Monday, October 8, 2012

The Beast

My 1991 Fender Bassman Reissue amp is a beast.  It is the loudest Bassman I have ever heard, and several other blues players have told me the same thing.  The tone is deep and massive, never muffled.  It is a wonderful large harp amp.

I bought it for a single purpose:  I was playing with a very loud (and very good) blues band and I was having trouble being heard and hearing myself.  All the mods I did to the amp were done with the idea of making the amp much louder and giving it a deep crunchy tone that I like so much in harp amps.

There was a lot of trial and error at first, but over several months I got it perfect.  It is muscular and punchy, but still responds well to pressure I put on the microphone.  There is a bit of tearing on the edge of the notes (if I want it) and some warm crunch when I want that. It is versatile and powerful, and it gets immediate attention when I lean into it and dig in.  Standing in front of it I can feel the sound pressure level as I play.  And it never feeds back until I get to stupid levels.

Well, here’s the problem:  I’ve changed bands, and the new band does not play nearly as loud.  At a gig last weekend I kept turning down so I wouldn’t overwhelm the band.  I had to get the level on the Bassman down to 2 1/2 and the mic turned down halfway and I was playing softly.  At that point I blended with the band but I missed the raunch and power.  The Sturm und Drang.

So, I can try using a different combination of preamp tubes, but that will soften the bite of the amp.  The preamp tube lineup right now is 5751, 5814a, and 5751.  The 5814a is a military 12AU7 tube.  I’ve tried nearly every combination of tubes possible in this amp and this setup produced the tone I was chasing, so I am reluctant to change it.  The circuit mods to the amp are no secret:  They are the changes you would expect a good tech to make to this amp, including a bias trim pot for the power tubes which are biased rather cold.  The power tubes are 6L6 and the rectifier is 5R4.

A big part of the character of the amp is the two Eminence Lil’ Buddy speakers installed in the bottom of the cab. These speakers are very efficient and have a deep and colorful tone.  The other two speakers are original Fender Blue Alnico.

I use a Kinder AFB+ pedal to help control feedback and an MXR Carbon Copy delay pedal to fatten up the sound.

I plan to tinker with the settings (not the tubes or circuit) to see if I can get some of that monstrous character at lower volumes.  The amp is right and I really don’t want to tinker with the internals any more.  Of course, it makes sense to leave it at home for most gigs and take a smaller amp, but I am kind of hooked on that big tone, and it is cool knowing I can muscle aside all but the loudest bands.


Ron Hewitt said...

Hi Rick, awesome sight for harp enthusiasts. Thanks for your work.
It's good to hear that you've got your bassman working the way you want at gig levels. How would a master volume control work to lower the overall output in certain situations? In your opinion, would the MVC affect the tone at lower volumes in an adverse manner?
Also, you made some very insightful comments about the elitism and politics in certain blues societies. I don't have any personal knowledge of CBS but have personal knowledge of certain blues societies in Nor Calif. Good luck dealing with the injustice.
I just received my Chicago 32-20 from Bruce Collins. It is a GREAT AMP with GREAT TONE. I agree with what you have said on your site about this amp. This amp is the best blues harp amp (of its size, right out of the box) I have played through!!!
SIncerely, Ron Hewitt
PS: Like yourself, I have played through many amps and still have a collection (for over 40 years a quest for tone).

Rick Davis said...

Ron, congrats on getting a great amp. Did you get the 3x10 Mission amp?

I don't think a master volume would get me where I want to be with the Bassman at low volumes. An attenuator might, but I'd rather not go that route.

The Bassman is my amp for big loud shows or jams. My Mission 32-20 1x12 amp is for mid-sized gigs and recording. I use zero pedals with the Mission amp... don't need 'em. Great tone just the way it is.

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please let me know how you are getting along with the Mission amp. Send a video link if you can and I'll put it up in a post.

Ron Hewitt said...

Hi Rick, Mine is a 1x12 Chicago 32-20. I agree, this amp needs no pedals. I'm finding it hard to fight the urge to sell off some stuff and get the 3x10 also. Amps like these are a true treasure.
ONE THING, Do you think that a properly engineered master volume control would rob tone from an already great amp (such as your bassman)? Thanks, Ron Hewitt

Zellecaster said...

hey Rick,
have you tired using channel 2 on that amp? It should be attenuated and knock a good amount of volume off while driving the power tubes at a lower total volume level.


Rick Davis said...

Zellcaster - Yes, the difference is slight. With some other adjustments that might be the ticket...