Monday, April 28, 2008

Harp Amp Project: Fender Silver Face Twin

Yesterday my girlfriend's brother-in-law said to me, "It's yours if you want it. Go ahead, see if you can get some use out of it." I looked down at a Fender silver face Twin Reverb amp.

So I took it home and plugged it in. The tubes glowed, and it made all the right smells. It sounded fantastic. I took a deep breath. Can I really accept such a huge gift? He has owned the amp since 1990; got it from his "guitar teacher" but hardly ever plays it anymore. I feel a little guilty, like I robbed the guy.

By the serial number it is a 1972 SFTR. It does not have the pull boost on the Master Volume, which dates it to late 1972. The tube chart is gone, it has an ugly black grill cloth, and it has Altec 417-8C speakers, code 391320. The power tubes are four beautiful 6L6 Mesas. It includes the footswitch; The reverb is lush but the trem does not seem to work. All the electronics look original to me.

This is a clean-sounding, loud guitar amp, and I play blues harp, not guitar. Twin Reverbs are not usually played by harp guys, with the notable exception of Magic Dick from J. Geils Band who sometimes played two SFTRs stacked. That was his rig on Whammer Jammer.

I plugged a bullet mic into the reverb channel, rolled off the treble, dimed the bass and had the mids on 5. I switched off the bright switch and turned the reverb up to about 3. I gotta tell ya, the tone was hypnotic; deep and full and powerful.

I think I just found my next project.

I'll restore this amp a bit. It needs cleaning up, and it is missing the handle strap, tilt-back legs, and casters. I have Gerald Weber's video about how to overhaul a vintage Fender amp, so I am very tempted to do this myself; replacing all the capacitors and resistors. The only change I think I'll make to it to adapt it for harp will be to try some lower-gain preamp tubes.

This early Fender Silver Face Twin Reverb is a 100-watt monster; a high-gain screamer on the order of Marshall or Mesa. It is a beast. I'm curious to see how it works as a harp amp. If it worked for Magic Dick on Whammer Jammer, it is way good enough for me. Stay tuned...

Back of the amp, with upper panel removed.

Altec Lansing speakers, with a note about new tubes back in 1980.

The left side of the circuit board.

The right side of the circuit board.

The caps with the pan removed.

The transformers.

* * * * * * *

UPDATE: Internally, this amp is in pristine shape. The brass grounding buss behind the pots and jacks doesn't have a bit of corrosion. Everything is original and perfect. I'm thinking of leaving it unmolested.

I've cleaned it up and changed some tubes. I'll try a 12AX7 in the phase inverter socket to induce earlier breakup and try a lower-gain preamp tube in the second channel.

The Altec 417 C8 speakers are much loved by vintage amp guys, comparable to the JBL D120 speakers. Altec 417s were Santana's favorite speakers in his early 70's era, when he got his best tone. I've seen good examples sell for $600 a pair on the used market, and the pair in this amp is excellent.

UPDATE II: I've decided to have the amp serviced by a good tech (I don't have the time or the skill) so I dropped the chassis off with Glen Whatley at MARS Amp Service in Englewood, CO for new caps and filters and a general overhaul. It should be finished in a week or so...

UPDATE III: Here is a pic of the SFTR in its current state. I've replaced the handle and casters with new Fender gear. The tolex has been cleaned and treated. This gives you a good look at the business end of the Altec 417-8C speakers. The chassis is still at the tech. I'm waiting for delivery of the Silverface grill cloth...

Sunday, April 27, 2008


A few years ago I was fronting a loud blues/rock band, and the Fender Blues Jr. amp I was using at the time didn't have nearly enough volume to keep up. I tried playing through the PA but I never got the tone I was looking for. So I went through an evolving process of finding a good LOUD harp amp without breaking the bank.

Tube gear seemed out of the question at the time based on dollars per decibel, so I decided to start with solid state amps and digital signal processing. My first creation was a Crate Powerblock amp, Behringer V-Amp Pro, and a BBE Maxcom compressor/gate/maximizer.

