Amp wars.

April 12, 2012 4:23 PM

I sort of feel like I need another guitar amp. But the options are perplexing.

OK, this is all snowflakey but bear with me.

Currently I have a nice Fender Twin which is shit-shakingly loud and heavy but does sound very good, although it need recapping and most likely rebuilding, since it emitted magic smoke a while back. I've never had the courage to turn it up past '3' even in a full band setting. It's probably got the most mojo of any piece of musical equipment I've ever owned but it is super temperamental and did I mention LOUD AND HEAVY?

I also have a Blackheart BH5H 5w head and 1x12 cabinet which I modded so that it has three voicings. It's a really great little amp, but it doesn't quite have the balls to keep up with a drummer.

I really feel like I need something in-between, especially as The Sportswriters seem to be getting up and running a bit faster than I expected., and I'm the only guitar player for the moment.

There are a couple of options:

(A) a 15-30w tube head which I can play through my 1x12 cab. This is a simple option that would definitely work.

(B) one of those Line6 HD500s plus something like the ZT Lunchbox plus my 1x12 cab. This has a few advantages -- it would simplify my guitar playing enormously since I have a really hard time switching between rhythm and lead sounds and singing and all the rest. I could also run my acoustic through the second channel, and have a patch for vocal/acoustic when we do that thing. However, I'm afraid it wouldn't really do it for me tonally so I'm sort of tending to option A.

So what are your thoughts? On the option A front, I've been thinking about the Blackheart BH15H and the Vox Night Train. What else should I look at? I'd rather not spend more than $500 on a head. I don't want any amp FX or modelling and I don't need an FX loop. I have a Fender outboard reverb so that's unimportant too. I think channel switching would be helpful though.

On the power front, it just needs to be able to be heard over a drummer in rehearsal without needing to mic it up and go thru the PA.

The only sounds I need are clean and crunch. Nothing high gain. Good touch response would be nice for the dynamics.

Any opinions welcome.
posted by unSane (29 comments total)

I play a Pod HD500 through a Marshall JVM head and don't tell anyone, but I actually use the POD modeling instead of the real head preamp more often then not. It sounds really good.
posted by jpdoane at 8:11 PM on April 12, 2012

I have a couple little amps for recording - lower wattage means easier to play at home, since I don't have to be heard over a drummer.

The amp I use the most is a Blackstar HT-5 - it does that slighly-breaking-up thing pretty well without any pedals. If I were getting a bigger amp, I would look at their offerings - i think they do a 20w head that's not insanely expensive.
posted by dubold at 3:59 AM on April 13, 2012

Well, it doesn't fix the "heavy" problem, but you can turn your Twin into a 50 watt amp by removing 1 pair of power tubes - either the two "outside" or the two in the center. You'll want to switch the impedance. I think some models have a switch by the speaker output, or different speaker jacks, otherwise you just disconnect one of the speakers.

If you're willing to go used, IMO the Peavey Classic series is a hidden gem, and there are quite a few 30 watt combos on ebay right now for $400 or less. You want to watch out for the (discontinued) head-only version, though, as apparently it only accepts a 16-ohm load.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:16 AM on April 13, 2012

The guitar player in my band has forsaken his Mesa Boogie Dual Rectalfryers for some of these things which are all based on classic 60's era marshalls, Fenders, Voxes, etc. They've got some great lower- watt options, I think.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:30 PM on April 13, 2012

I'm sort of tending towards one of these at the moment...
posted by unSane at 1:33 PM on April 13, 2012

While I've not heard the Ceriatones that Devils Rancher linked to myself, they've gotten rave reviews from friends of mine whose ears I trust. But I've poked around their website more than once in the past - it's, IMO, not all that well laid out, and after a bit I began to realize that getting anything approaching a complete working amp, not including tubes, was generally $500 and up. Still cheaper than the new-from-the-store Big Name amps they're cloning, but not quite the steal they first appear to be.

I'm old enough that the name "Egnater" means "high-gain shredder amp" to me, but apparently his newer stuff isn't like that. But listening to the video on the second page of the Premier Guitar review, I have some doubts as to whether the 15-watt Tweaker can really keep up with a drummer, especially clean. And since there doesn't seem to be the ability to footswitch between the channels, you'll need a pedal to get crunch. I think it sounds nice, just maybe not quite enough oomph.

I dunno, man. I'm basically a Fender amp guy myself (blackface Dual Showman) and there's just something about the "loud & clean" of a Fender. But to get that you need some headroom, and I think a lot of these 15-watt & under amps are actually trying to get a certain sound by overdriving the power tubes. Which is a cool sound, but not really a Fender sound (unless you're at ungodly volumes.)

My point being that if your Twin sounds & feels "right" to you, I think you'll want to try amps in the 30-50 watt range. Which might mean you'll have to go used to stay in your budget, and it seems combos in this kind of wattage are a lot more common than heads.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:45 PM on April 13, 2012

Yeah, I didn't really want to clone my Twin so much as get something that's an alternative. Like you say you can't really overdrive the power tubes on a Fender without demolishing nearby buildings. I've actually played my 5w Blackheart with a drummer and it *almost* kept up -- it's amazing how loud tube amps get.

