Posts Tagged ‘cabinets’

Tonic AmpsFane

I love living in the Silicon Valley. While it might not be considered a “destination” for music and culture like San Francisco, New York, Nashville, and Saint Louis, it is a destination for technology, and for decades has led the world in many of the technological advancements we enjoy today. Having lived in the Silicon Valley all my life, and watching it transform from a largely agrarian economy to the mecca of high-tech and venture capital, one thing has remained the same: The Silicon Valley has a certain magic about it that inspires innovation and invention.

So it is no surprise that there are several boutique amp manufacturers in the area. I’ve written about a couple in the past, namely Aracom Amps and King Amplification, but recently, I hooked up with Tonic Amps, located in Mountain View; less than 10 minutes from my home!

Darin Ellingson contacted me  last week, and invited me to come to his shop. While I knew he built amps, what I didn’t know until I did a bit of research is that Darin is Fane International’s North American distributor for Fane speakers! That got me really interested in Tonic – especially Darin’s cabs. Over the years, I’ve heard so much about Fane speakers, but have never had the chance to hear how they sound. And what great fortune that the North American distributor is 10 minutes away from my house!

In a nutshell, I played through three types of Fanes in 2 X 12 and 4 X 14 cabs: Studio 12L, AXA12, and Medusa 150. Plus, I got a sneak peak at some prototype Fanes Darin is having specially made. Through Tonic cabs, the Fanes sound drop-dead gorgeous! I hooked up three different amps to various Tonic Amps: A Reason Bambino, Aracom VRX18 (tube rectified), and a Tonic Torpedo. No matter what amp I played through, the Fanes sounded crisp, articulate and incredibly dynamic. Folks, this is the way to evaluate speakers. Frequency response charts are useful, but until you’ve got the speakers loaded into a cab, you will never know how they truly perform. Tonic cabinets are absolutely top-notch, and if you’re in the market for a great cabinet, you can’t go wrong with these. They’re all solid wood (no pressboard here), and the dimensions Darin has specified really bring out the best character of the Fane speakers.

What was my favorite? It’s a toss-up between the Medusa 150 and Darin’s prototype that he will hopefully bring into production soon. I love the scooped tones of the Medusa and the mid-ranginess of the prototype. Hmmm… can you say 2 X 12 cab with these in it? HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Dammit! Gave myself GAS again! It’s probably a good thing I can’t afford them right now – I will have to save my pennies. The speakers and cabinets don’t come cheap, but for this tonal quality, it’s worth every penny. You wouldn’t put a great speaker in a cheap cabinet… maybe… No, I won’t even get into that debate… 🙂

Torpedoes Away

Based upon the classic Trainwreck circuitry, the Torpedo is a pedal lover’s wet dream! I played the 50 Watt version, which is powered by a pair of EL-34’s! Folks, we’re talking clean headroom with this amp, with minimal breakup at the top end of the volume sweep. The tone is thick and rich and very well-balanced. I didn’t notice an overabundance in any part of the EQ range… well… it did have just the slightest amount of midrange, but that’s good though, because this amp’s tone will play nicely in a mix.

At any volume level, the amp sounds great, but its true character comes out when you dime the volume and play it through a 4 X 12 cabinet. Throw a couple of pedals in front of it (we used the British Ball Breaker and a prototype GeekDriver/GeekRanger pedal in front of the amp), and the amp’s tone combined with the 4 X 12 will knock you across the fuckin’ room! Can you say wicked overdrive that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? It was amazing to witness!!!

The “Torpedo” moniker is totally appropriate for this amp. It is meant to fire out a shot of gorgeous tone, blow you out of the water, and knock you into tone heaven! Even at the volumes we were playing at, this tone isn’t a face-peeling raucous. Granted, a lot of that quality had to do with the Fane speakers we were playing through, but just as with you not putting great speakers in a shitty cabinet well, you don’t play a great amp with shitty speakers either.

If you live in the Silicon Valley, I encourage you to contact Darin and check out his workshop. It’s set up for jamming, so bring an axe or two! Darin’s even got beer! Though next time I go to his shop, I’ll bring a 12 pack. BTW, he like Tecate. 🙂  For more information, check out the Tonic Amps web site! To get a reference for how great Tonic Amps sound, check out Darin’s YouTube site at: http://www.youtube.com/user/MrTonicAmps.

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Aracom Amps VRX22 - First in the series

Aracom Amps VRX22 and Aracom 1 X 12 Mini-cab

I know, I know… I’ve been singing the praises of this amp and cab for the last couple of months since I got them. But folks, what Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps has put together in the VRX22 is simply magic. I just can’t say enough about how much I love this amp. It doesn’t matter what guitar I plug into it, the VRX22 delivers the goods.

