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Posts Tagged ‘Dv mark’

vrxAt my church gig yesterday, I chose a set that guaranteed that I’d get to play LOTS of guitar. Normally, I have to split my time between piano and guitar, especially when we don’t have a drummer or bass. Thus, for the past few weeks, since either our drummer or bassist has been out of town, I’ve only been bringing an acoustic guitar, and playing it for only a couple of tunes.

However, yesterday was different. Not only did we have a bassist, we had a guest drummer, which meant that I could stay on guitar most of the time since we also had another rhythm guitar.

I debated with myself on what amp/guitar combo I’d bring. Normally it would be my DV Mark Little 40 which is VERY versatile, but after looking at the set list, I figured I needed a bright, vintage Marshall sound. So I took my trusty Aracom VRX22 off the shelf, packed up my rig in my car, and set off to church.

Once I had everything set up, I strummed a power chord and was greeted with a sound that only a Les Paul Standard and a Marshall amp (or Marshall-style in my case), can make. There’s a high-Mid emphasis with a gorgeous, open overdrive. It’s a sound I’ve come to love over the years, and it immediately tells me it’s “rock and roll.”

My particular VRX22 has been modded a bit by Jeff Aragaki with a channel switch, and he also slightly upped the voltage to my vintage circa-1959 6V6’s, plus adjusted the drive channel to have a bit more output. So when I crank the amp, it sounds A LOT bigger than its 22 Watts would lead to you to believe. 🙂

But thinking back on the set, no other amp would’ve done – even my DV Mark Little 40. The music demanded a Marshall-esque sound. While my DV Mark can get close, there’s a certain inexplicable quality that I was after that would be difficult to capture with another amp.

That said, when I’m doing a mixed-bag set, I go for versatility, and the DV Mark is perfectly suited for that. But for a specific sound, I’ll go to the source: Either a Fender or a Marshall. Sometimes nothing else will do…

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As a Web UI Engineer – not to be confused with a designer – my job is to craft great web sites, and though web engineering doesn’t involve itself in the artistic side of web development process, an integral part of the job is ensuring that the user experience and application flow makes sense, and that the artwork doesn’t get in the way of the user. That said, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a strong sense of aesthetics, I do, but my focus is on engineering a great user experience.

From that perspective, for years I’ve been following the guidance in Steve Krug’s book, “Don’t Make Me Think,” in which he shows example after example of great user experience and posits that the best interfaces are ones which are so self-revealing in how to use them that they don’t require the user to think about what to do; or at least limit the amount of thinking the user has to do to use the interface.

So what does this particular subject have to do with guitar gear? Actually lots. Gear manufacturers large and small could learn quite a bit from reading this book. Control interfaces on some amps are so confusing that it makes it extremely difficult to dial in a great tone, and it takes hours to get a feel for them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because part of the fun of playing around with a new amp is learning its various functions. But sometimes it can be downright frustrating.

One manufacturer that I think “gets it” is Hughes and Kettner. Though I don’t own any of their amps, I’ve looked at their control interfaces on their various amps, and it’s easy to figure out. If you look at the HK Switchblade and click on the magnifying glass to view the details, you’ll see what I mean. This is a very sophisticated amp with lots of different features, but they’ve kept the control interface very simple and streamline. That kind of simplicity speaks to me.

Another manufacturer who “gets it” is DV Mark. The Little 40 is a lesson in “don’t make me think.” The control interface is very simple and straight-forward, but one place where this little amp shines is in swapping power tubes. A feature that sold me was the power tube auto-bias. This amp automatically biases and matches power tubes on a continuous basis to ensure that the power tubes operate at their optimal level as long as the power tubes are matched within 10% of each other. I DIG THIS FEATURE. It means that as long as I buy reasonably matched tubes, I can swap them out at any time, and not have to bias them myself; no chance for operator error!

For instance, last week during my church gig, I noticed that the amp was sounding really harsh, and when I cranked the amp up, it occasionally stuttered. So after the gig, I tapped on the power tubes with thin kabob stick, and sure enough one of them was microphonic. So this morning, I took the cover off the amp and swapped out the EL34’s for a pair of awesome Groove Tube 6L6’s which are new production tubes made from NOS parts. I was purely overjoyed that I didn’t have to bias the tubes myself, and that the amp just does it. Talk about not making me think! This was a dream come true!

