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Posts Tagged ‘aracom amps’

I did a “What is it about…” regarding the tone of a 100-Watt amplifier recently, and while I’m now hooked on higher-wattage amps, and will probably sell off a few of my low wattage amps, I’ve got some other lower-wattage amps – namely, my Aracom amps – that I will never part with because of their insanely fantastic tone and dynamics. While not nearly as beefy-sounding or -feeling as a 100 Watt amp, they just ooze great tone, and when cranked to the hilt, just sustain for days!

For instance, this morning I played a church service at my kids’ school and had two of my fellow church band members to play a power trio. Since we didn’t have a lot of room (the 5th grade class shares our normal band space), I just brought my Aracom PLX18 BB Trem combo with me so I wouldn’t have to hook up a cab. This amp is based upon the popular Marshall 18-Watt Plexi circuit, which is absolutely simple, as all vintage Plexi circuits were. It has a single gain stage that feeds into an EQ (and on the PLX, it’s a single tone knob to bleed off highs), then straight into the power amp. I believe it’s this simplicity that gives the amp and its Marshall ancestors such pure tone.

With their single gain stage, obviously amps of this ilk will not do over-the-top overdrive, and have to be cranked (as in dimed) to deliver any overdrive. But when they do deliver it, it’s smooth as silk and incredibly dynamic and articulate. This has always been my experience with Plexi-style amps, be they 100 Watts or 18 Watts. For my own PLX, as I said, it may not have the beefy tone that a 100 Watt version may offer, but that smooth overdrive and dynamicism is all present.

Anyway, I set up my rig this morning and I warmed up the amp. Then I plugged in my Gibson 2009 Limited Run Nighthawk, and started playing some warm-up scales. I hadn’t played my PLX for awhile, and running through my warm-up, I was reminded about how damn good that amp sounds! As Jeff Aragaki (Aracom’s owner) puts it, “It doesn’t matter what wattage the amp is. You just know a great amp when you play and hear it. And Marshall got that circuit right.” At least to me, Jeff couldn’t be more right. The PLX is pretty much an exact copy of the classic 18 Watt Plexi circuit (with some slight mods that Jeff has made), and that amp was made to be hit hard. When you do that, you’re rewarded with a tone that, at least to me, is other-worldly! If you’re looking a great Plexi-style amp, this is an amp you have to check out!

Here’s a little treat. Gene Baker of B3 Guitars recorded a great clip that demonstrates the PLX18’s wonderful crunch tone. Check it out:

Over the years, I’ve tried and tested a lot of different amps, and several that cop Marshall designs. No doubt, there are some great amps out there, but Jeff at Aracom really “gets it” with respect to vintage Marshall-esque amps. The cool thing is that instead of making an exact replica of the circuits as many amp builders do, Jeff sees where he feels the designs may be weak, makes corrections or improvements, or creates new amps altogether from the base. For instance, my VRX22 started out as a Plexi 18, but Jeff wanted to add more gain with the second channel, so he added another gain stage that acts as a tube overdrive that’s always on, went from EL84’s to 6V6’s, and what he came up with is an absolutely superb amp that has vintage-style Marshall dynamics, but a sound all its own.

For more information, please visit the Aracom Amps site!

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Like any gear freak, I’ve got tons of gear. Just check out the “My Rig” page, andย  you’ll see what I mean. I use it all. Now while I rotate my usage of guitars, I use all my amps in the studio. But when playing out, I almost invariably go with a specific type of setup: A humbucker guitar through a vintage-Marshall-style amp; and lately and more specifically, a Les Paul through a Marshall-style amp. That tone simply speaks to me. Clean or dirty, it’s what I almost always go to in a live situation.

