Search Results for: Brown Pro

Ordered a Black-face Pro Tone Clone Guitar Amp Transformer

Fender designed and built more than one transitional, non reverb blackface combo amp that would soon acquire reverb and a new name, including relatively small numbers of blackface Princetons, 4×10 Concerts, 1×12 Vibrolux and 1×15 Pros. We acquired a 1×15 blackface Pro, and while it ultimately proved to be an extraordinary exceptional amp, we were also reminded of the potential pitfalls that exist when buying old amps sight-unseen, as well as the potential rewards.

We found the ’64 Pro listed on eBay and bout it from a dealer after requesting a detailed photo of the chassis and circuit. Proudly described as “the best amp in the store, “the rare ’64 blackface Pro is essentially a blackface Vibroverb without the “verb.” Do we have your attention yet? Three caps had been replaced, the original baffleboard had been professionally converted to plywood with the original grill cloth remaining intact, and an on/off pot had been installed for the tremolo intensity control that bypassed the tremolo circuit when rolled to “1” with a click, adding gain that would otherwise be missing in the Vibrato channel. We pulled the JJ power tubes and assorted Russian pre-amp tubes and replaced them with lightly used,“test new” RCAs from our stash, rebiased the amp and fired up the Pro….

Sounded like shit. We had been here before with a dead-mint ’64 Vibroverb bought years ago that had passed through a certain amp guru’s hands in Pflugerville, Texas.How could a vintage Fender sound so bad we wondered? Turned out that the value of the bright cap on the Vibrato channel had been changed on the Vibroverb, rendering a thin, scalding tone that would have given Ed Jahns fits, as it did us. Changing the bright cap back to spec immediately restored the Vibroverb to its rightful pace in history, but the Pro had other problems….

The baffleboard swap and added switch on the tremolo intensity control were clues that someone had also spent time troubleshooting the amp, probably trying to detect the cause of the Pro’s weak output, thin tone and curiously harsh edgy distortion. The amp just didn’t sound right. We pulled the original, reconed Jensen C15N dating to 1964 and subbed in an Eminence Legend, but the Pro still sounded choked-off, linear and wrong, so it was off to Jeff at Bakos Amp works on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend in a frog-chokin’ Georgia thunderstorm. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro…..Now, this is the difference between someone who really knows his craft and a hack….Jeff plugged his bench guitar into the Pro, hit a couple of chords, issued a single grunt of displeasure and caustically observed, “Something is definitely fucked up.” With the chassis on the bench, Jeff scowled at the choppy sine wave the amp produced on his scope as he checked voltages with his multimeter. “I think the output transformer is going down slow—it measures 11 volts and it should be reading 16….” He clipped in a substitute OT from a stout old Fisher hi-fi, plugged in and hit a chord… “That’s closer to what it’s supposed to sound lie….” And sure enough, the missing lows and mids were present, the raspy treble tones were subdued, and for the moment, the Pro showed promise. We called Paul at Mercury Magnetics and ordered a black-face Pro Tone Clone replacement trans-former, shut it down and wished each other a good holiday. A week later the Mercury Magnetics replacement output transformer had arrived. Jeff wired it up, and then turned his attention o three silver mica caps that had replaced the original ceramic caps in the phase inverter and tone circuits. Jeff: “Somebody probably read an article about how these would bring the high end up, but I prefer the ceramics—always have. Besides the effect of the voltage from the old output transformer being low, these silver mica caps were contributing to that brittle tone we were hearing. They are the wrong value, and they changed the entire sound of the amp.” Jeff pulled all three silver mica caps and replaced them with the correct ceramic disc caps, and since an on/off switch had already been installed for the tremolo, we mounted the 25K mid range pot in the back panel hole for the extension speaker jack. With the Pro now thoroughly put right and the midrange pot added, Jeff hit a few chords, moved the EQ and volume settings around a bit in both channels, smiled and said, “That sounds really good. Yeah, that’s it.”

Back in our music room, the final step was to re-bias the Proat 34mA with an AmperexGZ34 rectifier and our last pair of vintage RCA black plate 6L6s, which in unused, new old stock condition have soared to $400/pair. The re-labeled Tube NOS Phillips JAN 6L6 WGBs we had tried sounded good—but the smooth warmth, exceptional musicality and deep harmonic content of the RCAs just can’t be beat, and it is a difference you can definitely hear. Smoke ’em if you got ’em….

We lit up the Pro with the ’63Fender Reverb unit and reverently smiled at the jaw-dropping tones pouring from the big Eminence Legend 15. Imagine the sound of a slightly kinder, warmer sounding 40 watt Super Reverb void of the sharp, penetrating treble presence that has sooften left our ears ringing for hours after a tumble with a blackface Super. The sound of the ’64 Pro is all Fender, with solid bass that doesn’t fall apart at high volume as the smaller blackface combos can,sweet, singing treble tones, and now… a mid range control that can gradually push the amp beyond its original, clear and liquid “scooped” mid range voice to an exceptionally thick, “mid-Atlantic” roar that unleashes heavy sustain and rich, musical distortion as only a Fender can. The Pro brilliantly complements every guitar we own, producing the essence of classic Stratocaster, Tele, P90 and humbucker tones with clarity, depth and lush fidelity that literally fills the room. Yes, there are different and equally worthy tones to be had from the British classics,but we have never heard a more beautiful sounding or versatile Fender amp—one that can range from crystalline, blackface clarity to the full burn of an early blonde Fender Bassman at much friendlier volume levels. The Pro can get plenty loud, but it’s a loud that doesn’t kill you in the style of a Showman, Twin or a Super Reverb.

The irony in this unexpected discovery has not escaped us,and perhaps the weight of it is now becoming clear to you, too. This project did not begin well, and we confess to experiencing some remorse when the Pro arrived with a few bad mods, weak and thin from the original output transformer going down, and generally just sounding very wrong. Our dismay was soon displaced by genuine enthusiasm; however, as we were reminded that this is indeed what the quest for tone is all about it. We’ve acquired absolutely bone stock amps in perfect working condition that just couldn’t tote the note, so why should we expect to buy a 44 year old amp that’s been played without it needing a little repair and restoration work? The end entirely justifies the means.

Having finally experienced the Pro’s singular, exceptional sound, we wondered what had caused it to be relegated to such obscurity among all the Fender black face amps. Like the Vibrasonic and Vibroverb, perhaps it was doomed by the presence of the single 15” speaker. Like the Pro, the blackface Vibroverb 1×15 was produced for less than a year, and with the introduction of the 2x12Pro Reverb in 1965, Fender would no longer produce a 1×15 combo until the introduction of the silver face Vibrosonic in 1972. Yet, the earlier 1×16 Pros had been Fender’s flagship amps during much of the tweed era, and in 1960 the 1×15 brown Pro ranked second only to the1x16 Vibrasonic in the Fender catalog. Somewhere along the way, the 1×15 combo had clearly fallen out of favor with Fender, guitarists, or both, and given the short life span of the Vibroverb, even the addition of reverb couldn’t save it.

Twenty years later, Stevie Ray Vaughan elevated the Vibroverb to hall of fame status, otherwise, the 1×15 com-bos seem to have been perceived as “uncool” for anything bug jazz and blues, as if wearing a jacket and tie were required to play them. The Pro is a great blues amp, but it’s also a great rocker, and equally well-suited for jazz, pop and country. With far more clean head room and power than any tweed Pro and much stronger distortion, sustain and dynamic character than a brown Pro, the blackface Pro reflects Fender’s ongoing pursuit of more powerful, cleaner sounding amps, but unlike the black face Bandmaster, Tremolux and Showman, and Pro can really rock the house cranked. We suspect it’s a single 15 and missing ’verb that throws people off today, yet in’64 Pro shares its DNA with the ’64 Bassman and all the highly prized blackface combo amps, including the Deluxe Reverb, Vibrolux Reverb, Super Reverb and the heavily prized and hyped Vibroverb.

The contrast between the Vibroverb’s Holy Grail status versus the lowly blackface Pro simply underscores how easily we can be blown off course by what isn’t hyped on the Internet or in print, and by the powerful logic that suggests if anything 44 years old is truly noteworthy, “we” would already know about it. Well, apparently “they” don’t. But you do. Blackface Pros can be found for $1 500–$2,000,with originality and overall condition driving prices accordingly. Like the Deluxe, we wouldn’t buy one that has had all the blue molded capacitors or Allen-Bradley resistors replaced, but the transformers available today from Mercury will sound every bit as good or better than the originals, and as we have said so many times in the past,the Eminence Legend 15 is spectacular. Add some good,current production or NOS tubes and you will have been delivered to a place well beyond the common man’s limp and shriveled imagination. Now Quest forth….

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Fender Amplifiers

Founded in the mid-1940s in Fullerton, California by Leo Fender, the legendary amps produced by this company have been heard on countless recordings and are influential on countless other amp makers. In the beginning Fender paired small combo amps with lap steels and electric guitars aimed at student players, but word of the superior tone and build quality quickly spread among professional musicians. In over seventy years of existence, Fender has consistently evolved and innovated its sound from the Tweed era through the Brown and Blackface eras and beyond.

Mercury Magnetics has built a massive collection of ToneClone® Transformers and Chokes for Fender Amps available from all eras of production. Answering the needs of players and amp-builders alike, our extensive catalog of audio transformers is the ultimate resource whether you’re looking to replace a worn-out transformer in a vintage Fender amp or looking to nail a vintage tone in a new amp or amp build. The engineers at Mercury have painstakingly documented every detail and nuance of the best-of-breed vintage transformers and can faithfully produce perfect clones using the same materials and methods used on the originals.

The ToneClone+ Series from Mercury Magnetics adds more utility and options without altering the original tone. Love your amp but want to change your speaker configuration? Mercury’s ToneClone+ Output Transformers give players more impedance options like alternate and multi-tapped secondaries. Power Transformers can benefit from the “Plus” treatment as well with alternate primary voltage, Higher or Lower B+ Voltages, added current capability, and more.

Fender Woodie Amp Transformers: The earliest production amps to come out of Fullerton, Fender ‘Woodie’ amps can be identified by their hardwood cabinets and fixed handles. We are proud to offer ToneClone® transformers from this short-lived and rare Woodie era including the Woodie Deluxe (aka Model 26) and Woodie Pro.

Fender Tweed Amp Transformers: The Fender Tweed era lasted from the late forties to early sixties and a vast amount of artists from all generations have crafted their distinct tone using these amps through all genres. Notable artists include: Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley), Neil Young, Larry Carlton, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Mercury Magnetics has the largest catalog of vintage-correct Fender ToneClone® replacements transformers for the following models: Tweed Bandmaster, Tweed Bassman, Tweed Champ, Tweed Harvard, Tweed Princeton, Tweed Pro/Dual Professional, Tweed Super, Tweed Tremolux, Tweed Deluxe, Tweed Twin, and Tweed Vibrolux.

Fender Blonde and Brown (Brownface) Amp Transformers: Sitting on the timeline between the Tweed and Blackface Fender amps, the Blonde/Brown amps of the early sixties were most noticeably embraced by surf groups like the Beach Boys and Dick Dale. Our catalog of ToneClone® amp transformers for this era includes Brown/Blonde Bandmaster, Blonde Bassman, Blonde Showman, Blonde Tremolux, Blonde Twin, Brown Concert, Brown Deluxe, Brown Princeton, Brown Pro, Brown Super, Brown Vibrasonic, Brown Vibrolux, and Brown Vibroverb. Also see our transformers and choke for the 6G15 Reverb Unit.

Fender Blackface Amp Transformers: Easily distinguishable by their black control plates and white lettering, Fender Blackface amps began showing up on stages and recordings in the early-mid 1960s. Extremely popular among musicians then, the impressive build quality and versatile tones have kept these classic amps popular even 50 years later. Mercury Magnetics has hundreds of ToneClone® and ToneClone+ transformers and chokes for Fender Blackface Amps including: Blackface Bandmaster/Bandmaster Reverb, Blackface Bassman, Blackface Champ, Blackface Concert, Blackface Deluxe/Deluxe Reverb, Blackface Princeton/Princeton Reverb, Blackface Pro/Pro Reverb, Blackface Showman, Blackface Tremolux, Blackface Twin Reverb, Blackface Vibrochamp, Blackface Vibrolux, and Blackface Vibroverb. Also see our transformers and choke for the 6G15 Reverb Unit.


An Excellent Choice Transformer

We always maintain a steady flow of gear arriving for review, but sometimes we also employ a fascinating if time-consuming research strategy that involves logging onto eBay, picking a broad category such as “guitar amplifiers,” and settling in for as long as it takes to patiently scroll through every page of listings. Yeah, that’s often 50 pages or more, but since we can’t possibly think of all the items that might interest us and search for them by name, it’s far more revealing and productive to just hunker down and scroll. Rarely do we fail to find something intriguing that would have otherwise been missed, and such was the case on a morning in August when we stumbled on a listing for a 1959 tweed Deluxe. Were we looking for a tweed Deluxe? Nope. Wouldn’t have crossed our mind at the time…. We had already reviewed 5E3 reproductions from Fender, Clark and Louis Electric within the past 3 years, and we have frequently referenced our 1958 Tremolux as being our desert island #1. Isn’t a Tremolux just a tweed Deluxe with tremolo in a bigger box? No… not even close. That would be like saying you wanted to date a blonde – any blonde. For the record, our fixed bias Tremolux possesses a cleaner tone with a bigger, booming voice created by the taller Pro cabinet. The Two Fifty Nine is a completely different animal….

Sporting a February 1959 date code on the tube chart, the ’59 had been listed by a seller in Arkansas who turned out to be Tut Campbell, formerly a well-known guitar dealer in Atlanta. Still buying and selling gear, Campbell had described the Deluxe as being in original condition with the exception of a replace output transformer – a big old mono block Stancor dating to 1957. Given the otherwise original condition of the Deluxe, which included the Jensen P12R, we made Campbell a “best off” below his asking price and scored the amp for $1,850 shipped. We wouldn’t say we stole the Deluxe, but it seemed a fair price of admission for the opportunity to experience and explore still another rare classic and supremely worthy piece of Fender history on your behalf.

The Deluxe arrived with the big Stancor dangling from the chassis despite Campbell’s careful packaging. Wasn’t his fault, really – in a feeble effort to avoid any additional holes being drilled in the chassis, the fellow who installed the Stancor in the ’60s had merely tightened set screws over the small tabs at the base of the heavy tranny, which was designed to be mounted upright – not hanging upside down in a guitar amplifier. Of more concern was the fact that while the amp was lighting up, there was no sound…. Well, we’ve been here before, so we made a call to God’s Country and the Columbus, Indiana domicile of Terry Dobbs – Mr. Valco to you. We had already set aside a spare output transformer (Lenco, McHenry, IL) that had been the original replacement installed in our ’58 Tremolux when we first received it, replaced with a Mercury Magneticsfor our June ’07 review article. Mr. Valco cheerfully answered his phone and as we explained the situation with the Deluxe he agreed to walk us through the installation of the new replacement – a simple process involving four lead wires being connected to the rectifier and output tube sockets, and the speaker jack. As long as you put the correct wires in the right place, a piece of cake, and we had the new tranny in within 10 minutes. Pilot lamp and all tubes glowing, still no sound…. Valco patiently guided us through a series of diagnostics with the multi-meter and the Deluxe was running on all cylinders, pumping 380 volts. Stumped, and with the hour growing late, we called it a day. Leaving the mysteriously neutered Deluxe chassis on the bench until tomorrow.

