Posts Tagged ‘little 40’

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. đŸ™‚

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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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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