To some, this might be a trivial matter, but admittedly, I’m deathly afraid of screwing around with electronic components and screwing things up. An amp the Little 40 makes tube maintenance absolutely idiot-proof. But on top of that, the amp sounds killer, so needless to say, I’m a happy customer!

NOS Does Matter

While I had the cover open, I also decided to swap out the JJ 12AX7’s, with a couple of spare NOS 12AX7’s. I put in a 50’s Bugle Boy and a 1959 RCA 12AX7. oh… My… GAWD!!!! Combined with the GT 6L6’s, the tone of the amp is incredible, with subtle overtones and harmonics that the other tubes didn’t have. When I first put all the tubes in, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But I confirmed this by swapping out all the tubes twice!

The fundamental tone of the amp with the NOS tubes is basically the same, though the 6L6’s do provide for a bit more headroom as they don’t break up quite as early as the stock EL34’s; plus they don’t seem to compress as much. The preamp tubes really smooth out the front-end breakup, but they also have so much more sonic content – especially in the high frequency range. And when those 6L6’s saturate, the tone becomes almost cello-like. I’m flippin’ out!

There is something to be said about NOS tubes. Unlike other things like power or speaker cords that to me are essentially snake oil, at least to me NOS tubes provide a marked difference in tone. All my amps have NOS tubes in them – though I’ve kept the JJ EL84’s in my Aracom PLX18 because they actually sound better to me than NOS EL84’s. One thing that seems to be an earmark with NOS tubes is the smoothness of their breakup. I think that smoothness comes from the higher amount of sonic content that they produce. Especially with preamp tubes, I’ve found new production preamp tubes to be harsh a bit on the harsh side in comparison.

Mind you, NOS tubes don’t come cheap. But to me, they’re a solid investment in your tone.

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Had a great time with the Little 40 this evening at my weekly church gig. I set the amp to full clean-headroom on the Continuous Power Control, cranked the master, then set the gain to a little before the edge of breakup so that a normal, light strum would still be fairly clean with the volume knobs on my R8 both set to halfway. Of course, at that setting, I had to use my attenuator because while it would work just fine in a club, it would be way too loud for church. But that’s okay because the amp retained all of its dynamics and tone.

Also, with the way I set up the amp, I could strum lightly or play fingerstyle and be clean, then get a nice overdrive by digging into the strings a bit. Then I could get into overdrive completely by rolling on either of the volume knobs on my guitar. Then for leads, I used a footswitch to activate the boost which saturates the power tubes by hitting the amp with 10dB of gain. Like my Aracom amps (and vintage Marshalls, for that matter), when the power tubes saturate, lots of sonic goodness occurs. The signal compresses – with the Little 40, it’s not too much, but the sound definitely “feels” a bit beefier – but more importantly, you get very nice sustain and these subtle harmonics and overtones get added into the signal that are total ear candy!

Once I set up the amp, I didn’t have to do any tweaking. My guitar was my control center, which is how I like it. But it does require that an amp be extremely responsive to dynamics, both from a playing perspective and from volume knob adjustments. It delivered all that in spades!

Here’s another extremely important tidbit that I hadn’t mentioned yet: The amp weighs just under 16 pounds! Dammit! That’s lighter than my attenuator! This is something that Marco De Virgiliis (DV Mark’s designer/owner) is known for in the bass world. For instance, my bassist uses a Mark Bass Little Mark II as his go-to bass amp head. That amp produces BIG sound, and it weighs less than 6 1/2 pounds! The Little 40 and its smaller and larger brethren follow the same pattern.

To top all that off, the amp looked so damn cool as DV Mark installed orange LEDs on the board that you can see through the amp grille-work. I tend to be fairly utilitarian about gear, not really putting too much stock on looks, but not only does this amp sound and play killer, it looks great on stage!

And speaking of stage, I actually did two gigs with the Little 40 today. The first gig was a mother-daughter church service at a local high school. Since there were lots of people attending, the service was held in the performing arts center, so I was up on stage. Before the gig, I had to run home really quick to pick up some sheet music that I left in my printer. When I returned, I looked at the amp on stage from the back of the theatre, and just smiled when I saw the extremely cool orange glow emanating from the amp. It was TOTALLY SICK!!! For that gig, I played all clean: Max headroom, Master full-on, then Gain set to pretty low. I controlled volume with my Gretsch’s master volume. The difference with that gig was that since we were doing a few different styles of songs, I adjusted the EQ to fit the songs. This is yet another area where the amp shines. You can dial up all sorts of different tones with the very-usable EQ! Nice!

