Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just so you know….

I’ve spent a good deal of time and energy writing about the new Mission Chicago harp amp. Just so you know, I have no financial or business interest in the amp. If you buy one, I don’t make any money. If you don’t buy one, I don’t lose anything.

I did have a lot to do with the development of the amp. I spent many hours over several months researching and helping design the amp, and in particular testing the amp with different components and configurations to get that perfect natural harp tone. I am very excited about the way it sounds. The thing rips. It is EXACTLY the amplifier that I needed but could never find.

The builder of the amp – Bruce Collins, the owner of Mission Amps – is a good friend of mine. He is also the drummer in my band, Roadhouse Joe. And I own the prototype; I bought it, and it is now my regular gig rig.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mission Harp Amps Website

A website for Bruce Collins' killer new harp amp -- The Mission Chicago Amp -- is now up: www.missionharpamps.com

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rick Estrin's Harp King Amp

Rick Estrin and the Nightcats were in town last Wednesday for a gig at the Toad Tavern. I arrived early to get a good seat. What a great show!

Rick had his trusty Kinder Harp King amp, similar to the one pictured above. It is a 6x10 monster with 100 (a hundred!) watts of power and Kinder's anti-feedback circuit. The amp sounded fantastic, with a huge, easy tone that seemed effortless.

Feedback was never an issue, but the band had such great stage volume discipline I was not surprised. Those guys played only at a moderate level and let the PA do all the work. I've played that stage several times; very good sound.

Estrin is a magnetic performer; one of the best harp guys out there. His guitar player -- Kid Andersen -- is a virtuoso and funny and engaging. His rhythm section is way in the pocket. As I was listening I realized the music was FUN. The whole thing made me smile.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

From Bruce Collins re: The Mission Chicago amp

The Mission Chicago 6L6 amp 32 watt, light weight, single 12" speaker combo.

I do have later plans to build the same type amp in the larger, tweed Super 5F4 2x10, tweed Bandmaster 5E3 3x10 and possibly the tweed Pro 1x15 cabinet layouts.

For a limited time, the introductory price of the first 15 Chicago 1x12 amps is only $999.99.

After the initial dozen amps are sold, the SRP (suggested retail price) will be around $1199-$1399, depending on the cabinet configuration and speakers.

The Chicago is not another Bassman or any other modified guitar amp. For this project, I used all my experience with vintage vacuum tube amplifiers, P.A.s, Premier amps, Masco amps, old Ampeg amps, tweed Bassman amps and other E series tweed amps. However, it is not a copy of any known amp... it is a true Harpsman's amp, dedicated to serious harp players. This is not a bedroom amp, it is a new harp amp circuit and totally rips.

It has a very broad, harp friendly bandwidth and gain structure that works well with a lot of different microphones. The amp is harp tuned and uses all standard vacuum tubes... there is no where to go but ^UP^ with NOS tubes if a player is so inclined. Any 12AX7, 12AY7, 12AT7, 5751, 5965, 12AV7, or 12AU7 can be used in this preamp stages for various tunings.

The standard design uses two matched SED Svetlana 6L6 power tubes and two JJ 12AX7/ECC83s preamp tubes with a Sovtek GZ34 rectifier. The chassis has a switch to run the power tubes in fixed bias or hot cathode biasing.

Cathode biasing reduces the absolute output power by about 25% but it has a softer fluffier vintage tone and over drive that is wonderful, while fixed bias makes the most amount of power, peak envelope power is about 45 watts

While operating the power tubes in the fixed bias mode, the amp is more feedback resistant and is a little snappier with more aggressive punch. The amp can be run with a 5Y3GT rectifier and two 6V6s for about 14-15 watts output or a GZ34 and two 6L6s/KT66 for anywhere from 24 watts to 32 watts clean depending on the combinations and fixed bias or cathode bias. When used with the 6L6s, you can use any normal octal socket rectifier such as: 5Y3G or GT, 5R4, 5U4G or B, 5V4G or GA, 5AR4, GZ30 or a GZ34. Tweak the amp's tone to your liking with any of these changes.

A very nice custom feature of the new Chicago amp is the "Deep" switch. It cuts the brittle/reedy high end and boosts the deep lows around 120Hz-400Hz (regardless of the harp's key). Those frequencies are right in the wheel house of the modern harp player's greasy grunt tone.

The new Deep circuit doesn't boost the overall gain or volume very much. Nor does it boost the harsh top end at all... the result is the amp does not overdrive much sooner with the deep boost engaged... but it does fatten the tone by a large amount. The circuit works similarly to an old fashioned "loudness" control, seen in vintage audio gear, but it is tuned for harp players and adds big bump in lower frequency roundness without out adding top end gain. This feature is a "must have" for players using multiple microphones.

If you need the extra volume a PA provides in a large venue, another great feature the Chicago chassis has is a "power tube and speaker" tone sampling circuit with a variable level line out control. Any XLR mic cable can be connected to the chassis mounted XLR jack so the amp can be plugged into your PA's XLR input. Max signal output through the XLR jack is about 800mvac so it can run another power amp if desired.