The Crate Powerblock is a cool little stereo amp with 75 watts per channel, an effects loop, and a pretty decent tube simulation. The Behringer V-Amp Pro is a poor-man's version of the POD XT Pro, to which I upgraded later. I discovered, however, that the expensive Line 6 POD was no better than the V-Amp for this particular application. The speaker cab was a 4x8 bass cab I found on Craigslist for almost nothing.

All this sounded, uhh, interesting. It showed promise, I guess. It was indeed loud, with the 150 watts from the little Powerblock, but the tone was not what I wanted. I determined the speaker cab was wrong - it was loaded with 300-watt speakers with enormous magnets.

So the next move was to a 4x12 Crate cab loaded with Seventy80 Celestions. Now I was getting somewhere. This rig was very, very loud and kept up easily with my head-banger bandmates. The amp emulations from the V-Amp sounded great, and the BBE Maxcom compressed it all down to a soaring tone that easily cut through the thrash. I played with this rig for nearly a year.

I can never leave well enough alone. I was consumed with the notion that I needed a Mesa Boogie 20/20 tube power amp instead of the solid-state Powerblock. The Mesa sounded great, with a tubey snarl and crunch you just can't get from transistors, but it kind of violated the rule that this rig was supposed to be low-buck. Mesa 20/20s are, like all old Mesa amps, quite expensive. I paid $500 for it on eBay. The BBE Maxcom got switched to the PA rack and the Mesa went into my rig. This version was not quite as loud (but still thunderous) and had a very satisfying tone.

The Mesa has four EL-84 power tubes and three 12AX7 tubes. I re-tubed it with JJ Teslas which gave it the edgy character I needed. This rig was not warm or round or fat or any of those adjectives we use to describe good tube amps for blues harp. This rig was loud and a bit rude, without being harsh. It accomplished what I wanted, which was to keep the harp from getting lost among all the power chords and hard drum fills.

In this pic I was using this rig and a Zoom H4 recorder to work on some tracks for our first CD.

As I've said elsewhere in this blog, I am not a tube snob. You can get good harp tone from solid state gear. Richard Hunter is known for getting great harp tone from digital processors, in particular the Digitech RP series. I still have this monster rig, and I kick start it and let it roar every now and then just for grins. It may not have the "right" tone, but it sure is fun.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gravity Music Gear

Gravity Music Gear is a brick ‘n’ mortar music store in Denver that does most of its business through eBay. Their eBay store is here. They buy and sell used gear, and I’ve done quite a lot of business with them over the years. I’ve always been satisfied with them.

I bought an old Bogen tube PA head from them that turned out to need some repair, but I paid almost nothing for it so the deal was fair. Gravity Music gets a bit of grief from twits online and especially in the local Craigslist, but I have always been happy with everything I bought from them. They treated me with professionalism and fairness.

Recently I sold them a bunch of gear and I was pretty impressed with the offer they made. If you are adult enough to recognize that you can never sell your used gear for what you paid retail, Gravity Music is great. Two big plusses: They pay immediate cash for gear, and if you live in or near Denver you can pick up your item at the store to save on shipping. This gives you a big bidding advantage.

They frequently have harp-related gear, including amps and mics. I have them in my list of favorite eBay sellers and I cruise their listings frequently. You can often find real bargains. These guys are pros, and they get a thumbs up from the Blues Harp Amps Blog.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Review: Custom Peavey H-5 Cherry Bomb harp mic

Make no mistake about it, this is NOT a stock Peavey H-5 mic. It is modified by mic ace Greg Heumann at In fact, the only stock Peavey parts in this mic are the shell and on/off switch.

Greg installed a better volume pot and a Shure Controlled Magnetic mic element. This is a 99A86B element. Hi-Z, made in USA. It's the same element used in the earliest Shure 520 mics.

I A-B'ed this mic against my regular gig mic, an Astatic JT-30 shell with a similar element, a Shure CM 99A86GB, also Hi-Z, made in the USA. In this comparison I played a short blues riff on a Bb harp. Both mics were played into my Masco amp at low volume, with identical settings for both. This was recorded using a Zoom H4 recorder about 4 feet in front of the cab.

