Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review of the Mission Chicago amp from Mojo Red

[NOTE: Mojo Red -- AKA Ken Mergentime -- is a very fine harp player well known to the blues harp commmunity. He sent this review unsolicited to the Harp-L list.]

I own the first production version of the Chicago amp by Mission (built by Bruce Collins). I've been playing through it for several months now and I LOVE it. It's got some great features for harp players and looks just beautiful with its tweed 1950s Fender style cabinet.

Anyway, here are my impressions:

Things I love:
- The lacquered tweed cabinet (Fender 1955 Wide Panel Deluxe) is beautiful!

- The single 12" speaker (Eminence Patriot "Cannabis Rex") is VERY efficient and can handle a whole lot of output without breaking a sweat.

- Plenty of power (@ 35 watts) so I'm never buried in the mix unless I want to be.

- GREAT set of natural overtones. This thing is rich with overtones, and just sings! The more I play through it the more I love it as I discover -- through varying my attack, vibrato, cupping techniques, tongue slaps etc. -- that this amp really responds spectacularly well, and offers a very nice pallet of tones.

For example, by using a delayed attack on a low harp, I can get a wonderful trombone-like sound (a-la-Dennis Gruenling). This I never expected, and really kicks butt on those slow blues numbers, especially 3rd position minors.

- I love the "Deep" switch which boosts the bottom end response. I just leave that sucker on all the time. Playing a low harp, like your G or Low-D can be a powerful experience -- it's all out front, despite the band's volume. This is a GREAT feature!

- I love the line-out on this amp as it has it's own volume control on the amp! I've had several occasions to use it now, and it's MUCH better than micing the amp. Once set up, if I need more through the mains, I can tweak it myself (drives the sound guys crazy).

- The tone (bass/treble) controls really REALLY effect the tone (what a concept). Other amps I've used, the tone controls seem wimpy for harp.

- The amp has two inputs (Hi and Lo) for using different types of mics. I'm using the Lo input for really hot mics, like my 1950s Green Bullet and my super-hot wood-bodied crystal, and use the Hi input for lower-output mics, like my JT-30, or my RE-10.

- It comes with a switch that allows you to change from cathode bias to fixed bias on the fly. The difference is subtle to my ears, but one provides a little more vintage sound to my ears, so I leave it there (not sure which bias that is, however, as they are not marked).

- It has a gigantic 50-watt power transformer which I'm told is the secret for the HUGE bottom end you can project.

- The feedback resistance on this amp is phenomenal, even at hi volumes. Not completely immune, but easily managed.

- I haven't added any pedals to the amp yet, but Bruce tells me it's very "pedal friendly" whatever that means. I'll take his word on that as he's come through with everything else he's promised.

- Bruce, incidentally, is GREAT to work with. Since mine was the first production model, he would often come to my band's weekly blues jam to hear for himself how the amp was breaking in. He actively solicited my thoughts/impressions as a player. Bruce, BTW, is an engineer who really knows his stuff. He's been building custom tube amps for guitar players since the 1980s. The Chicagoamp is his first go at a purpose-built harp amp and he's hit a home-run in my opinion.

- The pricing on this amp is fantastic. Much less than comparable harp amps from other custom builders, yet the quality is still amazingly high.

Things I don't love:
- Initially, I found my amp to be a little edgy/harsh with high-key harps (at higher volumes). I went back to Bruce for a little tweak. Bruce then installed an additional toggle switch inside the cabinet that he calls the "crowd-friendly" mod. It cut the harshness right out of that puppy without sacrificing power or projection. However, if I find myself on stage with some guitar shredders, I can still flip that toggle and it will have more cut, but I don't need that for what I generally play.

- In addition, the speaker itself, being brand new, needed a few hours of stage time to mellow out. It did mellow out a LOTafter about 20 hours of play. Now it's smooth and creamy.

- At 35 Watts this thing needs a bit of push to get it to break up like smaller amps, but I can still get around that by pushing the volume on the amp and holding back the overall volume using the VC on my mic. I'd like a little more break-up sometimes, so I'm thinking about picking up one of those "Harp Break" pedals from Lone Wolf for when I want a more over-driven sound. Might add a delay pedal as well for a little slap-back when I want it.

- As a player, I wish I had a better vibrato... Other players with great vibrato pull more out of this amp than I can... but that's not the amp's fault. :-)


Bruce Mission Amps said...

The preamp gain is rolled back on these so a hot mic can be used.
I could very easily give the preamp another +6dB gain by making a very simple modification if Mojo would so desire.

Bruce Mission Amps said...
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