Finally, if you happen to do some research on the Little 40 or other DV Mark amps, you’ll notice that it has just a single pre-amp tube (ECC83), which indicates that there are  solid state components in the amp. There are. You can see them; plus everything’s mounted on a PCB board. But who the f$%k cares when the amp sounds this good and performs so well? Besides, he does list the other ECC83 in the power section – which I totally missed at first. The important thing to note is that while there are solid state components being used, the important parts involved in the amplification are valves.

But solid state components? I know, we all suffer from cork-sniffing; especially with tube amps. But I’ve gotten over it. As JKeith Urban’s guitar tech said in an interview, “If it sounds cool, then it is right…” Especially with the DV Mark Little 40, I’m getting the level of performance and sound quality that I get out of my Aracom Amps, and like my Aracom gear, I paid less than half the price for the features I got with the amp compared to other boutique gear manufacturers’ wares. The Little 40 retails at $799.

So what about my Aracom Amps? Well, I will definitely still be using them. The DV Mark has a completely different tone than my Aracoms, which are based upon vintage Marshall amps; specifically the Plexi style, Blues Breaker amps. While I most probably will use the DV Mark the most on stage because of its flexibility, my other amps will still get lots of use in the studio, though the VRX22 will also get lots of stage time because it too is extremely flexible. As for the other amps, no other amp does creamy-smooth overdrive like my PLX18. When I need high-end bite, which I like to have for funky rhythm lines, I can’t think of any better amp to give me this than my VRX18. And thus far, none of these amps is collecting any dust as I’ve been using them all this past week to complete the demos for my new album.

Damn! It just occurred to me that I’m really trying to justify why I have all this freakin’ gear… 🙂 Or maybe I’m just rehearsing what I’ll be saying next to the wife when she queries me about my gear. Ha! ROCK ON!

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Wow! Is all I can say… This is simply a killer amp!

In my announcement that I made today about getting this lil’ bad boy, I promised some sound clips. So once got done with my gig this evening, I headed right to my studio to play around with the amp. For this first test, I didn’t want do the standard, here’s-how-it-sounds -clean or -dirty. What I wanted to test was the amp’s dynamics and expressiveness. So I did two tests that demonstrate a couple of different aspects of the Little 40.

One thing that I will mention before I get into the tests is that for a single-channel amp, the Little 40 has TONS of tonal options. Every knob has an affect on the tone, especially the very usable EQ’s. Plus if you hook up a mono foot switch, you can get a 10dB gain boost, so if you set up the amp properly, that boost can act like a second channel.

Dynamics

With this first clip, what I wanted to test was how the amp reacted to pick attack. So I set the amp to the edge of breakup. Master was set wide open, with the gain at about 10am. I set the EQ’s on the brighter side with the Treble cranked, Mid about 2pm and Bass at 11am. I also had the Continuous Power Control open all the way for maximum headroom. The clip is in three parts: First, I start on the “clean” side of the overdrive point. Then I dig in a little harder to get it past that point, then I engage the boost, which gets the amp into some serious crunch, and loads of sonic content (besides being dirty, with boost engaged, the amp grows some serious balls – even set to bright. I’m playing my R8 Les Paul with both pickups engaged and the volumes are both set to 5.

Continuous Power Control

A lot of the magic of this amp comes from the Continuous Power Control. This knob provides an output power sweep from 1 Watt all the way up to 40 Watts, allowing you to adjust the clean headroom of amp. This is an absolutely killer feature!

With this next clip, the amp is set clean, with the Master all the way up, the Gain at about 9am. EQ and Presence are all set at noon. I’m playing my R8 with both volume knobs at five. Again, the clip is in three parts. The first part is clean, bluesy riff. In the second part, I turn the CPC to noon (~20 Watts), and play the same riff. Finally, I engage the boost to demonstrate how over-the-top you can get with this amp. 🙂

Admittedly, I have a lot of dialing-in to do. The tonal possibilities with this amp are immense. Looks like I’ll be spending lots of time getting to know it. 🙂

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I can still recall the first time I ever saw and played this amp at my local Guitar Center. It sounded so damn good, and the price was absolutely excellent that I knew that getting it would be a no-brainer. Then after I got home that day, I looked the amp up on the DV Mark web site, and was astonished at the features for a sub-$800 amp! I’ve written about this amp before, and the two features that sold me on the amp (besides the great tone) were the Continuous Power Control (CPC) and the automatic and continuous biasing of the power tubes.

