Amps

Tech 21 Trademark 60

TM60_frontWay back, when this amp was first released in Sweden (or at least when the music store I frequented at the time were thinking about carrying it), I received one as a loaner/test amp, to give my impressions of it. I took it to a gig, and remember being mightily impressed by the way this little (not to mention lightweight!) amp handled itself. I played the whole gig with just the amp and its footswitch (for channel and boost switching). I might have had a tube screamer in there as well, just to kick the dirt up a notch, but that was it. There were just so many different sounds you could get from that little amp, that it completely blew me away. And having an onboard clean boost for solos just makes it so much more versatile… For some reason, I never got around to buying one, though I’ve had it in the back of my head ever since – it could be the perfect rehearsal/small gig and general backup amp. If all else fails, you could easily get through just about any gig with just the amp, its footswitch and some knob tweaking. It even has a dedicated volume boost for solos 🙂

TM60_backFast forward to 2013, when I came across this well-kept first edition (with original Tech 21 speaker, rather than the Celestion used in the later models) complete with flight case, for basically practice amp money. I took it home, and once again it blew my mind. As long as you keep in mind that the controls aren’t the same as on a ”normal” amp, and don’t work the same way, there are a million sounds to be had from it.

The two channels aren’t exactly ”clean” and ”distortion” – both can do clean and distorted sounds, but with ”Fender” and ”Marshall” flavours. The midrange controls (”punch” and ”growl”, respectively) control the character of the channel, and as such affect much more than just the midrange. Turning the ”punch” control takes channel 1 from Blackface to all-out tweed Fender, so you can go anywhere from a squeaky clean Fender Twin sound to a spitting Neil Young-esque Tweed Deluxe on 12. The master section then has active (cut/boost) bass and treble controls, which you can use to tailor the sound. You can then mike it as normal, or use the speaker simulated balanced XLR output to feed the PA. I’ve tried it both ways, and with a good-sized PA you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which…

1970 Fender Twin Reverb

TR_frontI got this after selling a Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel 2×10″ that I couldn’t really get along with (I suspect it was the EL84’s that didn’t gel with my Tube Screamer-based overdrive sounds). Like the title says, it’s a 1970 Twin Reverb that was officially imported to Sweden by Hagström. The amp came with grey basket JBL D120F speakers, which I have now replaced for a pair of Jensen C12N’s instead (saving a large chunk of weight in the process).

It is in good working condition, but could use a set of fresh electrolytic capacitors – at times, the amp does emit a ”motorboat” noise, which is usually a sign of old and leaky caps. It could also use some new tolex for the bottom section, which is missing completely. The original footswitch is missing, but after a quick check what it’d cost to get a replacement from Fender, I decided to build one myself. It only has one switch (for the tremolo) as I never turn the reverb off anyway. The first thing I did was to add four good-sized rubber feet as the old ones were long gone. Fender didn’t put castors on these amps until 1972, so I didn’t want to add them now. Later, I got a flightcase for this amp, which has made transporting it far easier. Granted, the case itself weighs quite a bit, so lifting the thing into the back of my car is quite an event… 🙂

TR_closeThe amp was originally believed to be a ’69, but further inspections has confirmed it to be an early ’70. Not that there’s much difference – the ’68 – ’69 silverface amps had an aluminium trim around the edges of the baffle/grille (which was in one piece until ’72), but this amp doesn’t have it. Apart from that, it’s the same as the first generation SF Twins. I love this amp – it sounds absolutely fantastic at medium volumes and up, and I can’t ever see myself selling it. As mentioned, I have replaced the JBL speakers for a pair of Jensen C12N speakers, which sounds great (once they’d been broken in). A bit fatter, with more speaker breakup and a less ”clean” sound. And of course, the lighter weight was also welcome. So now I have a pair of original late 60’s grey basked D120F’s laying around…

1969 Fender Bandmaster Reverb 2×10″ combo

BMR_frontWhile on yet another lookout for a smaller companion to the Twin, I came across an ad for a Bandmaster Reverb head, with an accompanying 2×12″ closed-back cab (listed below) and a 2×10″ Fender combo cabinet. The amp was quickly dated to june-august 1969, and the head cabinet has the aluminium trim typical for 1968-69, but with black grille cloth. I don’t know if it came like that, or if the cloth has been replaced at some point. Other than that, the head cabinet is in excellent condition, with no nicks and tears in the tolex.