At my church gig yesterday, I brought along one of my favorite amps: My Aracom PLX18-BB Trem, which is a “Bluesbreaker” style 18 Watt Plexi clone with two channels and no master volume. With that amp, I usually play in the Bright channel, which is a clone of the Plexi circuitry. This is a simple channel with just one volume and one tone knob. I love this channel! I usually have the volume dimed, with the tone at about 3pm, then control the amount of breakup with my guitar’s volume knob and/or pick attack. That amp just oozes Plexi goodness, and is so incredibly dynamic. The EZ81 rectifier provides just the right amount of sag, where even with the amp dimed to the hilt, it never turns soupy or mushy due to sag. I also loaded it with NOS ’59 GE 12AX7’s in V1 and V2, then have a 60’s JAN Philips 12AT7 in V3. To compensate for the overall brightness of the amp, I loaded a kick-ass Fane Medusa 150 to bring out the bottom end. The net result is that this amp sounds A LOT bigger than its 18 Watts may imply.

Then take all that Plexi goodness and combine it with a Les Paul, and to me, that’s a recipe for rock-and-roll! ๐Ÿ™‚

It took me several years to get my “Go-To” tone, which accounts for the gear that I’ve got from my explorations; not that I’d get rid of much of it because in the studio, having lots of gear to get different sounds is important, but for me, when I’m playing out, it’s the Les Paul/Plexi combo all the way. To my ears, there’s simply nothing like the tone that that combination produces!

So what produces your “Go-To” tone?

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Aracom Amps VRX22 - First in the series

The Aracom VRX22 has been my primary amp for quite some time now – almost 2 years – and I’m still discovering the beauty of this wonder 22 Watt amp. It’s no small wonder that it has been my “Go-To” amp since I’ve gotten it. It sounds so killer both clean and dirty, and tonight, I realized just how great it is with pedals!

Since I’ve had the VRX22, I haven’t been using my overdrive pedals as much. I know, I used to be a real nut about overdrive pedals, and I have several. But this afternoon, I reconfigured my board, and placed my favorite drive pedals on it with the intention of using them. This included my Doodad Guitars Overdrive/Booster, Tone Freak Abunai 2, and my KASHA overdrive.

For my gig, I set the amp up in the clean channel, with the volume at a level where I’d have to dig in a bit with my Les Paul to get some grind. This would leave me with lots of headroom to work with, and not break into overdrive so early that all I get is more overdrive, and not volume.

Then I tweaked the overdrive pedals so I’d get different characters of overdrive, depending upon what I was after. I set the Doodad up for Tube Screamer like overdrive, at just over unity gain, but with the drive knocked up a bit so I’d get lots of sustain. I set the Kasha on “Classic” at just above unity gain for a more biting, trebly tone. Then I set up the Abunai 2 for a more thick, compressed overdrive.

The one thing I love about overdrive pedals is that as opposed to providing all the distortion as with a distortion pedal, they are meant to interact with the amp so what you get is a combination of distortion characteristics from both the pedal and the amp. This combination doesn’t always work so well. I’ve played many amps and some just want to overdrive by themselves. Using an overdrive pedal with those amps just muddies the tone. It’s not pretty.

Not so with the VRX22. I’ve thrown all sorts of pedals at it, and it handles them all without a hitch. It’s especially good with overdrive pedals, and in my gig, I just kept smiling because it sounded so damn great with them! And with second channel on the VRX22 that has another gain stage that acts as a built-in overdrive, I had yet another overdrive voicing to use, and I used all four either individually, or in many cases, I’d stack two or more together. And that’s a key thing with the VRX22. It can deal very well with stacked overdrives, retaining its touch sensitivity and note separation. Other amps I’ve used when stacking just can’t deal with the stacked overdrives very well.

In any case, this kick-ass amp is something you should consider. At $895, it’s simply tough to beat for a true hand-wired, boutique amp. And for those of you who already have Jeff’s PRX150-Pro or -DAG attenuator, you already know the build quality that goes into Aracom gear. It’s simply killer!

For more information on this wonderful amp, check out the VRX22 product page at Aracom’s web site!

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When you’ve got a guy like Lance Keltner singing the praises of your equipment and calling you a genius to boot, you must be doing something right. Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps is someone I’ve been praising for quite awhile, and I’m glad he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves.

As far as the DAG unit is concerned, that’s available exclusively through Destroy All Guitars. I’ve played through one of those units myself, and the high-cut filter works great, and definitely takes the edge off, without throwing a blanket over your tone and dynamics like many attenuators do that include one. If you have an amp that outputs lots of highs when cranked – or somehow hear high-frequency transients –ย  then the DAG unit is the way to go.