The auto-bias was a HUGE factor in my decision. As long as you get tubes that are matched within 20% of each other, the amp will automatically bias them to the optimal operating settings. Imagine not having to bias power tubes. Just get a matched set, plug them in, and you’re good to go! And you can use any socket-compatible tubes like 6L6’s and even 6V6’s as long as they can take the plate voltage. Freakin’ awesome!

The CPC was also a kicker for me in that I could lower the power output of the amp to control when I get breakup. But unlike other variable power controls I’ve heard or played with, there was little discernible difference in tone, whether I had the CPC all way up for maximum clean headroom, or dialed all the way back.

I know, I don’t have sound samples – yet. But they’re on their way. I just don’t have enough time before my gig this evening to get clips.

As far as dynamics are concerned, this amp is extremely expressive and super-responsive to pick attack and guitar gain. One thing I noticed when I had the master cranked, and the gain just past 2pm, when doing leads, this amp absolutely sings. I noticed some very very cool high-frequency artifacts that really added some complexity to the tone. I could’ve played this amp for hours, but alas, I had to turn it off so I could release this article and then get ready for my gig.

Check back to hear clips this weekend!

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I mentioned the DV Mark Little 40 at the end of my previous post yesterday, which was a review on the DV Mark Galileo 15. That Galileo is a great little amp, but the DV Mark Little 40 is what I’m really taking a serious look at right now. If you want more information and specs on this great little amp, then read the product page on it. But what I’m going to discuss here goes beyond just the plain old facts and talk about why I think this amp deserves such a serious look.

What about the title? Well, it’s something that I brought over from my web engineering background, and that is that the best web sites aren’t the ones that are the prettiest or the most technically robust. They’re the ones that are so obvious to use, you don’t have to think about it. With the Little 40, DV Mark has lived up to “Don’t Make Me Think” in a variety of ways.

First off, while DV Mark offers the amp in L34 and L6 models (for EL34 and 6L6), the amp can take either, and will even do 6V6’s (though I think it may have to be JJ 6V6’s that’ll take a higher plate voltage – but I’d have to confirm that). But here’s the kicker: With the Little 40, you’ll never have to bias tubes again! The Little 40 sports smart circuitry that will auto-bias AND match your power tubes (so long as they’re within 20% of each other). How convenient is that? I don’t have the equipment to bias tubes myself – frankly I’m scared to death of working on electrical stuff – so every time I get new power tubes, I have to have someone bias them for me. With the Little 40, I just need to get reasonably matched tubes, and the amp will bias them to their optimal settings. Damn!

In addition to automagically biasing the tubes, there’s a switch on the rear panel that lets you set Low or High bias settings, which means you have even more tonal capabilities at the flick of a switch. This is a really huge thing in my opinion because again, instead of having to do this by hand, you need only toggle a switch to find the right bias setting for what you’re playing.

Also, the Little 40 is absolutely versatile, with its patent-pending Continuous Power Control that allows you to vary the output power of the tubes – not just for volume, but to break up the power tubes early. Full out to 40 Watts, you’ll get maximum clean headroom. But you can dial down the power to 1 Watt, and get breakup a lot earlier. Plus, you can switch between pentode and triode tube operation to get different tones on top of bringing the power down. Then on top of all that, you have a 0/6dB pad to compensate for passive and active pickups.

Finally, at $799, which is only $200 more than the Galileo, getting this amp is absolute no-brainer! And mind  you, these amps are all hand assembled in Italy. How DV Mark is able to sell them so inexpensively is beyond me, but we players can definitely reap the benefits. This is my next amp!

Here’s a nice demo video of the DV Mark Little 40:

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DV Mark Amps Galileo 15
Summary: From the folks that brought us the big sound in a small package of Markbass bass amps, comes the DV Mark guitar amp line.Pros: Unbelievably rich tone with lots of clean headroom for a low-wattage amp. But you can dirty it up just fine by adding more pre-amp gain. Super-responsive dynamics as well, and the dirty tone cleans up nicely with volume knob or lightening up pick attack.

Cons: None.

Features (from the web site):

All hand-wired and hand-assembled in Italy

Power output:15W

Preamp tubes: 2x ECC83
Power tubes: 2 x EL84, 1 x ECC83
Channels: one
Controls:
> Gain
> Master
> Boost (6dB)
EQ controls: Low – Mid – High (passive)
Speaker outputs:
> One 4 ohm
> One 8 ohm
Optional 1 X 12 and 2 X 12 cabs available (I played the 1 X 12)

Price: $127.97 direct

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I was already impressed with Markbass amps for bass (the bassist in my church band swears by his Little Mark II), and with the recent introduction of a guitar amp line, I’m VERY impressed with what DV Mark is offering!

