Monday, April 20, 2009

The Sonny Boy Amp

Suitcase amps for guitar and blues harp are not new. Back in the golden age of Chicago Blues there were a few examples of cool amps like this. The new Sonny Boy amp made by Chris Null here in Denver is not a toy, nor is it a nostalgic trinket. The Sonny Boy amp is the real deal with some mojo goin’ on.

Inside, the Sonny Boy amp is hand wired, point-to-point, with good quality components. The tubes are JJ Tesla, the speaker is an 8-inch Jensen. The circuit is a clone of a tweed Champ, creating about 5 watts of barky tone into a 4 ohm load.

The exterior is excellent quality. In these pictures I’ve placed my Fender Mississippi Saxophone case next to the Sonny Boy for reference. They appear to be exactly the same, perhaps built by the same manufacturer. The amp case is sturdy and very cool. The tweed on the case is not lacquered, a look I actually prefer.

How does it sound? In a word, Great! It’s a Champ clone, baby… If you like the sound of blues harp through a Champ (as I do) you’re gonna love the Sonny Boy.
Click here for a brief sound clip.

In the sound clip I’m playing the amp in Chris’ store, Gravity Music Gear, just as you see it in these pictures. I recorded it with a Zoom H4, playing a stock Hohner Special 20 harp through my bullet mic with a Shure CM element.

The speaker in the amp I played was a Jensen Mod, which sounded surprisingly good but just a tad bright. I suggested to Chris that harp players might prefer the smooth-coned Weber Signature ceramic 8, and he agreed to offer that option. The amp had a JJ Tesla ECC81 preamp tube, a 12AT7 variant, and it sounded good. I don’t generally care for the AT7 as a preamp tube, but it was a good match in the Sonny Boy. It was not peaky or shrill or overly prone to feedback.

While playing I did not hear any noise or buzzing from the hardware on the amp, such as the handle or clasps.

This amp is cool. In looks and tone it is pure vintage. You can wow ‘em with the look and style of this amp without sacrificing tone. And get this… The price point for the Sonny Boy amp is less than $600.00.

Here is the website for
Blues Luggage, the maker of the Sonny Boy Amp.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pedal Board Redux

At our gig last night at the Little Bear Saloon up in Evergreen, CO, I tried out my latest minimal pedal board. Yep, I've gone 'round and 'round on the whole pedal thing and now I'm back in the effects camp.

As you can see from the picture, I'm using only the Boss GE7 EQ pedal and the cool little Delta Lab digital delay pedal. (BTW, it's made by Texas Instruments.) I use the settings as you see them: A slight bump to the mids and a very slight cut to the extreme lows and highs on the EQ pedal, and a small slap-back on the delay. I thought it sounded great. So did my bandmates and the sound tech at the venue.

The pedals are in the inexpensive Boss BCB-30 pedal board; very convenient. The top snaps on and it folds up like a briefcase.

Pedal Board Update: I added a Line 6 X2 wireless rig:

The guitar player in Roadhouse Joe (Scott Mishoe) and I have been thinking about going wireless so we went to Guitar Center and tried out the little Line 6 X2. I was interested in it for a couple of reasons:

-Moderate cost ($199 but we cut a deal for buying two)
-Small size receiver fits in my bedal board
-It operates above 900mhz, so the new FCC bandwidth won't interfere.

So far it is performing as advertised: No drop-outs or static at all. When I A-B'ed it against a cable I could not hear any difference. It gets all the grit and overtones from my bullet mic. I can play from any room in my house. (It's raining outside so I didn't try that.) I'll thrash it out at band practice tomorrow and see how it does.

At the gig at Little Bear last week I stepped on my cable twice and unplugged my mic, so I'm really looking forward to being unleashed!

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Fun Gig Last Night - Dueling Harps!

The Roadhouse Joe band played a club in Golden CO last night, and we had a guest singer for the first set. Our regular singer had to arrive late, so we invited A.C. -- a guy who fronts another local blues band -- to sit in.

He's also a fine harp player. He builds and plays what he calls a Diminished harp. Here's how he described it to me in an email:

The Diminished harp I use now is made from the Marine Band 12 Hole Soloist (the 364). The Diminished tuning I use starts with C (same C as the first hole of a regular C harp). The layout is below (first column are blow notes, second are draw notes): I'm not sure if you can call the positions the same on it as on a regular diatonic. The idea behind the tuning is that the draw notes are two half notes above the blow notes so you can bend each draw note a half, and each blow note is a half a step above the previous draw note = you get a chromatic scale using regular bends. All patterns repeat each other so learning the three patterns (blow pattern, bend pattern and draw pattern) allows you to play all twelve keys with a single harp. Intonation is a bitch - I struggle with that but forcing myself to do it :)

1 C, D
2 Eb,F
3 F#,G#
4 A, B
5 C, D
6 Eb,F
7 F#,G#
8 A, B
9 C, D
10 Eb,F
11 F#,G#
12 A, B
I think Dan Treanor uses a similar harp.
A.C. sounded great and the contrast between his cool chromatic-ish playing and my second position honking is kind of cool. Here's a clip recorded with a Zoom H4 laying on one of the tables.

AC is playing through an EV RE-10 mic with the Greg Heumann inline volume control into a stock Fender Bassman reissue wth 4 alnico Blue speakers. His RI Bassman is an early model, I think from 1989; pretty beat up and cool looking. It has that fat Bassman tone.

I'm playing my bullet mic with Shure CM (also from Greg Heumann!) into the 5F2H harp amp, my usual gig rig. Both amps are mic'ed into the PA system.

It was a very fun show. A.C. plays with the band Mojambus. Catch one of his shows if you can... The dude is a blues hound.