Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Soul of a New Machine



The Stage 5 Amp began in a phone conversation between Bruce Collins and me a few months ago.  Bruce is one of the best tube amp techs on earth, and we’ve been friends for about 10 years.  A few years ago I helped him develop the excellent Chicago 32-20 line of harp amps and he helped me develop the Memphis Mini amp.

We were talking about…. Amps!  Chatting about the harp amp market in the $200 to $300 range.  There was nothing out there with the tone and performance you need in a harp amp meant for stage use.  I mentioned the Monoprice Stage Right amp as a platform, and that is where it all began.  I ordered one that day.  When it arrived at my shop in Wyoming I tore it apart and began modding and testing.  I spent hours on the phone with Bruce trying different circuit changes.  Bruce had ordered a Monoprice amp as well, and when his arrived in Denver we began the serious work of transforming that modest little amp into a blues harp beast.

The Monoprice amp is very well made, and it uses vacuum tubes for tone generation.  Its low price is largely due to its use of printed circuit boards which are assembled by robots.  All the amps we’d made in the past were hand wired point to point, a technique that is preferred by many players but which is also necessarily more expensive.  Our project became a proof of concept:  Can we create a low-priced amp based on a PCB platform that delivers the organic tone and reliable performance needed by gigging players?

Out of the box the Monoprice amp is terrible for blues harp.  In fact, it is one of the worst amps I’ve ever heard.  But the amp responded spectacularly to circuit mods designed by Bruce Collins and component changes I tried.  What followed was a LOT of the modding-testing-playing cycle.  It slowly became the Stage 5 Amp.

It is an understatement to say the Stage 5 Amp project has exceeded our expectations.  The amp is loud, punchy, warm, and responsive to the players technique.  You can make it moan or rip, depending on how you push it.  We loaned Stage 5 Amp #002 – Bruce’s development prototype – to several pro players who all were effusive in their praise and enthusiasm for the amp.

Your can own the Stage 5 Amp for $229.  It comes with some great features useful for the gigging player.  It has an extension speaker connection so you can drive an external speaker cap.  I’ve test it with a 4x10 cab loaded with Jensen speakers and it sounded monstrous…  Unbelievably loud and detailed tone.

It also has a button on the front panel to reduce it from 5 watts to about 1 watt and still retain the great tone; very handy for home practice.  There is an optional Line Out to connect directly to the PA system (or to another amplifier).  Sorry, we had to charge a few bucks for that option, but it is well worth it if you get a lot of stage time.

We are proud of the Stage 5 Amp, and the value it offers to harp players of all levels.  The amp is very solid.  It’s internal circuit boards are robust and well made.  We fully expect the amp to be reliable and consistent.  We are happy to offer a high performance amp in the lower-priced market segment.

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