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Archive for the ‘amplifiers’ Category

20161017_102120First, a little history…

My very first tube amp was a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I got it based on a conversation I’d had with Noel at Tone Merchants in Orange, CA back in 2007; soon after I created this blog. In fact, my Hot Rod Deluxe was the reason I created this blog in the first place! It started making me think about gear combinations, and thus GuitarGear.org was born in January of 2007.

I remember the conversation. It was sometime around November 2006. At the time, I was playing an earlier model Line 6 and a Roland Cube 60. Both amps served me well for playing with my church band, and from 2001 through 2006, I just played those two amps (also, I’d occasionally use a Roland JC120).

But as I started getting the gear bug (I had already started to acquire a few guitars and a bunch of pedals), I realized that where I was lacking was in the amp department. So I started going on the gear boards, and I saw a reference to Tone Merchants and gave them a call. Noel answered the phone, and we must’ve chatted for at least a half-hour. He explained how tube amps worked and how they respond to various inputs and how different types of tube configurations produce different sounds. I remember telling him that my head was spinning.

He laughed and said that the trick with tube amps is that you have to play a bunch until you find the right sound for you. This is where he made the distinction between Marshall and Fender tones, and until I knew what I liked, he recommended I don’t buy a boutique amp right away. Instead, he said that I should get a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. It was a great platform with which to start out. I could learn about swapping tubes and replacing speakers. And then once I’d gotten the hang of a tube amp, I could start looking at other amps. So I got a Hot Rod Deluxe II. Then over the next few years acquired a bunch more amps, all in search of that elusive unicorn of tone.

Now I’ve come full circle. I’m back in a band that plays mostly 60’s – 70’s classic rock, but I’ve also made a foray into writing and playing reggae. Clean is the name of the game with almost everything I’m playing right now, and if I need some dirt, I just switch on an overdrive or distortion pedal. And since I’m gigging with the band, I’ve been wanting to use a simpler combo as opposed to my separate heads and cabs. Those give me a lot of versatility, but the fewer pieces to lug, the better.

Fixing my amp

With respect to the Hot Rod, it worked for a long time and though I didn’t use as much, I still played it. But about a year ago, I was recording a new reggae song, and it just started cutting out after a few minutes. And being in a rush to lay down a track, I just switched amps, not wanting to deal with my failed amp. So I covered up the Hot Rod and put it back on its shelf, where it stayed until this morning.

I recently wrote a blog post about the Fender Ultra Chorus and said I wanted to get one. But I thought to myself this morning that rather than getting yet another amp, let me see if all that was wrong with the Hot Rod was a bad power tube. Luckily I had a matched set of spare JJ 6L6GCs in my tube drawer.

So I pulled my amp off the shelf, I plugged the power tubes in, and let the amp run for several minutes in standby mode. Then I started playing and found absolutely nothing wrong. Damn! There was that Fender clean tone! And with the scooped tone of the Eminence Red Coat “The Governor” speaker that I installed years ago, it was simply audio honey!

I love it when a fix goes this easy! Especially for me, deathly afraid of electronics, swapping out tubes is about the most I will do. But more importantly, I now my gigging amp! I never thought I’d use my Hot Rod Deluxe again, but as they say, needs must.

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You’ve probably figured out by now – if you’ve read this blog with any regularity – that I’m a huge fan of the Jensen Jet series of speakers. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Fender has just released the George Benson Twin Reverb, and he chose the Jensen Jet Tornado 12″ for his speakers. Wow! What an endorsement by such an icon of guitar! Here’s the press release that I just received:

——-

NEWS RELEASE February 2016

Jensen® Tornado is George Benson’s Speaker Choice for the Fender® GB Signature Twin Reverb® Amplifier

Inspired by one of the world’s foremost jazz guitarists, George Benson, Fender’s GB Signature Twin Reverb amplifier is an all-tube amp that produces rich, punchy tone with smooth attack and singing sustain. The GB Twin Reverb is an updated version of the venerable classic amplifier tweaked to satisfy Benson’s discerning ears.

Features include an 85-watt all-tube two-channel guitar combo amplifier, a pair of 12- inch, 100 watt, 8-ohm Jensen Jet Tornado speakers with neodymium magnets, two channels, — normal and tremolo; re-voiced low-gain normal channel — a solid pine cabinet construction, gray vinyl cover, silver sparkle grille cloth, a George Benson badge on the lower right of the front panel and a protective amp cover.

