Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gary Smith endorses the Sonny Jr. Cruncher Amp

Gary Smith, whose legendary tone earned him the title of Godfather of the South Bay Blues, has endorsed the Sonny Jr. Cruncher amp. This is a very big deal for a lot of reasons.

I had heard about this endorsement but I was skeptical. Gary has always been a vintage Fender guy. In fact, his award winning DVD “
Amplified Blues Harp Demystified” is mostly a celebration of the magic of vintage Fender amp tone. For Gary to get behind a different amp now is, as I said, a very big deal.

Anybody who has heard Gary Smith play live or has heard his CD “
Blues For Mr. B.” or on Mark Hummel’s “Blues Harp Meltdown” knows that Gary has the most beautifully articulated Chicago-style tone on the planet. Listen to the first few bars of You Can’t Hurt Me No More or Elevate Me Mama for an object lesson in blues harpology.

That is why this is such a big deal. Gary honed his extraordinary tone over the last 40 years using mostly Fender gear. His main gig rig of late has been the venerable Fender Bassman. For him to change up now is a huge risk of upsetting the perfect tonal apple cart. He had to be mighty impressed with the Cruncher amp to do this.

He is. I had a conversation about this with him last night. Gary Smith fully endorses the Sonny Jr. Cruncher amp, and will be using it at all his gigs. In larger venues he will add the Bassman for back-end support while mic’ing the Cruncher through the FOH speakers. At all other gigs it will be the Cruncher by itself. What he likes about the Cruncher is the complex tone from the multiple speakers of different sizes and configurations. He told me the Cruncher throws to the back of the room with ease. He walked around while another player used his un-mic'ed rig and said it sounded “right there in the front of the mix.”

As you may be able to tell, I am very impressed with Gary Smith as a blues harp player. He is the real deal, and he is an expert on harp amps. If he sincerely endorses the Sonny Jr. Cruncher – and I am convinced he does – then that is good enough for me. Yes, I have had my differences with Gary Onofrio, the owner of the Sonny Jr. brand, but this is impressive and cannot be ignored. Also, Onofrio was a stand-up guy in helping me hook up with Gary Smith.

Sound clips of Smith playing the Cruncher are on the way and will be added to this post soon. I’m still working to get a Cruncher amp in my hands for a thorough review. Check back for more details on this.

Sonny Jr. Amps


Anonymous said...

Good for you, Rick, and thanks for posting this. I know you've had your differences with Gary, and the rhetoric has gotten heated at times, but ultimately it's all about the tone.

We harp players have an embarrassment of riches in amps these days.

Anonymous said...

Geez, is all forgiven between you and Gary? Positive write up, his link is on your site, kind of a whipsaw change of attitude. It has been a bit insulting to those of us who have owned these amps over the years (hundreds?) how much you have dissed these amps just because Gary talked to you rude. Now Gary Smith endorses them and Gary O talks nice to you and all is forgiven. Listen, Gary talks to lots of people rude, he doesn't have great platform skills, is prickly as heck but he makes a great amp so you deal with him like Soup Nazi. Your previous posts were correct, it is an over priced amp. I guess your ranting got him to lower the prices 300 bucks or so. Good for lots of new buyers, lousy for those who bought these amps in good faith and supported Gary over the years and now their amps have been devalued.

Anonymous said...

That's just silly. Rick made the price of a SJ amp decline in the used market? Price is determined in the marketplace. If Gary wasn't able to move his amps at $300 higher then that's why the price came down. That or he found some way to economize and offer the economy to the buyers. The boom is over, money's tight. Harmonica specific amplifiers are a discretionary item. What's amazed me is all the people willing to pay thousands of dollars for an amplifier that won't have the resale value of say a 1960 Fender Concert. Most of the people buying these amps aren't making a living playing music. The other thing driving the price down on harmonica specific boutique amplifiers is supply and demand. Sonny used to be the only deal in town now we can choose from at least 5 other makers. How many hobbyist poseurs playing harmonica with the ability to cough up the bucks are there in the world?

Anonymous said...

The answer to your question is lots.

Anonymous said...

In this economy? The days of refinancing the house and taking the imaginary equity out to buy toys are gone.

Rick Davis said...

Anon, you say Gary O. is rude to a lot of people. Maybe that has something to do with the drop in the value of his amps.

The purpose of this blog is not to prop up the resale value of anybody's amp. The purpose is to share info and opinions on as many amps as possible. I invite all readers to submit reviews.

But there is a Caveat associated with owner reviews... People tend to defend their purchases. That's why I'm trying so hard to get my hands on loaner amps from people like Gary O., but he has a fear bordering on paranoia of having his amp tested without him actually being there to "make sure it is set up right." If an amp sounds good only when the manufacturer is present, it does not inspire confidence.

Still, Gary Onofrio worked really hard to smooth things over and put me in touch with Gary Smith. For that I am grateful, but he has so far dragged his feet on sending me clips of Gary Smith actually playing the Cruncher amp. However, a lot of what I know about harp amps I learned from Gary Smith, so I'm happy to take his word for it for now.

Rick Davis said...