Morning came with a whining voice delivering a plaintive wake up call – “It’s got to be something stupid and simple….” Inspired by a huge steaming mug of Jamaican High Mountain meth, we sat back down at the bench, tilted the innards of the Deluxe chassis forward beneath a bright halogen desk lamp and peered in for answers. We began slowly examining the chassis in sections, looking for broken or dull solder joints, loose or broken wires, while gently pushing and prodding wires and connections with the eraser tip of a #2 pencil as we had seen Jeff Bakos do so often at his bench. After ten minutes or so we were about to give up, when we turned our attention to several places where the circuit was grounded to the chassis adjacent to the volume and tone pots, and damned if a solder joint for one of the uninsulated ground wires hadn’t separated from the chassis. No ground, no sound, and as soon as we had restored the solder joint the Two Fifty Nine arose from the dead with a mighty A major roar.

The amp was indeed remarkably well-preserved in all respects, with the typical amber patina of old tweed. The burnished chrome control panel remained bright and clean with no corrosion, the original handle remained intact, and a couple of small ciggie burns on the edge of the cabinet added a stamp of historic legitimacy to the Deluxe’s pedigree. The top half of the Jensen’s frame was coated in a fine film of red clay dust from the Delta, and while the cone was in remarkably good shape with no tears, an audible voice coil rub called for a recone. We would send the speaker to Tom Colvin’s Speaker Workshop in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, requesting that he leave the original unbroken solder joints for the speaker wires intact if possible.

Meanwhile the first order of business was to listen to an assortment of NOS tubes from our stash, and audition no less than a half dozen speakers. Different sets of power tubes and individual preamp tubes will sound surprisingly different, so we started out with a matched pair of NOS RCA 6V6s, a GE 5Y3 rectifier, and an RCA 12AX7 and 12AY7. From there we subbed in a dozen different RCA, Amperex, Tesla and GE 12AX7s, noting varying levels of brightness, warmth and intensity among them all. For an edgier, more aggressive voice, the GEs and Amperex typically deliver the goods, while RCAs produce a slightly warmer, richer, fuller tone. We also experimented with a 12AT7 and 12AX7 in place of the lower gain 12AY7, and while those tubes ramp up gain and distortion faster and with more intensity than the 12AY7, they seemed like overkill for us. Our Deluxe possesses a tone of gain using the stock 12AY7.

Rather than repeatedly reloading the Deluxe with different speakers, we used a Bob Burt 1×12 cabinet built from 100-year-old pine for our speaker tests. The original Jensen had never been pulled from our amp, but multiple speaker replacements in an old Fender inevitably cause the speaker mounting screws to loosen in the baffleboard, making speaker swaps unnecessarily clumsy and complicated. When we do run into loose mounting screws, we simply run a few small drops of Super Glue around the base of the screw and surrounding wood. Allow to dry and your screws will stay put provided that you don’t torque the nuts on the mounting screws like an idiot with a socket wrench. Don’t be that guy,

We tested a range of speakers that included a Celestion G12H 70thAnniversary, Colvin-reconed ’64 Jensen C12N, Eminence Wizard, Private Jack, Alnico Red Fang, Teas Heat, Screaming Eagle, Red, White & Blues, and Warehouse Green Beret, Veteran 30, Alnico Blackhawk and Alnico Black & Blue. The Alnico speakers generally produce a tighter, smoother, slightly more compressed tone, with a variable emphasis on upper mid-range and treble frequencies, while the speakers with ceramic magnets possess a wider, more open sound. Higher power ratings of 75W-100W offered by the Red, White & Blues, Screaming Eagle and Warehouse Blackhawk typically translate into more graceful handling of bass frequencies, and in a 20 watt Deluxe, zero speaker distortion, for a clean, powerful voice.

Let’s cut to the chase with speaker evaluations, shall we? It has become clear to us that even after reviewing a dozen speakers in as much detail as mere words allow in a single article, many of you remain uncertain about which speaker to choose. No kidding. We would absolutely love to hand you a single magic bullet when it comes to speaker swaps, but here’s the dirty little secret about choosing speakers…. The overall character of the amp you will be installing your new speaker in is critical, and to some extent, the type of guitars and pickups you play most often are important, too. Tailoring your sound with the unique gear you play is not a one-size fits-all proposition – you have to invest some thought into the process. Are you going for a classic “scooped” American Fendery tone, or something more British, with a bit of an aggressive edge and upper midrange voice? Are you playing guitars with single coil pickups or humbuckers? Is there a specific, signature tone you are searching for, or are you playing a wide variety of musical styles that requires a broader range of tones? Do you like the more open sound of speakers with ceramic magnets, or the smoother compression of Alnico? What are you not hearing from your amp and the speaker that’s in it now? Do you want a brighter tone, darker, better bass response, or fuller, more prominent mids? Do you want to really drive the speaker and hear it contributing to the overdriven sound of your amp, or do you want a big, clean tone with no speaker distortion in the mix? The truth is, if you don’t know what you want, you are far less likely to get it. On the other hand, nothing is accomplished with paralysis by analysis. To be perfectly honest, there are lots of speakers made by Celestion, Eminence, Warehouse and, if you can wait long enough for them to break in, Jensen, that we could and would be perfectly happy with, but we would also choose them carefully, taking into account all the factors mentioned above. After a couple of days spent swapping speakers, we ultimately concluded that we preferred the ’64 C12N for a classic tweed Deluxe tone, and a broken-in Celestion G12H 70th Anniversary for the most mind-altering 18 watt Marshall tone we have ever heard. Seriously. More on that in a minute….

Having split more than a few hairs with our speaker swaps, it was time to start picking nits off of gnats with some output transformer evaluations. We first contacted Dave Allen of Allen Amplification, who also stocks Heyboer transformers built to his specs. We found a variety of appropriate output transformers on Allen’s site that offered subtle variations on a stock original Deluxe OT, and we asked Dave to describe the TO26 model we wished to try in the Deluxe:

“The TO26 was intended as a hot rodding upgrade to a stock Deluxe Reverb OT. While maintaining the stock 3-1/8” mounting centers, its fat stack of hotter core steel and multi-tap secondary make it a good choice for builders wanting to maximize the performance of a pair of 6V6s and who may also want to push the envelope with 6L6/5881s while still being able to clear the speaker in a stock cabinet. There are physical limitations in small amps, so its short low profile is welcome. The orientation of the laminations is also good for low hum pick up from the power transformer. I found that an OT mounted the tall way (like my TO30D) picks up considerably more hum simply due to its orientation to the power transformer, so, shoe-horning a ‘tallish’ OT into your amp may cause it to pick up hum from the power transformer – not much of an upgrade. “The TO26’s 7K to 8 or 16 ohm rating makes it ideal for a pair of 6V6s as well as 3,500 ohm to 4 or 8 rating for 6L6/5881s. Notice you always have an 8 ohm option with both types of power tubes. An impedance switch could be wired (I use a blackface grounding switch) as a power tube type selector for an 8 ohm speaker to go between 6V6s and 6L6s. The TO26 will typically give slightly more output with 6V6s due to its more efficient low-loss core steel and will keep the bass clean longer for more perceived clean headroom. As it takes the most watts to reproduce the bass, you notice distortion there first, and since Fender-type amps are so bass heavy, you can quickly hit the wall with headroom, so a noticeable increase in clean bass response certainly feels like a more powerful amp with the TO26. It is kind of like you installed a new speaker with a larger ceramic magnet that is more efficient than the old speaker. The amp is a little louder and the bass a little tighter or cleaner.

“There seem to be a lot of 6L6-based 5E3 amps out there now to get a little clean headroom from a circuit normally not known for much of that. The TO26 is a good choice for that type of amp as it will fit typical available chassis and cabinets. It has extra long 12” topcoat leads ready to strip and solder. I would reckon it would handle up to about 30 watts before starting to saturate and compress – plenty of cathode-biased 6L6s. I find that the Heyboer paper stick-wound and interleaved output transformers with premium core steel and heavy core stacks have typically better clarity or definition than ‘stock’ OTs. Call it fidelity or whatever you want – just clearer distorted and complex tones and better separation of notes in chords, etc. I use the TO26 in the Allen Sweet Spot, Accomplice Jr. and Hot Fudge with Nuts amps with excellent results. All of these amps can use either 6V6 or 6L6 power tubes. You know how a 5F6-A or Super Reverb has that huge 4 bolt OT for a pair of 6L6s to get the maximum clean bottom end? That is sort of what the TO26’s OT is to a pair of 6V6s. It just doesn’t even come close to saturating.

When we informed Dave that we planned to run the Deluxe with 6L6/5881 power tubes as well as 6V6s, he recommended that we try the TO26 since it had been specifically designed for such applications. He also sent a smaller TO20 transformer, described as being designed with a wider 1-1/4′′ lamination “fat stack” that provides 60% additional core mass than typical ¾′′ stack units for improved performance. The TO20 is a direct replacement for Blues Jr. and Princeton Reverb amps, and also suitable for dual EL-84 amps with an 8 ohm load.

Mr. Valco also sent us a replacement 5E3 output transformer he had bought on sale from Clark Amplification a few years ago made for Mike Clark by Magnetics Components in Schiller Park, IL – a company that has been producing transformers since 1943, having been the primary supplier for Valco and various Gibson amps in the ’50s and ’60s. A call to the company revealed that ToneQuest ReportV12. N1. Nov. 20104the transformer Valco sent was essentially their replacement for a Deluxe Reverb, model #40-18002 without bell ends per Clark’s request. We also learned that the company offers a complete range of Classic Tone vintage power and output transformers, including a reverse-engineered clone of a ’55 Triad 5E3 output tranny, model #18022.

We also contacted Paul Patronete at Mercury and requested a ToneClone “brown Deluxe” output transformer, since Larry Cragg had provided them with specific measurements from original OT in Neil’s ’61 tweed Deluxe, confirming that it was indeed a ’61–’62 brown Deluxe tranny. With a total of 6 output transformers to listen to, we took the Deluxe to Jeff Bakos, who set up a rig on his bench that enabled us to clip in each transformer and very quickly switch back and forth between them as we played a guitar through the amp. Are we having fun yet? Here’s what we heard:

Lenco – An excellent authentic “vintage” vibe for those that prefer the classic, if somewhat murkier sound of a tweed amp being pushed, lots of sag in the low end and a jangly pop in the top. And “old,” rather “lo-fi” sound indicative of the ’50s era amps.

Magnetics Components Clark Deluxe 18002 – Similar to the Lenco, but stronger and more robust, with a prominent growling character and voice. Thick, wooly and willin’ with better treble presence and clear string definition then the Lenco, yet an entirely “vintage” character. This tranny is comparable to those found in Deluxe amps from the brown era through silverface. Excellent power, punchy and fat with exceptional clarity and tone.

Magnetic Components 5E3 Clone – Percussive and dynamic with a faster attack response than the Clark/Deluxe Reverb version, this transformer was reverse-engineered from an original ’55 Deluxe OT. IT imparts an intense, throaty tweed character with enhanced mid and treble presence, remarkable clarity, and an authentic vintage ’50s vocal tone with softer bass response and slightly less volume and power than the Deluxe 18002.

Allen/Heyboer TO20 – An interesting variation with a much more modern, percussive dynamic character. The sound was not as heavy and imposing in the vintage style, and with this transformer the Deluxe reminded us of the more refined sound of a Fender Princeton, with excellent dynamic punch for slide and Allen/Heyboer TO26 – As advertised, the low end held up loud and proud with very little sag and an audibly higher threshold of clean headroom, although beyond 6 on the volume control the Deluxe was still holding nothing back. Overall, this transformer imparts a cleaner, high fidelity tone with more clarity and stout bass response than a typical stock 5E3 transformer. An excellent choice for enhanced low-end and maximum volume.

Mercury Magnetics brown Deluxe – Immediately recognizable, the Mercury displayed a trademark sound that is smooth, exceptionally musical, warm and balanced. Sounding more “high fidelity” than the Lemco or Magnetic Components transformers, but still seductively unruly enough to get yer ya-ya’s out. Sweet, rich, detailed and sticky.

Now, you may be wondering why we would bother to audition so many output transformers…. How much difference can it make? Well, forty-odd years ago when someone rigged that old Stancor tranny in the Deluxe, the only choice available to most repair shops was whatever was on hand in the scrap pile. Today we can shape the tone and dynamic response of an amp with a variety of “vintage” or more modern, custom transformers that allow us to recapture the original sound and feel of the amp, or improve upon the original design. Why did Cesar Diaz install output transformers for a Twin Reverb in Stevie’s Super Reverb amps, and Bassman transformers in his Vibroverbs? Because the first thing that chokes and overwhelms a smaller output transformer are the bass frequencies, and Cesar wanted Stevie’s amps to produce a rock-solid, thundering low end that could handle his massive wound strings. The tone we’re celebrating with our ’59 Deluxe is quite the opposite…. The raucous sound of the amp teetering on the edge is the key to it’s exploding tone, but if you wanted to go in the opposite direction with more headroom and a tighter low end, transformers like the TO26 have been specifically designed for that purpose. We once replaced the output transformer in our Pro reverb with a bigger MercuryToneClone Bassman, and the Pro grained a tone of clean headroom and unyielding bottom. Wanna make it even harder still? Use a plug-in diode rectifier in place of the 5AR4 rectifier tube. No saggy britches now. As with so many choices we make in the Quest for tone, the final decision comes down to your mission and individual taste, and Jeff agreed that between the Heyboer TO26, both Magnetic Components trannies and the Mercury brown Deluxe, the question wasn’t which one was “best” – all four were exceptional, but different. Some players would prefer one over another for different reasons described here, but all of them represent stellar examples of just how far we’ve come since the day that old Stancor tranny was used to put the Two Fifty Nine back into service.