The tonal character of the Jensen Tornado is perfectly designed to give the clean, articulate tone many jazz guitarists favor with a classic full-bodied sound. The neodymium magnet design and characteristics resemble Alnico magnets, contributing to its distinct behavior and quality of tone. The frequency response is noticeably extended in the upper range, generating a sense of airy openness and definition, essential to deliver all the details and the harmonic complexity of jazz chord play, and all the dynamic nuances in the fastest single note runs.

The high headroom from the two Jensen Tornado 12-inch speakers (each at 100 watts), allows every bit of the 85-watt GB Twin Reverb to flow through clearly and dynamically.

The Jensen Tornado speaker weighs only 4.45 pounds – less than half an average comparable 12” ceramic speaker. Combined with the solid pine cabinet, the GB Twin Reverb is 13 pounds lighter than a standard Twin Reverb amp.

Jensen is proud of its contribution to the tonal delight all jazz players will experience when playing the new Fender GB Twin Reverb.

Jensen remains dedicated to working with all musicians in pursuit of their perfect tone!

jensentone.com

——-

Here’s the great George Benson talking about the construction of his signature amp:

To me, this is absolutely exciting! In the video GB talks about the headroom of the amp, and how he can play with the volume sweep a lot more than with his previous amp (which was a custom Fender Hot Rod Deluxe). One thing that has frustrated me about Fender amps is that they go from very low to very high volume in very little sweep. Mr. Benson mentioned that he’d have to play with the volume control and keep it between 2 and 3 to dial in the proper volume. I smiled when I heard this because that’s exactly my experience with my Hot Rod Deluxe, and it was the driving factor in me experimenting with attenuators so I could drive the amp more. So it looks like Fender has created a much more forgiving volume sweep with this version of the amp. I definitely will have to check this one out!

As far as the Jet Tornado speakers are concerned. Damn! What a sound! At 100 Watts, they are certainly all about clean headroom. And the sonic content in that video recording just affirmed my belief that Jensen was definitely onto something with the Jet Series of speakers. Originally, I thought that this was Jensen’s answer to lower-cost, entry-level speakers, since they were known for their superb vintage Alnico and Ceramic speakers.

But time and time again, I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the performance of all the Jet Series speakers I’ve tried. Whichever one I’ve gotten, they’ve stayed in the cabs I’ve placed them in, and they aren’t coming out any time soon. They are that good.

So to have such a great player such as George Benson use a pair of Jet Tornados in his signature amp is a HUGE endorsement for this wonderful line of speakers. With the features this amp has, and the sound that it produces, I’m getting that old familiar feeling of GAS.

For more information on this amp, check out the Fender web site! And lest I am remiss about the crux of this latest entry, check out the Jensen Jet Tornado 12″ spec site!

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Sorry, no pictures nor sound clips – yet – but I wanted to get out a first impressions post on this wonderful amp.

Personally, I’ve never heard or seen a real Dumble Steel String Singer other than Doug Doppler’s video of one of Henry Kaiser’s SSS, so I can’t really make a comparison between Sebago’s amp and the original. But if I were to sum up what I’ve heard from Bill’s newest amp in my short time playing with it, and if you don’t want to read any further, all I can say is that this amp sounds like nothing I’ve ever played before; presenting a complex and rich tonal palette that truly gives it the ability to be used in ANY type of genre. And make no mistake, it doesn’t lean towards a particular camp, as in Fender or Marshall. This amp has a sound all its own, and it has completely blown me away!

I don’t say that lightly, by any means. I’ve tended to be a bit jaded with Dumble-style amps probably due to all the hype that’s associated with them. And though it could be argued that Sebago is doing yet another knock-off of Dumble amps, I believe Bill Dunham’s approach is not to create pure clones, but rather to create great amps that he believes capture the spirit of a Dumble amp; and not be an exact reproduction. At least to me, being a copy-cat is absolutely boring, and Sebago amps are far from boring.

Before I get into discussing the amp further, let me go through its features:

  • 100-150 Watts (150 with 6550’s) from 4 power tubes
  • Reverb “loop” with send and receive knobs
  • Single input with switchable FET circuit
  • Gain control
  • Three-band EQ
  • Bright, Mid, Rock/Jazz mini toggles
  • Master control
  • Presence control
  • Individual High and Low notch filter knobs.
  • Power and Standby switches

When Bill first contacted me the other day about the new amp, I asked him if it would have the FET input. He replied no, but when he delivered the amp, he had constructed the FET circuit. I’m glad he did because it tweaks the tone in a very nice way. Unlike an original Dumble, the FET circuit on the Sebago amp is relegated to another input. Bill instead makes it an activated feature via switch (either push-pull or footswitch). According to Bill, the FET provides some extra gain at front-end that produces an asymmetrical clipping that’s not quite distortion though you know something’s happened. To me, it “feels” like a compressor as when it’s switched on, the tone feels much richer and fatter. If I were to own this amp, which I probably will in the future, I’d probably have the FET on all the time.