The sound difference is pretty stark. Greg Heumann's Peavey H-5 mic is unusually dark and growly, warm. I like it very much. It sounds similar to another custom mic I have from Greg, and I don't know how he gets such fat tone. Must be his mojo or something...

It may not be right for every song or vibe, but it sure sounds great with raunchy blues, and it makes my Masco positively honk. I think I prefer the JT-30 with my Champ, but the Peavey mic complements the thump of the 2x10 closed back cab I use with the Masco.

This mic is a keeper. I recently sold off a bunch of mics, and with the Peavey I am now down to only three. I like the range of tones I can get even with this small collection of harp mics.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Going Naked

I recently posted a blog article that began, “Your harp rig needs some delay.” Now I’m not so sure.

I have used a delay for years. It was just a standard part of a blues harp player’s rig. I expected to hear it when I listened to blues recordings, and I thought people expected to hear delay or reverb when I played. I thought it sounded cool, so that was that.

But lately I have been working a lot with my Masco head with the 2x10 cab, and to be honest I prefer it dry. The thing that got me thinking about this was listening to and chatting with Ronnie Shellist, a fantastic blues harp guy who gets tremendous tone with no delay or effects at all. My friend Dave Wilson told me he plays without delay, and reminded me that many – if not most – pro players play dry as well.

So I dug through my blues harp collection in iTunes (approx 1000 songs) and listened closely for delay or reverb on the harp; listening to the overall tone and the contour of the notes. I spent hours with my amp and mic playing riffs over and over with and without delay. Ronnie told me he wants the “pure” tone of just his mic and amp, and I think he is right.

Through a good mic and amp, blues harp tones often have rough edges… what Gerald Weber calls “hair on the notes.” This happens mostly on percussive notes or dynamic passages. It is a marriage of the player’s technique, the characteristics of the microphone, and the interplay of the amp’s power tubes and speakers. It is a very cool sound.

Delay and reverb mask this sound somewhat. They blur the edges. The little contours of the notes that we work so hard to perfect with hours of practicing difficult embouchures are lost in the mud. Delay and reverb fatten up our tone by ironing out the coolest parts; the rough edges. Delay can also exacerbate feedback problems, and it is just another piece of gear you have to carry around, hook up, and provide power for.

Using delay or reverb can be a crutch to cover a multitude of playing sins. [Rick raises his hand and pleads guilty.] You get used to it and you can hide in the fog, sort of. So, I’ve decided to play dry for a while. Work without a net. Go naked, as it were. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Jason Ricci's Harp Rig

Here is harp phenom Jason Ricci with a video review of his new harp rig, including the latest from HarpGear, the HG 50 amp.

SHURE SM 57 microphone,Greg Hueman volume control, Samson Airline wireless,into a Kinder Anti Feedback Box, into a BBE Opta stomp (Optical Compressor),into a Boss Chorus Ensemble, into a Boss Harmonist, into a Boss DM-2 (Analog Delay), into a BBE Sonic Maximizer. Not in use: Behringer powered mixer and AKG wireless system.

[HarpGear is at]

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blues Jam Blues

So, last weekend I decided to head out to a Sunday Blues Jam at a local club, and I decided to take my 1970 Fender Champ project amp. I knew that a 6-watt tone monster would not stand up to all the wanking and cranking that goes on at your typical blues jam, so I took along my new Hughes & Kettner Red Box Pro DI box. That way I could send a raunchy post-power tube signal to the house PA board, just using the Champ as a tone generator. I used short speaker jumpers to connect the Red Box to the Champ’s speaker tap and headed out the door. All I had to carry was the Champ and the harp case. This was a great plan.

Well, maybe not. In fact, it was a train wreck.

I had spoken with the club owner a few days before and asked if they had an open channel on the board I could use during the jam. The answer was “Sure! Anything to make the musicians comfortable.” I thought I had all my ducks in a row.

I was scheduled to go on during the first set, so during setup the club owner was helping me get the amp connected to the board. The club owner hands me a ¼ inch instrument cable and says, “Here ya go.” I said, “No, I need an XLR cable, low impedance with phantom power.”