The 2×10″ combo cab (which houses the actual amp) is actually a cut down Super Reverb – it has a SR tube chart inside, and it is clearly visible that the cab has been (crudely) modified. The setup needed a little TLC – new speaker wire, new cables to/from the reverb tank, proper rubber feet etc – but as a whole it works just fine. It currently has the two Jensen C10R speakers it came with. Sonically, the amp sounds wonderful – very full and smooth, with a nice slight breakup the Twin doesn’t have (unless it is cranked to stupid levels). The reverb is as awesome as always, and the tremolo does what it’s supposed to. And with the Jensens, it is surprisingly light!

BMR_closeThe amp itself is a TFL5005X model, which is the first time I’ve heard of the ”X” designation – they usually have a ”D”. If I were to guess, I’d say the ”X” is for ”Export”, with the ”D” for ”Domestic”. Hey, it’s a guess, at least…

But… as with any 40 year old amp, there are niggles. And this one seems to have more than its fair share. The first time I took it to a rehearsal (thankfully, it wasn’t a gig, at least), it sounded awesome the first 40 minutes, and then started fading off until it was distorting and spitting like a bad fuzz pedal. After a few trips to the doctor, the picture is starting to get clearer. So far, we’ve found:

  • a couple of bad resistors
  • a bad solder joint on the heater wire for one of the tube sockets (causing the amp to fry one of the power tubes, once it got hot enough)
  • the power transformer was set up for 220 volts AC input, while the actual line voltage here these days are over 230 volts (I’ve measured 236 volts at my house). This meant the tubes were getting too much voltage. Thankfully, the transformer had a 240 volt input as well, so the tech quickly rewired it to match the modern line voltage.

But still the amp fizzes out after an hour or so, along with a nasty smell. The new theory is that its output transformer isn’t right – while Bandmasters in general seem to be fine with a 4 ohm load, this one might not be. At the amp tech’s workshop, it was hooked up to an 8 ohm dummy load for testing, and worked perfectly for hours. It might be the output transformer that is weak, wired the wrong way (using only the 8 ohm output, for instance) or simply the wrong type. Sigh… more to come, I suppose. Too bad, because it sounds absolutely ripping when it works.

1967 Fender Bassman cab

fender212Together with the Bandmaster Reverb above, I also received a 2×12″ cab which I initially didn’t think too much about. I opened it up, traced the codes on the speakers and figured it to be a late ’70s cab. Nothing to get too excited about. But as it turns out, I was wrong. The speaker code 1098 722 traces back to Utah (now Pyle) as the manufacturer, and week 22 of either 1967 or 1977 as the manufacturing date (hence my shoulder-shrug guess at the cab being late ’70s). But after consulting Ampwares.com (a great resource for anything Fender amp-related) and my trusty measuring tape, I was able to identify the cab as a mid 1967 unit. Nothing else matches its measurements, and the front grille cloth also matches the Blackface era. The speakers being manufactured early June 1967 matches that date as well, so there’s a good chance they are the original ones.

But is it a Bandmaster or Bassman cab? The two amps shared the same size speaker cab until late 1967, even though the two amps themselves are not exactly the same size. On my cab, the bushings for the thumbscrews (used to lock the amp to the speaker cab, for when the tilt-back legs are used) are set too narrowly for a Bandmaster head, while they fit the slightly narrower Bassman head to a tee. So I’ll call this a Bassman cab, then 🙂

fender212_backThe insert pic shows the jack(s) on the back – note the weird (thankfully disconnected) three-pronged jack to the left of the regular 1/4″ jack. I have no idea when that type of jack was used or who installed it, but it was most likely a mod done here in Sweden. If you look closely, you’ll se that it says ”Högt”, which is Swedish for ”speaker” (or rather ”spkr”, since it is an abbreviation). I suspect Hagström – the official Swedish importer at the time – was responsible.

1973 Fender Bassman head

I found this one in an advert, while I was away for a couple of weeks. A phone call later, I had secured the amp. We decided to talk more when I had returned home, and arrange the transport (as the amp was located in Sundsvall, 500 km’s from Stockholm). I got home sunday night, and monday morning the owner called, telling me that he was leaving for Stockholm right away. He wanted to know if he should bring the amp… Needless to say, I said yes, and we met up later that day. I walked into a room full of amps, and in the center was a Steinway Grand, stripped of its strings and keys – apparently, the guy repairs grand pianos for a living… A cool job, indeed! And a cool guy, to boot – thanks Lars, for selling me this jem!

