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Archive for the ‘EL84’ Category



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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There are two things you should consider doing before you decide to get rid of it. I’ve done this on two amps, and have ended up keeping them both.

1. Change your speaker(s)

Let’s state the obvious: An amp’s speaker produces the sound, but it is amazing how many people I’ve come across who don’t look at replacing this vital component first when they’re not happy with their tone. I know, evaluating speakers is tough, and a lot of the time, you can only rely on people’s words and frequency response charts. I actually find frequency response charts useful in making a decision on a new speaker. If I want more mid-range and presence, I’ll look at speakers whose frequency response charts are big in the mids and high-mids, with a much more smooth bass response curve, like the Jensen P12N. If I’m looking for more bottom end, and a slightly scooped tone, I’ll look for a speaker that has those kinds of characteristics, such as the Fane Medusa 150. Of course, you have to hear the speakers in the end to decide if they work for you, but the frequency response chart is a good place to start.

2. Change your pre-amp tubes

I’m a NOS tube fanatic. To me, there’s nothing like the build and tonal quality of a good NOS tube. The ones I’ve chosen tend to have a bit less gain than newer tubes, and they break up so much more smoothly. But that’s just me. I want a smoother overdrive tone, whereas someone else may want a harsher tone. To each their own on this. However, changing tubes – especially pre-amp tubes – can have a profound effect on your tone. Like speakers, you have to try several before you find ones that fit your tastes, but it’s worth it once you do. And note, with respect to tubes, you get the most bang for your buck by replacing the pre-amp tubes as opposed to the power tubes. I use JJ power tubes for practically all my amps, and you know what? I’ve never replaced any of them because I just haven’t seen that much tone improvement by replacing them.

Where I have seen LOTS of improvements is in replacing the pre-amp tubes, as you’ll see below…

As I stated above, I saved two of my amps from the chopping block. Yeah, I had to spend a bit of money to save them, but save them I did. My most recent “save” experience was with my Aracom PLX18 BB. This amp is based upon the classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi “Bluesbreaker.” When I first got it, I loved it, but one thing that I didn’t quite bond with was the fizz that the amp naturally produced. I really dug the mild distorted tone of the amp, but there was just something that wasn’t quite “right” when I’d crank the amp all the way.

So the first thing I did to bleed off some of the highs was to replace the stock speaker. The Red Coat Red Fang is a nice, bright speaker, but brand new, it’s pretty harsh, and I didn’t want spend a lot of time breaking it in. But even still, the amp was naturally bright, and with a bright speaker, I just didn’t feel it was a good fit. As luck would have it, I had another speaker on hand, a Fane Medusa 150. The thing about this speaker is that it has a real strong, tight bass response. Once I had it installed, I couldn’t believe my ears! It really balanced out the brightness of the amp, and curbed a lot of the fizz.

But there was still some fizz left. Knowing that there were JJ’s in the pre-amps, which have a lot of gain, my thought was that they were throwing a lot of gain at the EL84 power tubes, which can get fizzy when driven hard. So I swapped them out for a set of NOS circa 1959 GE and RCA long plate 12AX7’s, which are oh-so-smooth and a have a bit less gain than the JJ’s. The result was simply magnificent!

That clip was recorded with the Aracom PLX18 BB, and using my LP copy Prestige Heritage Elite. Sorry, I don’t have a “before” clip, but before I did those two simple modifications, the amp produced a ton of fizz that I just couldn’t connect with, even though I loved the dynamics when it was fully cranked. Now, I can crank that puppy up, and get those rich tones with no fizz.

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When I first reviewed the Fane Medusa 150, though I gave it a pretty good rating at 4.5 Tone Bones, I wasn’t really blown away by its tone because of its big bottom end, and recommended that the speaker be put into a 2 X 12 balanced out by a speaker with more top-end sparkle. What I didn’t consider was how it could be used to balance out the tone of a naturally bright amp.

Take, for instance, my review on the Aracom PLX18 BB Trem. One of the nits I had with the combo was that the Eminence Red Coat Red Fang was way too bright for the already naturally bright amp, causing me to bleed off highs when I was mixing the song. FYI, EQ’ing my guitars in my recordings is usually a real no-no with me because I like the pure sound of my guitars and amps on a recording. The only things I’ll add in production are reverb or a touch of delay if necessary. I love the tone of the PLX18, but that speaker just didn’t work for me.

Enter the Fane Medusa 150. That speaker is actually on loan from Tonic Amps. I’ve actually had it for a few months now, and I keep on forgetting to drop it off at Darin’s new place. Well, it looks like I’m probably going to buy it off him after all because I swapped out the Red Fang for the Medusa 150 in the PLX18, and suddenly the seas parted and a way was made clear! The PLX18 tone was completely transformed! Instead of being a purely bright amp, the PLX18’s tone became much more balanced. The highs and high-mids were still present but were much more tame. This resulted in a much richer tone.