One last detail needed to be addressed…. Could we safely run the Deluxe with 5881s or 6L6s if we preferred that sound over 6V6s? Once again, we asked the prescient Mr. Valco for some Hoosier insight:

“The impedance mismatch in this particular amp using the 6L6s is really not a big concern, it won’t hurt the amp and will either sound good or it won’t. The 6L6s draw 1.8 amps and two 6V6s draw 0.9 amp, so using the 6L6s will add about 1 amp more current draw that the power transformer needs to supply from the 6.3 volt heater windings. On some small 6V6 amps, using 6L6s can and does cause the power transformer to run hotter because more current equates to more heat. The concern is that the power transformer in the Deluxe, not being a large one to start with, has the extra 1 amp of heater current capacity to safely use the 6L6s. One way to determine if the power transformer is really stressed out with the 6L6s is to measure the AC heater voltage on pins 2 and 7 on the power tube sockets (or on the pilot lamp) and see if the AC voltage drops significantly from the reading using 6V6s versus 6L6s. It should be a bit over 6.3 volts AC with the 6V6 anyway (since the wall voltage is higher these days than in the early ’60s) and with the 6L6s you sure don’t want to see a large drop in voltage below 6.3 volts AC. If there is a large drop it means the transformer is having trouble supplying enough current for the 6L6 heaters if given enough time with the 6L6s could damage the power transformer. If the drop is only a few 10th of a volt, and doesn’t go below 6.3 AC, then it would indicate that the transformer is supplying the demand for the heater current and should be OK. Most Fender amps used power transformers that could handle some extra current demand.

And now we arrive at the moment of truth. We’ve been steadily reeling in a parade of new and classic amps for review in these pages for 12 years now this month – Marshall, Fender, Magnatone, Hiwatt, Vox, Valco, Silvertone, Ampeg, Gibson, Gretsch, Mesa Boogie, Park, Supro, Dickerson, Traynor, Budda, Western Auto, Standel, Dumble, Cornell, Clark, Crate, Divided by 132, Reeves, Bad Cat, Gabriel, Fuchs, Koch, Star, Category 5, 65 Amps, Balls, Bakos, Callaham, Blankenship, Reinhardt, Grammatico, Siegmund, Chicago Blues Box, Roccaforte, Headstrong, Rivera, Mad Professor, Talos, Maven Peal, Reverend, BC Audio, Savage, Goodsell, Fargen, Carol-Ann, DST, Two Rock, Germino, Matchless, Louis Electric, Swart, Demeter, Juke, Aiken, Bluetron, DeArmond, Carr, Victoria, and Dr. Z, with more coming. Lots of amplifiers, multiple models from the same builders, and among the foremost classics – Fender, Marshall, Vox, Hiwatt, Gibson, Ampeg and the entire Valco catalog, we have acquired, optimized and restored dozens of amps considered to be among the most desirable vintage models ever built. In the 20 watt wheelhouse occupied by the Two Fifty Nine, it has no equal by a mile. Game over.

After a lot of back and forth testing with different sets of output tubes, we became hooked on the thundering sound produced by a pair of Philips small-bottle 6L6WGBs. Thanks to Larry Pogreba’s talent for scavenging rare tubes (in Montana, no less), we are flush with several outstanding and stout pairs of RCA 6L6s, but the brighter Philips really lit up the Deluxe with a fresh and lively attitude that mirrors the bounce of a newer amp. With the ’64 Jensen C12N loaded, the Deluxe spookily nails the tones of Neil Young’s rig on Ragged Glory – a “studio” recording cut live with the Deluxe and Old Black in a barn on Young’s ranch with Crazy Horse. With the volume backed off to 4-5 a bluesy jangle emerges anchored by solid low end, rich midrange, the sweetest treble tones imaginable, and variable levels of sustain and edgy distortion that can be controlled both by the volume on the guitar and pick attack. The Deluxe does not discriminate between single coils or humbuckers, ravaging both with equal fervor, and the responsive dynamic character of this amp simply is not of this world. Rotating the single tone control sharpens treble without dumping lows or mids, while also subtlety increasing gain, as if you were using a boost pedal. A “Y” cord plugged into the Instrument and Microphone inputs enables the two channels to be mixed with great effect. As Neil Young described, bringing the mic input volume up with the instrument volume set between 6-8 gradually deepens the tone while slowly igniting an intense explosion of thicker second order harmonics and distortion as the dynamic character of the amp softens. Pushing the Instrument volume level up into the 8-12 range brings the volume up to a perceived level that exceeds 20 watts, while provoking an angry, pissed-off cascade of astonishingly rich musical distortion as the notes swerve into controlled harmonic feedback.

Switching from the Jensen to the Celestion transforms the Deluxe into the most stunningly toneful 20 watt Marshall you could possibly imagine. To be honest, you probably can’t imagine it, because we have never heard anything like this ourselves, even after owning a couple of vintage Marshall PA20s, a rare Lead & Bass head and 1×12 cabinet, and a Balls 2×12 18 watt. We could easily live with either speaker, and the Deluxe also just kills pushing our 8 ohm 4×12 pinstripe cabinet.

For those of you who appreciate a somewhat tamer vibe, we can assure you that the Deluxe loaded with a fine pair of 6V6s is equally mind-altering. The overall sound is a wee bit smaller in girth and less imposing, yet abundantly overflowing with vivid harmonic depth, a supremely touch-sensitive response, and brilliant combination of fidelity, clarity and bloom. Compared to a black or silverface Deluxe Reverb, the ’59 presents a more musically complex soundstage, less harsh, stiff and linear, and it lacks both the sharper treble of a blackface amp, and the scooped midrange character. The tone is rounder and meatier, the treble sweeter and less dominant, with an enhanced 3-D image.

Now, if you’re the type that skeptically requires a qualifier to add a stamp of legitimacy to such an over-the-top review, here it is, Mr. Been There-Done That…. The Deluxe doesn’t and won’t spew big clean tones at stage volume. Our ’58 Tremolux produces a cleaner tone with a higher threshold of clean headroom by far at comparable volume levels, and the taller tweed cabinet encourages a stronger, cleaner resonant bass and low mid response. The Tremolux is also equipped with a Mercury ToneClone Tremolux output transformer, which creates a tone that is less wooly, raucous and indistinct.

The busted-up sound of the Tremolux above 5–6 is gloriously righteous indeed, but with more clarity and less provocative intensity than the Deluxe. Taken in context, what we’re suggesting here is that in our experience, the Deluxe has no equal as both a Fender and Marshall style 20 watt rocker (depending on speaker selection), and we’ll add “blues” to that description equipped with 6V6s and the Jensen C12N. During our 2-month test period, we also routinely used our Lee Jackson Mr. Springgy reverb, Analogman-modded Boss DD3 digital delay, and a very cool, versatile (and cheap) Flip tube tremolo pedal reviewed here. Can a modern replica of the 5E3 Deluxe deliver the same inspiring tones as the Two Fifty Nine? The closest thing we’ve heard is the Louis Electric “Buster,” but no, magical happy accidents like this Deluxe can’t be reproduced today – and that is as it should and shall always be. Quest forth…


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Brown, Blackface, Silverface

Tube Amps

Category 5 is a relatively new company based in Frisco, Texas that has wasted no time in developing twelve distinctly unique, hand-wired designs ranging in power from 15W–100W, while aggressively placing amps with touring players like Joe Bonamassa, Tab Benoit, Jimmy Thackery, Gary Moore and one of our favorite Texas Burstbusters, Jonn Richardson (Otis Taylor), among others. The company’s strategy for quick and lasting growth is fairly obvious with a quick scan of their website – build hand-wired tube amps to the highest standards of custom manufacturing, and offer a range of power and tone shaping options that will meet the needs of virtually any player, from low volume home and studio applications to 100 watt pro rigs suitable for cavernous venues and big stages. When it comes to fully understanding the intention of Cat 5 amps, you’ll need to do a little homework on each model, many of which are named for famously wicked hurricanes. We’ve done all the work for you on the two models reviewed here….

We received a 1×15 version of the 40 watt Andrew, which is also available in 2×10, 2×12 and 4×10 configurations. The 1×15 is equipped with our favorite current production 15” – the Eminence Legend–along with dual 5881 power tubes and an interesting combination of two separately voiced input channels. Channel 1 is described as having been inspired by the ’61 Fender brown Deluxe. Having owned a dead mint example of this very amp, we can tell you that it possessed a remarkably toneful and middy snarl, but very little usable clean headroom, which is why we ultimately let it go. Channel 1 in the Andrew produces an equally “brown”sound – rich with midrange and none of the typically scooped tones of the black face era.

Channel 1 is designed with a single tone control to shape EQ, plus the global reverb and “voltage”controls for the internal variac circuit. Of course, the reissue Tung-Sol 5881 tubes create a much more formidable voice than our brown Deluxe could ever must, which we consider to be a tremendous improvement to anything inspired by the brown Deluxe. We all experience and embrace varying sounds quite differently, so we won’t offer this as an absolute, universal truth – but to our ears at least, we prefer the tone and attitude of Andrew’s Channel 1 combined with snappy single coil pickups that can impart a stronger attack on the bass strings and happily frolic in the midst of all that midrange. Otherwise, what you hear is the sonic equivalent of a chocolate-chocolate chip double fudge cookie in the style of a late ’50s Gibson GA40– a very good thing with single coils or bright replica PAFs. Dialed in with the sole tone control, you can create a very old-school tone in Channel 1, and that does seem to be its purpose, so mission accomplished. A more nimble and versatile range of black face tones are found in Channel 2.

Channel 2 offers a full range of tone-shaping EQ, with bass, treble and midrange controls, plus the global reverb and voltage controls common on both channels. We asked Steven Scott, head of product development at Category 5to explain….

TQR: Does the voltage control essentially function as avariac, dropping voltage to the power section, or is something else involved (most people have heard of power scaling but have no idea what it really does)? Power Scaling is another name for voltage control. We don’t use the same circuit as London Power and have not licensed the trademarked name, so we can’t call it Power Scaling. The voltage control makes the B+ voltage variable from about 60VDC to about 450VDC, which allows you to dial the amp from about 5W to about 45W. This allows you to more or less keep the same tone once you’ve dialed it in, then scale it to the size of the venue. This is the feature that our customers rave about the most. The tone really does stay pretty consistent until you take the voltage way down below about 11:00 on the dial. Then it starts to brown out as the tubes are operating well blow their intended point. Another advantage of this technology is it greatly improves tube life as the bias drops as the voltage is turned down. It differs from using a variac in that only the B+ voltage is affected, meaning filament voltage stays the same and no damage to the tubes such as cathode stripping can occur.

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Restoring Old Amps and Transformers

Finding and restoring old amps and cabinets is a slow process that demands patience. From the time we first began trolling eBay, ultimately scoring a tweed Vibrolux and Tremolux, to final delivery of the aged cabinets and assembly of the amps, six months had easily passed.

We first found and bid on a ’58 Vibrolux in September ’06. Sold by an eBay seller in Texas, it had been recovered in reddish-brown cloth similar to the stuff used to cover hymnals or a bad ’60s pleather recliner for the double-wide. Otherwise, it was pretty straight, with the original blown Jensen P10R intact, and the original transformers, caps and resistors. The inside of the cabinet had been painted black, but the cabinet, grill cloth, baffle and control panel were otherwise intact, and the wooden tremolo footswitch was included. We bought the Vibrolux for $1,590.00 with 4 bids placed.

Inspired by Larry Cragg’s detailed description of Neil Young’s tweed Tremolux, a1958 Tremolux surfaced on eBay in November 2006, and we scored it for just $1,082.00 from a seller in San Francisco. We suppose this amp was so cheap because the output transformer had been replaced, and the cabinet had been completely stripped and stained mahogany brown. The original speaker mounting screws in the baffle board were about to fall out. However, the original Tremolux circuit was well-preserved, and a small strip of tape remained in the chassis signed in a delicate hand by “Lilly” – one of the many women in Fullerton employed to assemble amplifiers like the Tremoluxin 1958. God bless her. The Tremolux also arrived with the original wooden foot switch.

The Vibrolux kicked some serious tail right out of the box. We send the original Jensen P10R to John Harrison at A Brown Soun ( for a re cone, mounting a1965 Jensen C10Q sent by Larry Pogreba in its place – a very stout choice and original equipment in early blackface Vibrolux Reverb amps. Like the Tremolux, the tremolo circuit in the Vibrolux required some TLC,with four caps needing replacement to restore the swampy oscillator circuit to full wobble-weave. We also replaced all the newish tubes with NOS RCAs, Philips and GEs. Once we had the amp mounted in the restored and aged cabinet, we were throwing down hard with our No caster nightly, wallowing in the big sound coming from such an innocent-looking little biter, when the original output trans-former gave it up in a final, glorious gasp. A quick call to Mercury Magnetics produced a ToneClone replacement within a week and we were soon back in business,sounding better than ever.

The 10 watt, 3-input ’58 5F11 Vibrolux is housed in the same cabinet Fender used for narrow panel tweed Deluxe– a fat little featherweight with greasy tremolo and a smooth bark tailor made for a Telecaster. And 10 watts may be the perfect power notch for low-volume home recording and jamming – crystal clear, bright and drenched in gorgeous Fendery overtones at low volume (3-5), and absolutely on fire from 7-10. In all respects, the 5F11 Vibrolux is a big amp in a small package worth pursuing for its outstanding tone and personality at truly usable volume levels.

We were amazed by how Gregg had managed to remove every trace of black paint that had been sprayed inside the cabinet, and his aging job, complete with three coats of amber stain and lacquer, faint water stains along the bottom,worn seams and corners, aged L&L leather handles and scorch marks from the power tubes on the inside of the back panel were flawlessly conceived and applied. Hopkins even recreated the original tube chart with a 1958 date code after requesting that we send him the chassis number and power transformer EIA code for production verification. When we brought the restored Vibrolux to Jeff Bakos’ shop (, he looked it up and down as it sat on the floor of his workshop, peered into the back and said, “That is totally sick.”

The ’58 Tremolux provided a further study in what can be involved buying 40 year-old amps. Upon arrival,the amp was really smokin,’ even with the Jensen hangin’ off the baffle board. The tremolo was DOA, however, so while the stripped cabinet was getting the spa treatment in St. Louis, Jeff replaced two caps in the trem circuit, we replaced the already replaced output transformer with another from Mercury Magnetics, and stored the chassis away until we received the finished, aged Tremolux cabinet from Gregg in late March ’07.

The 5E9A (’55-’56) and 5G9 (’57-’60) Tremolux are housed in the same taller, wider cabinet Fender used for the 1×15 narrow panel tweed Pro,and the later 5G9 circuit is quite different from both the 5E3 Deluxe and the ’55 5E9ATremolux, being fixed rather than cathode biased, employing a long-tailed phase inverter common to the bigger narrow panel tweed amps, and the addition of an extra filter cap and choke enabled the power to be increased from 15W to 18W in 1957.

Compared to the narrow panel tweed Deluxe and the 5E9 Tremolux, the 5G9 Tremolux develops more volume and headroom, and should you chose to replace the 12AY7 preamp tube with a 12AX7, gain is further increased (it’s already righteous with the 12AY), while the bigger 10” x22” x 10” cabinet produces a much rounder, warmer tone with superior ambience and presence. In the month or so since we’ve had the Tremolux put together in the restored cabinet, a new Tung Sol6V6 blew (after we had opted not to use a couple of spare ’50s RCAs for safety – they are in the amp now and killin’ us with bogs of good thang),and we just took the amp back to Jeff when it began spitting some nasty distortion provoked by low frequencies from the guitar. Turned out to be a few bad solder joints.

