Posts Tagged ‘amps’

IMG_20181001_112403Or… this could be called Confessions of a Tube Amp Snob…

For the past decade or so, I’ve been a complete devotee of the tube amp. I’ve literally got 10 of them, and believe it or not, I still use most of them. In my mind, there has really been nothing like the feel and dynamics of a tube amp. And solid state amps? No way could that feel be duplicated.

Ten years ago, that might have been true – though admittedly, it was probably also drinking quite a bit of Koolaid – now though, that line between what separates tube amps and solid state amps is so narrow as to be almost imperceptible. WTF? Part of me is beside myself scratching my head and asking, “How could this be?”

Technology, of course, progresses. And luckily, amp manufacturers – specifically, solid state amp manufacturers – have listened to their customers over the years to create amps that have similar dynamics to valve amps.

I just bought a BOSS Katana 50 and I can describe it in two words: IT ROCKS! I can’t even begin to tell you how good it is. It not only sounds great with the deep, 3-dimensional sound I’ve come to love about tube amps, but the feel and dynamics of the amp are right on par with my tube amps. And I only paid $219.99 for the freakin’ thing!

Most solid state amps of old were fairly flat sounding and uninspiring hunks of junk (though I need to leave the Roland JC series out of that). But today? It’s a completely different story. Within the first few notes of playing with the Katana in the shop, I knew I was playing something special. I was expecting kind of a “toy” sound out of it. But what issued from the amp was simply magic. #blownaway

Even when I played the amp completely dry, the deep quality of the sound still remained. It didn’t become flat and lifeless. The sound still resonated and I was playing in a carpeted room with a low f-in’ ceiling! Look, I’ve been around gear for years and have literally reviewed thousands of guitars, amps, effects, and accessories in all sorts of different combinations. I’m not easily blown away because frankly, I’ve become quite jaded. But this amp completely changes my mind about solid state amps being inferior in both sound and dynamics compared to tube amps.

Am I going to scrap my tube amps? Absolutely not. Each amp has a particular voice that I may need when I record. So they will still be set up and still be used. I’ll even still gig with them.

But as far as voicing is concerned, what I like about the Katana is that at least to me, it seems that it isn’t an amp that was designed to emulate a tube amp platform like a Marshall or Fender. It has a sound all its own. What’s most important to me is that it possesses the tonal and dynamic characteristics I’ve come to expect out of a “good” amp. And I will just say it: This amp isn’t just “good enough;” it’s not a compromise. It’s just plain good.

Over the years, I’ve mellowed my perspective about gear. In my mind, if it sounds good and feels good, it is good, and the Katana fits that perfectly.

Here’s a Chappers demo of the amp:

I will be gigging with the amp in the coming week, and will follow this up with a full review!

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What I Look For in an Amp


Image from gearrank.com

I’ve got amps. Ten of them, in fact. Truth be told, I only play three with any regularity – though I’d play the fourth had I not burned out the transformer – but I still want another amp; specifically, I’m eyeing the new Fender Hot Rod V4 with its updated overdrive and tighter reverb. Frankly, I never really had too much of a problem with the original reverb, but when Fender mentioned that they made it a bit tighter, it made sense to me because I rarely set it past 2 or 3 because my sound would get “mushy.”


In any case, on thinking about evaluating the new Hot Rod, I asked myself the very question that I used to entitle this article: What do I really need from an amp, and what do look for with an amp that deems it “buyable?”

For me, the tone of an amp is not really an issue. After 48 years of playing guitar (shit – am I really that old?), my tone is my tone. With different amps, effects, guitars, etc., sure, I’m going to get different textures, but how I ultimately sound will sound like me. So I’m no longer chasing after gear that will help define my sound.

Given that, especially with amps, there are specific things I look for when evaluating one for purchase – or for plain review, for that matter. I’d thought I’d share these factors because they might be useful for anyone who is evaluating an amp. Granted, these are subjective evaluation points – I freely admit that – but as I’ve evaluated literally hundreds of amps over the years, I’ve found them to be useful and these features inform my decision to either buy or give an amp high ratings.

