Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Cruncher Amps

I’ve played and heard others play the Sonny Junior Cruncher and Super Cruncher many times, and I am only mildly impressed every time. A friend who is a good young player brought his Super Cruncher into my jam at Ziggies last week. Let me try to explain as clearly as I can what I dislike about the sound of these amps.

I hear it every time a Cruncher amp is played: First, a trebly nasal quality to the tone. Second, a serious lack of bottom end. Third, not much crunch, despite the name!

Those 8-inch tweeters in the Cruncher amp can be shrill. I am of the opinion that 8-inch speakers sound good ONLY in small class-A amps such as vintage Champs. Those circuits get their distortion in an entirely different way than a big fixed bias amp like the Cruncher, where the small speakers just kind of rattle as they break up.

Sonny Junior claims the 8-inch speakers help the amp “throw” the sound to the back of the room. That is true… They are beamy and project the treble tones well, but the low end rolls off about 10 feet in front of the amp, as if the speakers are out of phase.

Whenever anyone offers criticism of the Cruncher amps, its supporters point to the list of endorsers. What they don’t mention is the list of great harp players who chose not to play the Cruncher. Kim Wilson is arguably the best blues harp player in the world. Dave Barrett arguably has the best technique and tone. When you listen to either of them play it becomes evident why they choose other amps: Both of them like a deep warm sound. In this video Barrett is explicit about why he prefers a different amp: Deeper tone.

I feel the same way. A deep warm lush tone is a must in a good gigging harp amp. The Cruncher amps do have a bold sound, but there are other amps with better tone. The Cruncher’s nasal quality make it annoying after a while. Sure, when Charlie Musselwhite plays his Cruncher I can appreciate his amazing virtuosity and command of the instrument, but the whole time I’m wishing he were playing a better amp.

The Cruncher amps are popular because they have a bold sound some players love. And amp tone is of course entirely subjective and personal. I and others prefer a warmer, more natural amped tone.

UPDATE: Listen to an audio comparison - Cruncher amp vs. Mission Chicago 32-20 amp

MORE: I’ve heard from several Cruncher owners and former owners, some of whom agree with me and others who don’t, just as you would expect. One of them reminded me of something I should have made clearer in the original post.

If you stand in front of the amp and play it, it does indeed sound great. But that is not what your audience is hearing if you actually play in large rooms in front of people. When you stand in front of your amp the bass sounds huge and the highs are pointed at your knees. Highs are much more directional than lows.

If you use a wireless rig as I do you can walk around the club as you play and hear exactly how your amp sounds. Try walking out 30 feet from your amp and see what I mean. I frequently walk all the way to the back of the club to listen to my amp as I play.

When you play at home in your living room the Cruncher sounds nice and full. When you stand in front of it on stage you hear all the bass and little of the highs, so it sounds good to you. It’s a different story out front, and that is what I am talking about in this article.


Unknown said...

I hear the same thing. I’ve heard the cruncher live a few time and listened to lots of youtube videos. It always sounds too bright. Good but bright.

Joe's Blues Blog said...

Hi Rick - I hope you are doing well. I've played through played through about a half dozen Crunchers and Super Crunchers. I've never noticed the lack of bottom end response. In fact, the Crunchers that I've played through had quite a bit of bottom end. Tonally, they sound really good to me. They do lack the volume of a Bassman.

I've played through Crunchers owned by Andy Santana, Gary Smith, Greg Heumann (before and after the Super Cruncher modification), Phil Berkowitz, John Nemeth, Bill Noteman and Mark Hummel. Each time, I was able to get some really good sounds out of their amps. The results were pretty consistent.

Thankfully, we have a lot of options. Harp amplification isn't a one size fits all thing. A person has choices to compliment their acoustic sound and mic handling techniques.

Joe's Blues Blog said...

One more thing, since I was sitting in with each of those guys, I had the opportunity to hear the amp from the audience in a multitude of clubs and from varying distances.

Rick Davis said...

Joe, as always, thank you for your thoughtful reply.

I think it's true that great players get great tone regardless of what amp they play -- within reason; you know what I mean.

One thing that prompted this article was the notion I've seen lately among some players that there is no doubt among good players about the vitues of certain amps.

Good players have all kinds of different preferences. Mark Wenner, for example, plays a stock early Bassman RI.

My tastes run twoard a deeper, fatter tone. Every time I've heard the Cruncher amps I've been annoyed to some degree by its bright edge. I can see why some players prefer its bold sound, but I don't think it is particularly faithful to the vintage Chicago tone. I think if you listen to the video and audio clips in the article you will hear the tone I prefer.

Thanks again for your comment.