The amp is a 50 watt export model, which was manufactured in parallel to the regular US model. It’s the same as a Bassman (renamed ”Bassman 50” in 1972), only with a 220 volt power transformer. Of course there were other export models as well, which had voltage selectors (either on the back plate or internal), but the ones with a fixed 220 volt tranny seems to be the only ones that actually said ”export” on the faceplate. Weirdly, in contrast to the Bandmaster Reverb, this one doesn’t seem to mind at all that the mains voltage these days is quite a bit higher than 220 volts… Anyway, dating this one was a breeze, thanks to my good friend Dirk (singlecoil.com). From the serial # A57934, we can deduct (or rather, he could) that it was built in april 1973.

The amp sounds great – it growls and barks, but in a softer, more mellow way than the ’72 50w Marshall I used to have. I bought it to power my Fender Vibratone leslie, a job it does admirably, but it has also been used as a stand-alone amp with a 2×12″ cab, and lately it’s also been used as a bass amp (with a 2×12″ bass cab). I’ve also recently bought a case for it, so now it rides in comfort and style 🙂

Yamaha T-100

T100_frontThis amp is from the very early ’90s with a quite low serial number (#226). In the late ’80s, Yamaha asked amp designer Mike Soldano to design a dual channel amp for them, and this was the result. Its design shares many bits with the very expensive and coveted Soldano SLO-100, but obviously differs in that the Yamaha has separate tone controls for the two channels. To save a bit on the cost, Yamaha also did cut a couple of corners compared to the original design, but on the whole, it is a really nice amp. It never really took off, though – it probably wasn’t cool enough, being a Yamaha and all.

I actually played this very amp when it first arrived in Sweden, and remember really liking it. Even so, I passed (probably for the reason mentioned above), and kept on lusting after a proper Soldano amp. Apparently, so did everybody else who tried it, and the amp ended up unsold and unloved at the back of the music store’s storage room. Fast forward a decade and a bit… Some time in the mid-late ’90s, a friend of mine was looking for an amp to power his Vibratone (yup, the one found right on this page). I pointed him towards Estrad Musik (now 4sound Folkungagatan) in Stockholm, and told him to ask my friends there if they had something laying around. The T-100 was brought up from the depths of the store, and ended up serving him well for many years.

T100_rearFast forward another decade and a bit, and the T-100 was sitting idle once again. The clean channel had failed a good while back, and playing Hammond through just the dirty channel wasn’t really ideal. It was ripe and ready for a change of ownership, thus. And some 20+ years after I first tried it at the store (and really should have bought it), it’s finally home 🙂 I will eventually repair it, while also performing a couple of the common mods that is supposed to bring it closer to the SLO-100. But that’s for another day, I suppose.

Marshall 3210 Lead 100 Mosfet

In 1984, Marshall launched a 3/4 scale line of amps, consisting of the 2204S (a 50w single-channel amp), a dual channel solid state preamp/tube power amp hybrid (the 30w Artist 3203) and this one – the 100w Mosfet model. The line also came with straight and slanted 4×10″ and 2×12″ cabs, to make up a slightly smaller Marshall stack. I don’t really see myself using a Marshall very much (I am a Fender guy, after all), but I remember these from when I started getting serious about playing guitar, and thought it could be nice to have one. I’d love to get my hands on the Artist 3203 and one of the matching cabs too.

The clean channel can do a nice growl if you crank it, while the lead channel is classic Marshall – quite midrangey with surprisingly little saturation (compared to later JCM900 and JCM2000 models). The lead channel has a fixed eq with a single tone control, producing that classic Marshall tone that seems to cut through anything. Turning the guitar volume down to clean the sound up doesn’t work very well, though. If you pull out the lead gain knob, the amp engages the eq section with the lead channel, which puts the sound more into the modern range. However, the amount of sharp treble in the clean channel means you can’t balance both sounds (you need to cut lots of treble for the clean sound, resulting in a boxy, dull lead sound). However, I think the pre-set lead eq might work well with a band. Now I just need to find a hard rock gig to try it out… I also need to order some replacement pots for it, as a few of the controls has more or less seized up. I’ve managed to free most of them, but new pots would definitely be nice. I mostly play the amp through the 1×12″ Hammer cab detailed below.