As you may know, I’ve been working on a new song called “Strutter.” I actually had the song completely recorded, but I hadn’t finished it because I just haven’t been completely satisfied with the lead guitar tone. When I got the PLX18, I knew it would be the amp I’d use to record the song. But with the stock speaker, and even with my Jensen P12N, it still wasn’t cutting it for me. I even mentioned that the amp loves the Red Coat “The Governor,” and it does, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied. Now, with the Medusa 150 in the cabinet, I’ll be completing the song. Let’s compare, shall we?

Here’s the original, recorded with the PLX18 BB with the stock Red Coat. I’m playing my LP copy, Prestige Guitars Heritage Elite:

Now, here’s a clip of the song with the Fane Medusa 150. I’m playing Goldie in her bridge pickup:

Sorry for the differences in volume levels. But where the Red Fang has much more presence, and an in-your-face presentation, the Medusa’s tone is so much more three-dimensional and more refined. The mids and highs are still present and incredibly articulate, but they’re so much less piercing! And one thing that I noticed immediately with the Medusa is the clarity of the notes through the entire EQ spectrum, whereas the Red Fang seemed to lose a bit of clarity at high-gain settings – especially when I play those transition chords. Note that the amp and mix settings stayed completely the same between the two recordings, and both guitars were played through the Trem channel which was completely dimed. I also removed the wah from the second clip because I didn’t feel the need to mix it up. For that part, I did stack my KASHA Overdrive and Geek Driver overdrive pedals, but set to unity gain, and to add just a touch of compression and sustain. Not much, but just a touch.

So what’s the moral of the story? Simple: Amp and speaker combinations are critical to good tone. Some speakers, like my P12N work with a bunch of different amps. But some speakers, like the Medusa, work much better at balancing out certain amp characteristics. I’ve learned a good lesson here: You have to try out gear in different configurations and situations. Had I not tried to experiment with the Medusa, I probably would’ve just passed it off as a good speaker that belongs in a 2 X 12 cabinet with a bright speaker.

For more information on Fane speakers, talk to Darin at Tonic Amps! Tonic is the North American distributor for Fane speakers.

For more information about the incredible Aracom PLX18 BB Trem, please go to Aracom Amplifiers.

By the way, both clips were recorded at conversation levels using the fantastic Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, by far the best attenuator on the planet, from my perspective. I just couldn’t live without this device!

Now, both amp and speaker get:

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Click on the picture for a larger view. Aracom Amps PLX BB 18

Summary: Reminiscent of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the PLX18 BB is a tribute to the classic Marshall Plexi’s of yesteryear.

Pros: Looking for classic EL84 classic rock/blues tone? Look no further. This amp has tons of mojo that’s just waiting to be tapped, with two independent channels and a subtle, tube-driven tremolo that’s to die for!

Cons: Tiny nit, but the stock speaker – Eminence Red Coat Red Fang – is voiced way to brightly for this amp. For cleans, it’s great, but creates a bit of fizz when you’ve got it cranked.

Features:

General (from the Aracom site)

– On/Off Switch
– Standby Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– Custom Heavy Duty
Aluminum Chassis
– Impedance Switch:
4, 8, 16 ohm
– (2) Speaker Jacks
– Custom Handcrafted
Turret Board
– Handwired
– Gold Plexi Front and
Back Panels

Tremolo Channel

– Single Knob Tone Control
– Single Volume Control
– Tremolo Intensity Control
– Tremolo Speed Control
– High/Low Input Jacks
– Tremolo/Reverb Remote
– On/Off Footswitch Jack
– Reverb: Available with
optional Tube Driven
Reverb in the Combo 1×12
and 2×12 configurations.

Normal Channel

– Single Knob Tone Control
– Single Volume Control
– High/Low Input Jacks

Price: ~$1750 Direct

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – If it weren’t for the speaker, this would get 5 Tone Bones, but I remedied that very easily by running it through either a Jensen P12N or a Red Coat “The Governor.” I dig that Governor speaker! It really brings out the best in that amp by taming the highs and adding a nice and smooth bottom end.

When you live less than half an hour from a boutique amp maker, you get to try out lots of GREAT gear. It’s so convenient to drop by Jeff’s shop or have Jeff over. He’s someone I love spending time with because we both share a passion for vintage and vintage style gear (Jeff is a passionate Les Paul collector), and we spend lots of time just talking about different kinds of gear, and especially his approach to amp building. As of late, Jeff Aragaki and Aracom Amps have gained a lot of attention in the guitar world for his incredible PRX150-Pro attenuator. And while I love what that attenuator does (it really has made my home recording late at night so much more convenient), it was his amps I fell in love with, and to date, I have three of them, having added the PLX BB 18 to my growing collection of low-wattage amps.