Like the Vibrolux, Gregg had stopped short of creating a “3-legged dog with an eye patch,” taking the aging to a moderate level with frayed edges and seams on the amber tweed, a single beer can ring on the top with a foam overflow stain running down the grill cloth, a slight orange stain on one side from pine knot bleed, and assorted scuffs and light abrasions. He also repaired the baffle-board, filling in the old holes for the speaker mounting screws.

We hate doing this to you (again), but truth be told, we have to give the nod to the Tremolux as the most toneful and inspiring amp in its power class (18 watts)that we have ever heard or owned. It’s ascension to Numero Uno status was a bit of a surprise, but then again, we considered the initial source of our inspiration for finding one – Neil Young, via his tech, Larry Cragg, and in hindsight we should have expected as much. With all the attention paid to the tweed Deluxe as the big time bonerizer of the tweed family, the Tremolux seems to have been overlooked for the usual reasons…. In the nose-to-butt-crack daisy-chain march to mediocrity, the masses never seem to acquire a view beyond the first lazy dumb-ass directly in front of them. In the immortal words of the great hoosier educator and smack-down artist Earl Dosey, they are “stepping’ over dimes to pick up nickels.” Let’s hope the lemmings continue to keep their heads down.

So here’s the move…. Sad as we are to share this, our strategy was as obvious as it seems. Forget about original speakers, don’t let a replaced tranny run you off (we’ve never replaced one with a Mercury that didn’t sound better than the original), and deliberately track down the fuglies told girls you can find from the tweed era. Busted baffle boards? We luv that….Ricky-ticky cabinets are good, and the coverin’ don’t matter. What you want is a beater with a totally neglected chassis and as many of the original fat Astron caps and original resist or present as possible. Yeah, some of them may have to be replaced, but it’s far better to allow a prudent and judicious amp tech determine that rather than buying an old amp that has been raped by a hard chargin’ cowboy hooked on Sprague Orange Drops.Buy one of those and your old amp will sound new,never to sound old again, and that’s most definitely not the play you want to make here. A little component drift is good.

There is luck involved, too… not all vintage amps were created equal. Some of them left the birthing bench endowed with incredible tone – a happy accident created by the melding of variable components that resulted in extraordinary sounds. Others were created by the same roll of the dice, but with a different outcome altogether – mysteriously dull, flat, or simply lacking whatever you wish to call it… that tone, mojo, bloom, the harmonic complexity of your first Schlitz, depth, fatness… whatever. To experience the blissful afterglow of unanticipated discovery, you must be willing to risk something, which is another way of saying that faith must be exercised in the absence of a guarantee. In this respect, buying old amps is a lot like life itself…. The greatest obstacle to discovery is the flawed perception of an impossible challenge. And the window of opportunity is closing on these great old amplifiers faster than you may think. Like vintage guitars, the best old amps are being taken out of circulation by col-lectors willing to pay prices that are based on potential future value (more than they are worth today, perhaps, but less than they will be worth tomorrow). For you, hombre, the time to bust a move is now.


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Custom-Wound Mercury Magnetics Transformers

Like the pedal business, the number of amplifiers being built by smaller builders has mushroomed into a garage and basement Skunkworks industry that is constantly changing. New guys pop to the surface and ride the momentum created by chat rooms and social media, while others quietly slip beneath the surface in an unfortunate imitation of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, never to be heard from again. The desire amongst certain guitarists and collectors to own the latest, supposedly greatest new amplifier is a power drug, and for some, a hard habit to kick. We enjoy discovering small batch alternatives to familiar archetypes and affordable production amps, too, but since we’re doing so on your behalf, our initial evaluation process lacks the unbridled enthusiasm of a new owner who has already made the plunge financially and emotionally. Still, when a giddy reader calls or writes asking us to review their new killer amp, we routinely hit the builder’s website, send an introductory email and wait for a response. Such was the case with the Tungsten Cremawheat and builder Adam Palow

Ultimately, the Cremawheat turned out to be another exceptional amplifier as our review reflects, but as is so often the case, the story behind the name on the face plate is as interesting as the amp. Listen….

TQR: You mention on your website that you were inspired and intrigued many years ago by your first tube amp. Do you recall what it was?

It was a 1965 Fender Vibro-Champ that was missing the face plate, and the grill cloth had been replaced with a red and black check material that looked like it had been on a sofa. I think I was around 16 when I got it, and no matter what I played through it, the amp sounded very musical compared to the solid state practice amps had used before. It was the beginning of an obsession. I started chasing down vintage Fender amps wherever I could, and I met a guy who showed me how to safely drain the stored voltage in an amp, how to use a soldering iron, and he explained how bigger caps produced more low end. From that point forward I was on my own, and everything I have done since has been the result of trail and error and experimentation. I’m limited in some areas because I don’t necessarily understand all the theory, but in another sense it’s empowering because I am chasing feel and working in an intuitive way rather than strictly by the “book.” My favorite part of the build is constructing the board and wiring the chassis. If there is any artistic expression in building an amplifier it’s in the way the board is constructed. Of course, in the larger picture, it’s completely meaningless.

TQR: What were the most significant things you learned through hands-on experience working with guitar amps, and the five years you spent working on Hammond organs with Bob Schleicher?

The thing that blew my mind the most once I had acquired multiple identical models of the same amplifier like the Fender Blackface Bassman and Bandmaster was how different they could sound from each other even though they were built with the same components. That also carried over into my work with Hammond organs, because every large Hammond console also had its individual voice, and I attribute that to the accepted variance in parts values, and individual and very unpredictable drift in these values over time. You also see random parts stacking where some of the capacitors may have been oriented the correct way and others not. When all the caps are pointing the right way you can have an amp that sounds faster, and when they are oriented the wrong way the amp can sound slower. On the old caps there was usually a band marking the outer foil, and whether or not they were oriented correctly often just seems like chance. Some companies paid strict attention to that and others did not. Even if I am building ten identical amplifiers in my own line, there are going to be variances between them – not only in the tolerance stacking, but in the way the tubes bias to the cathode resistor. I have an absolute minimum standard – it has to inspire me or I’m not going to ship it out, but every once in a while you drop in the right rectifier and the right power tubes and they just match up perfectly with the cathode resistor and it makes your hair stand up on end. Magical. Yet that same amplifier with a different set of tubes may not do the same thing.The Hammond organs are unique because not only do they have an extremely rich and harmonically complex signal, but they have infinite sustain with no transient attack unless you’re using the percussion feature, so when you’re dealing with Leslie power amplifiers you’re not dealing with sag. You’ve got compression going on because you’re driving it with a very wide band signal, but because there is no transient, you’re not experiencing sag, compression and release in that order. I spent a lot of time rebuilding Leslie amplifiers, and there was a very specific type of distortion coming from those 6550 Tung-Sols – a low, grinding, wooly distortion kind of like the Marshall of the organ world in a lot of ways, and I caught that sound in my head. It was very musical, and it had a lot of clean qualities, but also an outrageous amount of overdrive on tap, and even when it was driving hard there was still enough clarity to retain a musical quality in the distortion. You could really hear the notes and the intervals between them, and that’s the complaint I had with a lot of amplifiers outside the vintage world…. They swung so far into breakup and distortion that you lost the clarity of the notes. There was more noise than tone, and the place I’m coming from is a more musical place. The other aspect of my work with Hammonds is that I gained a huge amount of experience with vintage Jensen Alnico speakers.

TQR: We have always wondered if the Jensen speakers used in Hammond cabinets were similar to those made for guitar.

In the Leslie, the Alnico P15LL and later C15NLL bass driver that shoots down into the rotating horn were definitely not guitar speakers by any stretch. The 12 inch Jensens I’ve seen bear all the same markings as standard Jensens for guitar, the differences being that they have black frames with no Jensen sticker, and the Hammond code starting with the letters “AO” have been silk-screened on the frame. I have pulled P12Ns out of old Hammond A100s, as well as P12Qs, and if they were specifically designed for organ, they are also the best sounding guitar speakers I have ever heard, and I have used them to base my own speakers on made by Weber.

TQR: Which prompted the development of your own line of proprietary speakers?

Yes, and I didn’t really have to start from the ground up because they had already come close to the mark, but I wasn’t hearing the same extended frequency response that I was hearing from the vintage speakers, and it was just a matter of developing a different recipe. Fortunately, when Ted was still alive we went through the process of mixing and matching components, just trying to get that sound. I didn’t care if the parts were period-correct – I just wanted them to sound right. I tried to do the same thing with the ceramic line, but we just never nailed it and I never put them into production. Of course, the goal in developing the Alnico speakers was to produce the low-wattage, medium fidelity, $6 replacement speakers that they were originally.

TQR: Looking at the different models you build today, it’s obvious you prefer the sound of tweed-era amplifiers.

Yes, I cut my teeth on blackface amps, but when I built my first tweed Champ I became one of those guys that ditched my pedalboard and plugged straight in. For me it’s all about that very alive midrange, and the dynamic response you get out of the power section. I was instantly hooked. I also have a fondness for the lower power brown amps as well, but when it comes to what I personally want to plug in to and play, I really need to feel the response of a tweed power section.

TQR: What’s your approach to specific types of capacitors used in building your amps?

You have to let your ears be the guide, and everyone hears things differently. Every quality capacitor has its place, but I personally prefer the sound of Mallory 150s in tweed amps. Other people feel that they are too bright in the upper mids until they break in. I tend to break in my amplifiers for 72 hours and when I take breaks from building I’ll plug into every amp that’s burning in. The truth is, everything matters. In the Cremawheat, for example, there different capacitors are used in the tone circuit to color the tone in a certain way. It’s one recipe. I also use custom-wound Mercury Magnetics transformers in everything. Some of them are custom-wound because I wanted a different gauge of wire, and others because I wanted a different secondary voltage. When we’re talking about power transformers, voltage that you’re sending out to the circuit makes much more difference than the brand you’re using. With output transformers it becomes more critical. Some people want to hear a darker transformer, others high-end clarity…. Some people want a smaller core so it saturates sooner, and others want enough iron so that it never saturates. All of those factors play not only into the sound, but they hugely affect feel.

TQR: Can you briefly summarize each model you build?

The 8 inch version of the Mosaic comes with either the stock 5F1 (Champ) output transformer or the oversize version, which nets you perhaps an additional 2 watts. You get more punch rather than volume. I also build a 12 inch Mosaic Mark II with an additional tone knob, which gives you more bass.

The Cortez was intended to be my flagship model until the Cremawheat came out. The name was inspired by Neil Young’s Suma album – you can just hear the tweed all over it. Its 12W-15W with 6V6s and it bumps up to about 18W with 5881s or 6L6s. It’s basically a straight-ahead 5E3 design.

The Cremawheat is my attempt to retain the tone and feel of a great 5E3 Deluxe, while giving you the dynamic range that would otherwise be lost in the output transformer and speaker with that amp. Those were two choke points on the 5E3, and the third being the massive amount of bass that’s being sent through the circuit, which causes it to distort so early. The other significant feature in this amp is the British-voiced Scumback speaker. It adds punch to the dynamic range, and enough bass, but not the ragged and loose 5E3 style low end.

The T35 covers the 5F4, 5E5-A and 5E7 circuits for the Bandmaster, Pro and Super. They were basically the same chassis with a couple of minor resistor changes and three different speaker configurations, and I tend to prefer the 1×15 and 3×10 versions. It’s the only fixed bias amp I offer. I like the T35 series, but I tend to gravitate toward the cathode biased amps and most of my customers seem to as well.

If you took the 2-input ’55 Bassman, which shares a lot with the Super, Bandmaster and Pro amps of that era, and cathode biased it in a 2×12 speaker format, that’s kind of where the Blue Point sits. When you pay it clean, it sounds very American in the style of a mid-’50s Bassman, and as you turn it up, you get more coloration from the British-voiced speakers. It starts to cross the Atlantic into that early JTM-45 Bluesbreaker tone, but stops short of a later Plexi amp.

The Buckwheat is the follow up to the Cremawheat. It’s a 6L6-based, 30 watt with the Scumback H-75, which is their version of the pre-Rola G12H. It has a significant amount of headroom over the Cremawheat, and the speaker produces a glassier, high-headroom tone with a bigger transformer and a larger cabinet that leaves more air around the notes. If you’re a Telecaster player, for example, who wants more headroom with just a little hair, this is that amp.

TQR: Will you build specific amps with different speaker configurations as a head or combo, and what is the current lead time for an amp?

Sure, I’ll absolutely build variations on the stock models – I actually really like the 16 inch Mosaic and I have built several of them. I want to know that I’m building exactly what a customer wants. The lead time right now is eight weeks, and I always try to keep it under three months. I sell direct, and through a small dealer network, but I do enjoy working directly with customers. Depending on what a customer wants, I may suggest a specific change to the stock circuit, and I find that interaction very rewarding Introducing another 15W–20W amp in these pages is nothing new – in the past year we’ve invested a log of ink highlighting amps like Jeff Beck’s choice of a Pro Junior, our vintage ’59 Deluxe and ’76 Princeton Reverb, the Retro-King 18W and the Trace-Elliot Velocette. Why? Because we understand that such friendly decibel levels offer adequate volume for use in small clubs, mic’ed on bigger stages, yet till fill your house, studio or practice room with a mighty roar when needed. Small amps just make more sense today for most players, but like us, you might be wondering just how many ways a smallish guitar amplifier can be designed and built to produce a genuinely unique voice and vibe. You know what you’ve already got, but what might you be missing, and at what point does your quest to discover the ultimate low power amp become redundant, at best? A fair question, and given the nearly infinite variables created by the marriage of different components within different circuit designs, we are happy to report that we haven’t reached the end of the road in the quest for tone quite yet.

Viewed within the board context of the booteek amp landscape, the Tungsten Cremawheat emerges from the box as an uncommonly attractive natural blonde. Offset with gold grill cloth, it scores big in style points without even being lit up. Nor will you find any self-conscious bells and whistles added to an otherwise classic design, as if the builder wanted to get noticed by adding the kind of stuff we seldom really use – like Selmer-style rotary tone switches, pentode/triode modes and toggled boost switches (although Carr has always done those right by bypassing the tone stack). Indeed, this amp is so outwardly attractive, approachable and comely that pulling the back panel off might inspire distant memories of an anticipation experienced in concert with a one-handed thumb and forefinger bra removal technique. (We now pause to allow a moment of fond reflection. Please take your time.) Adam Palow’s skill in assembling and soldering up a circuit board culminates in nothing less than a work of art. Flip the chassis over and the custom-wound Mercury Magnetics trannies provide further evidence of Palow’s commitment to following his muse. In practical terms, you get four inputs into two channels (bright and normal), volume/volume and tone, plus a standby switch and extension speaker jack.