The distinctive thing about Dumble amps is all the EQ tweaking you can do. The Overdrive Special has the three mini toggles plus the three-band EQ knobs. But the Steel String Singer adds two incredibly useful High and Low notch filter knobs. I believe these two filter knobs are responsible for making the magic of this amp, and these are the knobs that I played with the most, once I set up the EQ. Having the filter knobs really helped me dial in all sorts of tones from spanky, sparkling cleans to big bottom-end crunch – with a Strat, no less! The Low notch acts like a cut, where the High acts like a midrange voicing knob that you find on various amps. The combination of these two allow you to adjust the amp’s basic tone to fit your guitar and cabinet. For instance, I’m playing the amp through my Avatar 2 X 12 with a Celestion Gold and a Jensen Jet Falcon. Even with the Falcon, which has a lot of bottom-end content, the cabinet tends to be bright. But a few clicks of the Low notch filter helped bring out the lows. Just incredible.

As far as the reverb goes, I dig that it’s in a loop, and that you can control how much signal goes into the tank, and control how much gets added back. It allows for really fine control of the reverb, and I spent quite a bit of the time playing with it to see what it could produce. In the end, I set the Send to about 10-11 am, and just twiddled with the Receive to control how much I reverb I wanted to add back into my signal. Very cool.

So how does it sound? With cleans on a Strat, it is other-worldly. There’s so much harmonic content in the signal that depending upon how you set the notch filters and reverb, you can get almost a chorus-like effect which is absolutely dreamy. But you can also get spanky country cleans again, by adjusting the notch filters. Those really give the amp its personality. As far as dirt tones go, as Bill put it, most of the harmonic content is in the preamp section, so you can crank the preamp and keep the master down. Me, I like cranking the power tubes to get them working. But either clean or dirty, there’s a real depth; almost a 3D quality to the tone that’s total ear candy!

With both the Gain and Master cranked, I have to admit that the amp doesn’t sound all that good. The overdrive sound becomes really muddy, and even more so with the reverb on, and no amount of EQ would clean it up. But backing off the Master to about 2:30 to 3pm, gave me a nice, ballsy growl. Can’t wait to try that out with my Les Paul.

Bill did say that at least to him, the amp is a great pedal platform, and that putting a Tube Screamer in front of the amp can get you that SRV tone. Based upon my eval thus far, with the FET and a Tube Screamer, that may just be true. There’s TONS of clean headroom with this amp, so using it with pedals will be ideal.

I found that the sweet spot of the amp is setting it at the edge of breakup with the FET on. In addition to the aforementioned compressor-like quality the FET introduces, the clipping gives the signal a bit of “hair.” I wouldn’t necessarily call it breakup, but you know there’s some distortion. It’s a great tone that I hope to be able to capture once I make some recordings of the amp.

Gawd! I know I’m loving a piece of gear when I write a lot about it. This amp has so much character, and I have yet to really do an exploration of it in both the studio and at a gig, which I will be doing this weekend. I am SO looking forward to playing with it more!

By the way, the name of the amp obviously will not be “Steel String Singer.” Bill has told me what he intends the name to be, but I won’t share it until the product’s actually out the door. It will have a Southwest-flavored name in celebration of that SRV tone. But make no bones about it, this amp can do way more than the blues.

And thank goodness I have my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. I could not do the dirty tests without breaking windows. 🙂

For more information, and to keep up to date with the release, go to Sebago Sound’s product page.

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Got a call over the weekend from Bill Dunham at Sebago Sound who wanted to tell me that he was releasing a Steel String Slinger based upon the topology of a SSS owned by a well-known, grammy-award-winning, blues/pop artist (I know who it is, and based upon the description, you should be able to figure it out).

Don’t have a lot of details on it right now, though I will be doing a demo/review of his pre-production prototype. I’m excited about playing around with the on-board reverb that is in its own loop to control the signal going in and out of the reverb unit. Very cool.