And note: I realize we all view the world through the lens of our own experience, so what I find valuable may not be at all what you look for, but I’ll share my thoughts just the same.

These aren’t in any particular order, but here goes:


Of particular interest to me is an amp’s clean tone. I was actually going to talk about clean headroom, but I realized that I have different amps set up for varying degrees of headroom. For my classic rock and church gigs, I use amps that are biased hot to break up relatively early. For my classic rock band, I always play a little dirty and for playing in church, I need the early breakup so I can get amp distortion at a lower volume since I have to play a lot lower in volume in that venue.

But one thing all my amps (at least the ones I gig with) have in common is this: The clean tone is thick; that is, the full EQ range, from low to high, is represented in the sound.

EQ Adjustability

Though I prefer a much thicker, richer clean tone, sometimes I want to roll off or boost the highs or cut out some of the lows. So an amp’s EQ responsiveness is important to me. With some amps, the EQ adjustments are so subtle as to be useless. But other than using EQ as an effect, it is important to me that I’m able to adjust an amp’s EQ so that the guitar I use it with sings properly. For instance, if use a Strat in front of one my Aracom amps, which are Plexi-style amps, they’re voiced high. So I always roll off the highs a bit with a Strat. On the other hand, with a Les Paul, I crank up the highs to compensate for the deep voicing of my Les Paul.

Dynamic Response

This is probably the most subjective area and probably means different things to different people. But to me, the dynamic response has to do with how the amp responds with varying levels of input gain; either from my guitar’s volume knob or with an overdrive or booster pedal and attack on the strings. When I set up an amp for performance, I always set it on the clean side of the edge of breakup, with my guitar’s volume knob(s) set at dead-center. This way, if I roll on the gain, the amp will break up. If I crank my gain, I should get some nice, smooth overdrive from my pre-amps. If I roll it all back or pick lighter, I expect the amp to settle down. But bear in mind, this is all relative. For me, I don’t like to play with oodles of distortion, but what I do want to be able to do is control my amp from my guitar. Of course, there are circumstances where I may have to make adjustments at the amp, but those should be few and far between.


Again, this is a subjective thing, but another thing I look for is how long an amp will “hold” a note before it tapers off. Some amps just die a quick death with this particular test. Pluck a note with no vibrato and see how long the note lasts. What I look for in this particular test is the nature of the tapering off. If it’s relatively long and smooth, that will appeal to me. But if I pluck a note and it stays at a certain level then suddenly drops off, that’s problematic for me. I’m not a fast player, so what I tend to do is try to squeeze as much sound out the notes I play. It helps if the sound doesn’t trail off quickly.

NOTE with this test – and to be fair – I crank the volume on the guitar to make sure as much signal gets to the amp as possible. It’s also best to do this test at a moderate volume as high volumes tend to blow your ears out. 🙂 At a lower volume, you’ll see just how fast the decay is.

Cabinet Construction

To me, the construction of a cabinet – its build quality as well as the materials – plays an important role in how it sounds. Granted, this is a minor factor relative to the other things I look at, but given the choice of two equally good-sounding amps, I will go with the amp that I feel has the better cabinet. Also, this really doesn’t apply to independent heads – I couldn’t care less what they’re housed in. First, I will look at the thickness of the walls. I prefer cabinet walls that are no more than 3/4″ thick; better if they’re 1/2″. Why? Thinner walls resonate better, which is also why I prefer solid pine or birch cabinets because you can get that thin with the wood without making too big a sacrifice with structural integrity. But irrespective of thickness, I still prefer solid wood over MDF. But let me say that while this is a consideration, I typically use it as “icing on the cake” rather than it being an absolute determining factor. If an amp sounds killer and hits all the marks on the other factors, I’ll get the amp or give it a high rating.

What About Tubes?