Our first session with the Cremawheat was agreeable enough, but repeat visits left us with a nagging impression that something was either missing, or perhaps technically present, but not being fully reflected in the sound of the amp. Naturally, we used our tweed Tremolux and Deluxe for benchmarks, and the Tungsten sounded subdued and restrained by comparison. We tried different tubes first with no appreciable change, and that’s when we focused our attention on the Scumback speaker. Admittedly, we had suspected it from the beginning, so with the original tubes back in the amp, we connected the Celestion G12H30 70th Anniversary in our ’59 Deluxe cabinet to the Cremawheat, fired it up, hit a big E chord raking a heavy Pyramid pick over the strings slowly, followed by ten minutes of unbridled delirium. Paired with the Celestion, the Tungsten bowed up with increased volume, clarity, dynamic punch, and a gloriously rich tone that easily rivals that of our Deluxe, but with a little more added sparkle. Swapping the stock Electro-Harmonix 6V6s for a pair of RCA 6L6s brought the Cremawheat to climax with an even bigger, more imposing voice, precisely in the style of our ’59. If anything, the Tungsten offered a slightly more defined and chiseled tone as a new amp should when compared to one that has undergone a half century break-in period.

To be fair, we called Adam Palow to inform him that while we absolutely loved the Cremawheat, we were not feeling the Scumback. He agreeably acknowledged that the Scumback was indeed somewhat more subtlety endowed than the Celestion, which is why he offered the G12H as an alternative for players desiring maximum girth, power and growl. Any number of modern speakers would surely sound outstanding in the Cremawheat – but we clearly preferred the more vivid soundstage created by the Celestion when the choice is narrowed to one of the two stock speakers offered. Would we buy and play the Cremawheat? Absolutely. It now reigns among the best on temporary boutique twenty watters, and in four important respects (tone, overall clarity, availability and price), the Tungsten impressed us as an irresistible alternative to a vintage Deluxe and any and all modern replicas

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Brought Every Guitar Amp to the Studio

Quietly, outside of Los Angeles, Steve Trovato has been leaving blazing guitar everywhere he goes.

Currently, he is a full time instructor in the Studio Jazz Department at the University of Southern California. In addition, Steve has found the time to author over 20 instructional books for Warner Brothers and Hal Leonard, produce over 50 instructional videos for the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert, and has even starred in five of them. His students have achieved major success and include Scott Henderson, Frank Gambale, Paul Gilbert and Norman Brown. He has performed with Chet Atkins, Albert Lee, Robben Ford, Jeff Berlin, Jerry Donahue and Scott Henderson, and contributes to five international music publications, including Guitar Player, Guitar One, Axe, Guitar Club, Guitar World and Chittar, as well as recording for too many studio and motion picture projects to list. We caught up with Steve as he completed his new release, Country Jazzmaster.

One of the things I have always wondered about is who or what influenced you to start playing guitar?

Well, I think you’ll hear this from a lot of guys; it was the Beatles. I think I was six years old, and I had been playing the piano. I did my piano recital and played “The Blue Danube Waltz.” Then I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and I thought, “Wow, girls never screamed for me playing piano.” So that was it and I started playing the guitar. That was pretty much it, and I have never looked back.

Did you come across a single moment that it finally hit you? This is it, this is what I want to do the rest of my life?

I’ve never been asked that before; that’s a really good question. I would say that there were three pivotal moments: one of them was when I saw the Beatles, the second was when I heard Chet Atkins for the first time, and the third was when I was up on stage and I got a chance to play with Albert Lee — that was when I really knew I wanted to do guitar. For some reason those guys hit me hard — they played melodies — and I always loved the way I could track it even though it was guitar playing. It was really very sophisticated. When I heard Chet Atkins play, I could hear the melody. Even with all the notes that Albert Lee plays, I can still keep track of it– that’s what attracted me. I think since I’ve been playing, if I have anything, it’s the ability to play a melody.

You’re originally from New Jersey. How did you end up on the West coast attending GIT (now the Musicians Institute)?

Like every guitar player on the East Coast, we were always hungry for information about the guitar. I used to get this magazine and I saw an ad for this place called GIT in California. I saw pictures of Larry Carlton, Tommy Tedesco and other people that I didn’t know, like Don Mock and Joe Diorio, and they were starting this school. They were sort of advertising it being for studio musicians, and that was what I wanted to be.

Now that you already have one CD under your belt, you’ve gone into the studio a second time with some outside input. How are you achieving your tones with the studio?

When I did my first album, I just took my rig into the studio with the thought that if it sounds good live, it will sound good in the studio. I’ve found that not to be true. I also realized that amps that are made specifically for recording don’t necessarily sound all that good in the studio. It really depends on the studio, the mics, and everything else. I brought every amp that I had down there — I even borrowed some amps. I ended up with five or six different amps and I had to just go through all of them to find out which one sounded the best in that studio — with that particular set up of room and microphones. I wound up actually using a boutique amp from a company in Virginia called Talos. I love those amps. It’s a 60-watt, one-twelve, and it just has two knobs on it, drive and gain.

Well, I think you’ll hear this from a lot of guys; it was the Beatles. I think I was six years old, and I had been playing the piano. I did my piano recital and played ‘The Blue Danube Waltz.’ Then I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and I thought, Wow, girls never screamed for me playing piano. So that was it and I started playing the guitar. That was pretty much it, and I have never looked back.”

What about guitars? Did you find that’s the same scenario to be true?

It’s something I suspected, but I never really had the chance to put it to the test. I usually use my G&L Legacy live, with the Kahler on it because it sounds great. You’re playing loud enough where if there’s a bass, drums and everything cranking you lose the nuances and the subtlety. But in the studio you retain those nuances and subtleties because everything is under a microscope. I found that using different guitars expresses that better.

If I want to play a sensitive, sort of Chet Atkins jazzy piece, the Legacy wouldn’t work because it sounds too thin, but with a loud phrase it will sound fine. For a quiet passage, I decided to use a Gibson — a Howard Roberts with two old humbuckers that I had. Of course, for the Straty-sounding things I used my red Legacy with a Kahler on it, which I absolutely love. For the rest of the stuff I used one of two Teles: a Fender solid body Telecaster and a G&L semi-hollow. None of them are stock. Seymour Duncan custom built the pickups for both of them.

What amps do you prefer for live performances?

I play rock, I use my Dumble. That, of course, is Alexander Dumble. It says “Built to win” and it really does, it’s just really something. I put a pedal in front of it to make sure it’s got enough overdrive. In the country bands I use a ’65 Pro Reverb, which Dumble rebuilt for me.

What do you use on the jazz side?

I use my Talos.

Throughout your time as a guitar player, you’ve been labeled as the chameleon of guitar. Do have a huge arsenal of guitars at your disposal that you have hiding in the back room to take out whenever you need to?

For the live work I pretty much grab whatever is nearest to the front door on the way out. I was never really one to take ten guitars to a session because I figured that one guitar would sound just as good as 10 guitars, but when you really start to do this seriously, there are subtle differences between all guitars that may or may not sound better for the tracks. You really have to have an arsenal of quite a few to do the job right.

What would be an ideal arsenal?

I would have to say you have to have a solid body, Strat-type of guitar with single coil pickups, a single coil Tele-type, a Les Paul-type solid body with humbuckers, a thin semi-hollow body sound, like a 345, and a jazz box, then, of course, steel string acoustic and a nylon string.

You mentioned putting a pedal on the floor in front of one of the amps.

Live I use a Boss GT-6. I use it for time delay effects such as reverbs, delays and chorusing. It sounds great for that and it’s also great on the floor. For distortion I’ve been using the AC Booster and the RC Booster by Xotic Pedals.

The Xotic pedals are fairly new. Can you tell us some more?

Oh, I love them. Those are the kind of the boutique pedals that all the guys in town are using. Scott Henderson told me about them. Studio guys like Michael Thompson are using them. Basically, the RC Booster is a pre-amp boost that keeps it clear, but gives it a little oomph. The AC Booster is an overdrive — basically a really high-end Tube Screamer with a bass control on it. Everybody loves Tube Screamers, but it takes the bass away from it; this is a Tube Screamer that sounds a lot more transparent and smoother than normal. You can also roll the bass back in because it has bass and treble controls.

You mentioned the Kahler Tremolo on one of your G&L’s. What do you like about it?

The thing I love about the Kahler is its flush and mounted solidly on the guitar body, versus another one. I won’t mention any names, but the initials are Floyd Rose. It is not really mounted on the body of the guitar as solidly and or as flush as a Kahler. With a Kahler, the tone sounds pretty darned good. I really like that about the Kahler. Since you have that big plate to rest against the body, you get more natural wood resonance, it doesn’t sound thin and small. The other thing that I like is the adjustable string spacing. I don’t think other bridges can do that.

On the first CD, About Time, you cover a whole spectrum of guitar playing. You do a dedication to Danny Gatton, you’re hitting a little Django, you’ve got “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from Harold Arlen, and then you even do Billy Joel’s “Root Beer Rag.” What can we expect hear on the new CD?

When I spoke with Steve Vai, he was saying the last CD was really good but I needed a little bit better recording quality. He said the problem with the first CD, as far as marketing, is that I don’t know where to market it stylistically; it’s all over the map. I came up with this concept in my mind called “Country Jazzmaster,” with Jazzmaster being one word, like the guitar. I kept that thread in my mind as I was recording this album, and all of the songs leaned into that concept. Everything that you’re going to hear is country-jazz. Western swing, country jazz — that sort of a thing.

There’s a thread of continuity running through the whole album that you will hear. I recorded everything from the old Jerry Reed tune, “Guitar Man,” to “Back Home Again in Indiana,” “That She Could Ever Be,” “Panhandle Rag” and my ultimate version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

I still remember this vivdly: a NAMM show where you, Steve Vai and I were standing around talking, and Steve hailed you as, “One of the greatest Tele players of all time.” Will we hear evidence of this on the new CD?

That was very nice of him. But, yeah, that’s what I’m hoping for, and I think that it’s really extremely well played, if I can say so myself. We all worked really hard on it.

Trovato Gearbox: Here’s what Steve is plugging in, when it’s time to shine.

Country Gigs


  • G&L ASAT Tele stock
  • G&L ASAT semi hollow body w/Seymour Duncan P90’s


  • Groove Tubes Trio Pre amp
  • Groove Tubes 75-watt power amp
  • Groove Tubes 2×12 cabinet w/Celestions


  • Boss GT-6
  • Keeley Compressor
  • Xotic RC Booster
  • Xotic AC booster

Rock/Blues Gigs


  • G&L Fullerton Red Legacy with Kahler and custom Seymour Duncans
  • ‘69 Fender Strat (stock)


  • Early ’80s Dumble Overdrive Special
  • Two 1×12 Dumble cabinets with Mojo Tone Speakers
  • ’65 Fender Pro Reverb with Mercury Magnetics Bassman replacement transformer and 2×12 Mojo Tone Speakers modified by Dumble


  • Boss GT-6
  • Maxon Tube Screamer
  • Fulltone OCD pedal
  • Zendrive Pedal

Steve Trovato: It’s About Time and the new, Country Jazzmaster, are available at: /


ToneClone – Tonelux transformers

It’s no secret to any of us that Fender’s Deluxe Reverb has long been considered the guitar player’s ultimate desert island amp. It’s lightweight, compact, incredibly sturdy and dependable, and it captures the essence of classic ’60s Fender tone. Blackface models built between 1964 and 1967 can cost as much today as a clean vintage Super Reverb, and Silverface Deluxe reverb amps built from 1968 through the mid ’70s remain a bargain, selling for $600-$900. There is very little difference between unmodified amps built during the two eras, except for a couple of caps connecting the output tube grids to ground in the Silverface amps, and a variety of stock speakers, including JensenCTS and Oxford. There is absolutely no reason why a Silverface Deluxe Reverb can’t sound every bit as wonderful as any Blackface amp, and some of the Silverface amps will sound better than some Blackface Deluxe’s you’ll find. Local amp wizard and advisory board member Jeff Bakos has observed that some of the exceptional Deluxe Reverb amps he’s heard (and he’s heard hundreds of Deluxes) seem to have “hotter” power transformers, and the slight inconsistencies in the way some transformers were wound can make a big difference in tone. Earlier today we heard as much in Jeff’s shop in a ’66. Unfortunately, it all comes down to the luck of the draw when finding those special amps. If there is fault to be found with the sound of a Deluxe Reverb (and it really isn’t a fault), it’s the speed at which the amps begin to break up. The clean threshold of the Deluxe is pretty low, and while this characteristic feature is an irresistible attribute to many players, we wondered what could be done to make the Deluxe Reverb even more versatile without losing its unmistakable tone. The modifications we describe here are very simple as modifications go, and all of them are easily reversible. We encourage you to try some and let us know how you like the results.

We started with a beautifully preserved ’68 Deluxe Reverb acquired on eBay for $900.00. The owner had replaced the original particleboard baffle board with pine, recovered it in vintage Blackface-era grill cloth, and installed a repro Blackface plate. We also received the original baffle board covered with the original blue and silver grill cloth, the aluminum trim, and the Silver face plate. We had acquired a replacement output transformer from Mercury Magnetics, and although the original transformer seemed to be working fine, we wanted to see what we might hear by swapping transformers. The Mercury ToneClone series transformers is the result of years of testing in which Mercury blueprinted some of the best sounding output transformers that could be found in vintage amps and painstakingly reproduced them in every detail. At first, the new transformer didn’t sound starkly different from the original – it sounded exactly like the original. But over time, it became increasingly apparent that the amp was behaving with more dynamic response. Notes and chords were imaging differently than before. Individual notes within chords were better defined, the amp responded faster to touch, and harmonics were more pronounced and complex. We’re the first to subscribe to the “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” school of amp maintenance, but in this instance, the fix was a good one.

One of the easiest things you can do to Deluxe Reverb amps is rebias them for 6L6 power tubes. The outcome is predictable and sublime — more power, more headroom and better lows that won’t fall apart. Call it the “Beano”” treatment for your farting DeluxeJeff Bakos rebiased the amp after we had installed a pair of RCA black plate 6L6s, and we were mighty pleased with the results. You lose some of the compression and darker character of the 6V6 tube when you switch to 6L6s, but there is very little downside to the trade off — just big, bloomy 6L6 tone, and lots of it.