Hammer 1×12″ cab

hammer1I needed a cab for the Marshall, and found this one locally (where I lived at the time, I should add). It was built by a guy who – when he feels like it – whip together a few cabs and sell them, and I got it relatively cheaply. It came empty and I have since loaded it with a 16 ohm Celestion V12-60 I had lying around. It’s a basic Fender Blues JR-style cab, and it sounds just fine.

Now, I haven’t played the Marshall in a good while, so this cab tends to just sit idle. I might pull the speaker from it and pass it on to someone who will use it. But I’ve hesitated, since I just knew that the week after that, an amp head would fall into my lap, which I’d be needing a cab for… And sure enough, one did. 🙂

Crate VC508

Um… so what is a modern Crate amp doing amongst all the old Fenders, then? Well… the story was – as always – that I was looking for something else, and just happened upon this one. I was going to buy a Roland Micro Cube, actually, to use as a test amp in my workshop. As you may or may not know, I modify pedals in my spare time, and I’d gotten really tired of warming up my Twin every time I wanted to check that a pedal was working properly before I shipped it off to its owner. Basically, I was looking for a tiny practice amp. I had thought about getting a Pignose, but ended up shopping for the Micro Cube. And of course they were fresh out of them in the shop… I told Leffe (at 4Sound Stockholm, previously known as Estrad Musik) what I was looking for, and he whipped out this little puppy. It had been sitting in the shop for quite some time, so I got a great deal on it. Once again, Leffe and the crew at 4Sound Stockholm has hooked me up – I can’t say enough good things about that store and its staff!

Basically, it is a 5 watt class A tube amp with an 8″ Celestion in an open back cab. The controls are deceptively simple – gain, tone and volume – but the amp is still capable of producing a lot of different tones. The amp has a couple of twists and surprises. First off, the tone control is quite odd, and can’t be treated as you would a tone knob on an overdrive pedal. It does not just control the amount of treble – as you turn it from 0 to 5, the tone goes from wooly to very midrangey, and from 5 upwards it starts to decrease the mids and add treble/bass, and at 10 you end up with a fairly scooped sound (as scooped as you can get with an 8″ speaker). Very odd… Second, the preamp is actually a hybrid. The signal first enters a solid state gain stage that in turn drives the first half of the preamp tube. The signal then goes through the tone and master volume section, before it hits the single-ended 5w power stage. I’m guessing this design was something of a shortcut – in order to make the preamp distort to the designer’s liking, they needed that extra gain stage at the start of the circuit. But the amp layout (or more likely the budget constraints) didn’t allow for a second preamp tube to be used, so they stuck a solid state stage in there instead. That isn’t inherently bad, but in this particular amp it sometimes becomes a disadvantage. You have to make sure the input level doesn’t get too strong (i.e. no boosters in front of the amp), and watch the gain control setting. That knob controls the gain in the solid stage gain stage, and if you set it too high, you will distort the op-amp inside. That produces a fizzy distortion that is quite far removed from the power tube overdrive the amplifier type is meant to give. Luckily, the line out jack doubles as a loop, with a third hidden option there as well:

  • With a regular guitar cable inserted all the way into the jack, you have a line out (signal taken before the power amp stage).
  • A TRS insert cable (stereo plug to two mono plugs) will get you a regular fx loop (tip is send, ring return).
  • To access the power amp directly, without sending the signal through the preamp section, plug your guitar cable halfway into this jack (pushing the plug only down to the first ”click”, instead of all the way down). The only control that works is the volume knob, the sound is much cleaner and louder, and there is not a trace of that fizzy solid state preamp distortion you can get when using the amp the ”normal” way. You do need some sort of buffer amp to drive the return, though – plugging the guitar right into there won’t work. But stick a buffered (Boss/Ibanez type) pedal in between the guitar and the amp, and it works just fine.

The amp was mostly meant to live under my workbench, doing duty as a test amp for newly modified pedals. But it got its gig teeth cut after only a couple of days in my possession, and it performed really well, so I suppose it will get to come out and play from time to time. To help transporting it safely, I’ve purchased a soft carrying case for it, complete with shoulder strap and all. A Rockbag softcase for a double bass drum pedal turned out to fit the amp perfectly, with just enough room. If you want to look into it, the Rockbag part # is RB22690B. If you also want room for a couple of pedals in with the amp, there is also a bigger size case – it has the same basic measurements, only a little wider.

