain (IMHO making it sound solid state), Is this really a thing? I would think it counterintuitive, masking a handwired pristine sound with $150 pedal, but that's just me.

Which brings me to price point, when I bought my last real deal tube amp, I went with a 50w recto. Just over a grand at the time and I couldn't justify sinking over 2 G's into a Soldano. That said, I've been looking at the whole amp game, not just boutique, and getting a grip on what is cheap, mass produced for beginners, legit pro quality, working musician gear, etc.

- Where is the price point for a legit pro head? (My recollection when I bought my Mesa I think was about $1000 for anything top notch, now I think it's about $1700? I'm talking new, not used) ... and speaking of...

- Have you had good luck with used amps? (I never have:oops:)

That said, I think amp GAS is the worst, it's the sonic environment for your guitar, even more frustrating when most shops stock limited inventories.

Amps I've tried out lately:
PRS MT15, Sonzera, Archon, EVH lunchbox, Orange lunchbox wht & dark, Mesa mini, Suhr Badger, Corso, Marshall 20w, Morgan AC, Peavey 6505, H&K tubemeister, Blackstar ht1, Milkman 5w, Bugera 5w, Egnater tweaker 15w.

Still on my radar but can't locate:
Engl Ironball, gigmaster, Bogner Atma, Victory Kraken, Friedman pink taco, dirty shirley mini


.............. yea, .............. amp GAS.o_O
 
The Kemper killed my amp GAS.

Dave runs away screaming "not the face... not the face!"

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Would you buy an amp based only on online sound samples from vids?

I did. Bodia's HXDA. Based on demo videos and the gushing of HXD owners on this Forum, I took the plunge. ZERO regerts.

Aren't cork sniffing tone snobs versatile and want to switch tones quickly instead of having to tweak knobs?

That's what makes us tone snobs...wanting to tweak knobs(;))...or...we are after the tone that single channel, low or mid-gain only amp is delivering.

Why only low or mid gain? For the amount of $$ I'd expect the gain to go from glassy clean to shred and do it all exceptionally well.

Depends on what the amp is designed to be/designed to do.

n the youtube demos I've seen people throw dirt boxes in front of the amp to get more gain (IMHO making it sound solid state), Is this really a thing?

Hey, you already called us cork-sniffing tone snobs...:rolleyes:

Have you had good luck with used amps?

See my first answer:cool:
 
Dave has the sensible quick solution in the path of the K toaster

Eat second hand toast and try your bucket list of amps with your speaker, then resell toast, as second hand toast is sought after, and buy a new glowing tube version of the one you preferred
 
Hey, you already called us cork-sniffing tone snobs...

I know, THAT"S why it's so baffling to me.

I'll be the first to admit testing boutique amps made me become snobbish and look at run of the mill amps differently. The Suhr and the Morgan sounded amazing from the first note, why would you throw a cheaper circuit between your axe and the amp? Does it work better than in the loop? I never use dirt boxes so I'm oblivious.
 
I know, THAT"S why it's so baffling to me.

I'll be the first to admit testing boutique amps made me become snobbish and look at run of the mill amps differently. The Suhr and the Morgan sounded amazing from the first note, why would you throw a cheaper circuit between your axe and the amp? Does it work better than in the loop? I never use dirt boxes so I'm oblivious.

Sometimes it's for the dirt, sometimes it's simply a boost. The end result is what's important...the sound coming out of the speaker. I'm sure for some people the guitar->cord-> amp is the "sound" they are looking for. For many others, it's a matter of how can we "color" the base tone of the amp to the sound we have in our head.:)
 
Dave runs away screaming "not the face LES... LES, not the faaaaaaccccceeee!"

Oh you better run! Haha:D

I’m no use to you, I’ve had the same Boogie for 25 years and thanks to some on here (Les, Sergio , Keith, Howie and the brotherhood of the tube), I’m getting the best tones out that little amp, than I ever have.

Happy hunting.
 