From what I know of the original SSS, the amp is a single-channel amp, but has two inputs: Normal and FET. The FET input is like having an on-board overdrive. Having played with a real Dumble, that FET circuit is pretty special. The prototype will not have this feature, though Bill does have plans to put that in.

For more information on the Sebago SSS, check out Sebago Sound!

In other news with Sebago, Bill has done a fantastic job of creating Dumble clones with his Double Trouble 50 and 100 Watt amps based upon the Dumble Overdrive Special. But more importantly, unlike other boutique Dumble cloners out there such as Two Rock and Bludotone, Bill’s mission is to create Dumble-style amps and not charge a premium. For instance, Sebago’s 50 Watt Double Trouble is only $1995. Believe me, it’s a well-made amp, and the retailers who carry that amp can’t keep it on their shelves for more than a couple of days. I’m not quite sure what the price-point for the SSS will be, but it will be far less than the competition; and you won’t have to wait more than a couple of weeks at most to get one, as opposed to having to wait up 18 months for other builders’ Dumble-style amps.

So lower price, short wait time (if any, if you get it from one of the local retailers)? Kind of a no-brainer, if you ask me… In any case, stay tuned for my review! I’m getting the amp tomorrow evening and will be playing with it for the rest of the week.

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VHT Special 6 Combo
Summary: This is a hand-wired, solidly built tone machine that packs great features for an unbelievable price. The value proposition alone is enough to turn heads, but add superb tone to the equation and you have a winner!

Cons: None.

Features (as tested):

  • 6 Watts
  • One 6V6 Output Tube
  • One 12AX7 Preamp Tube
  • Volume and Tone Controls
  • Footswitchable Boost Mode
  • High/Low Power Switch (Pentode/Triode)
  • 10” VHT High-Sensitivity Speaker
  • 4, 8, and 16 Ohm Speaker Jacks
  • Mod-Friendly Eyelet-Type Board
  • Hand-wired In China

Price: $199 Street / $179 Street for Head

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Clean or dirty, this amp delivers the goods! The tone sweep is absolutely excellent giving you gorgeous, warm jazz cleans, to classic rock bite! Add the Hi/Lo power switch, and Push-Pull volume knob boost (also includes a footswitch), and you’ve got an amp that can live in a variety of musical genres.

About a week ago, I extolled virtues of the Marshall Class 5, and raved about how great it sounds. It’s a fantastic little amp, and I haven’t changed my opinion of it. But along came the VHT Special 6 and the game has completely changed. VHT raised the bar with Chinese-manufactured, low-cost, low-wattage amps by offering a hand-wired, super-well-built amp with fantastic features that can easily change the amp’s character for under $200 for a 1 X 10 combo.

I think the arrangements many gear manufacturers have made with overseas assemblers is great. Egnater is another example of a manufacturer doing it with great success. Design the gear here in the US, then partner with an overseas manufacturer to take advantage of their cheaper parts and labor, ensure that they meet a high standard of quality, then give the savings back to the customer. The top-of-the-line stuff can be saved for domestic production, but the stuff you want to get out to the masses can certainly be made elsewhere, and in much higher volumes and production rates. It’s a good model that many manufacturers have been following for years. I realize that I’m going to piss off some of the ultra-patriotic that will only buy stuff made in the USA; I myself prefer to buy US-made stuff, but it’s tough to argue with getting great tone for a great price, and that is EXACTLY what the VHT Special 6 and lots of other gear assembled overseas provide.

But enough toeing the political line. Let’s get into discussing the Special 6, shall we?

Fit and Finish and Features

The first thing I noticed when I first looked at the amp is how solid it looked. Picking it up revealed an amp that is no lightweight. I don’t know the exact weight, but the Special 6 is not lacking in heft. The cabinet is made of birch ply, and from what I could tell, fairly large transformers were used with the amp and those are heavy. Note that I’ve actually heard some conflicting information about the cabinet wood. Some say MDF, others say Baltic birch ply. Actually, it just doesn’t matter. The cabinet’s solid, and it works well as a resonance chamber for the speaker.

As far as cosmetics are concerned, the amp is covered in tolex with white piping around the front grille. The rear panel sports a partially open back that, like the Marshall Class 5, has a thin metal screen covering the opening. That’s a nice touch.