In Jeff’s words, the PLX BB 18 “ …is our tribute to the Marshall 18 watt Tremolo amp that was originally introduced in 1967. The term “Bluesbreaker” originated from the Marshall JTM 45 Tremolo Combo amp that Eric Clapton made famous when he was with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. While the JTM 45 Tremolo is the original “Bluesbreaker”, many people also refer to the early 50 watt and 18 watt Marshall amps with Tremolo as Bluesbreaker amps.

This amp is the elder statesman in the Aracom lineup, and while lots of attention has been paid to his latest VRX line, it was the PLX that gave Jeff his start. Unfortunately, because there are lots of classic Marshall Plexi 18 remakes on the market, the PLX BB 18 is probably his least known amp. That’s too bad because the tweaks Jeff made to the classic Marshall circuit has produced a very distinctive amp that has a mojo that’s almost visceral in its appeal.

Based upon a pair of EL84 power tubes, and an EZ81 rectifier, the PLX produces a very three-dimensional tone that’s at once in your face, but also fills the space you’re playing; and mind you, this is at fairly low levels – maybe loud conversation levels – due to squelching the output volume with the PRX150-Pro. Strike a chord or bend a note, and you can feel the tone! It’s that way with my VRX amps as well. There’s something that Jeff has discovered in building his amps that make them ooze a certain mojo.

Like all Aracom amps, the PLX18 BB is packed full of character. It’s amazing how it responds to volume knob changes and pick attack. But one thing that really strikes me about this amp is how smooth the distortion is when I crank the amp. When pushed hard, it has tons of gain and oodles of dynamics, but they’re very well-mannered. Notes are well-defined, and especially played with humbuckers, bloom nicely when you attack a string. F-in A!

How It Sounds

I got the amp this past Saturday, and I’ve been playing with it since. I spent Saturday evening and most of Sunday just getting used to it, and experimenting with different speakers. As I said, the stock speaker is a little bright (admittedly, I’m experimenting with it), but it’s also brand new, so that probably accounts for the abundance of highs. With time, that speaker will mellow out. But as I wanted to use the amp right away, I ran it through my custom 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N and also my Fender Hot Rod’s cab that has the Governor in it. Amazingly enough, this amp LOVES the Governor. The P12N sounds awesome (and I’m a huge fan of Alinico speakers), but the Governor seems to bring out the best qualities of this amp. Anyway, here are some clips I recorded:

  • This clip features the stock Red Fang. I’m playing my Prestige Heritage Elite (an LP copy) for the lead with the Treble pickup engaged. This is a clip from a song I’m working on called “Strutter.” I normally don’t EQ my guitar parts, but I did bleed off some of the real high-frequencies to cut down on the natural fizz.
  • This next song is called “Plexi Lullaby” because it reminded me of a lullaby. The base rhythm track was recorded on the tremolo channel with my Heritage, then I created a second rhythm track with my Strat. The Lead is also played with my Strat. You’ll notice that you really have to listen for the trem. The tube-driven trem is killer. It’s very subtle and oh so smooth! Almost forgot! The base rhythm track was played through the stock speaker, while the Strat parts were recorded through a P12N, and no EQ was applied to any of the parts.
  • Finally, here’s a simple track I recorded just with my Strat for both parts, running the PLX18 BB through the Governor. This in the drive or “normal” channel of the amp with it cranked up to about 3pm, which is almost full out. To achieve the cleans, I just used a light touch, and played it finger style. I picked the Lead so I could get some occasional grind sneaking in:

I really love the tone on the last clip. The cleans it produces just make me close my eyes and play; which is pretty much what I did when recording the lead part. Just hearing how the chords just rang was so inspiring! The amp the entire time was just on the edge of breakup – it’s so expressive! I just added a touch of room reverb in the mix, but the guitars were all recorded completely raw. I didn’t do any adjustments.

Overall Impressions

I know, I say this quite a bit about Aracom amps, but I LOVE THIS AMP! As you can hear from the clips, it has an abundance of character. Jeff has recommended a few times that I try some NOS tubes with it, as all the pre-amp and power tubes are all JJ’s. But I’ve resisted because it just sounds great with the stock tubes. As I told him, “I know, I’ve got some NOS tubes on hand, but there’s no reason to put them in there. It sounds great with the JJ’s.” I may eventually do that, but for now, I won’t replace the tubes until they start getting dull.

The PLX18 BB yet another one hit out of the ballpark by the humble genius, Jeff Aragaki!

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Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

I’m falling in love again with my Aracom VRX18. This was the amp that first got me introduced to Aracom and my good friend Jeff Aragaki. My amp is actually a tweaked version of the stock VRX18 as it sports an EZ81 tube rectifier, plus a tweaked circuit that adds a bit more sag and sustain. The result is just a gorgeous overdriven tone that really brings out the best of the EL84 power tubes.