I’ve read lots of info about modifications to this amp, but at the moment I’m letting it stay the way it is. Drilling some ventilation holes in the back plate would be a good idea, though – while the amp runs relatively cool under normal bedroom use, as soon as I crank the preamp, it’s starting to give off that ”hot” smell… Also, the amp desperately needs an external speaker jack, so I might put one in. A 10″ speaker could probably be shoehorned in, but that’ll be for later. I’d also like to see what can be done to stop the solid stage gain stage distorting. But who am I kidding – I don’t have that much time… 🙂

1968-72 Fender Vibratone

A leslie 16 in Fender clothing. A friend of mine was using this with his Hammond organ, and desperately needed a ”real” leslie – or so I kept telling him anyway… 🙂 Eventually I found a Leslie 760 with a defective amp section – perfect for turning into a ‘speaker-only’ leslie to go with a guitar/bass head – and I kept mailing him pics of 760:s until he reached GAS overload. We took my car and drove 400 km:s to where the seller lived, loaded the beast into the back and headed for home. After a bit of fiddling, which included building a passive crossover, it was ready to go. If you’ve never heard (or rather felt) a cranked Hammond through a big leslie… try it out. It’s better than any drugs. In the meantime, as I had cunningly brought a guitar along, I took the Vibratone for a spin… sorry. I’m sad. I know… Anyway, It turned out to be a good deal for both of us – he got a real leslie (and chronic back pain from hauling the thing) and I got a Vibratone…

It has the aluminium trim that – on the amps – only appeared in ’68 and ’69, but I’ve been hearing that the Vibratone kept the trim all the way to its demise in 1972. The vent slits (top and sides) does not have the aluminium trim, though, which every one of the 1967-1969 ones I’ve seen has had. But I don’t know if they were there from the start but fell off, or if it came without them. So, date-wise, what I can say for sure is that it isn’t a ’67 (the first year, the Vibratone didn’t have the aluminium nameplate), and that it might not be a ’68 or ’69, but I really don’t know any more than that.

Anyway, the crossover network that routed the mids through the leslie and the top+bottom back to the combo amp is long gone – as is the original Utah speaker. Nowadays it’s wired as a regular 8 ohm cab, using a 10″ Celestion. I also built a small footswitch for the ramp up/down, as the original footswitch was lost with the crossover network. I often use the Bassman to power it, with a StinkFoot ABY box to switch between the Bassman/Vibratone and whatever other amp I’m using. The Vibratone now lives in a proper flightcase, which I had built for me in a trade for an old Traynor amp. It does make the whole thing a bit bigger in transport, but far easier to move around.

Hagström BT-25-1

Hag_BT25My very first amp. I bought it when I was 10 or 11 years old, answering an ad in the local classifieds for an ”electric guitar and amplifier”. The guitar turned out to be a bass, that I promptly traded for a distortion pedal. In hindsight, the guy at the music store probably ripped me off – what did I know about the value of various instruments? – but hey… I was just a kid. Anyway, the amp stuck with me, and I’ve had it ever since. The serial number of this amp is 796193 – I know that makes it the 193rd amp in batch 796, which should place it somehere in the early ’70s, but I don’t know more than that.

The internal 12″ speaker is long gone – it didn’t last very long at all, IIRC – so I quickly installed a jack for an external cab. And it needs a serious cleanup inside – the pots are way past scratchy… I have thought about lobbing a Celestion or Jensen 12″ in the amp, just to see what happens. In any case, I will never sell it. Not that I’d get very much for it anyway, but it’s the principle that counts…

To the right you’ll find a pic of the control panel. I have no idea what the extra hole in the accordeon channel is for – it was there when I bought the amp, and it doesn’t seem to be from the factory. Other than that, it’s very simple. The guitar channel (top) has volume, treble and bass controls, and a slide switch to activate the tremolo. The accordeon channel (bottom) only has volume and treble controls, and another tremolo on/off slide control. The last knob sets the speed for the tremolo effect. The amp – on the guitar channel – is quite dark sounding with lots of bass. I usually end up with the treble at about 6.5 (it really opens up between 6 and 7) and the bass just above 2. With those settings, it’s quite glassy-sounding and plenty loud with the volume at 3. The accordeon channel is very different – rather nasal and midrangey, which I’d guess would be just right for pushing an accordeon through the mix. A really cool amp, but impossible to repair if the power amp should fail – these amps use a complete module that Hagström imported from somewhere, and those bits hasn’t been available anywhere for at least 15 years…