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REMIn yesterday’s little adventure at Guitar Player Magazine, I got a chance to play the new Dr. Z Remedy amplifier. This amp is based upon a classic Marshall JTM circuit design, but with a twist: Instead of 4 inputs that allow you to jumper the two channels, the Remedy has a single input and the channels are already jumpered. You then have the ability to blend the amount of high and normal channel amounts via the two loudness knobs.

This amp is a lesson in simplicity. It has a three-band EQ, and the volume knobs for the High and Normal channels, plus Power On/Off and Standby toggles. That’s it. With this amp, you dial in your tone and sound levels, and play!

The amp is powered by a quad set of 6V6’s, and man they sound sweet! The power tubes are JJ’s which have kind of a “hybrid” 6V6 tone – I use these myself, and I love them. They’re brighter-sounding than the classic 6V6, and they’re extremely durable. I’ve never had one of these fail on any of my 6V6 amps, so it’s not a surprise Dr. Z uses the JJ’s for their reliability.

How It Sounds…

In a word, it sounds “big.” A lot bigger than I expected from just a 40 Watt amp. I played a Gibson ’59 Les Paul Special Re-issue through it and was really taken by the big sound that the Remedy produces. For classic rock and blues tones, this is an ideal amp. It responds incredibly well to picking dynamics and volume knob adjustments as well, which is why I mentioned you set your EQ and volume where you want it, then play. You can then adjust the cleanliness or dirtiness with your volume knob or attack. Very cool. You might dismiss the Remedy as another JTM clone as the circuitry is based upon that. But it has a sound all its own. The cleans are lush and defined, and the overdrive is nice and crunchy, and very little to no top-end raspiness. I think that’s an earmark of the 6V6’s. They just don’t get fizzy.

A Great Half-Power Mode

I played around with the half-power switch a couple of times, and it works as expected. But I wanted to find out more about how Dr. Z does his half power mode, so I gave him a call this morning, and found out some interesting things about how he does his half-power mode – very interesting things, indeed. There are a couple of ways I’m familiar with that amp manufacturers introduce half-power modes in their amps. A common way is to shut down half a tube, essentially going from pentode to triode. According to amp builders I’ve spoken with, this is the easiest, but it also changes the tone significantly between the two modes.

The second common way is to adjust the B+ voltage down, then provide some compensation so the correct heater voltages are maintained. This is what Jeff Aragaki does with his amps, and this technique is very transparent.

Dr Z. takes a completely different approach and leaves the front-end alone entirely, and works his magic from the power transformer, something he worked with the late Ken Fisher to produce. I won’t go into details – and Dr. Z didn’t go into a great deal of depth – but he effectively bypasses the power from two of the power tubes then does some other stuff to compensate for the impedance mismatch to half the power. The end result is a very tonally transparent switch from full power to half power, using a method no one else is using; at least according to Dr. Z.

I love stuff like this! I’m no electronics guy, but I love it when people think out of the box to handle common problems, and come up with approaches that no one else thought of, or didn’t try because they thought it was too hard! Kudos to Dr. Z for doing something like this!

I truly wish I had more time to spend with it so I could explore the amp’s capabilities more. Perhaps in the near future I’ll get that chance.

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4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

Blackheart BH5-112 Little Giant 5 Watt Combo

Blackheart BH5-112 Little Giant 5 Watt Combo

Blackheart BH5-112 Little Giant 5Watt Combo

Summary: Nice, simple, and versatile studio/practice/small venue amp with sporting happening EL-84 tones.

Pros: Sweet and chimey EL-84 tones with Class A circuitry; simple and straightforward to use. Switchable between 5Watts and 3Watts, ensuring usability in just about any smaller venue. 3W mode kicks ass for getting power tube saturation at a reasonable volume.

Cons: I wish it had a Master Volume, but that’s just a nit.

Price: $349 street (used to be $249 when it first came out! Damn! Shoulda gotten one then.)