After installing the RCA 6L6s, we opted for an NOS RCA 5751 rather than the 12AX7 in V2, and it really smoothed out the tone to silky perfection. We also experimented with a Chinese 5AR4 rectifier tube, a new Sovtek 5AR4 and a Mullard 5V4. The Mullard pulled the volume back down ever so slightly, but it also seemed to sweeten the tone, rendering a throaty voice that fell nicely in between the “old”” amp with the 6V6s and the “new” one with the 6L6s. Either tube is a good choice — you’ll just have to decide which sound you prefer. Among the 5AR4s, we actually preferred the sound of the Chinese tube over the Sovtek, although the Chinese 5AR4s aren’t quite as robust. Our Deluxe came with an absolutely dreadful (recone?) non-original Fender “blue label” Oxford ceramic magnet speaker that was commonly used in the BassmanTwin and Pro Reverb. We replaced it with n Eminence Legend V12, and this speaker turned out to be a “best buy.” The V12 features a British cone, and the tone is extremely round, well-balanced, and warmer than the Jensen C12N. It’s rated at 80W, and as usual with Eminence products, value and tone are absolutely unmatched for a speaker that sells for under $50.00. Jeff also likes the Legend 125, which is rated at 50W and built with a 1.5 inch voice coil and a slightly lighter magnet. As we observed in Eminence founder Bob Gault’s interview, the low price of an Eminence speaker is no indication of cheap construction or tone. The speakers rock, and they are voiced to appeal to a wide variety of players. We continued experimenting, and our next choice was a new Jensen C12K. We had seen this speaker in Victoria and Fender Twins, and it’s a massive thing. Built in Italy, and rated at 100W with a 2 inch voice coil and 50 oz. magnet. The C12K in a Deluxe with 6L6s yielded huge clean tone from top to bottom, with more high frequency emphasis than the Eminence speakers, and no speaker distortion whatsoever. The Jensen C12K in a Deluxe won’t be everybody’s idea of the perfect match, but it you crave a wide-open, big sound with nothing but clean speaker, the Jensen is a worthy contender at $90 retail. The last speaker we installed was a paper (not hemp) Tone Tubby from A Brown Soun. The paper-cone Tone Tubby is voiced a little brighter than the hemp cones, and we were floored by its rich, smooth character and charm. Jeff described it as being “silky smooth,” and just what he expected, with great lows, stout midrange, and creamy, creamy highs. Now, do you really need a $200 speaker to sound great? Of course not, and the price of a Tone Tubby is not for everyone. But if it’s the speaker for you, you won’t rest until you get one, and nothing we’ve heard can touch it. Enjoy yours, Eric, and enjoy milking some more of the good thang out of your Deluxe, gang. Hey… if not now, when?



Brown — 2, 4 & 8 Ohm taps

British Tone in an Amplifier

Following up on the successful introduction of 65 Amps’ flagship London 18W, the company has launched its second model — the Marquee. Named for the legendary Soho music venue where every ’60s British band of note once honed their craft, the Marquee is a bigger-sounding, louder version of the London 65 in some respects, endowed with great headroom and presence. We asked co-founder of 65 Amps and Sheryl Crow guitarist Peter Stroud to describe the musical intention of the Marquee, and our review follows….

TQR: What inspired the development and design of the Marquee, Peter? What did you want to accomplish specifically?

Peter Stroud: We had guitarists loving the sound of the London, but still needing either more volume or clean headroom. Personally, I wanted an amp to replace the Super Reverb in my live rig with that Fender clarity, but more of the openness and touch sensitivity of an amp like the London. Our initial idea with the Marquee was to create a more powerful version of the London 18 watter using 4 EL84s. But we also wanted something with the midrange clarity of the British amps and the clean sparkle of the American Fender Blackface sounds — just not as hard sounding as the 6L6 cleaner tone can be. On top of that, it has a higher gain tone that really roars.

TQR: To what extent were some of the design features in the Marquee such as the cascaded twin-triode operating in pentode mode and the 6-way Color control inspired by vintage amp designs?

Peter Stroud: Our initial intention for the Cascode (note spelling) configuration in this amp was to find a sound similar to the pentode type EF86 tube we use in the London, but more quiet. Due to vibration and noise issues inherent with EF86 tubes, we were apprehensive using it in a higher powered combo. The cascode circuit, which utilizes a 12AX7, was popular in early hi-fi preamplifiers. It has a harmonic content similar to the pentode circuit but produces more even-order harmonics. Randall Aiken helped us greatly with this circuit and we’ve continuously tweaked it’s current configuration in our amp. The end result is a distinctly different sounding channel from the Treble-Mid-Bass channel — very warm and rich sounding. It sounds beautiful with single coils and 12-string electrics. So, the Marquee initially came from many inspirations. Dan (Boul) and I are big fans of the Selmer amps. A few years ago while on tour in the UK I had picked up a Selmer Treble & Bass 50 MkIII, which is the early ’70s silver metal front — the ugly one. But that amp sounds awesome, like a “British Fender Blackface” with two EL34s. We’ve since found a Mk I Treble ‘n Bass from the first year they were built.

The font end of the Marquee Treble-Mid-Bass channel was initially inspired by the Selmer, but it branched off quite a bit. We just aimed for that sound. There are also similarities with the Selmer front-end circuit and the early ’60s brown-Tolex Fenders. I know one of your favorite amps is that killer Vibrolux 1×12 you have. The (Marquee) power stage is a fairly typical British-style 4-EL84 circuit. From there we spent months tweaking the tone circuit. We wanted the Treble-Mid-Bass tone configuration for more control with a higher powered amp.

TQR: You’ve played just about every conceivable guitar amp and for years your rig consisted of a Super Reverb and Marshall 50W. To what extent does the Marquee succeed in giving you both the clean and overdriven tones you need at usable state volumes, and how do you use it specifically?

Peter Stroud: On the latest tour I used both a London and a Marquee and A/B’d between the two. The two together worked perfectly for our stage volume. I’d set the London for a slightly driven rhythm sound playing through an EF86 channel and would use the gain boost for leads. The Marquee took the place of my Super Reverb as my clean sound, and it proved to be better since the mids are more pronounced and you get the nice dynamic saturation of EL84s. It’s much more touch sensitive, which is hard to get with a clean sound without using a compressor. The only time I’d kick on both amps was for Led Zep’s “Rock N Roll,” which we play as an encore. I’d crank the Marquee to 6, hit the gain boost and boost the mids. It totally hit the “Pagey” kind of sound. You can dump the mids and boost the bass and highs and get a chimey sparkling clean tone — settings around 4 on the volume, treble and bass around 6 to 7 and midrange around 4. For a cranking rhythm I’ll set the volume around6, boost the mids to 8 or so, drop the bass around 4, treble at 5. There’s also a footswitchable gain, like on the London, so you can set a rhythm tone on the T-M-B channel and kick in the boost for lead. If you turn the amp up to 10, look out!

TQR: You mention “mustard” caps on your web site being used throughout the amp — are these modern reproductions of the original “mustard” caps used by Marshall in the ’60s?

Peter Stroud: Yes, we use the SOZO caps made by John Gaynor. John’s a Marshall enthusiast who has totally nailed (and surpassed, in our opinion) the “mustard cap” tone where you get the nice smooth mids and bell-tone clarity.

TQR: What else are you working on?

Peter Stroud: We have two new models in the works — a smaller “grab n go” 1×12 combo which actually incorporates a master volume with two EL84s. It has a great sounding master volume that has a sound of its own that can be disengaged so that the amp ha a non-master function. Sort of a “British Fender” vibe again. The thing screams, it can get chimey clean, and it’s incredibly versatile. And over the past six months, we’ve been developing a KT77 head using our Marquee as the springboard with a KT77/EL34 power stage. We had a handful of pro level artists who wanted extreme volume and headroom, where they were used to their 50 and 100 watt EL34 hears and quite a lot of volume. Plus, Dan is a big fan of the Vox AC50 and I’m the Marshall fanatic, so we got into that mindset again. We sent a prototype out for a test run with Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes and he ended up using it as his main amp for the entire last month or so of their tour. When we got it back, all the knobs were dimed. Couldn’t ask for better testing in the field! We’ll introduce both of these amps at Winter NAMM.

REVIEW — 65 Marquee

We spent a lot of quality time with the 35W Marquee Club, and it impressed us as a feisty chameleon that can gracefully move between big, jangly clean tones and an impressive roar with a deep palette of voices available from two very different input channels.

EL84 amps typically produce a distinct, musical compression characteristic that is absent in amplifiers using 6L6 output tubes, yet the Marquee produces gobs of clean headroom — albeit British headroom rather than the trademark 6L6-fueled fidelity of a Fender amp like the Twin or Super Reverb. As far as we’re concerned, British tone in an amplifier denotes rich harmonic depth and chime, often augmented with a dominant midrange emphasis, while Fender amps (Blackface models in particular, sound scooped in the mids by comparison with a wider, broader, looser feel and toner not unlike the difference between the sound of oooh and ahhh. In the Marquee, individual strings seem “closer together,” yet still well-defined throughout its range of clean settings. EQ coloration is accomplished in the “Classic” Channel bass/mid/treble/cut controls, and in the “Normal Channel via six EQ presets on a rotary switch. This “color switch” progressively thickens tone with gradual increases in lows and mids, but the Marquee’s chime and sparkle remain audibly preserved in every setting.

The Marquee produces moderate levels of smooth, overdriven tone at higher volume settings (+6) in the Normal Channel that can be neatly managed from the volume on your guitar, while the footswitchable Boost feature in the Classic Channel yields scorching distortion and sustain that nearly rival that of a Marshall JCM 900 Series Mk III. However, the Marquee delivers a chimier crunch rather than the more linear and cutting, laser beam focus of a high-gain Marshall. It’s a prettier brand of mayhem, if you will. And unlike many vintage British amps, the Marquee succeeds in delivery an enhanced range of both clean and overdriven tones, as well as a more versatile and varied range of EQ emphasis. Overall, we found it to be an inherently bright amp with the EQ controls in neutral settings, but you are also given plenty of room to shape the voice of the Marquee, from brilliant and clangy, to thick, heavy and imposing. We had no trouble dialing in great tones with all of our guitars — thickening the Teles and Stratocasters, planting a wet kiss of treble emphasis on the humbucking Gibsons, and alternatively mining the jangly clean chime and perfect meltdown of P90s. A potent rock amp that can cover a lot of ground, the Marquee is handwired with point-to-point construction that meets the high standards we have all come to expect from custom builders today, the transformers are custom-made by Mercury Magnetics, and the fit and finish of the cabinet work were flawless. As the name implies, the Marquee is steeped in the tones that defined modern rock & roll, viewed through a properly British perspective. And as Fender’s Ritchie Fliegler is fond of saying, “If this is what you like, you’ll really love this!” Quest forth, mate.





Brown, Blackface & Silverface Spring Reverb Transformer — #022921


Brown — 220V, 230V & 240V primary — #68249-EXPORT

Mercury Magnetics’ Sergio Hamernik… Good Iron is Hard to Find

I have always had a passion for music and audio. Guitar tone through an amplifier aroused my curiosity early on because many of the design rules for hi-fi equipment didn’t apply to producing great guitar tone. In the case of vacuum tube amplifiers, transformer design has a significant influence on the characteristics of tonality. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of reference material available and many of the original designers have either retired or passed away. In the early 1980s my partner and I purchased Mercury Magnetics, a transformer design and manufacturing company, from one of the early pioneers who founded this company in 1954. Our close proximity to the Los Angeles recording industry gave us access to studio technicians and many well-known musicians. Out of necessity, and to meet the demands of this level of clientele, we had to develop precise, “no compromise” methods of documentation and assembly techniques to rebuild and replicate these transformers to exacting specifications. A past example of this was when a legendary guitarist sought our services to help solve a frustrating problem. A technician had replaced the original output transformer in his amp with a generic copy, which resulted in completely changing the character of the amp. Several breakthrough albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s were recorded using this particular amplifier, and the sound of that amplifier really had helped define his signature tone. Needless to say, most musicians are very concerned about maintaining the character and unique tonality of their amplifiers. We ended up rebuilding his original output transformer and we provided two additional clones as backup.

TQR:Are you referring to all types of guitar amps, or more specifically British amps rather than, say, vintage Fenders?

I think that in all guitar amps, regardless of origin or brand, you also supplying custom transformers to amplifier manufacturers. Our extensive collection of vintage transformer designs really began to take off at that point in time. The ongoing accumulation of the finest sounding examples we could find inspired our line of ToneClone® transformers.

TQR: What is it about those particular transformers that make them so special, and how do you evaluate them? Do you install them in an amplifier and A/B them, or is it done more or less on paper?

We do have the necessary test equipment and software to check various parameters, but ultimately the ear has to make that decision. We also plug in, play, and conduct A/B testing at our facility. I have a dedicated sound room at home that has been tuned for the purpose of testing and evaluating audio equipment. We are lucky, because the Los Angeles area offers us an amazing amount of guitar playing talent that continues to help us maintain a level of objectivity. Also, some of our best listeners are avid tone enthusiasts who work in and for the local studios. These people understand good tone and give us their experienced opinions.

TQR:And can you describe what it is that makes these transformers special? What would we hear, specifically?

Having a detailed transformer spec is only the beginning. Breaking down into fine details what materials and assembly techniques were used decades ago helps us assure our customers an accurate reproduction of vintage tone. We have carefully selected the best of new and old technology to put performance and quality ahead of economy. Our transformers are hand-wound and the cores are hand stacked. Some materials we fabricate in house, and others, like our steel laminations, are custom ordered. Because we build them one at a time, the Axiom and ToneClone series are only available in limited quantities. Consequently, there is an audible difference between a budget transformer and an Axiom or ToneClone.

TQR:Can you describe the audible differences?

A good output transformer should go beyond its job of impedance matching, and an amplifier’s overall personality depends on it. A desirable output transformer’s distortion has more detail. The harmonics seem even and smooth. Played clean, the transformer should sound natural without harshness, obviously within the boundaries of the authentic tone characteristic the player is eeking. Better said, we still can’t make an apple into an orange.

TQR: What are some of the comments that you hear from players when they hear the Axiom or ToneClone transformers that you build? Is it a matter of touch dynamics, harmonics, all of that?

Yes, and let’s not forget musicians’ colorful tone speak, such as: The amplifier sounds more open, glassy, sweet, brown, fat, with more notes perceived. Barred chords are not muddy or squashed. Chimes and bell tones are much more apparent. Good note separation, sustain improved, more definition, etc…

TQR:And these things can all be affected by the output transformer in some considerable detail….

It is pretty much the last tone filter in a series of components. Other factors like tube quality and speakers can play an important roll as well. Also, if you were to look at an amplifier circuit as a modulated power supply, then the quality of a power transformer and choke, if a choke is used in the circuit, also affects tonality. The ghost note phenomenon would be an example.

TQR:Like a few amplifier builders we know, you have taken the direct route of precisely replicating the materials and tolerances that comprised the industry standard decades ago…

I remember having a conversation with Leo Fender a number of years ago and getting a chuckle out of him as he told me how amazed he was that so much scrutiny was being given to how things were done in the early days of Fender. He said that they had taken what they were doing in the ’50s and ’60s so matter of fact back then. They were hardly thinking at the time that they were building future classics. They were trying to make an affordable, good sounding, quality amplifier while still trying to make a buck. Leo also mentioned that for reasons of cash flow and/or inventory problems, they would resort to using alternate vendors from time to time. They kept a careful eye on cost of materials, and their supply, rather than hand picking components with alleged magical tonal qualities.

TQR:They weren’t matching tubes, either. All of this can and does get out of hand, but when your rig sounds so good that you can get lost in the magic of it, as a player, wonderful doors can be opened.