I don’t care. A great-sound and responsive amp is a great-sounding and responsive amp. Period. I know, tube amps have been all the rage for years. I went to tube amps exclusively for quite a long time. I can’t deny it: Twiddling with tubes and bias settings and all that hand-wired, point-to-point shit is cool. BUT I’ve always loved amps like the Roland JC-120, a foundation in both the blues and rock world (don’t forget that Satch recorded “Surfin’ with the Alien” with a JC-120). But now, there are some FANTASTIC amps made of solid-state components that simple rock the house. The Roland JC-40, Quilter amps, and hybrids like the DV Mark amps. These all sound incredible! I have a DV Mark Little 40. This is my go-to gigging amp with my classic rock band because of its versatility. I can shape the sound with this to make it sound like a Marshall or a Fender. It’s not the SAME sound, but close enough.

Usability Features

These are more “icing on the cake” things, but they can be important; especially if I’m evaluating an amp for a specific usage. But in general, I look for obvious usability items. These include easy-to-read labels. easily accessible auxiliary inputs/switches, usable knobs. For instance, when I’m playing acoustic guitar, I invariably use my SWR California Blonde. Great amp. I usually run the direct out from the amp into a board for sound reinforcement so I can keep my stage volume down. But the jack is positioned in such a way that I have to use a key or a knife to unlock the XLR when I’m done. All they had to do with turn the jack upside down and this wouldn’t be a problem. Something like this is not a deal-breaker, but a collection of these things can be so annoying as to make me feel as if the amp is unusable to the point that I wouldn’t buy it.

I know that these factors aren’t necessarily standard, but they’ve served me well over the years. I think the reason I went this route is that it’s easy to fall into the marketing crap and look at charts and graphs. They can certainly inform you of an amp’s capabilities, but in the end, you have to use an amp, and for me, the things I look at just can’t be measured by numbers. They have to be felt or heard.

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I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that question over the years, and my answer is pretty much the same: “It depends…” No, I’m not trying to be a dick, but it really does depend on what you’re after with your volume pedal.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because of a conversation I had yesterday with a friend and fellow guitarist. We were talking about amps and I mentioned how I set up my amp, with a particular emphasis on setting up my gain and volume on my amp. He asked me, “Why don’t you just put a volume pedal on your board?”

I told him I could do that, but I like to control my instrument volume from my guitar. He looked at me quizzically, and then it struck me that as a reggae player, he played almost entirely clean, so putting a volume pedal on his board would give him a volume bump. But then I shared with him that I couldn’t do that because of the way I set up my tube amps; that is, I set the volume to just at the edge of breakup on my amp so that when I turn up the volume on my guitar, I’ll go into overdrive, then clean up by turning the volume down. He was still a little puzzled at what I was talking about, so I gave him a crash course on tube amps (which I won’t go into here).

But that conversation sparked an idea to write about where to put a volume pedal in my signal chain and that then carried over into how it could be useful in various positions along my chain. So, given that, let me offer up some suggestions.

First, though, let’s go with the conventional wisdom of the general order of pedals on a board.

Distortion boxes (overdrive, fuzz, distortion) => Wah (I know, some people like them in front of dirt pedals) => Modulation pedals (Chorus, Flange, Vibe, etc) => Delay => Reverb.

I know, Delay and Reverb are modulation pedals, but it’s important to separate those out because they generally should be last in the chain. Also, I know that everyone has their preferred setup, but this is generally what you’ll find if you look it up.

So given that, where’s the best place to put a volume pedal?