Coming up…

While Jeff has gained lots of popularity with his attenuators, often overlooked are his wonderful amplifiers of which I have three. In the next couple of days, I will be getting a 50 Watt Evolver to test out in my studio. I’m so excited! I’ve played through an Evolver at Jeff’s workshop and that amp has tons of balls! It’s definitely Marshall-esque, but with Jeff’s particular twists. I’m excited to be getting this unit for a full test!

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…of Aracom Amplifiers. Let me tell you why:

  • Jeff is super-smart, and makes incredible devices like the PRX150-Pro.
  • Jeff’s amps are to die for. If you’re looking for anyone who “gets” the Marshall vibe, it’s Jeff. I have three of his amps, and am waiting for his upcoming JTM-45. I’ve played the prototype, which has period-correct components, down to original mustard caps, and that amp just oozes vintage Marshall goodness.
  • Jeff is a gear freak like myself; but not just any gear. He’s nutso for vintage Les Pauls and Les Paul Jr.’s – he has many.

And the last point is the problem: Because of Jeff, I’ve gotten totally hooked on Les Pauls and Les Paul-style guitars! Take, for instance, this guitar below:

Jeff dropped off this guitar at my house yesterday for me to evaluate. It’s a gorgeous, relicked ’59 Les Paul replica that has been meticulously copied by a master luthier, using old wood and proper hardware. Even the glue used is the same as the original, and the lacquer finish is not a plasticized lacquer – it’s the real deal. It doesn’t have original PAF’s, but the pickups have been wound to original output specs. The guitar’s original owner sourced the wood from a distributor specializing in high-end furniture and guitar wood, had a master luthier shape it, then sent the guitar to RS Guitar Works for finishing, and they confirmed their work with a certificate (apparently, they’re one of the best in the business for doing conversions and replica finishing). The net result? According to Jeff, this is about as close as you can get to the real deal without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars (the “cheapest” one I’ve ever seen was a slightly modded one for $275,000).

After playing with it for a couple of hours yesterday, I’m now REALLY hooked! I personally don’t know what a real ’59 sounds like, but I’ve done some research on what to expect with respect to response, dynamics, and tone. Mind you, I’m not a cork-sniffer, but all I know is that this puppy sustains for days, and the wonderful bloom that ensues from holding a note due to the resonance of the tone woods is ever-present. As for the tone, it’s absolutely gorgeous! Heavy on the upper-mids without being biting, with inspiring cleans and smooth drive.

The neck has also been “pleked” so it’s an absolute dream to play! I didn’t have to spend much time at all familiarizing myself with it. No wonder ’59’s are so highly sought-after! These were special guitars, and this replica captures everything I was expecting to feel and hear!

Circling back to why I wish I never met Jeff Aragaki, that guy gets me gassing for gear! ALL THE DAMN TIME!!! As I mentioned above, I’m hooked on vintage and vintage-style Les Paul’s because of him!

As if Jeff’s Les Paul obsession is bad enough, as I said, Jeff’s amps are to die for! He is so talented! I haven’t played an Aracom amp that I haven’t absolutely loved. And being that I get to try out all his new designs, all I can say is that this dude knows his stuff about amplifier technology and electronics! His amps rock!

With respect to his electronics genius, just look at the PRX15-Pro attenuator. Jeff has employed technology that NO ONE has employed. Other manufacturers may brag about their products and how they may have spent years working on their designs. I won’t take that away from them, but they just modified existing designs. Jeff discovered a completely different way to attenuate, and it’s no small wonder that players like Joe Satriani and Doug Doppler love this device!

Actually, I’m very glad I’ve befriended Jeff. He’s also just an all-around great guy. He’s incredibly humble and self-effacing, and his warmth and friendliness just draw you in. I guess I have to chalk up my GAS to lack of self-control. But with a friend like Jeff, it’s hard to control it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The venerable “Destroy All Guitars” shop has teamed up with Aracom Amplifiers to come up with a new version of the fantastic Aracom PRX150-Pro. Sporting a smaller cabinet (sorry, not reduced weight), and a couple of very cool new features, the $785 PRX150-DAG is the answer to anyone who wants to go to the extreme in transparent power attenuation.