The control panel is super simple. You’ve got two chickenhead knobs for tone and volume, on/off switch, a three-way Hi/Lo Power / Standby switch (I dig that), and two input jacks for Lo and Hi input. The volume knob is a push-pull knob that when out, adds boost (sorry, not sure about the amount of boost). You can surmise just by these features that you can do a lot of tone shaping with this little beast. 🙂 The back panel has jacks for 4, 8, and 16 ohm speaker outs, plus a jack for switching between normal and boost.

Sound and Dynamics

Even with a 10″ speaker, the amp is capable of producing a variety of tones, from lush, Fender cleans, to ringing, AC15-like overdrive to gorgeous, smooth Plexi overdrive. I’m not kidding about this! Depending upon the pickup you’re using and where you set the tone knob, and other amp settings such as hi/lo input, pentode/triode mode, you can cover a wide range of tones! This is what is so SICK about this amp! It’s so damn versatile!

I played around with it in my studio this afternoon, getting ready to record some clips (which I’ll have in an upcoming article), and just for kicks, I unplugged the stock speaker and ran the amp out to my 2 X 12. Granted, there is a HUGE difference between a 2 X 12 and a little 10″ speaker, but in my experience, many low wattage amps still sound a little on the thin side even when going into a bigger cab; not so with the Special 6. It sounded big and ballsy; much more “big-amp-ish” than it’s diminutive power. That really came as a surprise, much like my surprise when I plugged the Reason Bambino into a big cab. It’s clear that just like the Reason guys, VHT didn’t want to just build a low-wattage amp. They wanted to build a great amp, period.

I also gigged with the amp in my weekly church gig yesterday afternoon, and it worked absolutely stellar! I kept the amp in high power mode, plugged into the high power input, set the tone and volume at 3pm each, then pulled the boost knob to activate the normal/boost footswitch. I didn’t use any effects at all as I just wanted the raw amp tones. I even tuned with my Peterson StroboClip so my signal from my guitar to the amp was completely direct. Note that even with a 10″ speaker, I still had to use an attenuator, and my trusty Aracom PRX150-Pro worked stellar with the amp.

During the gig, I mostly used the volume knob on my guitar to vary gain, whether in normal or boost mode. The amp responded so well to volume knob and pick attack. Even if I didn’t reduce the volume, and picked very lightly, I could clean up the sound. So sweet!

The only time I made any adjustments to the amp was when we did a song that I needed absolutely clean tones. I simply reduced the volume to around 11 am, then bypassed the attenuator. And the cleans were simply fantastic!

Made to Mod

Despite the fact that VHT says this amp is highly modifiable, I doubt that most people will do no more than swap tubes. I’ve seen some forum posts where people have made a couple of changes, but I’d say the majority of folks just won’t see a need to do that. But curious, for shits and giggles, I swapped out the stock 6V6 with a couple of different 50’s-era 6V6’s (GE and RCA). They each sounded beautiful as I expected, but quite frankly, they were just too smooth. The Chinese tube seems to be “hotter” and produces lots of harmonics; something my NOS tubes didn’t do. In my opinion, the Special 6 is meant to be a mini-rock machine. It won’t do really heavy stuff, but for 70’s and 80’s classic rock, it sits right in the sweet spot.

Overall Impression

I am thoroughly impressed with the VHT Special 6. Hand-wired, immensely versatile, plus fantastic tone for under $200? That’s tough to beat! And unlike other small, low-wattage amps that have only a volume and tone knob, the combination of inputs, low/hi power modes and boost make this an amp that can be used in a variety of ways. Big thumbs up, and 5 Tone Bones!

I’ll have clips in an upcoming article. Stay tuned!

Update: January 2, 2013

It has been awhile since I wrote the original article, and amazingly enough, I’m still using the Special 6. I did finally swap out tubes to 50’s era NOS for both pre-amp and power tubes, and I also swapped out the stock speaker and put in a Jensen Jet Electric Lightning. I use this amp frequently at my church gig where I don’t need a lot of volume since mic the amp and use the PA, and it is perfectly suited for that venue.

Even after all this time, I do have to say that I’m still thoroughly impressed with the tone of this little amp. When it’s cranked, and especially with the Electric Lightning speaker, the amp sounds SO much bigger than what its diminutive 6 watts would suggest. A lot of that has to do with how the speaker projects, but when cranked, that amp absolutely sings with tones of sustain and really sweet overtones. I love playing this amp with a Les Paul. The clean tones are gorgeous as well, and when I don’t hook it up to an attenuator, I just use pedals to get my distortion. From that perspective, the amp takes to pedals real well.