  1. Put it in front of your distortion section to act like your guitar’s volume knob. This will push the front-end of your overdrive pedals and cause them to break up more (just like an amp).
  2. Put it at the back of your pedal board to provide an overall boost to your volume before the front-end of your amp. For tube amps, this could push your pre-amp tubes into overdrive. For solid-state or tube amps with tons of clean headroom, you’ll just get a volume boost.
  3. IF you have an effects loop, things can get interesting. 🙂 I actually run two pedal chains when I’m using my DV Mark Little 40. My dirt pedals go in front of my amp, while I place all my modulation pedals in the effects loop. If I were to use a volume pedal, it would be the very last pedal in my effects loop chain. The reason is that this would have a better effect on overall output volume, which is what I’m after, as it would act much like the master volume on my amp. This is also the place where I prefer to use a boost pedal as opposed to a volume pedal because all I’m after is a quick volume bump. And as long as I haven’t pushed my power tubes into saturation, I’ll get a few more dB of output volume which is great for playing solos. Note that this may even put my power tubes into saturation, and that’s not a bad thing.

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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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Yesterday, I had band rehearsal. But since I had a gig immediately after, I just brought my little ’58 Champ in a custom 1 X 10 cabinet to keep things simple. When I arrived, our drummer, whose house we use for practice, told me to take our lead singer’s normal spot as he was out of town. And sitting there was a Fender amp. I immediately said, “Since there’s already an amp there, I’ll just plug into that instead of setting up my rig, since it’ll be faster to get set up and strike down.”

At first, at a distance, I thought it was a Twin, but when I could see it closer, I saw that it was an Ultra Chorus. I had actually never heard of an Ultra Chorus and figured it was one of the cheaper solid state Fender amps. But I thought, Whatever. We’re just practicing and it’ll do…

So I just set up my EWS Little Brute Drive, plugged in my guitar and ran a cord to the amp, and flipped the amp’s switch to the “On” position. Immediately, I got a scratching sound because I was moving my hand on the fretboard. I forgot that with a solid state amp, you get sound – now. 🙂 But it also gave me pause because even though the volume knob was set to 4, the amp was loud; too loud even for practice and a full band, so I turned it down to 1.

I just started twiddling to get warmed up, and I just couldn’t help but notice just how good the amp sounded. I played it purely clean with a little reverb and a touch of chorus mixed into the sound. I was floored at the tone! My Les Paul sounded so deep and pure. I just closed my eyes and started playing some clean runs and chord progressions. The tone was dropping me into the zone!

Not really thinking about it, I started playing the opening riff to “Dock of the Bay,” just vamping on the G, then our bassist joined in, then the drummer picked it up. Our keyboard player took notice and she started playing, and then I just started going off with a clean solo for an intro, nodded to our singer, and she just opened up.

Throughout practice, I was doing runs and fills or playing under our singer, or adding little touches when I was singing. I was so inspired by the tone, I just went off. After finishing Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue,” our keyboard player commented that that was the best rendition we’d played, and then our drummer said he liked the guitar work. I immediately said, “You know, when I’m feeling inspired, I just get lost in the sound, and play my ass off. This amp totally reinforces why I want to get a Fender Twin. I’m tellin’ ya, I’m loving this sound right now.” That was met with simple smiles of agreement.

So… this amp is solid state! The tube amp purist in me says that it shouldn’t sound this good. But the realist in me believes in what Duke Ellington once said: If it sounds good, it IS good. Hell! I play through a solid state amp with my acoustic rig, and it sounds freakin’ killer! This is no different. This little gem of an amp is a cheap amp. In fact, you can pick one up for $200 online. I’m going to get one. Maybe today.

I’m still going to get the Twin Reverb – eventually. But for playing clean, and just putting an overdrive or distortion box in front of the amp, this’ll do. And before anyone scrunches up their nose about a solid state amp, consider this: A great guitarist that I know, Vinnie Smith, owner of V-Picks, gigs with an old Roland Cube 30 that he mics on stage! In fact, when he does demos, you never see the amp, but he plays through his Cube 30! So like I said, if it sounds good, it IS good!

About the amp

From what I could gather, this amp was made from 1992-1994. By 1995, Fender re-dubbed it the “Ultimate Chorus.” This is a 2 X 65W solid state amp. It has two foot-switchable channels, with built-in reverb and, of course, chorus, and two input jacks. You can play it stereo at 65W, or mono at 130W.