Here are the features:

* Proprietary SRT Power Attenuation Technology
* Six levels of step attenuation, plus a continuously variable attenuation control (bedroom mode)
* 40dB of attenuation–attenuates 150 watts down to .015 watt
* 150 watt power rating
* Independent input and output impedance selector switches:
– from the amplifier and into the attenuator, select from: 2, 4, 8, 16 ohm
– from the attenuator and to the speaker cabinet(s), select from: 2, 4, 8, 16 ohm
– uniquely allows 16 possible Input and Output impedance combinations
* Hi Frequency Cut Filter with a True Bypass Switch
* Features a Load setting and is equipped with a Line Out Jack and Line Out Level Control
* Rack Mount Option
* Handwired in the USA

The two notable features are the Hi-Cut Filter, and the increased attenuation down to -40dB attenuation. With respect to the high-cut filter, some people had mentioned that they heard a high-frequency artifact coming through when they hooked up the original PRX150-Pro. I myself have never heard it, though I suppose anything’s possible. In Jeff Aragaki’s (of Aracom Amps) words:

The PRX150-DAG is equipped with a High Frequency Cut switch, that rolls off the highs above 6KHz, that some users might find useful with amplifiers that have a pronounced high end frequency response. Some guitarists go to great lengths to control the high end response of their amplifier, by carefully selecting speakers, tubes, and other components to roll off the highs. Now with the PRX150-DAG, a guitarist might not need to rely on changing these components; the high cut filter switch allows the flexibility of rolling off the high end or not. The true bypass switch allows the filter to be completely bypassed, providing the full frequency response of the attenuated amplifier to pass through to the speakers.

The other great feature is the Min/Max variable attenuation modes Jeff has introduced. Minimum attenuation mode is the traditional -16dB down to about -30dB variable attenuation, whereas the Maximum variable attenuation mode goes from -27dB to -40dB. With a 100 Watt amp, that’s taking down the output power to .015 Watt!!! Wanna have full dynamic response at bedroom levels with your 100 Watt amp? Look no further!

The Aracom-DAG PRX150-DAG is available exclusively through Destroy All Guitars. Check it out!

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I’ve always had an appreciation for vintage gear, though the most “vintage” that I’ve ever gone is purchasing several sets of NOS tubes over the years. And quite frankly, though I’ve appreciated vintage gear in general, I’ve never been compelled to be a vintage gear collector as I’m an active musician who uses his stuff all the time.

But despite that, I have wanted to get an 50’s tweed Champ for quite awhile. I love small, low-powered amps, and the tweed Champ from the 50’s has been on my list to get for quite some time. After all, that little amp has been used in studios around the world for recording hundreds, if not thousands of Rock ‘N Roll songs.

My only problem with ever getting a tweed Champ was that I didn’t want to spend upwards of $1500 for a mint-condition unit, which is what these puppies go for. And since I’d use it as a player, I’d have to make modifications to it as soon as I got it to make it safe and usable with different cabinets; thus immediately reducing its value.

But luckily there are tweed Champs out there that aren’t in pristine shape, and they’re low enough in cost to warrant consideration. My criteria was that the amp had to work. Period. As long as it did, I wouldn’t have to do too much once I got it. So I found a ’58 Tweed Champ on eBay for a decent price that was missing the back plate, but was still in great working condition, so I purchased it, knowing I’d have to do some mods to make it safe, plus add some longevity to it.

Right now, it’s on transit here, and should arrive tomorrow – I’m so excited! But I will not plug it in until I have a few things done to it, that my good friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps will be doing:

  1. First of all, it still has the original two-prong plug. Jeff will install a three-prong grounded plug in it – I’m probably going to go with medical grade on this just to be extra-safe.
  2. It was clear from the pictures that a couple of the original capacitors had leaked a little, so they will be replaced with Sprague caps.
  3. The speaker is also hard-soldered to the amp output, so I’m having Jeff install a 1/4″ female jack so I can use different cabinets with the amp.
  4. Finally, Jeff will create a simple backplate to provide some protection to the electronic components.