Buy a premium amp without playing one first? Never. Without playing a particular specimen? Depends on the amp. A few companies are as consistent as PRS and I’d trust buying a used one (Suhr, Matchless, Bogner, Mesa, Friedman, 3rd Power, Fargen). The factor that is the most elusive to find is the one that can’t be determined in a video...feel/bounce/feedback/whatever you want to call it. You’ve got to play the amp to confirm it’s there.

Regarding pedals, there comes a point where you may want to expand your amp’s grind. Do I need a pedal with a Mesa/Boogie? No, but does a TS-9 or a Klon push it to new territory? Hell yes. Closed minds close doors. Don’t take anything off the table.

And like Dave, my Kemper has squelched my GAS. Just played a Princeton Recording amp and it sounded jubilant! Even if it’s only 80% of the real thing (and unless you own a white unicorn, how would you know?), that doesn’t discount how damned good it sounded and felt. So much fun!
 
Buy a premium amp without playing one first? Never. Without playing a particular specimen? Depends on the amp. A few companies are as consistent as PRS and I’d trust buying a used one (Suhr, Matchless, Bogner, Mesa, Friedman, 3rd Power, Fargen). The factor that is the most elusive to find is the one that can’t be determined in a video...feel/bounce/feedback/whatever you want to call it. You’ve got to play the amp to confirm it’s there.

Regarding pedals, there comes a point where you may want to expand your amp’s grind. Do I need a pedal with a Mesa/Boogie? No, but does a TS-9 or a Klon push it to new territory? Hell yes. Closed minds close doors. Don’t take anything off the table.

And like Dave, my Kemper has squelched my GAS. Just played a Princeton Recording amp and it sounded jubilant! Even if it’s only 80% of the real thing (and unless you own a white unicorn, how would you know?), that doesn’t discount how damned good it sounded and felt. So much fun!

I love the sound of my little Boogies lead channel, but I totally agree, you can push it in a different direction with a nice OD pedal (or three!) and find some tones/grunt you didn’t before.

The skies the limit, or your ears!
 
Buy a premium amp without playing one first? Never. Without playing a particular specimen? Depends on the amp. A few companies are as consistent as PRS and I’d trust buying a used one (Suhr, Matchless, Bogner, Mesa, Friedman, 3rd Power, Fargen). The factor that is the most elusive to find is the one that can’t be determined in a video...feel/bounce/feedback/whatever you want to call it. You’ve got to play the amp to confirm it’s there.

Regarding pedals, there comes a point where you may want to expand your amp’s grind. Do I need a pedal with a Mesa/Boogie? No, but does a TS-9 or a Klon push it to new territory? Hell yes. Closed minds close doors. Don’t take anything off the table.

And like Dave, my Kemper has squelched my GAS. Just played a Princeton Recording amp and it sounded jubilant! Even if it’s only 80% of the real thing (and unless you own a white unicorn, how would you know?), that doesn’t discount how damned good it sounded and felt. So much fun!

I totally agree, that's why this has been an odyssey of taking one of my axes and trekking around out to the shops. Tedious but still fun.

I'll admit adding a pedal to my Mesa didn't sound as bad as it does with my solid state head.

RE:Kemper - I already have a solid state head.:p

PS-If you're so in love with the toaster, PM me, I have something you want.
 
I cannot argue with, and I totally support your quest.
It's educational, and I sincerely hope you find what you're looking for.

I'm in a cover band, and the Kemper ticked all the boxes for ease of use and tones/effects that fit the bill every time in the mix.
It also helps me greatly in differentiating myself from the other guitar player.

Again though, nothing works for everybody, and you are on a very fun trip of discovery!
 
The Luddite must weigh in. Tonight, I played through a Dr. Z Maserati head and cabinet. Unflippingbelievable! The other great thrill ride I had is a friend’s Goodsell Mark VII. I play regularly through a 2 channel 20 or 30, and have used a tech 21 trademark 60 with 4/10’s when I play loud outdoors. If I had a stronger back and was 25 years younger, it would be a 2 channel H 50 watter. I think that’s my favorite tube amp ever. It has to have some volume to sing.
 