As I said, this amp is LOUD. For the entire practice, I didn’t play over 1 1/2! Granted, our drummer was playing with rods, and we had our practice volume pretty far down. But even at gig volumes, I doubt I’d put it over 4. Or, if I do get one, I’ll see if I could swap the pot out for something that has a bit smoother taper.

As far as the distortion is concerned, playing around, I set up the 2nd channel for distortion, but it gave me pretty much what I was expecting: A pretty compressed distortion sound that was not at all pleasing to my ears, not matter how much I twiddle the EQ knobs. But clean, this amp oozes that “Fender-clean” goodness. Add a little reverb grease, and a touch of chorus, and it’s a nice smooth sound.

Apparently, the amp is my bandmate’s son’s amp. He had the EQ set up scooped, and I kept it set like that for the most part, though I did turn the bass down a bit because my Les Paul has a naturally deep sound; especially with the neck pickup.

Sourcing the amp…

Finding one isn’t going to be easy. And even after that, it’s not going to be easy finding one that’s in good working condition. There are a couple of them on E-Bay for $300+. But they’re only rated in “good” condition and sold as-is. That’s a crap shoot. Guitar Center has one for $200 but the face plate is bent up on the left side, exposing a sharp corner that could cut. Not sure where that amp is located, but I might be able to get them to ship it to my local GC so I could inspect it.

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fender_drriI haven’t been this excited about some gear in a long time! Actually, I haven’t done all that much reviewing in awhile. Sure, I’ve done some little things here and there, but haven’t done an amp in a LONG time.

When I picked this up at my buddy Dave’s house yesterday (he was my right-hand man in my previous band), I remarked that I haven’t done any amp reviews in awhile, and that I’ll probably write a review of it since I’m testing it to see if I want to buy it from him. A large part of me not writing is that I haven’t been in a band for a year and a half, so my “need” for gear and subsequently my GAS has been seriously curtailed. He laughed, saying the same thing. Now that he’s in another band, he’s starting to buy gear again (actually, I’m jealous because he’s setting up his living room as a jam center).

He even showed me some pedals that I really need to check out, like the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb. OMG! Talk about gooey, wet ‘verb! I played that pedal with a Les Paul Custom, into a custom Aracom VRX18. Could’ve sworn I was playing through a Fender amp! Gorgeous!

What really excites me about this amp is getting it into its breakup zone. Fender amps are known for their clean headroom, so when I hook up my attenuator to this, I’m hoping it’ll be a revelation! We shall see… 🙂

So… GAS is in full flow right now! I’ll probably post a “First Impressions” article in the next couple of days. ROCK ON!

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Last week, after watching the video of George Benson describing the construction of his new Fender Twin Signature, I got that ol’ familiar feelin’ of GAS. I loved the sound of that amp, and as the new band I’m in plays mostly classic rock from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, I figured I’d be playing mostly clean, which just a touch of grit at times. While my Marshall-style amps from Aracom are absolutely awesome, I haven’t had a Fender amp in my lineup for awhile. That Twin Reverb seemed to me something worth checking out.

But then after a gig I did yesterday with members from my old church band, I was mentioning that Twin to my good buddy Dave, and how I just loved that clean sound. He pulled me aside and told me that he was going to be selling his Deluxe Reverb Limited Edition, and I could try it out first. SHIT! Instant GAS attack! I love that amp! Dave had brought it to church a few times in the past, and it’s sound is incredible! I played it with both a Strat and a Les Paul, and I just loved the creamy-smooth cleans that would issue forth from the amp. Such a sweet, sweet sound! I’m going to pick up the amp probably in the middle of the week, and I’m itching to play it; both in my man-cave and at my next band rehearsal.

In anticipation of playing it, I did a bit of research on this particular version of the Deluxe. What I didn’t realize was that as opposed to having a 75 Watt speaker, this amp sports a Jensen C-12K, which is rated at 40 Watt. Effectively, this means that beyond a certain volume setting, the speaker will break up more and not get too loud. For rock and roll, this is ideal, and what gets me excited about this amp.