This began a polite conversation that ended with me playing the little Champ with no augmentation at all. It was 6 watts in all its glory, sounding great but pretty much inaudible among the Riveras and Twins on the stage. The real problem was phantom power. The club owner was afraid it would damage the dynamic mics if it was switched on. (It wouldn’t). He finally said there were two “broken channels” in the board and I was on my own.

I played the first couple of songs and the crowd was shouting, “Turn up the harp!” The audience could not hear me, which was probably just as well since I could not hear myself. When I can’t hear myself I play too loud, too much, and generally poorly.

So the bandleader of the host band grabbed a Shure SM57 that was hanging on an unused Rivera amp and moved it to my Champ. But the mic was not in the monitors, and the club owner was nowhere to be seen. So, now the audience can hear me but I still can’t hear myself. As I said, it was a train wreck…

Important Object Lesson for Blues Jammers: Next Sunday I’m going back but I’m taking my big amp, the Masco ME-18 and Avatar 2x10 cab. I’ll be playing on the same stage with the same host band, set up in the same position, but with a much louder amp. I won't need to rely on anyone else for PA or monitor support.

I’ll update this post after the Jam and let you know how it went. I plan on taking my Zoom H4 digital recorder, so hopefully I’ll have sound samples I can link to here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review from Greg Heumann: SJ 410

When I started playing I chased amps like everyone does. I soon realized there were a lot of amps with cool names like "blues junior" that actually didn't sound very good for harp. I was taking lessons from Dave Barrett at the time, and although he recommended some amps I bought and rejected, he also introduced me to the Sonny Jr. amps. I decided I didn't want to chase amps forever, and that I never wanted to use my equipment as an excuse for any shortcomings in my own playing, so I decided to bite the bullet and get the Four-Ten, knowing it was an excellent choice. I never looked back. That amp GOT me gigs. I now own a Cruncher too - it is wonderful with more edge and definition, and I like it for smaller gigs, but ultimately, nothing fills a room like 4 Tens!

For those not familiar with the SJ410, it is modeled after the original '59 Bassman, but has several tweaks specifically for harp players. It has 2 Webers and 2 Eminence speakers, one of each has a ribbed cone and the other is smooth. this way any strangeness of any particular speaker isn't amplified times 4, but instead is smoothed out but the unique nuances of the other 3 speakers. The amp has a special 5 megohm input for crystal element lovers. Most importantly it is made with hand-picked transformers, paper/oil caps and is point-to-point wired. The difference between this amp and an off-the-shelf Bassman is immediately noticeable.

SO - my main gig rig is the Sonny Jr. Four-Ten. I add a Dan-Echo delay pedal and nothing else. I prefer to play through my wood-shell bullet mics. I've played every mic everyone raves about. Thank to my business I get to see a lot of mics, even rare and expensive ones. My wood mics sound great, are comfortable to hold for long gigs, and they're pretty! I think they sound as good as any mics I've ever played. Plus I might as well promote the stuff I sell - so why not?

I set my amp up with a 12AX, 12AU, 12AU tube set in the normal, bright and phase inverter positions respectively. Originally I followed the "Dave Barrett" ultra-dark tone settings, but over time I have evolved to want more edge and definition. I now like to run with the normal and bright channels bridged. I set the Bright volume at 5 or 6, and then set the Normal volume at whatever the gig calls for - for large venues this is usually 8 or so. Bass is on 10, treble on 6, mid on 2 1/2.

I also play Tenor and Baritone sax in my band, and when I'm not playing harp, I like to set my harp mic in a rack just under the SM57 mic I use for the bari. the SJ410 picks up the bari through the harp mic and adds a great punch to it, as well as helping me to hear it on stage.

[Greg Heumann is a fine harp player and mic/amp tech. Visit his website at]

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wezo's Gear

[Mike Wesolowski kindly submitted this article about his gear. Nice!]

Here is my MAIN rig for over 25 years. It's a 1960 Fender Brown 210 Super.