The Luddite must weigh in. Tonight, I played through a Dr. Z Maserati head and cabinet. Unflippingbelievable! The other great thrill ride I had is a friend’s Goodsell Mark VII. I play regularly through a 2 channel 20 or 30, and have used a tech 21 trademark 60 with 4/10’s when I play loud outdoors. If I had a stronger back and was 25 years younger, it would be a 2 channel H 50 watter. I think that’s my favorite tube amp ever. It has to have some volume to sing.
The H is incredible.
 
The Luddite must weigh in. Tonight, I played through a Dr. Z Maserati head and cabinet. Unflippingbelievable! The other great thrill ride I had is a friend’s Goodsell Mark VII. I play regularly through a 2 channel 20 or 30, and have used a tech 21 trademark 60 with 4/10’s when I play loud outdoors. If I had a stronger back and was 25 years younger, it would be a 2 channel H 50 watter. I think that’s my favorite tube amp ever. It has to have some volume to sing.

I played an H head tonight, and was reallllllyyyyyy close to buying it, but it wasn’t that far off from my Custom 50. The clean channel was more punchy and percussive on the bottom, perhaps like a Super Reverb in that respect, and it could do more crunchy tones with lots of mids, whereas the Custom 50 is just dabbling in light breakup at its max. The lead channel wasn’t that different from my Custom 50, especially because the previous owner apparently put some lower gain preamp tubes in. If I could put that clean channel into my Custom 50, I would! But overall I couldn’t justify buying a whole second amp just for a slightly different flavor of clean channel.

Back to the OP - I'm more likely to buy online now, based on clips, than I was before. The quality of recordings for demos has gone way up, so while not foolproof, they're much more reliable than before. Used to be a lot of people taking videos on their Nokia flip phone, now they actually use a close mic on the cab. If I run into a demo and they're using a camera mic, I'm outta there! But I've had some pieces that I liked the sound of in clips and it translated well when I bought the gear.

Regarding amps that can "do it all," many amps are “specialized” because the truth is, it takes many many variables to make a certain tone great, and they just can’t fit the components and circuits into an amp size box (especially if we’re talking hand wired). It’s about more than just adjusting the EQ of a preamp section - that’s a trick that something like the Egnater Tweaker did. I had one, it sounded pretty good, but certainly not nailing the amps it aimed for. If you wanted something to truly do that, you would have an amp with different preamps, power amps, ways the preamp was connected to the power amp, and probably running to different speaker cabs for each sound, too!

Used amps - a couple of my favorites are used amps. But, I played them first. I would also not hesitate to buy used from known forum members here or on VR, but I don't do ebay, reverb, or heaven forbid craigslist. The general population is way, way too sleazy and unreliable for that.

Price for a legit "pro" amp... hmm... I would say you're not far off at $1700, maybe a little less depending on the circuit. Pro, to me, is more about durability and reliability than anything else. It means able to go out on the road and get jostled around on a daily basis, maybe dropped occasionally, and keep going. Tonally, I don't think the idea that a more expensive amp will sound better than a cheaper one always holds water - definitely sometimes, yes, especially if you go too low in price, and the gear breaks down or is very noisy, but not, say, comparing a $1000 amp to a $1700 amp, in every situation. Often I think players dismiss gear because it just isn't the thing they're after, it's a square peg for their round hole (giggity) and if it was affordable, they write it off as being "bad" because it was cheap. But really it just wasn't made to do the thing they wanted it to do. I've heard guys sound great on very run-of-the-mill gear (and occasionally quite bad on "pro" gear), I've heard some great tones from Fender Hot Rod amps of all kinds and the hybrid Super Champs, little 80's solid state amps, Peavey Classic 30/50, Marshall solid state amps - they can all sound good when matched to the right application. I've also heard guys sound like absolute crap through really nice amps, like Bad Cats, Marshall JVM's and JCM2000's, good amps that they just weren't using right. I have a few pieces of gear that I almost resent myself for liking so much, because it's so cheap, and it almost feels like there must be something wrong with me for liking it - but they do the job well, and I can't deny it. Examples - I have a little Epi Valve Jr 1x12 stack, I bought it modded second hand for like $250. It's probably not something I would record in the studio with, but if I'm playing a small or "quiet" live gig, it just hits the spot perfectly. It's not huge on low end, leaves plenty of room for the bass, and sits in the guitar's "sonic space" really nicely, makes itself heard without trying to be too authoritative. I play it often in the worship band, weddings, Christmas parties, and very often get compliments on the sound. Which sounds crazy even to me, but it's true. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trust it on the road for a single day, it eats tubes like candy and could probably get loose solder connnections from someone looking at it sideways, so it definitely isn't "pro." But when it comes to tone, it doesn't always take maximum dollars to get a sound that works. I also have a B52 AT100 head and 4x12, they were pretty cheap and not regarded as reliable after a while, but everyone in my band friggin loves that thing. And asks why I don't bring it out more... answer, because the head alone weighs 50+ pounds, the 4x12 basically has EV's and particle board construction so it could very realistically throw my back out, and it thinks rectifier tubes come in 30 spots like High Life. But I'll be darned if it doesn't sound good after putting decent preamp tubes in it. So I suppose it depends on what your definition of "pro" is. Pro "on the road" quality, or pro "good example of its tonal type" quality. I always say, it's a great time to be a hobby guitarist, there's a ton of good sounding gear that's more relatively affordable than ever before.
 
