Friday, February 25, 2011

Bad Amp, Good Amp

A few days ago I spotted a used Ampeg J-12R reissue amp in my local Guitar Center store, for only $300. I knew it was an EL84 amp (an amp design using EL84 power tubes), a design whose tone I dislike. But I was curious about it and hopeful it might be the EL84 amp that finally changes my mind. I mentioned it to a harp-playing buddy - Gary - and the next thing I know he has the amp in his house. I was eager to head over there and put the amp through its paces.

It was awful. The worst ghost notes I've ever heard in a harp amp. Check out this video.


So, Gary returned the Ampeg amp to GC (ya gotta love their 30-day return policy) and picked out a Fender Hot Rod Deville 410 amp instead.

Now, that's more like it! This is a new amp but last year's model (not the newer "III" version.) It was marked at $799 but Gary got it for about $700. Four 10-inch speakers, 60 watts, very muscular sound.

This is the same amp Kim Wilson uses when he plays big venues, except he uses TWO of them. Kim uses an ART tube preamp to warm up the tone a bit, so Gary tried his Behringer tube preamp. It worked very well. The -20db pad got the signal under control and the preamp drive gave the tone a bit more color. Nice rig, for not much money.

The downside, of course, is the bulk and weight of the amp. It weighs 53 pounds, which can get old real fast. The pluses for the amp are its good tone and very powerful presence, which makes it ideal for loud blues jams. (Are there any other kind?)

I like the amp with the outboard tube preamp. The last time I played a Deville was several years ago and it was a feedback demon. I've been wanting to try the amp again since hearing Kim Wilson wail through a pair of them last summer at a festival. I know he used an AFB+ anti-feedback pedal, and his volume was absolutely enormous. Playing in Gary's house it certainly seemed that the Deville had plenty of volume before feedback for normal gigging. Gary plans to bring the amp to the blues jam I host at Ziggies in Denver on Sundays, so I'll thrash it out there and report back. So far I'm impressed.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Hey Rick - Long time site lurker. Great info! Great site! I just bought a 94 Blues Deville 4x10 from the orignal owner. Non-reissue, tweed with the blue alnico speakers. Swapped out P1 and P2 with 5751's. I dont bother with the drive button/channel and plug my pedal rig into input 1. Volume is on 1.5 and it will still slay any drummer in the vicinity without PA reinforcement. I use an ART MP tube preamp to control the output signal from my mics (545 & Shure magnetic JT30) and a Lone Wolf Harp Attack for different tone variations as well as the old blue 6 band MXR eq to compensate for any bad room acoustics as well as dial out some of the harsh treble characteristics of this amp. Super clean to super crunch in one stomp!. It's not a Harp Gear but it was only 5 bills too. The amp sounds really good with and without the HA pedal. I use my DM2 analog delay most of the time, rarely use the on-board reverb, although the giant reverb tank sounds pretty darn good its ownself. I love my Deville which is kinda crazy because the guy I bought it from tortured me with the same amp and his incessant volume for many years. He scored a new Bassman Re-issue. The Deville is a heavy beast but will blow out most any guitar player or drummer on the stage if needed. To have that piece of mind is worth the 50+ lbs to me as well as walking into a gig and be up, running and consistantly sounding pretty good in less than 3 minutes set up time . I've been playing more than a few years now and have gone through Blues Jr's, Valve Jr's, emulators for playing direct to the PA, including a Harp Commander, Roland RP200, Be-ringer Vamp 2 etc.. I still have my '69 Champ and a '67 Silvertone 1482. All have thier place but none can keep up with loud blues/rock band without proper micing and adjusting with PA /monitors. I think the Deville has gotten a bad rap as far as a harp amp, mainly due to the excessive power of 60 watts, gainy preamp signal and the tone stack is definitely on the trebly side in stock form. Granted, I am not overdriving the power tubes anytime soon without losing what hearing I have left but I can certainly move some air! The HA pedal does a great job of adding a bit power tube saturation. Nobody is complaining that they cant hear me anymore either. I have found that leaning it back a little allows me and the band to hear what I am doing without killing the folks in the first rows. HUGE volume, Good, thicktone, versatile with my pedal rig and looks bad ass!For any loud rock band, I don't think any modern production amp at this price level compares with the addition of just a few tube mods and pedal enhancements. If and when the kids ever move out, I'll think about a Harp Gear but for now, the Deville rocks!