This amp was recently modded by my amp tech at DJL Audio in Greensboro NC. He took this great amp to a new level by lowering the plate voltage and converting this class A B amp at 40 watts to a class A at 30 watts powered by EL34 power tubes. I was running 6L6s in the power stage. The preamp tubes are all 12AX7s. The speakers are not original to the amp. They are a pair of 1969 Gold Label Special Design Jensens. This amp has loads of head room and sounds better than any amp I've ever played through.

Next amp on my list of faves is my 1960 Fender Tweed Harvard. I bought this amp years ago, sight unseen for $100.00. When I took possession of it, it had been painted with black laquer paint. The grill cloth was pink and looked like it came out of a Gibson guitar case.

I had a friend of mine recover the amp. Everything else was ALL original. Since recovering the amp I've done nothing but upgrade the speaker to a Eminence Ramrod. This is the loudest 12 watt amp I've ever heard. There are three input channels successivly padded. I power the Harvard with NOS (1954) Sylvania 6V6s. and 2 12AX7s.

I recently designed and had built a custom speaker cabinet that was inspired by the old Gibson GA79-RTV amp. The cab is slanted at 12 degrees instead of the 45 degree Gibson cab. I've got 2 10" Kendrick Black frame speakers (1 in each side) and 2 Kendrick 8" speakers stacked in the center. The cab is 34" long and 22" high and 14" deep.

It throws like a mutha.

I power this cab with a 1948 Bogen (about 18 watts) running 6V6s housed in a matching head cab.

The last amp I have for you is the prototype of my own amp that my tech and I are working on. Eventually it will be called the "Wezo" and is a Harp Specific amp. we started off with an Epiphone 5 watt chasis and added another power tube (6V6s). Also we beefed up the transformers and jacked it up to about 18 watts. Also added are presence, a tone control (mostly bass) and a nifty little control that we're calling a "body" control.

What this control does is...when the knob is turned all the way to the've got 1 tube running full out. The more you turn the knob clockwise, you bring up the 2nd tube. When you're fully've got both tubes running full out. This gives you a multitude of tone and crunch possibilities. We've also added a boost switch. Like I said.....this is just the prototype. I think that we"ll end up with 30 watts by time we're through.

Several years ago I designed a harp case with enough room for all my stuff and had a case builder friend of mine build it to my specs. He has built all of my road cases for all my gear. They are all brown lamenated cases. My harp case consists of around 35 Marine Band harps (I'm a Hohner Endorsee), an Astatic Jt 30 with volume control and a 151 element. My spare mic is an Astatic T3 with volume control and a very hot Sure CM element. All of my mics (around 6) are built and or modified by Steve Warner at Thunderharpmics. I also have recently added a Kinder Antifeedback box to my set of tools. I wish I had found one of these things years ago.
They're less than a new amp and make playing through virtually any amp ; and getting good tone; possible.

[Wezo's Myspace site is]

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ronnie Shellist and the Shuffletones

I caught Ronnie Shellist’s act at the Dazzle nightclub in downtown Denver on Saturday night. Ronnie was a blues harp sensation on YouTube a couple years ago and he has since put together a very talented working band. He was part of Jason Ricci’s Rockers in the Rockies last fall. He is an exceptionally good blues harp player.

First, his gear: Ronnie’s amp is a Weber Tweed Bassman kit. The amp has four identical Weber 10A125-O speakers. Ronnie plays mostly through an old beat-up Shure 520 mic, and his tone is outstanding. But get this… He uses no reverb and no delay; he plays 100 percent dry. The mic plugs directly into the amp, and that’s it. I was amazed at his tone; I could have sworn he had some delay in there somewhere, but it was all in his amazing technique.

Guitar player Jeremy Vasquez deserves special mention here. I am not exaggerating even a little when I say he strongly reminded me of a young Carlos Santana. I was stunned at his slashing riffs that suddenly modulated down to you-could-hear-a-pin-drop melodies. This guy has got the blues thing goin’ on in a big way.

They called me up to play some harp in the first set, which was a lot of fun. It’s great to play with pros, and the Shuffletones are first rate players. Catch their act if you can. You will be very impressed.