A New Option for the VRX22

I have the standard production model, the first in the series. In its stock mode, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I know there are some vintage gear and tube amp buffs out there that would frown upon the fact that the VRX series in stock configuration has a solid state rectifier. For me, it makes not a bit of difference; I just love the tone.

But for those that require a tube rectifier, Jeff also offers an option of a GZ34 or 5AR4 tube rectifier in place of the solid state rectifier. An A/B test didn’t reveal a tonal difference, but for the purists out there (and by no means do I mean this derisively), this is certainly an option, and a reason why you should consider this amp in your amp evaluations. And here’s another consideration: All Aracom Amps are hand-wired, and cost FAR LESS than equivalent amps. For instance, the VRX line in stock configuration costs $895! That’s unheard of in the boutique market!

Have a Cab, Will Travel

But on top of all that, the 1 X 12 mini-cab that Jeff custom built for me is simply magical as well. Jeff went against the common wisdom of not using a cube shape and porting and such, and built a simple cube shape with a width that exactly matches the width of the amp (about 19″ wide). Amazingly, this cabinet is incredibly resonant. The reason for this is that instead of using 3/4″ board, Jeff opted with 1/2″ board. This resonates a lot more with the speaker, and provides a bass response that adds depth to the output. Granted, I also have an absolutely kick-ass Jensen P12N Alnico speaker, but that cabinet even sounds good with just about any speaker you put in it. Like I said, amazing.

To further demonstrate the versatility of the VRX22 and the Aracom 1 X 12 mini-cab, I recorded a short blues clip using three different guitars, all running straight into the VRX22 with no effects. There are to overlapping rhythm parts panned left and right, and a solo in the middle. For the left pan, I used my gorgeous Prestige Heritage Elite (“Sugar”) plugged into the VRX22. For the right pan, I used my Strat (“Pearl”) plugged into my Fender Champ 600 and ran the speaker out into the 1 X 12 (I didn’t think the Champ could sound this good wow!). For the lead, I used “Sharkie,” my PRS SE II Soapbar with P-90’s in the bridge position straight into the VRX22.

Sorry for the slight mistake in the solo; or as my buddy Phil calls it, a “clam.” But overall, I was just amazed how good Sharkie sounded on that clip. I added a touch of reverb to that track, but made no modifications to the guitar signal at all. It was the guitar plugged straight into the amp.

As I’ve said in the past, I’m not affiliated at all with Aracom. I’m just a faithful customer, and just can’t sing the praises enough for the job Jeff has done!

For more information, visit the Aracom Amps web site!

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It seems like the answer to that question should be obvious, right? It’s important. But let’s take a step back for a moment, shall we and ask, “Why is a speaker important?” Again, on the surface there is an obvious answer: The speaker is what produces and projects your tone. But there’s so much more than that!

After I wrote my review of the Jensen P12N, I asked myself why I had never really written any speaker reviews, or why you don’t actually find that many speaker reviews out there relative to other sorts of gear. I alluded to that in my review – I’d suspect that the reason you don’t see too many reviews on speakers is because a speaker is considered a “part.” Let’s be honest, a speaker is just a noise-making device without a cabinet to provide some resonance. And that’s really the root of the problem in reviewing speakers.

You see, you can do all sorts of tests and analysis on speakers, as Ted Weber has. If you click this link, you’ll be taken to a directory listing of various HTML pages named after speaker models like, “c10q.htm.” Open up a few and you’ll see EQ charts for different kinds of speakers. It’s actually a pretty cool thing that could point you in a particular tonal direction. And if that’s not enough, here’s a great review from 10 years ago by GuitarPlayer mag that does a faceoff of 15 vintage speakers. Both of these have been especially helpful in pointing me in a direction of choosing a speaker – but they’re still not enough!

Until you drop that speaker into a cabinet, you’ll really never know how good -or- bad it sounds, and the cabinet you use plays a HUGE role in the speaker you choose. For instance, the Reason SM25 sports an Eminence Red Coat “The Governor,” which is a nice, midrange-priced ceramic speaker, that has a nice, bright presentation. In the SM25’s cabinet, it sounds absolutely sweet: Bright, but with a full midrange that really bolsters what could be a tinny tone. But I had a Governor put in a smaller cabinet that I was testing, ran the SM25 into the smaller cab to test the difference, and it sounded like shit!!! All the tonal complexity that the SM25’s taller and wider cabinet provided was completely lost in the smaller cabinet. And mind you, it wasn’t the cabinet. I had a Jensen P10R mounted in that same cabinet, and it was so musical and pleasing to the ears that I almost cried!

