Archive for the ‘PLX18 BB’ Category

One of the guitarists in my church band recently got a Carr Mercury, which is a great little amp. In addition to sporting vintage styling, it has some great power scaling from 8 Watts down to 1/10 Watt, a three-position boost to vary the drive to the single EL34 power tube, and a very nice and liquid reverb. All in all, it sounds pretty killer. Add my bandmate’s Barron Wesley custom guitar, and it’s a great tone combo!

But as he plays next to my rig, which consists of a Les Paul going into an Aracom PLX18BB Trem (“PLX”) which is a clone of the very simple Marshall 18 Watt Plexi, I felt the Carr’s tone paled in comparison to the tone my rig produces. Mind  you, the Carr sounds  killer. But in comparison to the PLX, its attack is much faster, and there’s noticeably less sag from rectifier than the PLX, so my perception is that there’s not much sustain with the amp..

Granted, I realize this is purely subjective, but there is something very special about the PLX. Perhaps it’s due to that classic “Bluebreaker” tone – hence the BB designation of the amp – that Clapton made so popular while with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. The Les Paul/Plexi combination is absolutely magical. Perhaps it’s also due in part to the absolute simplicity of the 18 Watt Plexi’s circuitry. Or perhaps it’s due to how the amp sags that gives it this almost reverb-like tone. Whatever it is, it’s a tone with which I completely identify.

I realize that I probably mention the PLX in this blog more than any amp that I have or have tested. But it has become my “go-to” amp. As the title of this article says, some rig combinations just never get old.

In front of the PLX, I have just a few pedals because I like to keep things simple. Here’s the complete chain:

Les Paul R8 -> Timmy Overdrive -> TC Electronic Corona Chorus -> Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (handwired) -> DigiTech RV-7 Reverb -> Aracom PLX18 BB Trem -> Aracom PRX150 Attenuator -> Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker.

I typically only use the  delay and reverb when playing clean, which is actually quite a bit.  But when I’m  playing driven, either with the Timmy or with the amp cranked, I just let the amp speak for itself. 🙂

I mentioned the sag of the PLX. It’s not so saggy that you get a lot of crosstones. But Jeff Aragaki (amp builder) did find a sweet spot in setting up the rectifier that balanced the classic responsiveness of the original Plexi with enough sag in the rectifier to make the amp absolutely expressive.

I made some modifications of my own in the way of tubes. I have gorgeous 1959 RCA grey glass pre-amp tubes in it to drive the pre-amp. I actually kept the original JJ EL84 power tubes in the amp because they compress quite nicely when driven without over-compressing into mush. Then to add fatness, I dropped in the gorgeous, super-sensitive (103 dB) Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker. Combine that with a large 1 X 12 combo cabinet, and you’ve got a nice resonating chamber for the speaker which adds further depth to the tone.

Upon writing the above, I think a huge reason why I love the tone of this amp so much as compared to the Carr probably has a lot to do with the size of the cabinet, which can also easily house 2 10″ speakers.  That extra room for the sound to bounce around creates a lot of complexity.


In any case, that particular combination of gear never gets old to me. Even though I have lott of other guitars and amps, when I gig, I go to that setup. Now if only Jeff will build me my FlexPlex 50… 🙂


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I know, I know… I talk about this pedal A LOT, and I’ve already reviewed it a few times… (here’s the original) But I keep on discovering so many great things about this pedal that makes me want to talk about it. Just when I think I’ve got it dialed in, I find yet another thing that it does that just completely turns me on!

Tonight, I was screwing around with my song Strutter yet again. I’m done writing it, but I wanted to practice, and that song is really fun to practice to; I just mute the lead tracks and have at it. Mind you, all I wanted to do was practice and play “Blondie,” my Squier CV Tele – I didn’t have anything else in mind.

So I hooked up my Aracom PLX18 BB and started playing over the rhythm track. Folks, this amp just oozes classic Marshall “Bluesbreaker” tone as is, but just for shits and giggles, I decided to switch on my KASHA Overdrive to add a little flavor to my tone because I was working on a new song recently where I loved what this pedal did – especially with the PLX18 BB! For that song (which I’m still writing) I didn’t want to add too much gain. All I wanted to do was add some texture. So I thought it might just sound good while I practiced over Strutter. Man, was that a good call!

Here’s an A/B clip of sorts of the first two verses of the song. In verse 1, I’m playing the PLX18BB with nothing added – just a touch of room reverb as an insert in the mix. In the second verse, I switch on the KASHA overdrive (still with some reverb in the mix). The pedal is in the “Hot” channel, and I set the gain knob at 12 o’clock, which just provides a bit of a gain boost (it’s capable of adding up to 15dB of boost in this channel), but this channel also sustains for days, adding a touch of high-end sparkle. Here’s the clip:

Please excuse the little playing mistakes I made… 🙂 It’s nothing really egregious. In any case, when you compare the two verses, the difference in tone is actually subtle, at least to my ears. But from a playing standpoint, the amount of touch-sensitivity and sustain that was added made the second verse so much more musical and so much more inspiring to play. And speaking of subtlety, I think that is yet another mark of a great overdrive pedal. To me, overdrives should be transparent, they should never alter your tone – that’s what fuzz and distortion are for. At the most, they should simply add EQ emphasis, and that’s it. And that’s why I love the overdrives I play through: Tone Freak Abunai 2, GeekMacDaddy Geek Driver, Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire, the KASHA overdrive, TubeScreamer, and believe it or not, a Bad Monkey. They all bring to the table their own little voicings, but none of these alter your basic tone.