Sounds like you're having lots of fun trying all this gear out.

....But what exactly are you trying to find? I get the impression that it needs to be relatively small/lightweight, and be able to do a decent level of overdrive by itself without the need for pedals., but are we talking classic rock level of gain, or metal?
And what about power? You've got some 5-15-20 watters on your list so I'm assuming that you don't need something that can fill a stadium all by itself, and doesn't need to have lots of clean headroom.

Which amp out of the ones that you've tried has come the closest so far, and why, and what let it down? What feature is the deal breaker that it must have, or is everything up for play if it scores enough points elsewhere?

What about a valve overdrive pedal like the Victory V4 pedals into something a bit more plain. My first amp was a Laney LC15R 15 watt valve amp. It was cheap and didn't sound that great, specially overdriven. I also had a POD at the time, that also never sounded great by itself. But the POD plugged into the effect return of the Laney wasn't too bad, and enabled me to get all kinds of high gain sounds at bedroom levels that I just couldn't get by running them by themselves.
 
... If I needed a head, that had good overdrive by itself, that could run at low volumes if necessary (good master volume sweep - easy to dial in quiet) and wasn't huge and heavy...

Then I'd get a Cornford Carrera combo amp, and re-house it in a head format. Hand built, point to point with a lovely and interesting overdrive sound. Downside is it's only single channel and only about 6-8 watts, but you can run it on most 8 or 9 pin output tube types. EL84 valves for a voxy feel and EL34 for more of a Marshall feel.
 
For the amount of $$ they fetch, why are they so specialized? (i.e. low or mid gain only, sgl channel) Aren't cork sniffing tone snobs versatile and want to switch tones quickly instead of having to tweak knobs?

- Why only low or mid gain? For the amount of $$ I'd expect the gain to go from glassy clean to shred and do it all exceptionally well.

So, why get a specialized, single-channel amp? There are a few good reasons, actually.

First, let’s talk about real basic stuff; why do tube amps sound different from one another in the first place? I’ll give an example.

Consider for a moment one of the main differences between a Fender Tweed amp and a Fender Blackface amp: The Tweed amp has its tone stack in a different location in the circuit than the Blackface amp. The fact that the EQ section of the amp is located in a different order is one reason the amps sound quite different from one another, because the harmonics that tubes throw off are greatly affected by frequencies run through them. As a result, the Tweed amp has a looser, bouncier vibe, with more “give” on the bass end, while the Blackface amp is tighter, more in-your-face, etc.

We all know that tube amps compress a signal and have significant distortion that throws off harmonics. In the studio running EQ before compression sounds different than running EQ after compression. Throw in distortion in addition to compression, and you can see how the placement of the EQ section affects what a tube amp sounds and feels like.

So if you want an amp that sounds and more importantly, feels like a Blackface AND a Tweed, well, that’s just not going to happen - the circuits are different. So the sound is different.