So you see what the crux of the problem in evaluating speakers is? That’s right: It’s the combination of speaker and cabinet that counts, not just the speaker alone. You can pore over schematics and graphs and various analyses, but in the end, until you put that speaker in a cabinet and listen to the combination, you really will never know how it truly performs. To put it another way, a great speaker in a cabinet that it’s not suited for will just sound bad.

So here are some words of advice if you’re speaker shopping:

  1. Find EQ graphs of the speaker you’re interested in, and look at its patterns. Do you want more midrange? Do you want a more scooped tone? Do you want a real even EQ response? This is step 1, and it’s important because it’ll point you in a tonal direction.
  2. Next, think about the cabinet you’re dropping the speaker into. One thing I’ve learned is that speakers need some room to breathe. Drop a 12″ speaker into a cabinet that’s more well-suited for a 10″ speaker, and chances are that you won’t like the sound. A big speaker in a small cabinet simply projects sound and doesn’t resonate to provide more tonal richness.
  3. The thickness of the wood in cabinet plays an important role as well. I like 1/2″ ply or board myself because it resonates well. 3/4″ works as long as the cabinet it big enough to allow for some vibration. I recently tried out a prototype cabinet with a 12″ speaker that was constructed of 3/4″ board. I forget what the dimensions were, but the enclosure was not much bigger than the speaker itself. So not only did the speaker not have much room to breathe, but the thickness of the wood prevented much resonance. The resultant tone was dry – very dry.
  4. Finally, try out a bunch of speakers. But make sure they’re in cabinets! If the place you’re evaluating speakers at doesn’t have this capability, you’re only at step 1.

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I learned a really important lesson yesterday while I was recording some ideas in my studio: Where you place your amp; specifically, the speaker cabinet is very important. I never placed too much thought into this until I got my new amp. I had always had combos, and they just sat on the floor, so I never noticed the difference between having the amp on the floor and elevating it. But with my new amp, an Aracom VRX22, I got it as a separate head and 1 X 12 combo. Last night, I put the cabinet on top of a couple of PA speakers to prop it up, and I couldn’t believe how bright it sounded. Then I remembered Jeff saying that the bass response would be way better with the cab on the floor. He wasn’t kidding! Later this evening I’ll have some sound samples to prove the point.

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Blues Jack 112 - Studio

Blues Jack 112 - Studio

Recognize the cabinet? It looks an aweful lot like a Reason Amps cabinet, doesn’t it? That’s because the one of the founders of Reason Amp, Anthony Bonadio, also owns a cabinet making company called Stage Craft Gear, a not very widely known cabinet maker – at least among consumers. They’ve actually made their start as an OEM cabinet supplier for a lot of amp companies through their parent company, Rhyme Musical Enclosures LLC. But as an OEM, they don’t get their logo on the cabs, and believe me, there are some heavy hitters who use their stuff.

In any case, they’re launching a brand new site at http://www.stagecraftgear.com – very soon – like today or the next! I’ve seen the look of the new site, and it totally kicks the shit out of the old one! Their designers did a great job!

Get a Free Cabinet!!!

I don’t have all the details around this, but Anthony did tell me about a cabinet giveaway that they’re having. You’ll have to go to the site and sign up. I only saw some sub-pages when I went to the site that have the new look, and the home page hadn’t been updated yet – I imagine the giveaway ad will be there.

Okay, let’s get down to business…

Yeah, it’s great that Stage Craft Gear has a new site, and even better that they’re giving one away (I hope I’m the lucky winner 🙂 ), but that’s just airy-fairy stuff, in my opinion. What’s really important about Stage Craft Gear is the fact that they make the cabs for Reason Amps. It’s amazing how you read a lot about amps, but IMO, there’s just not enough attention paid to the cabinet. It’s the resonance chamber for the speaker, for chrissake! And it can make or break an amps’s sound!

My personal experience with the SM25 112 Combo is that it’s sound is “open.” It’s not a tight-sounding amp at all, which is a really good thing when you’re on stage, and a lot of that has to do with the cabinet. It’s tall, and not very deep, but it projects a gorgeous, bright tone that really complements the big sound that comes out of the standard Eminence Governor that’s installed in the cab. The Governor works AWESOME in that cabinet. On the other hand, I used a Governor in a deeper, heftier cabinet (made by another manufacturer), and it sounded like shit! Way too tight, and high-mid to high-freq tones were really subdued.

The point to this is that my experience with a single Stage Craft cabinet leads me to believe that these guys make very special cabinets. It’s no surprise that several boutique amp manufacturers use them. They kick ass!

Ensuing Cab Review

I’m going to be reviewing a cabinet from Stage Craft really soon. Check back here. If my previous experience is any indicator, this cab promises to be very special. Stay tuned!

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