Years of research led us to the conclusion that not every aspect of a vintage transformer needed to be copied. There were problems and limitations in their day, so why repeat them? We achieved better results by combining old and new technologies. Making the math work for the best tone characteristics together with improved consistency and longevity is the formula we chose to follow. There are a lot of vintage amps today with transformers that are going bad simply because they have aged. The tonal quality of the amp is deteriorating along with the transformer. Paper and certain types of varnishes used in these transformers tend to have hygroscopic properties. Moisture is absorbed over time, affecting the insulation system and increasing the chance for high voltage breakdowns. To make matters worse, the primary winding voltage is high enough to produce a corona effect whose ions help oxidize this insulation. Over time, reliability and tonality will suffer. Do you believe in transformer cancer?

TQR:That leads us to an interesting situation in which the original output transformer in our ’60s Pro Reverb died, and we noticed how much better the amp sounded when we had installed a new transformer, which was a commonly available unit sold by MojoTone. Now, the amp sounded great before the old transformer went out, but it sounded significantly better with the new transformer. I asked our tech and advisory board member Jeff Bakos if it was possible for an output transformer to gradually decay over time, dying a slow death while you continue to lose ‘tone’ in a very subtle fashion over years of use. Is that possible? It seems as if that was the case with our amp, which we had always considered to have a rather legendary vibe.

Not only is it possible, it is probable. Keep in mind that if high voltage insulation breakdown has started, there is no reversing it. Assuming that the transformers insulation system is intact, we have in the past reversed some tonal degradation in original transformers under controlled laboratory conditions. I’ve proven that point with my more cynical, high-end customers. One example of this is an amp (a Marshall JTM 45 or a Plexi – I forget which) that had been used in England for years and then brought over to the United States. The owner felt that the tone had decayed over time, seeming darker, lifeless, and the higher frequencies were less pronounced. We asked him to remove the transformer and all we did when he brought it in was to re-bake it in an oven to drive out the moisture. We then vacuum impregnated the transformer with our proprietary resin to hermetically seal it before the final bake. He put the transformer back into the amp and the results were pretty amazing… it became a lot brighter and more detailed from the upper midrange to the upper frequencies. I’m not recommending that anyone start baking their old transformers, however….

TQR: No, but it seems to be a fair statement to say that it’s possible that your good sounding old amp might sound significantly better with a new output transformer. At least that was our experience, and in hindsight, we didn’t realize what we had been missing.

That’s true. The tonal degradation I’m speaking about is very slow and gradual. Your results would be even better if you had used ToneClone transformers. Any of our transformers should outlast older vintage transformers because each are put through the same process during production.

TQR:Doesn’t it become particularly more problematic with amps like AC30s and Hiwatts, where repro transformers have typically been poor compromises at best?

I believe that Marshall, Vox and Fender, to name a few, are doing an outstanding job of building affordable vintage reissue amplifiers. When an owner of one of these fine amps wants to take his/her tone to the next level, they will usually consult someone like a Don Butler (Toneman) for example. Don is an expert in the field of amplifier upgrades and the art of tonal improvement. Don is also one of the key figures in this mini industry, which is similar to the aftermarket for automobiles and motorcycles. Much like an engine tuner, Don will replace transformers and other components in the signal path to give the customer an upgraded, outstanding sounding amp that comes much closer to capturing the original tone they were seeking.

TQR:Your website seems to be very comprehensive, but can you be contacted over the telephone for customers that either don’t see their amp listed or perhaps have additional questions?

Yes! Paul Patronete, an accomplished guitarist who has a good ear for vintage tone and heads our MI division, is happy to help those customers when I am unavailable. Our website is constantly being updated with vintage and modern transformer versions. We will probably always be two or three pages short of having all of the various models listed that people may be interested in. Of course, we can’t possibly list every one-off we’ve done. Another cool thing we offer are modern, updated versions of many of the classic transformers. We have added output impedance taps for many of the classic Fender transformers, which were never originally offered. For any make of amplifier, we offer various mounting styles from the original. We can, in addition, alter tonal characteristics to fit the unique needs of each customer.

TQR:Are you building transformers for many small builders?

Yes. If you own a high end, small production amplifier, there is a chance you will find a Mercury Magnetics label on the transformers. Some exceptions are when certain amplifier manufacturers remove labels in an effort to keep us and other vendors a secret. We do maintain a confidentiality agreement with all of our customers if this is their desire.

TQR:Schumacher was a primary supplier to Fender during the tweed era, and they are still operating, although we understand that you generally have to be capable of placing a fairly large order to get geared up. That seems to be a significant barrier to many would-be amp builders.

That company is doing a good job of supplying inexpensive transformers to a high volume market. When a lot of emphasis is placed on meeting price points, something has to give. The cost of labor and materials are logically their first consideration. The end result is a compromise, and who could blame them? Ultimately, end users will determine if the resulting tone is adequate. Someone who has paid several thousand dollars of their hard earned money for a “high end” amp is expecting to have something that excites their senses along with a build quality that justifies their investment. This is where we can assist the amp builder. It goes beyond Mercury Magnetics “sending in the clones.” We have made every effort to break those barriers by eliminating minimum buy requirements. We work closely with today’s designers and builders to provide them with a thoughtful, next-level approach to their signature tonal requirements.



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Feature Rich Guitar Amplifiers Review

We told this was coming.. Tes, when readers ask us to review something, we do our best to respond, and thanks to RedPlate founder Henry Heistand, we received two RedPlates for review. We’ll start this episode by telling  you that Henry Heistand appears to be a very clever fellow who is not working in the shadows of that past, which is to say that he builds feature-rich amplifiers that in no way pretend to be vintage knock-offs. Play a RedPlate and you’re firmly treading in the present, rather than mining tone out of a dusty box built by a dead man (or woman—sorry Lily). And that’s fine. There is certainly ample space in these pages for the living, and RedPlates are in fact very lively tools indeed. We asked Henry to give us a glimpse into his background and motivation, and our reviews of the TweedyVerb and BlackVerb follow….

TQR: How and when did you initially become involved in electronics and amplification?

HH: Starting around age 12 playing to the radio and jamming with friends, my first build attempt was a speaker cabinet made out of ½ plywood and covered with yellow carpeting. It had a leopard (spotted) grill cloth and contained 6 speakers recycled from various old TVs and stereos. My first real amp repair was replacing a screen resistor in a Fender Bassman in 1970. I went to college for a year and then played guitar full time until 1979 when I attended electronics school (they still taught tubes). To pay for school I got a part time job at a church organ repair shop that had a “combo” repair department and still played in club bands on weekends. Attending electronics school in the morning and repairing gear in the afternoons was a great way to instantly translate the classroom to the real world. Compared to the tube TVs and tube broadcast transmitters, the tube musical amplifiers were relatively simple. Besides Fender and Marshall, tube amps by Sunn, Ampeg, Gibson, West, Park, Hiwatt, Sound City and all the Supro/Kalamazoo/Dan Electro stuff. If I only had a nickel for every good tube I tossed in the trash back then. Many of those same companies had solid-state amps too along with companies like Acoustic, Kustom, Peavey, Randall, Lab, SG and Roland. It seems like the ’70s was the golden era of guitar amp designers. Although most tube amps have a similar topology, the differences between brands in those days ranged from truly innovative to laughable. On a few occasions when a solid-state repair would come in that was totally fubar, one of the church organ repair guys would show me how to design a new circuit right over the top of the problem area, teaching me the value of having a few simple circuit designs at the ready for emergencies. In late ’82 I got a career job in the computer field, and by ’86 purchased the part of the church organ repair shop that repaired the “combo” gear. The new company was named Music Mechanix and kept the warranty contracts with all the majors for amps, keyboards and P.A.s.

TQR: As you became more familiar with various amp designs of the past, what were your favorites and why?

HH: Thinking back to the tonal memories accumulated during those years spent repairing amps, the most musical of all of them were probably the early ’60s Fender tube amps. In addition to repairs, Music Mechanix did all the popular mods of the day (anyone remember the original Train Wreck Mod pages for Fenders?), many times we would redo almost everything inside but keeping the exterior unchanged. Most of my playing back then was strictly radio cover songs so the quest was always to find the one amp that could imitate everything. Music Mechanix was continuing the warranty station status from the previous owner (established in the ’50s) so every original manufacturer’s amplifier schematic ever released was available as a reference source, residing in 16 large file cabinets. On the side, I kept a little notebook of circuits and mods of interest to use as building blocks.

TQR: Can you describe the lasting impressions created by your study of the experiences with classic amps that have most affected your own design philosophy and preferences?

HH: As a service to friends and regular customers Music Mechanix would take a classic amp (at the time it was easy to get something like a used Bassman for $100) and do Frankenstein amps that were Fender this, Marshall that, with a sprinkling of Vox and Ampeg thrown in depending on the customer’s needs. On the weekends I was doing gigs using a pair of modified Ampeg VT-40s in stereo until somehow I ended up with a Mesa Boogie S.O.B. that had a really innovative phase inverter section controlled by a “LIMIT” knob. A bizarre variation of a PI section’s constant current source, the circuit was not in the RCA manual or on any other schematic. It sparked something in me and from hen on I started doing creative amp mods that were not copies of things I had seen on schematics.

TQR: When did you first begin to sketch out the concept for RedPlate amps, and what did you want to accomplish that would be unique and different?

HH: I had always been fascinated with “sleeper” amps that looked small but sounded big. After selling the repair business I used my free time to do a lot of experimentation on point-to-point builds in a Fender Camp sized chassis, eventually working out how to do a 7 tube, large transformer build in a Champ chassis without noise or oscillation. My favorite guitar tones were the recorded sounds of the Mesa Boogie/Dumble ODS type amps (even before I even knew what a Dumble amp was). A clean singing tone with a hint of character that sustains and blooms is my idea of the ultimate tone and the design goal of all the RedPlate models.

TQR: Can you briefly describe the unique features and differences among the current line of RedPlate models?

HH: RedPlate probably has too many models because we treat the sections as modular building blocks. We start with one of the 3 chassis sizes:

CH1. 15” width with four 9 pin sockets and two 8 pin sockets, transformers up to the 50 watt size.

CH2: 17” width with six 9 pin sockets and two 8 pin sockets, transformers up to 80 watt size.

CH3: 19” width with five 9 pin sockets and four 8 pin sockets, transformers up to 160 watts

Then we use different combinations of the building blocks with the only limitation being the number of controls (physical knob space) and the number of tube sockets available. Building blocks currently in use:

BB1. PREAMP1—Tweed—A single tone knob preamp (Tweed style).

BB2. PREAMP2—Blackface—A Treble, Middle, Bass Preamp (Blackface style).

BB3. DRIVE1—A three knob overdrive section (Gain, Drive, and Level).

BB4. DRIVE2—A six knob overdrive section (Gain, Drive, Level, Treble, Middle and Bass).

BB5. REVERB—A single knob tube reverb with medium decay tank.

BB6. EFFECTS LOOP—A fully buffered serial loop, return level is the master volume.

BB7. PHASE INVERTER—Standard Long Tail pair, very similar to the early ’60s designs.

BB8. POWER AMP #1—40 watts cathode bias (6L6GC).

BB9. POWER AMP #2—50 watts fixed bias/40 watts cathode bias (6V6GC)

BB10. POWER AMP #3—80 watts fixed bias (KT-88).

BB11. POWER AMP #4—45 watts fixed bias/18 watts cathode bias (6V6GTA)

BB12. POWER AMP #5—100 watts fixed/50 watts fixed (6L6GC).

TQR: Both of our review amps are loaded with Warehouse speakers from Kentucky, which we have reviewed before. How extensive are your evaluations of various speakers when creating a new model? Does the same process apply with transformers, tubes or other components?

HH: The current lineup is using WGS Retro 30, WGS British Lead 80 and Eminence Swamp Thang speakers in the combo amps. The decision to use these was based on side-by-side comparisons with other brands (an ongoing process).

Tube selection is mostly based on reliability (as long as the tone is still there). The current production amps use Svetlana 6L6GC, SovTek 12AX7LP (PI tube), and Electro Harmonix 6V6GTA and 12AX7s (preamp).

Selecting individual signal path components is more difficult because side-by-side comparisons can be misleading (no 2 amps are exactly alike). The signal path in current production amps use PS series Orange Drop capacitors and carbon film resistors based on low noise and musical warmth in the tone. RedPlate Amps has a good relationship with Mercury Magnetics and I like to use their transformers in most models.

TQR: How does the half power switch function in your amps, as well as the “mode” control and various voicing controls?

HH: Depending on the output section, 3 methods are used:

1. 6L6GC 100 watt/50 watt—The switch lifts two of the four tubes by 10K so they are effectively out of the circuit yet the impedance selection is still valid.

2. 6V6GTA 45 watt/18 watt—Full power runs two of the tube in cathode bias and two in fixed bias, the switch lifts the fixed bias tubes by 10K to effectively remove them without changing the output impedance.

3. 17 Watt (Hi/Lower)—This switch just lowers the voltage to the phase inverter tube so the amp breaks up sooner. There are two different styles of mode switches. On the Tweed style preamps the 6 position mode regressively reduces midrange and preamp output to imitate a Blackface style amp. On the Blackface style preamp the 6 position mode switch progressively fattens the midrange to imitate a Tweed style amp. Most of the models also include a Humbucking/single coil switch to set the amount of bass gain in the input stage.

TQR: How much individual customization or voicing do you offer for specific models when working with an artist?

HH: Unlimited customization is available, although most of the professionals that use RedPlate Amps are content playing standard models.

TQR: We noticed that you include the owner’s name on the back panel, correct? A nice touch…

HH: Yeah, the front and rear panels are done in-house, we could even put pictures of your dog on there.

TQR: What do you want to accomplish in the future? New models?

HH: “Amps that sing” being every guitar player! Going forward, curiosity and customer feedback will continue to drive the evolution of current designs and the development of new designs. For example, there will be a “shredder” amp in the near future (The ShredPlate) and possibly a bass amp. As RedPlate continues to gain name recognition with the music industry, models like the BlackVerb, MagicDust and TweedyVerb will hopefully be taken for granted as standard amplifier types.

The front and rear panels on the BlackVerb reveal an impressive array of controls, push/pull-knobs and switched pots. In fact, the printed operation guide includes a signal path diagram on the front page with a welcoming invitation to skip an in-depth review of the manual and just set all the knobs at 12 noon and play, which we did, consulting the manual as needed as we spent more time with the amp. So, is the BlackVerb too complicated for you “plug & play” guys? Not really, but the control panel is best reviewed in sections. You’re essentially working with a clean preamp circuit and a Drive section that includes Gain, Drive and Level controls for variable levels of distortion overdriven tones, but there are still many more additional tweakable features lurking within…

The first control adjacent to the single front input jack is the miniature Bright switch toggle with the center position OFF, Down producing the sound of “new strings” (an accurate description we might add), and Up rendering a brighter tone that will be familiar to those of you with a Fender Blackface amp with bright switch. We usually use the bright switch to put a little extra shimmer and spank on humbucking pickups, or neck pickups on single coils.