UPDATE: One thing that especially impressed me about Ronnie's band was the level of enthusiasm shown by the audience for the blues. The Suffletones had 'em hooting and frothy, and it warms the heart of this old blues guy to see that in Denver, Colorado.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ampeg Regrets

One of my first tube harp amps was a 1965 Ampeg B-15, exactly like the one pictured above except it had 2 cabs. It was a Flip Top STACK, baby!

I was living in Lansing, Michigan, in 1980 and a bass player whose wife was friends with my wife bought himself a new bass rig and was looking to unload his old Ampeg. He offered it to me for…. now get this… Fifty Bucks! I thought about it for a microsecond and then forked over the cash. I bought an Astatic JT-30 mic at Elderly Instruments for $70 (more than I paid for the amp) and I was in business.

Shortly thereafter we moved back to my home in the Rocky Mountain West and I hooked up with a blues rock band playing ZZ Top, Zep, Billy Idol, etc. The big Ampeg was plenty loud enough to keep up with the headbanger guitar player and drummer in the band, and I thought it looked very cool in a funky kind of way. I had the hippest harp rig around.

But as I moved more toward a traditional blues tone I became less satisfied. The Ampeg was just too stiff. I could not get that monster to break up no matter what I tried. Well, I didn’t try much, because I didn’t know jack about tube amps back then. The tubes were some obscure relics I’d never heard of and had no idea how to tweak. Finally one day the Ampeg just refused to honk anymore, and since I was a poor ignorant harp player I had neither the means nor the knowledge to fix it. So I junked it, scavenging the two 15-inch drivers (which went into the PA bottoms) and giving the rest away. What a tragedy…

I’d love to get my hands on another one, but now they are WAY expensive. [Kicks Self] It would be fun to see what I could get out of one of those monsters today.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tube Snob

I'm not a tube snob. I think some solid state amps sound great for harp, but I also know that most of 'em sound wretched. All in all, old tube amps sound best. If you are trying to emulate the old tone from the 40s and 50s, it makes sense to use gear whose design dates to that era.

A few years ago I was looking around for a solid state amp for blues harp. I wanted something lighter and smaller, yet louder than the Fender amps I was using at the time. I had been fooling with some signal processors like the Line 6 POD XT Pro and I got some settings that sounded pretty damn good. In fact, a couple songs on my band's first CD were recorded that way.

So I looked around for a good compact solid state amp with modeling and settled first on a Roland Cube 30 I got cheap on eBay. I liked the tone I was getting, but the amp did not have enough balls for gigging.

I ended up with the Roland's bigger brother, the Cube 60. What a great amp! It had superb sound, lots of cool effects and amp models, and it was extremely durable and reliable. As with the Cube 30, its harp tone using the usual bullet mics was hard to take... shrill and prone to feedback. But here is the secret: When I tried the Harmonica Honker mic with it, I immediately knew I had hit the bulls eye.

The Honker is a small ring mic that fits on your pinkie, incorporating a tiny electret condenser microphone. A cable leads from the ring to a belt pack that serves as power supply and distortion unit. You can dial in as much or as little crunch as you like, from clean to filthy.

I'd had the Honker for a while and tried it with my tube amps but never really liked it. But through the Cube 60 with the amp set on the Black Face emulation, the tone was nearly perfect. I say "nearly..." It is NOT the same as a good bullet mic into a saggy tube amp, but it sounds very, very good. When I was first trying the Cube 60 and Honker mic, the guitar player from my band walked into our rehearsal studio and said, "Dude! You found your TONE!" But he is only a guitar player, so what the fuck does he know?

The point is, the tone was good enough to impress a guy who played blues every night and had heard his share of harp rigs. You know that 99.99 percent of your audience doesn't know a tube amp from Shinola, so why do we go to all the trouble to buy and maintain expensive, tempermental vintage gear?

We do it for ourselves, baby, and for the other harp guys. That last .01 percent of your tone is the shite.

SOLD: 1947 Gibson BR-6 amp w/JT-30 mic

[This amp has been sold. Thanks to all who expressed interest.]

