By Bob Dragich
Meet Your Makers
Roy Blankenship, who sent his Leeds-21, started his involvement in amp building when he was 16 years old and put together a Heathkit. "It was the only way my dad would let me have an amp I could use to play in bands." He combined the Heathkit with an extension cabinet from a film projector and had his first gigging stack. In 1991, Roy was selling auto-body shop equipment when an amp repairman friend, Dan Abell, needed an assistant. The deal was that Blankenship would work for Abell for a week without pay and if they didn't kill each other, he'd get the job. Blankenship answered phones, wrote orders, and did other customer-related chores, leaving Abell to work on amps. After the first week, Abell said, "Wow, I've never got so much done," and Blankenship spent the next four and a half years there, he says, "Without one angry word between us!"
Blankenship later served as production manager at Groove Tubes before opening his own shop in Santa Monica, California. From there, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he met a group of local amp collectors who asked him to build Dumble clones. They later changed their request to something brown-Tolex Fender Deluxe. Roy researched circuit board schematics, built two amps, and the locals freaked out!....
Among these five amplifiers, the Blankenship bears the greatest visual and sonic resemblance to the Marshall -- the knobs, faceplate, script, covering, grill cloth -- all could have come from the Marshall factory. And like the Marshall, it has two channels with two inputs each, and a single Volume and Tone knob per channel. Doesn't get much closer. The one addition that stands out compared to the Marshall reissue is the tube-driven tremolo.
The Blankenship cabinet is loaded with a Celestion Blue, a 12" 8-ohm speaker highly regarded among builders and players....
With the Blankenship Leeds-21, the neck pickup was particularly lively, the treble rose above a substantial midrange that made the pickup sound like a good middle-position unit. The bridge pickup stared with a crisp, Telecaster-like country sound, and when the guitar's tone knob was backed off, the upper mids remained in full force. Bridging the two channels provided a substantial distortion for a lower gain amp. Personal Favorite Tone (from here on, "PFT"): bridge pickup, guitar Tone on 6, channels jumped, channel 1 on 7, channel 2 on 8 made crisp but chunky chords with enough sustain for leads....
The Blankenship Leeds-21 had nice clarity at low volume but really started to sing when turned up. Turning the Tone knob up a little when the neck pickup was being pushed helped with clarity, while the bridge pickup was clear no matter how far the Volume knob on the amp went up. Bridging the two channels got the distortion going earlier on the Volume dial, and provided more fullness at lower volume settings....
The Blankenship Leeds-21 figured out what the DiMarzios were trying to do right away and kept the tone light and open. Low-end was sufficient, but not thunderous. The bridge pickup had excellent treble attack with this amp, and sounded a lot like a hot-rodded P-90. Driven hard, the amp gave nice sustain that maintained the highs and was devoid of raspiness....
The Envelopes, Please!
Marshall to the Nth Degree: None of these amps produced the sounds of a classic 18-watt Marshall as closely as the Blankenship Leeds-21. The only difference were that the Blankenship had a smoother breakup and much better note separation. Also, it uses high-end Mercury Magnetics transformers (which the builder credits for much of its tone). And, it costs a lot less than the Marshall reissue.
11747 Vose St.
N. Hollywood, CA 91605
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in VG’s Dec. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.
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