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Posts Tagged ‘65 Amps’


SWR California Blonde I

Summary: This amp is a classic and loved the world over for its great sound.

Pros: Great acoustic sound, but it’s versatile enough to use as a clean amp for solid-body guitars.

Cons: This is a nit: It’s heavy at 50lbs.

Features:

  • 120 Watts
  • Speakers: 200 Watt 12″ and a 25 Watt high-freq tweeter
  • Instrument Input Jack
  • Stereo Input Jack
  • Tuner Out Jack
  • Balanced Mic Input Jack
  • Gain Controls with LED Overload Indicator and Pull Phase
  • Aural Enhancer Control (Channel 1)
  • Two independent channels
  • Two independent effects loops with independent effects blend knobs for each channel
  • On-board reverb – it’s nice and subtle

Price: ~$300 – $600 Street (if you can find one)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve used this amp in a variety of settings, and with a variety of guitars, and it has NEVER let me down. The sound is rich and full, no matter what guitar you put in front of it, but it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar.

My first exposure to the California Blonde was through a church bandmate who would use it for our services. My initial impressions of the amp were NOT good, mainly because this guy just doesn’t take care of his gear. The knobs were scratchy and the jacks were loose and would occasionally crackle. But one thing was for sure: When he had it working, it had a great tone. I was always impressed by the sound of that amp, and REALLY impressed by its ability to project – it is a LOUD amp.

SWR now has a second edition of this amp, and the original is no longer available, but I got mine through my friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps who acquired one from an estate sale. He had a bunch of gear to sell, and one of the items was this classic California Blonde.

I wasn’t planning on getting an amp at the sale. I just wanted one of the many guitars he had, and ended up getting my gorgeous Strat. But just for shits and giggles, I checked out the amps. The ‘blonde immediately caught my eye (blondes have a way of doing that to me 🙂 ), so I asked Jeff if we could hook it up. Luckily I had my acoustic in the back of my SUV so I could give the amp a proper test. So we hooked it up, powered it on, I strummed a chord, turned to Jeff and said, “I’ll get this too…” I did play through it for about 15 more minutes to really go through its controls, but from having to adjust my buddy’s ‘blonde in the past, I was pretty familiar with the amp.

Since I purchased it, I’ve used it with my acoustics, as a clean amp for my Strat (and using a distortion pedal with it – it rocks), and just last night, I used it for its intended purpose: as my guitar amp for my outdoor gig, using my Gretsch Electromatic. As I mentioned above, no matter what I’ve thrown in front of it, this amp has delivered the goods.

Fit and Finish

Despite the amp being several years old, it has withstood the test of time. That’s a testament to how solidly built this amp is. Even my buddy’s amp – despite being mishandled – was still rock solid. My amp was and is in absolutely pristine condition. This thing is built like a tank. The enclosure, though made with a combination of plywood and particle board is THICK. Chrome-plated corner protectors adorn all the corners (this amp was made for gigging). No stray joints here folks, the build quality is fantastic.

The tilted control panel is an absolutely nice and convenient touch, allowing for quick access to the knobs. This is much better than the Genz-Benz Shenandoah 150 upright that I’ve played that has a flush control panel. Makes it hard to adjust. The metal speaker grille on the ‘blonde demonstrates again that this amp was meant to be gigged.

The only nit that I have with the amp is that at 50 lbs, it’s really heavy. But that’s understandable and forgivable considering the thick wood of the cabinet and the magnet of the 200 Watt speaker, which must be pretty big (I haven’t taken off the back panel). I’ll trade weight for ruggedness any day; besides, that’s what hand carts are for! 🙂

How It Sounds

The California Blonde has a rich, deep tone, but as I mentioned above, it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar. And though I mentioned that the amp is loud, the cabinet really disperses sound at a wide angle, creating a three-dimensional effect that makes the sound seem to float in the air.

I used it outdoors at my gig yesterday, and it was fantastic! I ran chorus, delay and reverb through the loop, and I have to say that the effects blend knob is a god-send, allowing me to mix as much or as little of my board signal into the dry signal. Because of how the amp disperses sound, I used very little reverb, and many times just had it off. For ambient tones, I used my MXR Carbon Copy delay set to a mild slap-back. That seemed to work best with the amp.

The tweeter’s effect is subtle, but a very nice addition indeed, as it provides just a touch of shimmer to the tone. I tried the amp with the tweeter switched off, and just turned it back on because I wanted the shimmer. With a Strat, the tweeter is a necessity in my opinion.

Last night, I started out running my guitar signal only through the amp, but then later added some signal into my Fishman SA220 PA so I could get even better sound dispersal. The line out is great on this amp, and reproduces the signal very true to the original. In fact, when I’ve used this amp at church, we run it right into the board, and the sound is very nicely balanced.

Overall Impression

This amp is a workhorse. I really couldn’t be happier with this amp. It totally delivers the goods for me!