Finally, even with a simple, single EQ knob, the EQ works fantastically well with the amp. It’s kind of bright out of the box, so I normally just set the tone control to about 10 am. On some amps I’ve played, that muddies the tone a bit; but not with the Special 6. It simply makes the lower range stand out a bit more.

I’ve even been using the amp in the studio, over my DV Mark Little 4o and Aracom VRX’s (except where I need a heavier sound). It’s perfect for the studio.

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Marshall Class 5 AmplifierSummary: Class A, Plexi goodness in a low wattage amp that packs a punch despite its smaller size.Pros: Great, ballsy tone that’ll just make you smile

Cons: None.

Features (as tested):

  • Power: 5 watts
  • Preamp tubes: 2 x ECC83
  • Power tubes: 1 x EL84
  • Controls: Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass
  • Speaker: 1 x 10″ 16ohm Celestion G10F-15
  • Headphone output
  • Extension speaker output
  • Dimensions: 19.48″ x 16.34″ x 9.05″
  • Weight: 26.46 lbs

Price: < $400 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Even though I didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d like to play around with the amp, I was simply impressed by the tone that it delivers, and at a price point that makes it very difficult to ignore. While many low wattage amps can sound thin and tinny, the Class 5 with its generously-sized cabinet has a fantastic, rich tone.

On Low Wattage Amps

I love low wattage amps – those that are 10 Watts or less. I have a few. For years, people eschewed these super low wattage amps, and passed them off as mere practice tools. But I suspect they really didn’t understand what a super low wattage amp brings to the party. Low wattage amps such as the 5 Watt Fender Champ helped define the sound of rock and roll. Listen to classic rock tunes, and more likely than not, the venerable Fender Champ would be the amp providing the sound.

Today, more and more people are turning to low wattage amps – especially home recording enthusiasts, and even pros like Jeff Beck – to save their ears and to get crunch and grind at low volume levels. As a result of the increased demand, many manufacturers, boutique and mainstream alike, have responded and come up with a slew of low wattage amps. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, you have tons of selections, on the other hand; well, you have tons of selections. There are a lot of them out there and it’s tough to decide which way to go.

The shear amount of low wattage amps on the market is perhaps a big reason why Marshall waited so long to come out with its super own low wattage amp. Perhaps they were studying what the market responded to and what they could do to address what people might have fed back as improvements that could be made.

Enter the Marshall Class 5 amp. This amp was released in the UK near the middle of last year, and arrived here on our fair shores around November of last year. Amazingly enough, news about this amp has been relatively quiet. There hasn’t been all that much advertising that I’ve seen about this amp. The Marshall Haze amps have gotten lots of “rag” time, and the response to those amps has been generally positive. But I haven’t heard much about this amp other than user reviews. That’s too bad because after playing it, I have to say that I really dig it!

Classic, Killer Tone!

Is Marshall embarrassed about advertising such a low wattage amp? I certainly hope not, because I got a chance to play this amp today, and I just have two words to describe it: KICK ASS! Built upon the “Bluesbreaker”/Plexi pedigree, the Class 5 has all of that Plexi goodness in a low wattage combo. Make no mistake: The Class 5 packs a serious punch; maybe not maximum volume-wise (for a gig, this amp would need to be miked, but will provide plenty of stage volume), but if you’re looking for those classic Plexi tones in a low wattage solution, look no further!

Because I was in a shop, I only tested it with a single guitar: An Epiphone Les Paul Ultra. But the Class 5 delivered that cranked Les Paul through a cranked Marshall Plexi true to form. It was everything I expected to hear from a cranked Plexi, just at a lower volume. That really blew me away!

There’s really something special about that tone. My Aracom PLX18BB is a super-close replica of the Plexi 18, plus my good buddy has several Marshalls including an original JTM45 and Plexi 50, so I’m very familiar with that classic tone. While the Class 5 is just a tad grittier in its overdrive than its more powerful siblings (perhaps due to the new speaker), the rich harmonics and smooth overdrive delivered with “balls” with a gorgeous sustain is all there.

While it might seem from my description that this amp isn’t very loud, it’s plenty loud. You can even gig with it easily, even with the stock 10″ speaker which, by the way, has tons of volume and provides rich tone. I was actually expecting the amp to sound a bit thin due to the smaller speaker, but there was nothing thin-sounding about the amp.

Another reviewer mentioned turning the bass all the way down, because he thought it was flabby. I really didn’t detect a flabbiness to the bass, but I like a bright amp anyway so I had the bass EQ dialed down to about 8pm which is almost off.

