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

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