Face panel controls are: ON-OFF, Deep, volume, treble, bass, L.O (Line Out) level and fixed/cathode bias

--Bruce Collins, Mission Amps, Denver, CO bruce@missionamps.com

Monday, April 12, 2010

Playing Impressions: "The Chicago" from Mission Amps

Last night I took the new Chicago amp from Mission Amps to the Blues Jam my band hosts every other Sunday at Ziggies in Denver. This was the maiden voyage for the amp... the first time it has been gigged. Several harp players took it for a test drive. Here are my impressions of the amp:

VOLUME- The amp is loud, and that is important in a jam setting. As you know, there is very little volume discipline at jams. The 30-watt Chicago more than held its own against a stage full of guitarist with their jam enthusiasms. The amp has a line out for use if PA support is needed, but I didn't use it at all. The amp can hack it by itself.

When others were playing the amp I walked around the room and I could hear the harp well from all angles, even in the back. I had the volume on 5 (out of 12), and at that level the harp did not overwhelm the guitars, but stayed with them. Thirty watts driving an efficient speaker (102 dB @ 1 watt) will keep up.

FEEDBACK- Some harp amp builders will blow a lot of smoke up your ass about how feedback resistant their products are... as if they have some mystery trick for killing feed back. It's mostly BS. Feedback is a physical fact of the universe, and the ways to defeat it are not mysterious tricks.

When I played the Chicago amp last night it was remarkably feedback resistant. It started to ring right at 50 percent volume, but the amp was so loud at that point it was not an issue. It was WAY louder than I have been able to crank any of my other three amps before feedback in that room. No matter where I moved on stage I never once had to turn down because of squeal. Also, since I wasn't lined out (and wasn't in the monitors) the whole PA feedback thing was eliminated.

This amp resists feedback because Bruce Collins voiced it to roll off the highs starting at about 2K Hz. It will feed back slightly sooner in Cathode Biased mode than it will in Fixed Bias mode. The ceramic Cannabis Rex speaker is not beamy or shrill.

But.... feedback is a demon that lives in the air. Results may differ with a different time or place or weather or luck or whatever. All I can say for certain is the amp was impressive at Ziggies last night.

TONE- Cathode Biased amps have a characteristic sound that is saggier and crunchier than Fixed Bias amps. Cathode Biased amps sound more compressed. Fixed Bias amps sound stiffer and are generally louder. This amp has a toggle right on the panel that lets you switch from one mode to the other.

The amp also has a DEEP switch that steepens the tone curve for more bottom. Using these two controls gives you four distinct voices at any setting: You still have the Treble and Bass controls to dial it in. This makes the amp very versatile.

My favorite setting right now is Fixed Bias with the DEEP switch on. I have Bass at about 8 (out of 12) and the Treble on 4. Last night I played the amp with just a touch of delay from a pedal and no other effects.

The amp responds like a Ferrari. The sounds that come out if it feel as if they are directly connected to what you are doing with the harp and mic. You can go from Sweet to Nasty just by leaning into it a bit. A tight cup gives a very satisfying growl. The amp never feels like its straining.

The amp does not sound nasal or boxy. I did not hear any ghost notes or cone cry. The tone is complex and articulate, with lots of overtones swirling around. It cut through a loud mix like a machete, with a feeling of power and punch. I like the tone a lot.
Video - Dan Treanor, Cathode Biased Mode

Video - Dan Treanor solo, Cathode Biased Mode

Saturday, April 10, 2010

From Mission Amps: "The Chicago"

"The Chicago" from Mission Amps is ready. Master amp builder Bruce Collins designed it from the ground up to to be the most exceptional and economical mid-sized harp amp on the planet.

It is rated very conservatively at 30 watts. I've measured nearly 50 watts while playing. It is a 2x6L6 amp with a 50 watt power transformer. Here are some of the features:

-30 watts at only 34 lbs, in a Tweed Deluxe cab.
-All hand wired point-to-point by master amp builder. Beautifully crafted.
-Every finished amp rigorously tested by pro harp player. Guaranteed five years.
-Cloth-covered solid core wiring.
-NOS military-grade Paper in Oil capacitors. Dark, warm, lush tone.
-DEEP Switch for fatter tone.
-Switchable from Fixed Bias to Cathode Biased.
-Beefy 50-watt power transformer. Powerful bottom end.
-Optimized for bullet mics (including crystal) and Shure SM57 microphones.
-Separate Bass and Treble controls.
-Speakers broken in using custom harp-specific processes. Fat tone from the first note.
-“True Tone” Line Out XLR jack with level control. Perfect for PA or recording.
-One 12-inch Eminence Cannabis Rex speaker.
-Tweed Deluxe cabinet, finger jointed, solid pine with a furniture grade birch plywood baffle board.

I've played this amp extensively, and it sounds sensational. It is LOUD, with a complex, organic tone that responds easily to the pressure you put on the harp and mic. Goes from Sweet to Nasty when you dig in.

