Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Ultimate Amp - A Tone Quest

During the Malibu fires it was me and my Caddy. Here you see what I decided to save.
Note the Supro amp, two guitars and other less important stuff.

The Supro Thunderbolt

My first real amp was a Supro Thunderbolt. I paid $250 for it and gigged with it in my early band days. I hauled that thing all over LA. There have been a lot of amps between then and now. The interesting part is that I have been hunting that Supro sound ever since. 

Music Man 212HD - Heavy and Loud!
                                                                                      I went from the Supro to a MusicMan 130 watt 212HD. Some people have bad things to say about this work horse but I notice lately the prices are going up and people are raving about them. It's a heavy bastard but I still really like it. I also have a Kustom Coupe 36 sitting here and I like it. Nice cleans, pretty cool grind. I have a friends Blues Jr and I think everyone should own this amp. I have a modded 5 watt Valve Junior. Super cheap and super easy to mod. I built an attenuator for it and it will wail at low levels. I have various amps I picked up along the way that are more decoration than anything else now.
SIDE NOTE - That is an actual Dwight Yoakam boot sitting on the MusicMan!

I know this is blasphemy but I like to see what is happening on the electronic side of things so I own a Mustang III modeling amp. This thing is 100 non tube amps and has a 12 inch Eminence speaker. The price is $299 and I love it. Sure it doesn't sound exactly like all the amps it models but it's pretty damn close and for computer recording I think it's fine. It's also fun. It's light and I have some tones I have programmed from my Mac on there that just kick ass. If this is where modeling is going then I'm on board. I'm still waiting to see these modeling amps move past the classics and show me tones that don't exist yet. That will be fun. 

All that brings me to this - the Supro would start out clean until I was into song 3 and then it would just get fuzzy, wooly and grind like a dirt pedal. At the time this frustrated me but now it's exactly what I want. A few months ago I ran into a Supro just like the one I owned at Corner Music. It stopped me in my tracks. You could hear my boots skidding. I looked at it and looked at it. I wondered if it was the amp I let go years go. A funny feeling came over me. The kind of feeling that you get when you run into your ex girlfriend from college. I just couldn't walk away. I sold my Supro back the original owner for exactly what I paid him for it - $250. The price tag on the one in front of me? It was was $1,100. That ain't right. I walked away from the Supro but a seed was planted. 

So after lots of pondering I'm on the road of building an amp. I sold off some gear that I never use and now I have the money together. I have the tone in my head and I also know the tones I'm always trying to dial in. The MusicMan does the clean Fender thing in spade so clean is not what I want. I want that ZZ Top wooly sound. Let me quote a guy from Harmony Central, "It has the thickest, creamiest, fattest, most amazingly soul-satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth-but-not-in-your-hands, deliciously raw and juicy, yet intensely rich and sweet, harmonically-loaded, overdrive drenched, orchestral vintage Tone that deserves a capital T, and you get it even at bedroom volume levels. " THAT IS THE SOUND I WANT!

I have cruised ebay, all the guitar/amp forums and I landed on one guy - Jim Nickelson of Li'l Dawg Amps. He takes the old tweed amps and adds his magic at a decent price. I'm still battling between a Champster and a Mutt. The Mutt is a cross between a 5e3 (Tweed Deluxe) and a Champ. That sounds like what I want. I'm going to drop this into a hand made wood cab and to top it off I'm going to use a vintage flower sack ala Charlie Daniels from the 1970s as a speaker cloth. I will keep you updated and when I'm all finished we will see if I got the tone I was shooting for. Here is a link to some of Jim's sound clips. Listen to the "Lil Dawg 5F1 Champster - Clip 1" to hear what I'm shooting for.

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