The other alternative is a Deluxe Reverb but it's a bit more than I want to spend right now.
posted by unSane at 6:53 PM on April 13, 2012

Hmmm. I think the thing I'd be concerned about, apart from the pure amplification, would be using a 1x12 cab - that's perhaps going to be a bit on the thin side if it's not being mic'd and PA'd.

I haven't gigged for an age, but I still have my old Marshall JCM 900 50w 2X12 combo and that would be my first choice if I was "going commando" as it were. I have an addition 2x12 cab that I can hook it up to as well. It's easily loud enough (it goes up to 11, of course) on its own for most small gigs and rehearsals. I haven't fired it up in anger years though - I bet the valves are fucked now - it'd probably blow up if a I cranked it!

I have a Fender SuperChamp that I use for recording, and I'd be happy to use this mic'd. It's not an original 'Champ (I wish) but is one of the new "modified tube" ones. It's a bit of a Frankenamp really - not a thoroughbred like your Twin - but some of the presets provide a good basis for tweaking into a presentable sound. I like it anyway. But even with an extension cab I'd be a bit concerned that it might not really have the balls for a band setting, at least not in a gig situation. about something like a Fender Superchamp through your Twin's speakers? You can also use the 'Champ when recording - I don't think you'd regret it. I'm not sold on Blackheart btw. I have one of their heads - I think it's called a Killer Ant - and despite my best efforts it sounds more like a Dying Wasp.
posted by MajorDundee at 10:14 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you're right about the 1x12, Major.

What I decided on was getting the Egnater Tweaker and building a 2x12 for it. I just spent the afternoon doing most of the cabinet work, basically duplicating the Fender Twin in 3/4" birch ply except without the amp part. Quite an easy and satisfying thing to build... I suspect the Tolex will be the tricky part but would like to know how to do it anyway.
posted by unSane at 5:10 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

(although the idea that this was a 'cheap' option turns out to be a bit of a pipe dream...)
posted by unSane at 8:35 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Quite so... I thought when you mentioned birch ply that that wouldn't be cheap. And then, of course, there's the speakers. A couple of decent Celestions will lighten your wallet considerably.

I've been thinking about putting a greenback 10" in my SuperChamp.......but is it really going to make that much difference?? Sometimes hooking up a rolls-royce item to a slightly iffy bit of kit can simply highlight its inherent crappiness.

Does anyone have a Mesa Boogie? I used one on some sessions a million years ago and it was fab. Didn't matter what I plugged into it, it sounded shit-hot. Rose-coloured specs? (ears really I guess). Or are they really worth forking out the neck end of £2k for?
posted by MajorDundee at 1:06 PM on April 16, 2012

I think the Celestions are overpriced to be honest. I have a pair of (very) old G12T-75s in my Twin but I think there are better deals in new speakers. The Eminence line seems good, but I went for a pair of these in the end. They're basically a clone of the Jensens that were originally put in the Fender Twin but with a bit of the ice pick top rolled off. I've heard good things about them.
posted by unSane at 1:32 PM on April 16, 2012

(I might end up putting them in the Twin and the Celestions in the cab though)
posted by unSane at 1:33 PM on April 16, 2012

I've heard very mixed things about the new Mesas... it sounds like they can be a bear to get sounding right, quite the opposite of the old ones. Overall I think that there are a ton of good cheap amp options around right now -- I know you hate your Blackheart and I wasn't that keen on mine until I modded it, but I really like it now. I put in this little switch which basically changes the tone stack between a wide open Fendery sound, a bright voxy sound and a sort of brown sound. It's very different from just fiddling with tone controls. I think the tone stack (ie the values for caps and resistors) is really the voice of an amp so that was why the Tweaker appealed to me as it too has three separate tone stacks that you can switch in and out.
posted by unSane at 1:54 PM on April 16, 2012

I'd suggest taking a look at the Bugera V22. It's a 22W 1x12, which might not be quite big enough for you, but if your 5W Blackheart is almost doing the job, the Bugera will probably be enough. Or if you want your own cabinet with the G10C/Ses, look at the V55HD, which will be a cross between your Twin and a big ol' Vox. And probably lighter (though I haven't hefted one).

I've got the V5 (5 Watt), which compares nicely to my Fender Harvard (10W). The sound isn't quite so pretty as the Harvard (it's warmer, but my ears like jangle, so...), but it's a bunch lighter, much more easily replaced, very nearly as loud when staying in "clean" territory, and only gives up a little when I turn everything to 11.

I've been happily surprised by the Bugera, but opinions vary.
posted by DaveP at 6:28 AM on April 17, 2012

Prowling the intarwebs late last night (for something totally unrelated) I stumbled on the VHT Special Series of low-watt amps.