1947 GIBSON BR-6 AMP: In excellent original condition. It has been recently serviced and re-capped by Glen Whatley at MARS Amp Service in Englewood, Colorado. The amp has the original 10-inch Rola speaker, code 285652 (December of 1946). It has been re-tubed with two NOS JAN Sylvania 6V6 power tubes, Sovtek 5Y3 rectifier tube, and two new production Tung Sol tubes, 6SN7 and 6SL7. The old power cord has been replaced with a new 3-prong grounded cord. The amp is solid and ready to go. It puts out twelve watts of vintage Chicago tone; it sounds amazing. Perfect for jamming or recording, and totally giggable for small to medium blues venues. Great for fat blues guitar, too.

1945 ASTATIC JT-30 MICROPHONE: The riveted metal tag with the Youngstown Ohio address and the B-series serial number date this mic to 1945. The original owner scratched his name in the side of the mic. The original crystal element is long gone; this mic has an Astatic ceramic element made from the same element materials as a crystal MC-127 and sounds very much like the MC-127 and MC-151. Very high impedance; very hot and nasty.

Show ‘em you mean business when you walk in with this gear. The first note you play will make heads turn. This rig is the real deal. It sounds like vintage tube blues gear should.

UPDATE: "Oh yes. This little thing's got Tone for days! Thanks."

This amp was purchased by Bruno Coon, a talented musician in the L.A. area. Bruno is a Music Editor in the film industry with a long list of credits, and he works closely with Randy Newman. His Myspace site is

Thanks, Bruno!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tube Heaven in Denver

All the blues guitar and harp guys in Denver know about it. In an old green converted furniture store on the corner of Tennyson and 41st avenue in NW Denver sits tube heaven.

It is now best described as a junk store; at least that is what the owner calls it. It has all manner of relics for sale; old furniture, knick-knacks, records, lawn mowers. etc. It is a garage sale on steroids. It is a brick ‘n’ mortar eBay wannabe. But it has a secret… a cache of old tubes the likes of which you have never seen.

The store is owned and operated by a guy named Al, who is over 80 years old. He doesn’t like getting up early anymore, so the store is open only from noon to five pm. The most memorable feature of the store is the thick smell of cigar smoke. Al has been smokin’ ‘em all his life and he ain’t dead yet. He constantly has one stuck in his mug; some kind of rotten smelly stogie whose stink lingers for hours on your clothes and hair. Well, if I had hair…

But…. Behind the main counter is a wall of tubes. Box after box of tubes. Al and his father before him made their money selling tubes and tube testers all over Denver back when TV sets had a certain smell. Al still has a storage unit somewhere in Denver with 100,000 more tubes.

He’s got ‘em all, like the common 6V6, 12AX7, 5Y3. But he has obscure tubes too, such as the 6SN7 and 6SL7 I needed for my 1947 Gibson amp. All the tubes are old, some are NOS and some are used. Al has one of those big old tube testers right there to verify the tubes are good before you lay your money down.

The tubes are in generic boxes you need to sort through to separate the good from the marginal. Some tubes have mica flakes floating around in them like a snow globe, and those are no good. Others have signs of flash or arcing. You need to be picky.

But I've found excellent RCA black plate 6V6 power tubes I use in my amps. I’ve found all manner of rectifier tubes, old gray glass tubes, metal tubes, Coke bottle tubes and miniature tubes. And they are mostly American; RCA, GE, Sylvania, etc.

When you find one you want and ask Al the price, his reply is always the same… “Twenty bucks.” I’ve never been able to bargain with him. No matter what tube you buy or how many you have bought from this guy, the price is always “twenty bucks.” Your money slips smoothly into his pocket; no sales tax, no shipping, no waiting, and no record of the sale. But every tube I’ve ever bought from Al has been superb. I think those old tubes make a BIG difference in my tone.

Hey, if you have vintage tube gear in Denver, Al’s junk store is a miracle. If you blow a tube and have a gig looming (and don't have a spare), you need a tube NOW. Ordering from the usual places will cost a lot more with the fast shipping added on. Guitar Center is no help with their insanely expensive and severely limited selection of crappy Groove Tubes. Al's place is like a shrine for all Denver blues guys. We all hear about it by word of mouth, and we all show up there sooner or later.