Great gear evokes a sense of inspiration – at least in me – that makes me want to keep playing and playing and playing. I just can’t say enough about this pedal. At around $200, it is worth every penny I paid for it. Thanks, John Kasha for coming up with such a fantastic pedal! Now back to playing!

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I’ve been using the Aracom PLX18 BB Trem in my studio for the past couple of months, and it is simply a great amp. As I’ve written in the past about this amp, I’ve made some modifications to it such as replacing all the stock pre-amps with NOS (the JJ EL84’s are killer in this amp, so no need to even look for NOS for these), and replacing the stock speaker with a Fane Medusa 150.

As most GuitarGear readers know, my go-to gigging amp is my beloved, customized Aracom VRX22. But every now and then, I like to take my other amps out for a spin. For this evening’s church gig, I took the PLX18. Based upon tonight’s experience, it looks like I’m going to gig with this amp a lot more.

One thing that I’ve come to love about Jeff Aragaki’s amp designs, is that he has got the vintage Marshall mojo down. Mind you, he doesn’t make clones. He takes the original circuit designs and innovates on top of them. The PLX18 BB started out as a classic “Bluesbreaker” design, but with improvements to the circuit to make it much more efficient. The result is a real smooth-sounding amp that – like the amp it is modeled after – has tons of clean headroom, and needs to be absolutely cranked to get grind. But when it grinds, it’s so rich and smooth and dynamic, you just close your eyes and let your fingers do the talking!

Such was the case tonight. About a year ago, I re-arranged a classic Catholic hymn and gave it a bluesy, folk-punk vibe (think a cross between Death Cab and Clapton). I know, it sounds like a weird mix, but amazingly enough, it works. People know the song really well, but this arrangement gets them nodding their head in time – it’s cool to see! In any case, I also arranged it so that there was plenty of room in between verses for little solos. It’s a somewhat slow song, so you can’t go overboard, but the phrasing really lends itself to a lead played with an amp just at the edge of breakup, with lots of bends and vibrato.

And it helps to have an amp that has a lot of natural sustain. The PLX is just so damn good at that! I played the amp in the “clean” channel that I had almost cranked up all the way, since that’s where a vintage Marshall sounds great, and of course, it was plugged into my attenuator so I could crank it and still have a manageable volume level. The PLX is so responsive to attack and volume knob adjustments that it makes playing just a dream. Throughout the song, I just closed my eyes and got into pure expression mode. It was one of those occasional experiences where the tone just takes you right into the Zone! When you’re in the Zone, you just can’t do wrong. Hearing the PLX sing with my Squier CV Tele – I just floated away in absolute bliss.

For our closing song, I actually didn’t play, and gave “Blondie” over to my guitar cohort Dave so I could thump out on bass. For that song, I activated the wonderful Kasha overdrive pedal, in the Hot channel to really slam the amp with gain. The great thing about the Kasha overdrive is that it’s a really transparent overdrive pedal, and allows you amp to do it’s magic. With the OD engaged, the PLX took on this incredible character. It’s a bright amp by nature, but the tone became really jangly and ringy, with just a touch of compression coming from the EL84’s. It helps that I replaced the original JJ pre-amps with the NOS ones. In any case, talk about creamy smooth but articulate overdrive! Listening to that just got me thumpin’ out on the bass! We had a lot of fun with that song. Kind of felt like the White Stripes as we only had two instrumentalists (though it was two guitars, or a bass and guitar – no drums). It was raw and edgy, but oh so cool! You gotta just dig moments like this!

As I’ve mentioned, the PLX18 BB Trem is Jeff’s oldest amp design and unfortunately, his least-known amp. It’s tough to compete in the market when there are so many boutique, vintage Marshall-style amps on the market. I’ve played many, but the PLX18 BB is special. Others who own one of these will attest to just how special this amp sounds. Even though it’s not quite as versatile as the VRX22 that can get me over-the-top gain, for what it does, I can’t think of a better amp. Mind you, this ain’t just a one-trick pony. For blues, classic rock, and country, it’s simply killer. So if you’re looking for that classic “Bluesbreaker” tone at a price that won’t break you at the same time (the head is $1345, and the combo – which I have is $1750), I encourage you to check this amp out! And if you do get it, you won’t regret it in the slightest!

As far as equipping it, pay the extra for NOS pre-amps (the JJ EL84’s are just fine – I actually prefer them), and even though Jeff recommends an Eminence Red Fang Alnico to be paired with the PLX18 BB, for my personal tastes, I prefer something with a bit tighter bottom end; hence, the Fane Medusa that I swapped in. If you still want bright tone, then an Eminence Governor works insanely well, and will give you nice mids and high-mids, and I hear the Celestion Gold sounds killer in the the combo! YMMV…

For more information on this wonderful amp, check out the Aracom Amps site!

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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.


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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