All this tonal goodness is delivered by a 10″ speaker specially developed for the Class 5 by Celestion, the G10F-15. As expected, the 10″ really has an emphasis on the mid- to high-frequencies, but Marshall compensated for the lows by providing a spacious cabinet to act as a nice resonance chamber for the speaker. The result is a very balanced and smooth tone, if a little on the bright side. But bright is what Plexi’s are all about, and the Class 5 delivers on that swimmingly!

As far as my customary test clips go, sorry, this was a shop eval, so I didn’t record any. But if and when I get the amp, I’ll post some for sure!

Yikes! It’s Too Loud!

Hello… 5 Watts is loud. In fact the speaker’s SPL is rated at 97dB at 1 meter with a power rating of 15 Watts. People have complained that they can’t crank it up in the bedroom past 3 or 4. Yeah… welcome to the Non-Master-Volume club. But that’s the beauty of the Plexi in the first place! You need to saturate the power tubes as well as the preamp tubes to get that Plexi vibe. If you need to run this amp at bedroom levels, the best solution is to get an attenuator such as the Aracom PRX150-Pro.

I sincerely hope that Marshall doesn’t cave in to those complaining it’s too loud and add a master volume to the amp. To me, it doesn’t need and would take away from its vibe.

Made in the UK

This amp is constructed in the UK, amazingly enough. And what’s even more amazing is that it sells for less than $400! The shop I tested it at had it a retail price of $389! One would expect those kinds of prices to come from gear manufactured in Asia. But not this beauty. So to have a UK-made amp at this price point is truly remarkable! Then to get tone this good? OMG! Truly amazing!!!

Fit and Finish

This amp is extremely well made. The cabinet feels real solid, and nothing was loose. Apparently, earlier versions suffered from a buzz, but the unit I tested didn’t have that at all. In any case, I inspected the amp thoroughly – front and back-  and didn’t detect any finish flaws. The tolex was nicely molded down to the surface of the underlying wood, and there were no loose pieces of material. From what I could tell, 1/2″ ply was used for the cabinet, and that is good because I’ve found, at least from a purely qualitative perspective, that cabs built with 1/2″ thickness tend to resonate quite well. This obviously helps bolster the bottom end, and it does it nicely.

The rear of the cab is interesting in that it is partially closed with about a 4″ opening, covered by a metal grill. I suppose that this is so you don’t throw in the cable and accidentally puncture the speaker cone, but it may be purely aesthetic in nature. The rear grill is rather cool.

Overall Impression

I totally DIG this amp! It was fun cranking it up in the store this afternoon! Admittedly, the amp doesn’t really hit its sweet spot until the volume knob is about midway. But completely cranked up, it produces the tone I expect out of a Plexi! And even cranked up, it responds well to volume knob levels, so you can clean up the amp quite easily.

Compared to other super low wattage amps I’ve played, even my venerable ’58 Champ, this amp has tons of balls in stock configuration. With my Champ, I had to have an amp tech add a 1/4″ jack so I could run it into an external cab because the 8″ speaker really can be quite thin-sounding. But the Class 5 has enough balls and volume stock to not need any of that (though it’ll be fun to run this into an external cab anyway, which I plan to do).

Note that unlike other reviews, I really didn’t make mention of the amp being “Class A.” That’s a big deal with lots of folks, but to me, even though I understand the classification, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter to me is how the amp sounds, and it simply sounds killer. In my book, I couldn’t care less about an amp’s classification so long as I can get great tones out of it; and the Class 5 will certainly deliver on that!

As you might surmise, I’ll probably end up getting this amp. As if I need another! But it’s a great amp at a great price. That’s just plain tough to ignore! And note that this amp sounds so good stock to me that I really don’t see a need to swap out tubes unless they burn out (which they probably will considering I’ll be running the amp all out all the time 🙂 ).

Here are some cool video clips of the Class 5 in action:

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Peavey Classic 30 Amp

Summary: Great looks, great sound, and at a GREAT price!

Pros: Beautiful cleans with a sweet, airy reverb, and smooth overdrive tones

Cons: This is a nit, but I was a bit annoyed at the labeling of Pre- and Post- volume controls on the Lead channel. Why not just follow convention? It’s obvious that “Pre” is volume, and “Post” is master. But when I first saw it, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them until I turned the amp on.