These look intriguing & make me wish I had a few extra hundred laying around.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:31 AM on April 17, 2012

I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:04 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I have the Egnater head now although I haven't unpacked it, and the cab is built but not Tolexed, and I have yet to install the speakers, but I am STOKED.
posted by unSane at 5:44 PM on April 19, 2012

Here are some pictures... still waiting for Tolex and grill cloth but I got it all assembled and running. Ignore my shitty carpentry skillz!

The back is in 3 pieces so it can be run fully open, 1/3 open, 2/3 open or fully closed.

The Eggnater is a really interesting amp. I only played it for half an hour but I honestly can't get a bad sound out of it. It gets monstrously loud at high gain. It's no match for the Fender Twin clean -- the sparkle is there but it doesn't have that amazing THUMP, although I think changing the cabinet configuration may affect that to some extent. The best thing is the incredible variety of tones it's capable of, all of them good. It's probably the least fizzy tube amp I've ever used. I suspect it may be the ideal recording amp.
posted by unSane at 9:44 AM on April 20, 2012

Ignore my shitty carpentry skillz!

What, no dovetailing? hmph!

I was really interested in that Egnater Tweaker when last I was a-shopping for amps, I'll be quite curious to hear how it records.
posted by dubold at 5:57 AM on April 21, 2012

Don't worry, Tolex will cover up a multitude of sins . . . . well, carpentry sins anyway. ;-)

Great idea on the 3-piece back.

Glad to hear that you dig your new toy. Now I'm really curious as to how well it keeps up with the rest of the band.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:34 AM on April 21, 2012

What, no dovetailing?

unSane's fixing a hole in the ocean, trying to make a dovetail joint. Yeah.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:38 AM on April 21, 2012

I thought about finger joints but it would have meant building a jig and buying a dado blade for my table saw and really, no.
posted by unSane at 7:37 AM on April 21, 2012

...and here's what it looks like (front, back) with Tolex and grill cloth.

The Tolexing was not as bad as I expected but BOY it's a boring job.

To my surprise it's pretty much indistinguishable from a professionally built cab. I'm such a klutz I find this kind of remarkable!
posted by unSane at 5:44 PM on April 21, 2012

Looks nice!
posted by soundguy99 at 7:20 AM on April 22, 2012

Finally got it all done and had a chance to play with it properly.

First off, it sounds GREAT.

The Egnater is quite a frickin' amp. It actually has a lot of balls played clean so long as you turn the bass up. At anything other than perfectly clean settings it's bloody loud thru the 2x12. It realy does have a ton of different sounds and they're all convincingly good. Very touch sensitive at the right settings. Mine came with a couple of duff 12AX7s (Egnater branded Sovteks) which made if very noisly. I swapped out for Tung Sols and now it's quiet as a mouse. It's super-tidy inside. The only thing I don't like about it is that you can't footswitch between a dirty and clean sound. The Tweaker 40 solves that and I can see it in my future... it is SO GREAT to be able to get so many different (good) sounds from a tube amp.

The Warehouse G12CS speakers are also pretty impressive. They are very similar to the Celestion G12s but they are bright without having the icepick-to-the-forehead thing happening. I was worried they'd be too mellow, but, really, no.

I'm a bit torn between running the cab fully closed or 1/3 open. At 2/3 open it's too unfocused and the bass isn't happening. At 1/3 open the bass is there if you turn it up a bit and it certainly fills the room, but when I tried singing through the PA with it there was still a fuck of a lot of guitar. Running closed seems like it tightens everything up and isolates the guitar sound a bit more, as well as giving the bass a lot of welly. I haven't quite figured out what the resonant frequencies are in the cab but it seems pretty well behaved.

Anyway, the cab turned out great but the big surprise was the Egnater Tweaker. I'm pretty much an unreserved fan of it. Utterly playable and wonderfully tweakable.
posted by unSane at 5:33 PM on April 22, 2012

(it has a master volume but as usual nothing really happens until the power stage is cooking... the settings on the Egnater site are very good... I think Bruce Egnater really knows his stuff).
posted by unSane at 6:16 PM on April 22, 2012

A bit of an update on this.

In the end I swapped the Tweaker 15 for a Tweaker 40. The 15 wasn't really up to driving 2x12" speaker, especially clean. It might have been OK with a 1x12' but I'd just built the cabinet!

I couldn't get that Fender THWACK on the bottom end and I really missed it. It sounded nice enough on its own but then when I A/B'd it with the Twin I realized what I was missing.

I did love everything else about it, though, so I just added more power. As a bonus the 40 has two independent (identical) channels and yet another little switch, for mid cut, plus an FX loop.

It's deafeningly loud and it has a wonderful variety of clean sounds, which the 15 struggles with.

I'm still running the cab closed. It seems to give it way more kick on the bottom end and the sound is much less washy.

The 15's going to be my studio amp and the Blackheart's going on the block.
posted by unSane at 3:45 PM on June 2, 2012

(I think the Twin is going on the block too... I haven't played it at all since I got the Tweakers, except to A/B it).
posted by unSane at 3:46 PM on June 2, 2012

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