The regular price for this amp will be $1200. For a limited time the introductory price will be only $999.00.

I'll have this amp at the blues jam my band hosts at Ziggies in Denver on Sunday night. If you are in the area, I need your opinion. Please come play the amp and let me know what you think.

UPDATE: The amp is 20 in. wide, 16 in. tall, and about 8 1/2 in. deep at the top, from front to back. The exact weight is 33 pounds 12 ounces.

It sounds great at low volumes, particularly in the Cathode Biased mode. BTW, in that mode you can switch to 6V6 power tubes and a 5Y3 rectifier for the best sounding 15-watt harp amp you have ever heard.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: HarpGear Double Trouble Amp

[This review was written by Mike Fugazzi, the excellent harp player and front man for the NightRail blues band.]

I know how important tone is in the quest for gear, but to start, let me comment on something I believe is even more important – volume. I have had two Double Trouble amps now, and they are by far the best amp I have yet to play for tone. The sound is huge, it is feedback resistant, and it is easy to carry. If you can get away with a Pro Jr., Princeton Reverb, etc., you can easily gig with a DT or a DT on an amp stand. Towards the end of this post, I have some comments about changing tubes and speakers in the amp to tailor it to a variety of needs.

This is a gigging amp and too loud for home use. My band has been playing some larger stages and I have acquired the need for a larger amp (HG50 1210), but the DT has worked to this point from small gigs to medium (we always mike for the front of house mix, but I often wouldn’t need to). It has also served me well on large stages – like outdoors for thousands of people – miked into the monitors. So in many gigging situations, the 18w this thing pumps out should be totally legit. My settings with the mods discussed below are almost always on 7 with the tone up to the verge of feedback.

I personally go for a tone on the clean side. I use an Ultimate 57 and my favorite tones are off of Carlos del Junco and Jason Ricci albums. I think this amp is terrific for that, but in the end, it didn’t have the volume headroom 50w could provide me with my current band. This is extremely disappointing to me, but logistically speaking, a move I had to make. Many of the medium to large stages we play run their own sound and the monitor set-ups are very frustrating. Therefore, my goal with an amp is to avoid needing monitors, but to not be so loud as to not be in the PA. One of the many things I love about the DT is how easy it is for me to using my technique to go from clean to really dirty. Even on 7 this amp has clean headroom, but if you lay into it it goes totally Chicago.

I decided against the stock AlNiCo for the simple fact I decided a while back I don't like buzzy speaker distortion (couldn't replicate it with an AlNiCo in a Vibro Champ). I am not saying that speakers or bad of the DT should come with different ones. It might seem strange, but for harp, I am not a fan of lots of speaker distortion. I like compression, but not the sound of an 8” distorting. I think the DT is any louder now, and it does have a bigger bottom end. Neither ceramic speaker seemed to fart out even with a Low F harp and tone all the way down.

For speakers, I’ve tried nearly every 8” you can find out there. It was a every expensive yet enlightening experience. Ultimately, I decided to go with a Weber Sig ceramic and Weber 8F125 with H dustcap. I tried 2 AlNiCo, 1 AlNiCo with the Sig and then the 8F125 and then the current combo. The amp seemed to feedback at the same point regardless of combination on the amp numbers. For each combo I placed the amp in the exact same spot. I then stood in the same spot with the mic a foot off the grill on one speaker. I then turned the volume up until the first squeal (tone on 10). I then did that for the second speaker. There was the same feedback volume (4) on the dial within a 1-2mm twist of the volume knob for each speaker. Next I set the volume on 7 and tone on 6. I then stood about 6 feet away from the amp and played to check tone and feedback. I switched speakers out and then repeated. Eventually I added a BBE Two Time in line. The delay seems to be warmer/darker with this amp than the Fenders I've tried it with. That is a good thing. It really sounded excellent…but bare in mind this is all being done in the family room. I think the room tends to create feedback more than most stages, but the amp will surely sound different at a gig.

I decided against the stock AlNiCo for the simple fact I decided a while back I don't like buzzy speaker distortion (couldn't replicate it with an AlNiCo in a Vibro Champ). I am not saying that speakers or bad of the DT should come with different ones. It might seem strange, but for harp, I am not a fan of lots of speaker distortion. I like compression, but not the sound of an 8” distorting. I think the DT is any LOUDER now, and it does have a BIGGER bottom end and more CUT. Neither ceramic speaker seemed to fart out even with a Low F harp and tone all the way down.

With only 2x8 and 18w, I like a ceramic mix of speakers. The 8F125 has more bottom, but seems to be the same volume as the Sig. I couldn't get a 8F125 or the like to fit in the top speaker slot…one 8A125 and one 8F125 might have been sweet!

For tubes, I much preferred a 5751 over anything else. The 12ay7 wasn’t hot enough and a 12ax7 was too feedback prone. For the power tubes, I am a huge fan of JJ6v6 tubes for their bottom end and clean headroom.

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Here is a short clip of Mike playing through the Double Trouble amp. His singin' ain't bad either!