Specs:

• Single-ended Class A circuit
• All tube signal path
• One 12AX7/ECC83 dual-triode preamp tube and one EL84/6BQ5 pentode output tube
• Pentode (5W rms) Triode (3W rms) switch
• Solid-state rectifier
• DC filament power supply for all tubes
• 3-band EQ
• 16-gauge (1.5 mm) thick, folded and spot welded steel chassis
• Double-sided custom color PCB with 2 oz. copper
• 15-ply, 18 mm thick, void-free birch plywood construction
• Custom-designed 12″ Eminence Blackheart speaker
• 16 ohm, 8 ohm, and 4 ohm speaker outputs

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 – Very musical and expressive amp. Nice cleans, with a decent amount of headroom.

I first heard about Blackheart amps back in 2007. They were so new that very few people knew about them. And while a local shop was listed as a dealer, only the owner knew about the amps, and they didn’t carry them in stock! Blackheart Engineering is sort of an overseas spinoff from Crate which produces cool, yet affordable tube amps. As a home studio enthusiast, I keep my ear to the ground about low-cost, low-wattage combo amps. When I first heard about the BH5-112, I was excited. I thought it was a bold move for Crate, and a smart one, considering Crate is a huge manufacturer with huge lineup of gear; adding even something cool like the Blackheart line would just get lost in the mix. But Blackheart was pretty low-key. No ads, spotty coverage on the Internet.

So it was a very pleasant surprise to see a few Blackhearts at a local shop yesterday, and among them, the Little Giant. I was actually there to play that G & L Tribute Comanche I wrote about last week; the last time I was at the shop, they didn’t have any Blackhearts, so I wasn’t expecting to see them at all. But with them there, I naturally had to try one out, and luckily they had the Little Giant.

Fit and Finish

This little amp has a real cool vibe going on. I really like the cabinet that Blackheart uses. It’s a closed back cab, and for an amp made overseas, it’s appears to be very well constructed. There were no apparent flaws in the tolex layering, and Blackheart logo on the front is killer. I dig the white vinyl trim used on the front around the grille cloth. Real boutique styling at a pretty affordable price!

The control layout is simple: An input jack on the left, volume and three-band eq knobs, an indicator light and an on/off switch, making it simple to plug in, dial in your tone, and start rockin’.

How It Sounds

I’ve really come to love the EL-84 tones, especially when they’re saturated, and the Little Giant doesn’t disappoint when delivering its sound. With the EQ knobs at 12 o’clock, the natural tone of the amp leans toward a slightly scooped tone with a bright voicing. Even with the specially-made Eminence 1 X 12, it’s bright, but it does retain a taut low-end that really smooths out the tone. Quite pleasing. I only tested the amp with that Tribute Comanche, but it didn’t matter. When I test an amp, I play it clean for a lot of my tests to see if it will deliver the natural tonal character of the guitar, and the Blackheart Little Giant fulfills its mission.

The amp is very responsive to volume knob and pick attack. With the volume set at about halfway, and cranking the guitar volume, I was able to get that AC30-like response: Clean and shimmery, with just the slightest bit of breakup when you dig in. Very pleasing to the ears.

Amazingly enough, even though its power rating is a minuscule 5 Watts, with the 12″ speaker, this amp can put out some volume! Hence its name “Little Giant.” It probably couldn’t keep up with a drum set and a band going all out, but it can pack a good enough punch to work well in a small venue where lower volume is critical, and it definitely could be put to great use in a studio!

Overall Impressions

What can I say? I dig this amp, much like I dig the Fender Champ 600. But unlike its Fender cousin, the 12″ speaker really lets the amp breath. And speaking of volume, I was quite impressed with the volume control. Unlike many amps that practically max out by 6, the sweep covered by the Little Giant’s volume knob is nice, even and more importantly, wide. Two thumbs up!s

Here’s a video (excuse the dude’s misinformation about Class A amps – damn! That’s even worse than my faux pas about modes 🙂

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