One thing about EL84 amps is that if they’re done right, they have a distinctive overdrive tone that creates a subtle top-end fizz when they’re overdriven. I’ve played others that drive the power tubes too much, and they sound very harsh and incredibly compressed. Jeff did this amp right, and while the power tubes do indeed compress a bit, the overdrive tone retains its open character, while adding that nice top-end fizziness that EL84 amp lovers have come to appreciate.

The clip below is an excerpt from a slow blues song I wrote. It features my beloved Goldie plugged straight into the Aracom VRX18, and it also features the insane Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator! Believe it or not, the amp was recorded at just above loud conversation levels! We’re talking less than 1/10 of a Watt, and the amp still retains its tone and dynamics! Anyway, here’s the clip:

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Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

This morning, the guy who’s painting my house came into my garage/studio to ask me a question, and being a guitar player himself said, “Dude… you have a great setup.” So the conversation turned to my favorite topic, and of course, that involves talking about guitar gear. 🙂 During the course of our discussion he talked about how he loves Vox amps, and so I demonstrated my Aracom VRX18, which is actually based upon a classic Marshall 18 Plexi, but it had EL84’s. I wanted to give him a reference tone. He just smiled and said, “That’s yummy.”

He had to get back to work, but after not playing that amp for awhile (probably a couple of months), I forgot how much I love its tone. My VRX18 is quite special in that it’s a custom VRX18 that has a tube rectifier, which is an option when you get one of the VRX series amps. Jeff has it tweaked quite nicely, and the amp has tons of sustain, and gorgeous sag without getting mushy and compressed when driven. That’s probably a reason why I haven’t really used EL84 amps that much. My experience has been that they compress a lot when they’re driven hard.

But not this one… Jeff also adjusted the extra gain channel so it wouldn’t compress the power tubes too much. You get lots of dirt, but you maintain the clarity of your notes. This is a great little amp! In any case, I recorded a clip where I have the Master at 3 o’clock, and the Volume at 2 o’clock. That produces some serious grind, but as you’ll hear in the clip, there’s very little compression.

The drive tone the VRX18 produces is absolutely magnificent! When I recorded the clip, I couldn’t believe all the overtones and subtle harmonics that the amp was producing! Jeff really got the tone nailed with this amp!

In addition to the amp, I played through Goldie, running her straight into the amp, then through the insanely transparent PRX150-Pro attenuator set at variable attenuation mode at about 3 o’clock, then into a custom Aracom 1 X 12. Output volume was just yelling level. 🙂

Here’s a list of the Aracom VRX18’s features as a review:

– Channel 1: Volume and Tone Controls
– Channel 2: Volume and Tone Controls
– Master Volume Control (PPIMV)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– Hi/Low B+ voltage switch (18/9 watts)
– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– Cathode Biased Power Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
* EZ81 Tube Rectifier – Optional
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– Custom “Black” Plexi Front and Back Panels
– ARACOM Power Transformer: hand-wound and interleaved
– ARACOM Output Transformer: hand-wound, interleaved on a paper bobbin
– 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
– Detachable Power Cord (IEC320-C13 Socket)
– External Fuse Holder
– Custom Turret Board (G-10/FR4 Flame Resistant)
– Handwired and Handcrafted in the USA.

This little tone beast is such a value as well! At $895 for the head, it’s an absolute steal, and a real hidden gem in the boutique market, as is the VRX22, which is based on 6V6’s.

For more information, go to the Aracom VRX18 page!

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Tone Freak Effects Severe High Gain Distortion PedalReleased in May (how did I miss this?), the Severe is “Tone Freak Effects’ answer to high gain distortion.” Oh man… This looks like a incredibly mean pedal. Set up like the Abunai 2 with a 3-way clipping switch, with level, gain, and tone, the Severe also sports a 3-way bright switch so it can be used with different amps. Very cool.

As Derek Tabata mentions on his site, the Severe will never turn your tone into a compressed mushy mess. The distortion can be laid on thick but, remains open. I can attest to this with the Abunai 2. You can lay on thick overdrive with that pedal, but it’ll never turn super thick.

With the Severe, Derek has taken high-gain distortion to another level! I’m amazed at how it sounds in the sound clips! Check ’em out!

Severe Demo Clip

Les Paul

Les Paul

Tom Anderson

Personally, I’m not a high-gain type of player, however, as I’ve gotten more and more comfortable soloing, I’ve found that I’m pushing more and more into high-gain territory. The only problem is that to achieve that with an amp means it has to be LOUD. That’s why I love pedals like this! You get the effect you need at far lower sound levels.

And you can’t go wrong with Tone Freak Effects! You just can’t! For more information, visit the Tone Freak Effects web site!

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