That doesn’t mean that this amp is quiet by any means. Fender amps are LOUD. But that’s why attenuators exist, right? 🙂 Besides, I’ll probably only have to attenuate my volume for rehearsal, which is in a pretty small room. For gigs, I may even have to use an expansion cab to add more dispersal, but we’ll see. In any case, I’m excited about getting to know this amp. Could it be something I add to my stable? We’ll just have to wait and see…

On another note, looking back on this blog, having created it in January of 2007 – hard to believe that it’s nine years old – I realized that my GAS is directly related to how active I am with a band. The last year and half, I haven’t been in a band at all, having played mostly solo, and the times I’ve sat in on a band, the gear I’ve got totally sufficed. But now that I’m in a new band, with entirely new responsibilities, I’m finding that I’m getting GAS – AGAIN!

BUT, I also realized that my particular form of GAS is more practical in nature – if you can call GAS practical – and has been a response to filling “holes” in my rig or to satisfy a particular need. With this particular GAS attack, I’m looking to get a combo to gig with. With my old church band, lugging my gear to the church wasn’t a problem. We rehearsed and performed on the same day, I live literally 3 minutes from the church, so I’d just bring whatever I need for the set to church, hook it up, and was fine for the 5-6 hours I’d be there.

But with the new band, we rehearse at a band member’s house, then play in different venues, so the fewer pieces I have to carry, the better, and a combo just makes a lot more sense. So we’ll see how this test goes. I’m pretty excited!

Correction:  Oops! My bad! A reader pointed out that I specified the Jensen C-12K as the speaker for this amp. It’s actually a Jensen P12Q, which has an alnico magnet and rated at 40Watts.

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A good buddy sent this eBay auction to check out: http://www.ebay.com/itm/271149509473?_trksid=p5197.c0.m619. As of this writing, the bidding is up to $50k. Yikes!

I’ve played a Dumble ODS. The sound and dynamics are, in a word, magic, and I haven’t found anything in all the amps I’ve played since capture that magic. In the videos I made of the amp, I said that I think based upon playing it that it was worth the money.

But here’s the catch: while I think it is certainly worth the money, I’m not sure if my audience would be able to tell the difference. Up close and personal, the amp is absolutely incredible. But on a stage mixed in with a band? Not sure that playing a Dumble versus a Fuchs or Two Rock would make much of a difference. The only person who would be able to tell would be me. But if another amp inspires me while I’m playing, then having a Dumble wouldn’t make a difference in any case. I guess the point is that inspiration doesn’t have to cost fifty grand…

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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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There’s something about “Fender” and “high-gain” that seems like an oxymoron. Most people equate the Fender tone with lush cleans and open, low-gain overdrive. They’ve tried to break into the high-gain market in the past with the ProSonic and SuperSonic models, and they haven’t fared too badly, considering the likes of Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions uses a ProSonic. But it’s hard to break through an image, decades-long in the making.

To help “cut” (pun intended) through that image, Fender recently released the new Machete. This is a two-channel, 50 Watt, 1 X 12 combo that has the capability of producing the classic Fender cleans we all know and love, to some very high and over-the-top high-gain tones. Each channel has independent 3-band EQ. But there are other features that will help players dial in their tones such as an input pad switch for use with guitars with active pickups; a Notch control that changes the midrange point, and a Damper control to roll off highs.

All in all, this is a pretty smart offering from Fender. Here’s Fender’s official demo video:

It’s very cool-looking with that 60’s-70’s, black, retro styling. But it does cost around $1900. That’s actually not too bad of a price, but it’s not cheap either. That’s the other image thing with Fender. They’re known for inexpensive gear relative to their competition. I suppose if they’re competing against the boutique manufacturers, then they’re staying true to that practice. However, most popular boutique amps follow a more vintage path to tone.  I suppose they could be going after Soldano and Hughes & Kettner for high-gain.

No matter, it’ll be interesting to see how this amp fares in the market.

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