I met my good buddy Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps at our local Guitar Center today, and the first place we went to was their high-end guitar room where they always have nice guitars. Being Les Paul guys, we of course were ogling the historic re-issues. 🙂 But as we turned to go out of the room, we noticed a display of all-black amps with cool, metal mesh housings, and a brand we’d never seen before: DV Mark. Jeff exclaimed he’d never heard of this brand. I agreed that I hadn’t heard of it either, but the “Mark” in the name made me think that it was associated with the Italian manufacturer who makes Markbass bass amps.

Fit and Finish

The amp has a real modern look to it with its metal housing, and chrome bumpers to protect the knobs, but has an almost old-school feel with the cream-colored chicken head knobs. The logo lettering is “Mesa-ish,” and out of the corner of my eye, as I walked in the room, I actually mistaked the amps for Mesa amps, so I dismissed them. It wasn’t until I looked at the amps directly did I see that it was a different logo.

The amp does have a strap, but it’s unlike other straps I’ve seen. As opposed to being attached to the top, the strap is instead attached to the sides of the amp and run over the top (you can see this if you click on the picture above to enlarge it).

This thing is light, weighing in at just over 10 lbs. The accompanying C112 1 X 12 cabinet weighs about 15 lbs., so lugging the head/cab around to gigs or rehearsals is not a problem. This light weight points back to the Markbass bass amps which are known for small size and weight but a big sound; and does this amp have a big sound.

How It Sounds

So after making a visual inspection of the amp, curious about how it sounded, I went out to the main showroom to fetch a Les Paul from the rack – it was a nice Standard Traditional with the coil-tapping volume knobs (by the way, I want one of these, though I’m leaning towards the Standard Traditional Pro). I plugged in the guitar, and Jeff started twiddling knobs while I played.

We first started with the Master dimed and added very little pre-amp, to test out the cleans. As expected, the completely cranked Master volume produced a bit of hum, though turning a bit, I was able to reduce it significantly. So that wasn’t a negative at all. But despite that, the clean tone was fantastic. We were both impressed by the amount of clean headroom that amp has! The cleans aren’t as deep as Fender cleans by any stretch, but they’re still thick, with perhaps a bit of midrange hump. I scooped the EQ and was rewarded with a beautiful, deep clean that I could play with for hours.

One thing that immediately stuck out with the amp was how loud it was. That alone was impressive because right away, I knew this amp could cut through a mix quite nicely. The 1 X 12 cabinet houses a custom B&C neodymium speaker rated at 150 Watts. I imagine that the speaker is voiced with a fairly robust bottom end, which is probably why the amp sounds so huge. But the cabinet also seems to project and dissipate sound really well because even at lower volumes, the single speaker really filled the space.

As far as dirty tones were concerned, the Galileo 15, powered by EL84 tubes reeks with Marshall-esque tone, but with a slightly more robust bottom end. As such, the Les Paul growled quite nicely. There did seem to be an ever-so-slight filtering of the highs, but I believe that gives the amp’s tone its unique character. It’s voiced similarly to a classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi, but its slightly darker tone gives it a much smoother output. Needless to say, I dug it.

Overall Impression

The Tone Bones score says it all. This is a great little amp, and one I wouldn’t mind having. However, I will say that it’s not the DV Mark amp that I would buy myself. I rated the Galileo purely on its merit, but I already have amps at 18 and 22 Watts that cover this territory. So if I were to get a DV Mark, the one I’m really hot on is the Little 40, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming entry. But real quick, what has me going about the Little 40 are a couple of unique features that I think are game changers.

First of all, with the Little 40, you’ll never need to bias tubes again because the amp sports special circuitry that will not only bias the power tubes to their optimal operating values, it’ll also match the tubes if they’re within 20% of each other. That is a HUGE feature! Furthermore, the amp sports what DV Mark calls a “Continuous Power Control” which allows you to control the ouput of the power tubes. Similar to power scaling, I presume, it allows you to go down to low wattages, not just for volume, but to overdrive the power tubes earlier. Wide open, the amp has TONS of clean headroom, but dial the CPC back, and you can have nice crunch at reasonable volumes.

Here’s a nice demo from PremierGuitar:

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