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65 Amps Soho
Summary: Super-versatile amp with LOTS of balls. Goes from AC30-like tones to cranked vintage Plexi. While definitely British-style in tone, it has a tone all its own.Pros: One of the very few amps I’ve ever played that REALLY responds to guitar volume knob changes. The Soho, while very versatile is also VERY efficient. The 20-Watt model I heard and tested had the feel of a 50 Watt amp! Very nice.Cons: None.

  • Features:Output: 20 Watts (SoHo) or 35 Watts (SoHo HP)
  • Tubes: Power amp 2xEL84 (SoHo) or 4xEL84 (SoHo HP), Preamp EF86-12AX7
  • Rectifier Tube: EZ81
  • Speakers (combo): Celestion Alnico Blue + G12H30
  • Panel controls: Volume, Treble, Bass, Booster, Bump™, Bump Tone™, Bump Level™, Master Voltage™
  • Extras: Footswitch input jack, dual speaker outs, switch for 8Ω & 16Ω impedance

Price: ~$2400 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Yowza! I LOVE this amp! It is so versatile and expressive and responsive to input gain. As much as I love my Aracom amps, I think this is an amp that I have to have.

I really shouldn’t go to music stores. But then again, if I didn’t, I’d lose an important source for gear. Last week, I happened to go to my favorite gear store (Gelb Music in Redwood City, CA), and was just hanging out looking at gear. i was also in there to see if they had gotten their latest shipment of Gretsch guitars, as I want to get the Electromatic 5122DC. Unfortunately, it hadn’t come in yet. But Jordan (who’s the guitar dude at Gelb) said that Dan, the designer from 65 Amps was coming in to do a demo from 5-7pm. It was just after 3pm.

Just so happened that Dan had just walked in the door, and Jordan introduced me to him while he was setting up their back room with the 65 Amps they carried. Dan and I got to chatting about gear and gigging, and then I started asking him questions about the Soho, which is an amp that has continually gotten my attention because Andy at ProGuitarShop.com uses one for most of his gear demos. So a cool thing happened: I got a private demo of the Soho from Dan the designer himself.

Now as we were talking, my impression of Dan was that he was a very nice, straight-shooting guy. But I’ve also seen and tested lots of different amps, so I guess I’ve become a bit jaded about boutique amps. But as you’ll soon find out as you read through this article, my jadedness became completely irrelevant in this case…

Dan took me through all the features, and I was completely dumbstruck by the expressiveness and versatility of the Soho while he played. The response to input gain using the guitar volume knob was incredible! I confirmed this when I played through it myself. You can go from clean to dirty with just the knob, then get really nice driving, but not overly compressed hard gain. The tone was incredible!

Now the Soho might look like a two-channel amp from its control layout, but it doesn’t have two channels; rather, it has two modes: Normal and Bump, which gives you a “bump” in tone and gain which is controllable like a separate channel – but it’s not a separate channel. Believe me, it’s very cool!

The “Bump” feature makes the tone of the Soho thick and rich and incredibly expansive. I commented to Dan that when he had it cranked, the amp sounded as thick and loud as a 50 Watt Plexi. He just grinned, as he knew exactly what I was talking about. As I mentioned in the Summary section above, this little amp has BALLS!

Equally impressive is 65 Amps’ trademark “Master Voltage” which is a bit different from a master volume in that like a regular MV it varies the B+ voltage it also keeps the filament voltage up, so you can still break up at lower volumes. Not sure the tech behind this, and who knows, it might be hype. But hyped terminology or not, it works; and it works incredibly well! It acts like an attenuator, giving you all the grind you need at lower volumes, without the extra circuitry.

I didn’t get as much time to play with it as I would like, and I tend to be rather self-conscious in stores when I’m evaluating gear, so I didn’t try too much. But I took it through various things I might do in a gig, and all I have to say is that the Soho is a true player’s amp. It has everything you need to cover gorgeous cleans to hard-driving rock. It’s definitely not a metal machine, but for producing most rock sounds, you can’t do much better. It’s not a small wonder why a great player like Andy over at ProGuitarShop.com uses this amp for his demos.

Here’s another thing: The amp is absolutely unforgiving. You can’t be tentative with your playing when you play through this amp because every mistake will be picked up. I love that about this amp! That’s why I call it a player’s amp because you really have to play. When I first started playing around with it, Dan said, “Give yourself some time Brendan. It takes a little while to get used to…” Man, was he right! I twiddled knobs, found a setting I liked, then just closed my eyes and started to play (closing my eyes helps me lose my self-consciousness – beside if I suck, I know it’s not the gear). 🙂 Luckily, I didn’t flail too badly, and in the process, I fell in love with that amp. It simply rocks! I need to get this amp. Damn! There goes the GAS again!

BTW, here’s a video demo of the amp by Dan:

For more information, visit 65 Amps Soho page!

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