Features (from the Peavey site):

  • 30 watts (rms) into 16 or 8 ohms
  • Four EL84s and three 12AX7s
  • 12 inch Blue Marvel® speaker
  • 2-channel preamp
  • Pre- and post-gain controls on lead channel
  • Normal volume control on clean channel
  • 3-band passive EQ (bass, middle, treble)
  • Boost switch
  • Reverb level control
  • Effects loop
  • Footswitch selectable channel switching and reverb
  • External speaker capability
  • Chrome-plated chassis
  • Classic tweed covering
  • Footswitch optional (not included)
  • Weight Unpacked: 39.50 lb(17.917 kg)
  • Weight Packed: 46.00 lb(20.865 kg)
  • Width Packed: 13″(33.02 cm)
  • Depth Packed: 21.5″(54.61 cm)
  • Height Packed: 19.25″(48.895 cm)

Price: $599 street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Even my little nit couldn’t keep this amp from getting my top score. It’s simply a great-sounding amp!

I’ve been a big proponent of: If it sounds good to you, then brand and price don’t matter. This goes back to my very first guitar, a Yamaha FG-335 Acoustic that my dad bought me for my 18th birthday. I still have that guitar. But I remember a jam about 25 years ago I was having with my brother at a party. We were sitting in our living room, and we pulled out our guitars to have a jam and singalong. When I got my guitar out of its case, my brother remarked facetiously upon seeing its worn condition, “Dude, you should turn that into a beach guitar.” I just looked at him blankly and replied, “Nope. It may not look like much, but it has a great sound. Why the f&%k would I want to trash it? I’ll never get rid of this guitar!” Ahh… brotherly competition. 🙂 But I digress…

The point of me mentioning that is that nowadays with boutique gear being all the rage with “tube” this, “mustard cap” that, “hand-wired” this, etc., it’s so easy to dismiss some excellent gear that sounds absolutely KILLER! If you can get said killer-sounding gear at a fantastic price, then that’s even better. Now I admit that I have some expensive gear, but not once have I purchased gear because of a name or because someone told me to buy something because they love it. I suppose with this blog you might accuse me of doing just that, but I always suggest people try things out for themselves before making any buying decisions. Damn! Again I digress! Let’s get on the with the review, shall we?

Fit and Finish

Talk about vintage mojo! The first time I saw this amp in a local shop, I was stunned by its looks. With its vintage-style front panel and dark brown cloth grille, and tweed covering with chrome-plated corner protectors; what’s not to like? Weight-wise, at 40 lbs, it’s not light, but it’s also not a behemoth that you can’t lug easily into a gig. And don’t let the small size of its cabinet fool you: It’s quite resonant, but more importantly, its size doesn’t make it unweildy in the slightest. Simply put, the Classic 30 just plain looks great!

How It Sounds

In my test, I used a Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50’s, a Custom Shop Strat, and a Les Paul Standard. I always start out all my tests with the amp clean, and playing finger-style. No matter what guitar I used, the cleans were absolutely spectacular. I love EL84 cleans. They’re sparkly and chimey, and the Classic 30 simply delivered that EL84 clean goodness! The single coils sounded chimey as expected, but I totally dug the cleans with the LP! Adding a bit of grease with the reverb brought out the  lush, deep tones of the Les Paul nicely. I believe the reverb is a digital reverb, but who the hell cares? It sounds incredible! I guess that’s the point I was trying to make above. If something works well, it doesn’t matter what it’s made of.

As far as overdrive is concerned, as its name implies, the Classic 30 isn’t going to get you modern high-gain overdrive tones, but there’s tons of overdrive on tap. Once I dialed in the Pre and Post volume control balances, I was able to get nice overdrive tones that weren’t at all harsh, no matter how hard I pushed the amp. Since I was in a shop, I didn’t get a chance to record clips, but here are some clips from Peavey:

Clean

Clean, Reverb

Channel 2 Flat

Channel 2 Preamp

Channel 2 Boost

As you heard, great tones out of this little beastie. Even completely dimed, you don’t get over the top overdrive, but for classic rock and blues, this is a GREAT amp. That Blue Marvel 12″ speaker works great in this cab!

Overall Impressions

At $599, this amp looks and sounds as good as many boutique amps I’ve played. I love this amp, and it’s definitely going to be added to my amp collection. 🙂 I didn’t get to try out the effects loop, but I love the fact that it has one. It just adds to its versatility. If you’re looking for a vintage-style amp for a great price, this is definitely an amp to consider!

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