By the way, you wanna know another amp Gary Smith is enthusiastic about and uses frequently?

The Epiphone Valve Junior Half Stack!

Anonymous said...

Gary used to hit a local jam with a black tolex stock Pro Jr. He gets some hellacious tone out of that amp.

I'll try to hit Gary's next show and shoot some video.

Amps are a lot like cars. Very few retain their original value after put to use. His amps keep their value better than a brand new Bassman LTD.

In sunny CA, there are a lot of people playing Sonny Jr amps. I can easily think of a dozen players in about 15 seconds with them. There are still a lot of people that can cough up the bucks.

I do not own one. They sound good, but I prefer to make house payments and IRA payments.

Anonymous said...

Is it me or is there 'just too much enthusiast B.S in the air'? Well folks,Gary Smith endorsements aside... I actually was an initially very keen pre Christmas Cruncher buyer *[the never ending SJ special price].I thought the idea of a 12 & 2x8's in a smaller package could be great. I read the hype.Sure it can be good however... Unfortunately my 'Cruncher' had to be sent back and I replaced it with a 410.On my I'm 'Cruncher'..the tone pots were put in wrongly valued apparently. Gary insisted sending it back, which I decided to do eventually[it ending out costing a small fortune for shipping].One of my other amps a tube changed Peavey 30watt 2x10 Delta Blues I was using; was pretty much on par with 'The Cruncher' *[much to me and my very experienced friends surprise].
That 'deal' became an absolutely horrific experience; and took place whilst I was in the middle of two very important tours. It was very gruelling trying to handle the emotional 'extremes'I was to find enshewed. I've never been so 'patronised' and treated with 'Jeckle and Hyde'.. raging and ranting' *[every day literally dozens of emails for weeks]. So quite frankly I was very glad to hear Rick Davis speak out! I don't know if I will ever get over that aweful deal. I'm still not overly wrapt in the SJ410 either it has a tone pot issue.. 'F**k all bass control, fancy getting the same issue again! A 'very qualified tube amp tech who took it for inspection said "send the damn thing back again, it's not quatifiable and made by a twiddling enthusiast basically".I couldn't possibly do that again. F**k the positive reviews! He said he wouldn't touch it and said "it works as designed". The fact is every other person I have dealt with buying harp related equiptment has been totally helpful and friendly with no gliches. As Jason Richie once said in harpL [something like] "I tried those amps from 'Funny Lunar' and I didn't like the sound of them".He would endorse. Mind you I'm not sold on his 'synthesised' tones. Quite frankly the best of this Sonny Junior bunch, that I've been useing [occasionally] in the rock outfit is the Sonny Jnr 2. It can really crank up and 'kicks in' easily! I realise Gary O can be a very 'nice' guy [depending if wants to be] but he is far too schitzo' for my liking and I think I have a much better idea 'why' these days. My tech took the 410 amp for at least two months and totally researched it along with the SJ2. He said the the SJ2 is off a 50's Bassmaster schematic. The 410 however is 'tweaked' and has a unquantifiable alteration.I would have to get back to him for exact details [i was sick of the whole thing]. The fact is I am obviously getting some 'good-ness from it' and hopefully it will 'age into a great lovable amp' [it's obviously beautifully finished..but the Rolls Royce of harp amps? I don't think so].It is a good price and is a good harmonica amp especially for the the Chicago Little Walter clones. I just wish I'd gone for even more 'grunt' in a 50 watt .??? Harp Gear...Meteor?... Bassman or even a Kinder Harp King. I do need alot of sound in one of my gigs. As for the smaller shows the Kinder Anti feedback pedal and possibly a preamp tube alteration, a really good Hi z transformer or modded microphone can basically change any amp into pretty much a useable harp guitar amp into harp friendly. Personally for my shows I like the little Kalamazoo Model 2's hooked up through a Fat Dog Splitter for a 'great gnarly tongue blocked vibrato electric harp tone and total 'kick in', especially when recording. Anyway this is only 'some of my sorry story' can 'abuse me' if you must.. but quite frankly I'm not into the the hero worshipping school of amp purchaser. I often wonder if the guys who write half the stuff can really play or if they do lot's of shows? I do know many guys get great satifaction from the SJ product. 'All power to them and SJ'! However at the end of the day it is'nt about the gear; it's about the 'soul of the music', the fun the show and the technical ability to deliver an engaging performance geared above the mediochre a gift to the audience.

Anonymous said...

RE: Previous SJ Cruncher/410 comments. I'm very sorry for all the typo's and spelling errors.Thats rather embarassing indeed. *[Especially J. Ricci and the fact he 'didn't endorse' the SJ amp].It was written very 'late in the evening'.
I obviously realize there are many satisfied SJ clients and Gary has been outsourcing the amps for years with glowing reviews. The great fact remains however I experienced the most 'bizzare' and 'unsatisfactory' amp deal in my life. I disagree with the 'popular positive conceptions' about the product. Also had I known about the erratic 'personality issues' involved; I would have definitely sent my business elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Hmm twin Kalamazoos, expensive shipping, who could this be? Ok fine I won't tell.