Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review: Fat Dog Model 2A Harp Amp

The Fat Dog Model 2A harp amp is a willing little player, and it deserves props for its spunky character. But before we plunge into the review of the amp we need to establish a basic fact:

The Fat Dog Model 2A is not loud enough to gig with. But that is not a knock on the amp at all. The regular gig rig I used last year (a 5F2H custom amp) was also not loud enough to stand up to a 5-piece blues band, and I gigged it more than fifty times. If for some reason you are looking for a big heavy loud harp amp, the Model 2A will be a disappointment for you. If you are looking for a smaller, lower-powered amp with cut-through-the-mix tone, read on.

Rob Reynolds, who makes the amps, told me that all future Fat Dog amps will have a line out jack for sending the signal to the PA. That is exactly how I gig my own amp, and it works very well. The Model 2A Rob sent me has a prototype line out jack dangling from the bottom of the chassis and zip tied to the power cord. It is a simple quarter inch speaker tap with a resistor across the leads to reduce the signal down near line level. I’m sure future Fat Dog amps will have the jack cleanly mounted somewhere. An XLR out with level control would be sweet.

When I first played the amp at home after taking delivery of it, I liked its barky Champ-like tone. Indeed, it sounds like a Fender silverface Champ with two 10-inch speakers and a bit less compression. But there was a bit of shrillness to the tone, and the sound did not seem lively enough for my tastes.

I talked to Rob about this and he said the issue was the speakers in this particular amp. New Jensen “Vintage” reissue speakers are notably bright but are known to improve with use. After they are broken in the Jensens sound much better. After I played the amp at higher volumes for a few hours it started to take on a rounder tone.

When I took the Model 2A to a blues jam hosted by my band Roadhouse Joe, the little amp had a chance to sing out. I lined it out to the PA and fiddled with the volume and tone controls. With the volume on 6 out of 10 (the volume is not numbered, so I am estimating) and the tone control BARELY cracked off the minimum setting, the amp suddenly came alive. A couple of my bandmates who had heard the amp previously at practice immediately remarked that the amp sounded a lot better.

I added a bit of delay and the tone fattened up. It still had the Champish midrangey barkiness, but with pretty good rip. When I dug in on a tight cup the amp growled nicely. It evidently sounded good to the musicians hanging out waiting to jam because I got very nice response after my first solo. That is the bottom line on amp tone right there.

I covered some of the technical details of the amp in a previous post. The Fat Dog amps are a modular scalable design, wherein Rob can use as many of his 6L6 mono-block amps as there are speakers in the cab. With two speakers he uses two mono amps, and so on. This also gives the amp its signature sound.

If you want to gig this amp, no problem. Use the line out for PA support, and use the amp as a stage monitor. I had the amp on a tilt-back stand right behind me, and I could hear it in the loud jam if I stood in front of it.

Rob Reynolds is a great guy who will work with you to get the amp just right. I’d probably order it with Weber Signature series speakers instead of the Jensens, but speaker tone is wildly subjective and subject to endless personal revision.

The Fat Dog Model 2A is a willing little amp worthy of your consideration. It just may be ready to run with the big dawgs.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... for an amp that only makes 10 Watts and requires PA support for gigging, $850 seems like a lot of money. For that kind of cash, you would have a lot of options to achieve the same general sound quality and results. I mean, you could buy a Harpgear 2; or 2 Pro Juniors; or a used Bassman, or 5 Epiphone Valve Jr combo amps and run them all together with splitters; etc. I'm just not seeing how the Fat Dog 2A makes sense.

Songwraith said...

What the hell is that box-looking thing sitting next to the amp?!!!

Rick Davis said...

Tim, you should have heard that home-built cigar box guitar. It was pure swamp tone. Very cool.