Another example: Let’s say you want a very “open”, “clear” tone, where you hear every nuance of the string, and you not only want that on the so-called “clean” channel - I say so-called because the clean channel on a tube amp usually runs at around 5-15% distortion, which is desirable because it compresses the signal and supports a singing tone. Well, the more gain stages you throw at that signal, like Master Volume stages, the more you color that signal. You hear it, and you feel it. The more gain stages, the woolier the tone, generally speaking.

However, multiple gain stages give you that high gain sound.

So if you want an amp that has that Metal “clank” sort of tone, well, you need a specific type of circuit with multiple gain stages. That circuit is not going to sound the same at lower gain as a circuit designed to be a lower gain amp. Yes, it will play at lower apparent gain if you turn the knob down, but those multiple gain stages are still going to color the sound differently than an amp designed in a different way, with different EQ, with different component parts, and a different type of circuit with fewer tubes and therefore fewer gain stages, and vice-versa.

Put another way with a very general analogy...

A Rolls Royce is designed to get people from place to place. So is a Jeep. So is a Formula 1 racing car. They all have 4 wheels and at least one seat. But each of them is designed to do it differently, and to accomplish different things along the way. The Rolls won’t do really well off-road, and it’ll corner a lot more slowly than a Formula 1 car. The Jeep will go off road, but it won’t be as cushy as the Rolls, and it also won’t corner like the F1 car. The F1 car won’t go off-road, and isn’t cushy, but it’ll go like a bat out of hell on a race track.

And why a single-channel amp? Because for all of the above reasons, it is designed to respond in a specific way that a multi-channel amp simply cannot, and that lies in the ever-elusive area of “transition” tone. In other words, that area between clean and dirty where the amp just begins to break up as you dig in or fiddle with the guitar’s volume control to cause the amp to go from clean to breakup.

If you’re a player like me who loves that style of playing, the best single channel amps do that far better than even the finest two channel amps. It’s just a fact, like two plus two = four. The feel is different and the response is different. That’s all there is to it. So if you’re a cork-sniffing tone snob (like me ;)), and you want an amp that does this job in the best way, a single channel amp is your chosen tool to accomplish it. That doesn’t mean you can’t ALSO have a multi-channel amp! It only means that they’re designed to do different things.

You ALSO asked about transistor pedals and tube amps...let’s go there.

If you run a transistor pedal through a tube amp, you’re still going to impart tube sound to that signal. Even clean. Don’t believe me? Run a guitar through a hi-fi system. It’s squeaky clean, and usually sounds pretty awful. We expect guitar amps to impart a sound to the signal. And that’s exactly what they do, with their inherent clean channel (5-15% or more distortion) OR dirty channel distortion levels.

So let’s say you have a tube amp, and want to push it a little, or color/shape the tone in a certain way, or any number of things. A pedal can do that. You’re SRV and you want more mid-push in your Dumble Steel String Singer and Fender dual-amp rig? No problem. Run your guitar through a Tube Screamer. That’s exactly what he did.

Pedals aren’t just gain boxes, though the Great Unwashed seem to think so...they’re tone shapers. They compress. They add a little or a lot of dirt. They add a little or a lot of boost. They add a little or a lot of EQ. They do that because they throw off harmonics, they shape the frequency response in their own way, and they affect the signal level in front of the first gain stage of the amp. And the harder you push a tube, the more it distorts, and if the frequency response is different than what comes out of the guitar without the pedal, the tube will throw off different harmonics.

But when they hit the front end of your tube amp they don’t destroy the “tube-ness” of what comes out of the speaker. The tubes FOLLOW the pedal’s signal, and STILL add their tube-ness to the resulting sound. If Keef had run his Maestro Fuzz directly into the recording console instead of into an amp, “Satisfaction” would sound very different. But the fact is that he ran it into the front end of his amp, thereby adding much tube-ness to the tone. As did Clapton, as did Hendrix (who also turned his guitar volume down and STILL often ran his Strat through the fuzz for clean tones, something old-school fuzzes do really well, adding sparkly harmonics to a signal).

I hope this begins to answer your questions and leads to more discoveries on your end!
 
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