The Volume control includes a pull switch to engage a midrange boost that increases upper mids. The Middle control does what you’d expect, with a pull switch for a “Deep” setting that scoops mids and boosts bass frequencies—an excellent change-up for clean tones. The Bass control handles low end quite well, and it can be clicked OFF to be removed from the tone stack. Try that with a neck pickup and it produces the odd and very different EQ found in some old Valco and Gibson amps.

The Mod Selector is a 6-position rotary EQ switch that gradually produces a fatter, thicker tone as you rotate left to right from the “Funk” setting, to “Normal” and “Fat” (tweed). All this pulling and turning may sound complicated, but you’ll have it thoroughly digested in 5 minutes, and most importantly, these extra EQ controls expand the tonal capabilities of the BlackVerb in a clever and creative way that really is worth using and exploring. We have bitched about such bells and whistles on other amps having limited value, but no such questionable affectations plague the BlackVerb. Like we said, Henry is a clever fellow. On the Drive section…

This is where you mine and manage overdriven tones and distortion. The Gain control can be bypassed by clicking fully left, otherwise, you’re setting the amount of signal being sent to the first gain stage, which produces variable levels of smooth growl and grunt. The Drive control further ramps up distortion through two gain stages, and a pull switch on the knob serves as an afterburner for maximum burn and rip. At this point you will be channeling Metallica at full husky, so hide the dog. The Level control sets the output volume for this section, resulting in a progressively bigger, thicker, bolder voice. Of course, the big selling point for the BlackVerb is how all of your clean, moderately busted up and filthy dirty tones can be deftly tweaked and the volume managed with the Volume and Master volume controls. At the full power setting, you really can get this thing to sound like a 100 watt high gain amp on “7” at low decibel levels suitable for home recording and friendlier sound pressure levels.

The reverb control is what it is, and you can turn it off fully left and it’s out of the circuit. The Presence control is described as using “global negative feedback to remove low frequencies which frees up bandwidth for more midrange and highs,” and it can also be turned off when rotated fully left. Frankly, the appeal of this control escaped us, but we can imagine how it might be useful in a live situation where you may want to avoid too much low end muddying up the mix with bass and drums. The Master volume works very well without producing the dreaded master volume/low volume faux zizzz when you’re trying to light a fire at low volume levels.

One of our favorite features is the 50 watt/40 watt switch on the back panel that changes the boas from fixed to cathode for a completely different feel. With the 40 watt cathode biased setting you can also change the 6L6 output tubes to 6V6s, transforming the BlackVerb into an 18 watt cathode biased flame thrower, or bypassing the Gain section for a more tweedy character and voice. The Hi/Lo power switch changes the voltage on the input stage and the threshold for clean headroom.

The back panel Smooth switch is just that, adding slight compression in the clean preamp, and the Humbucker/Single Coil setting sets the amount of bass gain in the input stage, relieving you of perhaps resetting EQ when switching from single coils to humbuckers.

Additional utilitarian features on the back panel include a handy bias adjustment and test point, speaker impedance selector, main and extension speaker jacks, FX send and return, and footswitch jack. The footswitch gives you the capability to get in and out of the Tweed, Drive and Boost circuits. Tweed boosts upper mids while lifting the midrange control on the front panel for maximum push in the frequencies where the guitar really lies on stage. Drive engages the Drive feature, bypassing it when off at the footswitch. Boost makes everything sound bigger with a partial tone stack lift.

And now for the bottom line…. It seems to us that the intention of the BlackVerb is to be as tonefully versatile as a 1×12 combo amp can possibly be whether you are playing small clubs, bigger rooms or wide open outdoor stages. You could play nothing but smooth, clean jazz through this amp without ever venturing into the gain stages and be perfectly happy. Or you could do nothing but feast off the considerable gain and distortion lurking in the heart of the BlackVerb and be equally happy. Most gigging musicians want to range between such extremes living somewhere in the middle, and you can do that, too. Like most feature-rich amplifiers, you’ll find certain favorite settings that will be revisited with specific guitars, and after a few days you’ll have no trouble quickly accessing those settings, although the control panel is a bit difficult to read until you no longer need to read it at all.

The standard Warehouse Retro 30 speaker is a brighter version of the Veteran 30 we have favorably reviewed in the past. Given the considerable range of overdrive and distortion available in the BlackVerb, the Retro 30’s clear, articulate character and exceptional capacity to handle low frequencies makes it an excellent choice for this amplifier. Even at extreme gain and drive settings, the BlackVerb produces a rich and musical burn that does not mask or obscure essential overtones and harmonics. The clean tones are equally strong, powerful and clear, and the amp will nimbly spill into overdrive played clean at higher volume levels that can be managed with the volume on the guitar. The BlackVerb impressed with its ability to embody many different styles of amplifiers in one compact box, limited only by your capacity for experimentation and your imagination. Imagine that.

We were particularly anxious to experience the TweedyVerb because it seems to fit the power and volume requirements of so many players today, and it is a very straightforward and versatile 1×12 combo that is a breeze to hump to the next gig. Got your attention there, did we? We finally figured out why vintage blackface Pro Reverb amps have remained relatively underpriced… just pick one up.

The TweedyVerb is a cathode biased dual 6L6 amp with reverb, loaded with an 80 watt Warehouse British Lead 12” speaker. You won’t find a bad tone in this amp, and the controls are very intuitive, delivering outstanding “blackface,” “brown” and “tweed” tones via a 6-position Mode switch. The Bright switch is identical to the BlackVerb (you’ll love the “new strings” setting), with a single Volume control, simple Gain control, and a Tone control that can be clicked off fully left to bypass the tone stack for a very heavy and thick does of overdriven tones with excellent dynamic feel and touch sensitivity. The spring reverb is good—delivered form an original new old stock Accutronics pan made by Cary, IL, and the Presence control is identical to the BlackVerb, using global negative feedback to remove low frequencies and emphasize mids and highs. It also seems to decrease volume and gain, best used in our opinion for clean tones.

The 40 watt/17 watt switch on the back panel changes the voltage on the phase inverter. We preferred the sound and girth of the 40 watt setting, which still allows plenty of room for managing volume and variable distortion with the Gain and Volume controls, but the 17 watt setting is fine, too for close quarters. 6V6 power tubes can also be used at this setting without re-biasing for lower power output and volume. A footswitch is included to access both the fat Tweed setting on the Mode switch on the fly, and the Boost function, which acts as a tone stack bypass. Despite its compact size and relatively light weight, the TweedyVerb is a big-sounding amp that produces outstanding clean tones at usable stage volume, yet it can also be gradually pushed into the familiar sound of a Deluxe Reverb on “6” or even a vintage Marshall head at higher volume and gain settings. It’s a right fair chameleon, this one.

The Warehouse 80 watt British Lead 12 gracefully handles the power output of the TweedyVerb with excellent clarity, sold bass, vivid mids and a sweet and chimey top end. Like the BlackVerb, the TweedyVerb offers the sound and feel of several distinctively different amps in one box via the Mode switch, and we liked them all, from the rough and tumble Tweed, the slightly less raucous, smooth upper mid voice of the Brow, and the more scooped, open and airy Black settings. Both RedPlate models reviewed here clearly share the same DNA, which is to say that they possess a remarkably rich and music character, whether you choose to stroke big clean tones through them or dial up a tone that would make Billy Gibbons proud. Douse that light, and Quest forth….


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1977 Guitar Amplifier Review

In this issue we are dealing with a subject on which I have received many inquiries in the past. It is about the selection or matching of tube amps for the best possible Jazz sound. Amplifying acoustic or semi-hollow-body guitars has always been a huge challenge because most jazz guitarists are very demanding in terms of sound and simultaneously fight against unwanted distortion and feedback. In the following article I would like to summarize some tips and tricks that get  great tone and how to avoid distortion.

When I started getting involved with jazz sounds, around 1977, most guitarists in this genre used transistor amplifiers. George Benson played a Polytone, Pat Metheny an acoustic amp with a 4×10” speaker cab and Volker Kriegel and Michael Sagmeister used a Gibson LAB L9 with 15” speakers. Such examples can be found very often from that period. Although all of these guitarists had indeed very good tone, the typical depth and openness of a tube amp sound could not be reached however in its wider spectrum. Still the transistor amps had some advantages over tube amps: They sounded very compact and linear, were less prone to feedback and offered a relatively balanced frequency spectrum and a nice sustain, which was the ideal sound of many jazz guitarists. A Gibson L5 played through a LAB or a Polytone is completely convincing – even today.

One disadvantage that the transistor amps had in particularly was its dynamic behaviour, in their relatively poor response and in their tendency to not let the individual character of a particular guitar fully unfold. You could also say: Transistor amps tend to standardise tone.

I do not wish to start a discussion about tube versus transistor because transistor amplifiers will continue to play a rightful role in jazz. It is more about ways to show how one can get the typical warm jazz tone with a tube amp without all the disadvantages.

Above all I am thinking of the sounds of the early sixties, which were marked by numerous jazz guitarists including: Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, the early George Benson, Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Grant Green and Jim Hall. All of these guitarists were playing tube amps on their early recordings and getting fantastic sounds. Today tube amps are celebrating a renaissance with jazz guitarists.

Let us first take look at the most popular models from the distant past. In the fifties the combos from Fender (Tweed), Gibson, Standel or Flot-A-Tone were especially loved by jazz musicians due to their sound and their small size. These amplifiers were sufficient for jazz guitarists because they were usually accompanying musicians and they performed as a soloist only in rare cases. They often stayed in the background and did not play very loud.

Even back then, most jazz guitars were equipped with a tone control that made it possible to filter out unwanted peaks and thus to form the typical dark jazz sound. But soon the guitar became a solo instrument. Just think of the impressive sound of a cascading Les Paul, who at that time had good reason to play on a solid body. The traditional jazz players remained with their hollow bodies and now had to fight against all the disadvantages of the electrification of their sounds. Recently I read in a retrospective of Wes Montgomery that he alleged that during his entire career he was unhappy with his sound because he simply could not find the perfect amp. One might even go so far and assume that the dark jazz sound is actually created only (and eventually cultivated) because the amount of unpleasant highs tube amplifiers have, are rather imperfect sounding and also quickly led to feedback. Most guitarists wanted more of a linear and natural reproduction of their beautiful instruments that already sounded great acoustically.

Let’s now take a look in the interior of a tube amp and consider certain circuit characteristics which can be modified for a better jazz tone. The objectives of these measures are the reduction of distortion and the high frequencies, improving the mid-range and increasing the linearity of the sound.

First, a list of known suitable amplifiers for conversion to a “jazz box”: Fender Tweed Fender amps from 1956 and Brownface, Blackface and Silverface combos. Examples from this list shall be explored in following issues.

Let’s start with a Tweed Deluxe amp replica from Cream which I have converted for jazz sounds. These amps are known for their distortion when left stock and therefore not ideal for a clear jazz tone. But they are very small and handy and with around 15 watts of power ideal for use in a club. In addition, these amplifiers are connected with a so-called “split-load” phase inverter which is appropriate for our purposes because of its low gain. The only drawback is the two coupled volume pots, which restrict the volume control range on the one hand and deliver too much gain in the preamp. The aim is to reduce the gain in the preamp and increase the output power and stability of the amplifier. Only then we get enough headroom for a clear sound.

Just this once, I should like to “put the cart before the horse” because there are a number of measures to improve the amp without intervention on the circuit.

First, these amplifiers usually have an inefficient speaker. Powerful speakers with a good efficiency rating are especially suitable for jazz sounds. Those who love the Alnico sound can search out an old JBL D-120 and replace the aluminum dust cap with a counterpart out of fabric (available from Weber VST). The speaker can be helped dramatically in the highs and we get a warmer, rounder tone. Excellent was also the old Fane Crescendo Heavy-duty speaker, which is also suitable after the removal of the aluminum dome making a perfectly clear and powerful sound. These speakers were also used by David Gilmour. Another excellent choice is also an Electro-Voice 12L or a Jensen C12K with 100 watts. All these speakers better the sound of the Tweed Deluxe significantly. You only have to watch out for the thin baffle-board because vibration during transport could for example pull heavy speakers from the screw holes.

A further stabilizing method is the conversion of the power tubes to 6L6 or 5881, which I recommended at this point several times. Although the amp has only about one or two watts more output, the increase in headroom is very clear. You get more clean reserves and dynamics. Here I recommend changing the cathode resistor of the amplifier from 250 (typically with 5 watts) to 330 ohms with 10 watts. If you play a jazz guitar with humbuckers, we recommend the low input of the normal channels. Here there are less highs and the output signal of the guitar is more attenuated. It should be noted that the volume pots affect each other on the Tweed Deluxe. By turning the unused channel by not more than 70 percent, the tone is much cleaner, but also quieter.

If you don’t wish to utilize this trick, you can simply remove the cathode of the second stage capacitor (Elko 25mF/25 volts) and reduce the gain of this stage substantially, which in turn increases headroom. The amp will be clearer and somewhat linear, but also a touch softer.

Even more clear sound can be obtained by replacing the output transformer. Something I always do in such tuning. In this case I choose a Mercury Magnetics Tweed Pro Axiom FTPRO-O transformer (available at Tonehenge Amplification) with 8 ohms, which gives much more stability to a small tweed amp.

If you want to use the amp only for jazz, you can also decouple the two volume controls from each other and only one channel and a tone control remain. Now you can adjust the volume much finer and linear. The circuit can be found at under Fender Deluxe 6G3. Here the channels are completely separate, each with their own volume and tone control. It’s only after the volume knobs on the channels that two 220k ohm mixing resistors are mixed together again.

Since the Tweed Deluxe played with humbuckers has in general somewhat bassy sounds, I also reduce the value of the coupling capacitors from 0.1mF to 0022mF. This makes the sound tighter and more mids. Sprague “Orange Drop” P715-type fit perfectly here.

Finally we get to fine-tuning via preamp tube placement. With a good 12AY7 and a 12AX7 of your choice, you can continue to shape your favourite tone. For those of you who have not had enough, you can play with the value of the capacitor on the tone-pot. The Deluxe was originally installed with a 0005 UF capacitor but also possible are values such as 0.01mF or 0.02mF (as in the 6G3) for a slightly warmer tone. If you want to darken the sound one can bridge one of the anode resistors at the 12AY7 with a 0.003mF capacitor (as in the normal channel of the Brown Vibrolux).

The result is a truly compelling jazz amp for small clubs, feeds back less, offers more clean reserves and could compete with any Polytone but all the benefits of dynamic and harmonically rich tube sound can be enjoyed. Diana Krall’s guitarist Anthony Wilson often used a Tweed Deluxe replica from Clark and his blond Gibson Byrdland in the studio. This sound is very reminiscent of Kenny Burrell and offers a wonderfully unique character. Have fun experimenting!

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Brown — #68249

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