All of these “mods” will be reversible, so at least I can retain some value in the amp should I ever sell it. However, I probably will keep this amp forever. I don’t even have it yet, and it still holds some nostalgic value for me. Can’t wait until it arrives!

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I’ve never hid from the fact that I own Aracom gear, and as I’ve said in My Rig page, I’m a faithful customer who just digs the stuff that Jeff Aragaki, Aracom’s founder, comes up with. I’ve extolled the wonders of his attenuator, the PRX150-Pro, and I’ve mentioned my Aracom amps, the VRX18, VRX22, and PLX18BB several times.

One thing I’ve learned over the years with respect to gear is that you go with what works for you, and my Aracom gear simply works for me! In fact, my Aracom equipment has had a lot to do with me using less pedals, and relying on the raw sound of my guitar and amps; especially when I’m playing straight rock and roll.

I have yet to play a bad-sounding Aracom amp. When they’re cranked to the hilt, they have such an incredible mojo that’s just too hard to describe. Of course, I couldn’t crank them without the PRX150-Pro attenuator. No matter, there’s magic in Jeff’s creations! To demonstrate this magic, I’m going to share an excerpt from a song that I’m working on. I just finished laying down the instrument parts. Give it a listen:

The rhythm part is played with my Squier CV Tele in the middle switch position, and running straight into Channel 2 of the PLX18BB, which was cranked up all the way. Talk about cranked Marshall-esque tones! It sounds even better live! The lead was recorded with my Gibson Nighthawk 2009 into my VRX22. Master was at 3pm and Volume was at 2pm. This setting gives me a sweet, singing lead voicing that sustains for days due to the awesome solid-state sag circuit! Again, the guitar was plugged straight into the amp – no frills whatsoever. I did add some reverb to both parts, but other than that, that the raw sound of the guitars/amps with no EQ. Pretty killer tones!!!

To top it off, both parts were recorded at bedroom level as both amps ran into the PRX150-Pro! We’re talking conversation level, so if you heard some transient clicks in the clip, it’s stuff that was making noise in my garage/studio!

You gotta check this stuff out. Jeff is a true wizard with amps! Both the VRX amps start at $895, while the PLX18BB combo starts at $1750 ($1350 for the head only). If you’re after vintage Marshall tone at a non-vintage price, you owe it to yourself to check out these amps!

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The Aracom PRX150-Pro to be exact. I’ve actually known about this for awhile, but Jeff Aragaki, owner of Aracom Amps asked me not to say anything until someone else had mentioned it. Jeff told me the news right after Joe purchased it, but I respected Jeff’s wishes to wait to mention it. So I did. And none other than Doug Doppler, guitarist extraordinaire and author of “Get Killer Tone,” happened to mention it in a thread on the The Gear Page recently about how Joe had told him about the unit. So the cat’s out of the bag! Joe Satriani is a proud owner of a PRX150-Pro, and his words to Jeff were “Great unit. I like it a lot.”

That’s about all the information I know other than how he raved about it to Doug who, in turn, contacted Jeff to get a unit; and since he got it, Doug has been raving about it on The Gear Page, and will be featuring it in his DVD.

This is not so much a plug for the PRX150-Pro as it is meant to underscore that even guitar heroes like Satch see the virtues of using an attenuator. Speaker breakup aside, some amps just don’t hit their sweet spot until they’re cranked up and played wide open. Unfortunately, the volume level at that point is too high to be comfortable for most human ears. With an attenuator – and a great one in the PRX150-Pro – players can crank their amps to their sweet spot, and not worry that their ears are going to bleed.

I know, there are several people who eschew attenuators as being tone suckers. But the new breed of attenuators such as the Aracom PRX150-Pro are so much more transparent than the older attenuators on the market; and yes, they are particularly more expensive than their older counterparts, but how much is great tone worth? We gear sluts think nothing about spending a few hundred bucks on a pedal. For what a great attenuator gives you, it’s totally worth the investment.

For more information on the Aracom PRX150-Pro, go to the PRX150-Pro product page!

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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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