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Thread: Best/worst large manufacturers?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Euthymia's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Best/worst large manufacturers?

    I'd like to address a matter that comes up from time to time in my repair business.

    (some names changed to protect the guilty)

    A client brings in a Fenshall Hotstate Deluxe Bedroom amp, not a bad-sounding design to begin with as long as you keep it in the home and don't throw it around in cars and vans and warehouse parties.

    All of its front panel controls are soldered directly to a printed circuit board (that may even be phenolic) so that every time the chassis flexes, the rigid joint between the pot and the PCB is further degraded.

    If a jack breaks, it's an hour's labor just to get the board out so a new one can be installed.

    The cabinet is particle board, so spilled liquids cause it to lose structural integrity.

    It's obviously not designed to be roadworthy. If they keep touring it, it's going to quickly cost more in repairs than a new amp. I can keep fixing it, but at some point, it'll be a big wad of jumper patches.

    Or someone brings in a Crampeg Super MOSFET Technology bass amp and I tell them that I won't touch it. Their parent company, LARD Technologies don't send schematics, and besides, I've had situations where I couldn't fix the infernal things even with the help of all the king's horses and all the king's men (at least Enzo and R.G. and the rest of the forum pros).

    Or, more recently, a Bellringer Digital Muddling amp sold by a company with zero support for selling replacement parts.

    So they ask me, okay, I'm making enough touring that I can retire this thing and get a better instrument. So, Euthymia, what should I buy?

    I have answers for them (for instance, bass amp: vintage Sunn or Acoustic, guitar amp: SF Fender), but what about stuff they can buy new, at Guitard Centaur?

    My criteria are: good sound, roadworthy construction and assembly, ease of servicing, support for non-factory-authorized service (such as your road amp tech) in the form of documentation and reasonable parts sales.

    We talked in the past how it would be great if reliability and ease of service could be promoted as a marketable criterion. With the www, we have some ability to make this a reality.

    Name names, tell what products hold up, which ones don't, which companies are willing to help when it breaks down, which ones are not.

    Some kind of poll, perhaps? A chart, with the different criteria? What amps do we think are good (I won't say "recommend," because that carries too much baggage)?

    What do y'all think?

    I'd think that the boutique companies would be great on reliability, less great in documentation support, mostly use standard parts available readily. But what I'm really interested in is the mass-marketed ones.

    For a real-life example, I seldom see Mesas in for repair (indicates they hold together), they are GREAT about replacement parts, do not release schematics for items still in production (although they do cut loose for their older stuff that's more likely to need repair anyway), their designs do not allow a technician to completely optimize tube performance, and often do not allow access to the solder side of the PCB without much surgery.

    So, reliability 8, parts 9, documentation 7, serviceability 5.

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    Senior Member Satamax's Avatar
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    I've had my hands in some laney and crate which were nicely built. Obviously the new range of hiwatts are tough.

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    Senior Member Euthymia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Satamax View Post
    I've had my hands in some laney and crate which were nicely built. Obviously the new range of hiwatts are tough.
    Hmm, I neglected to mention different lines and different specific models by a given company.

    The reliable ones would show up less often for repair. Crate as a brand in general is #2 on my list after Behringer for putting out unrepairable boat anchors.

    There's this one SVT "Classic" (which I consider a "Crate")that has been in my shop so many times. Solder joints with no solder in 'em, mostly. I touch it up, then they take it out on the road again and it comes back with more popped joints.

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    Senior Member Satamax's Avatar
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    Well, the crate i was talking about, i don't know if they produce anymore, but that's the Vintage club series. The laney i like, the solders aren't that great on the VC50, but they're tough and power trany takes some beating. AOR is nice too, and as well, i'd like to see the new TT50H. Music ground hiwatt, you can take any model they gonna be tough.

    HTH.

    Max.

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    Senior Member Enzo's Avatar
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    When I see Mesas, half the time the problem is the cheap little pots took a thump and pushed their backsides out. Put the pot back together and it is OK. I think Mesa is not in the shop so much because they sell a lot fewer amps than Fender or someone.

    To me, Peavey wins hands down. There is no more customer friendly company on this earth, they will sell parts to anyone and send out drawings to anyone. They will have parts for 20 year old models. They even go so far as to make the little drop in replacement for the no longer available TL604 IC they used a lot in the 1970-1980s era. There are dealers and service shops all over the place, but any competent tech can service it. Their stuff has always been sturdy for me.

    I find Crate marginal, the little pots are cheap for example.

    Fender has certain issues, but overall I find it sturdy and well suported. They won't sell civilians parts, but the parts ar easy enough to come by. The pots tend to be metal bushing and shaft.

    I am not put off by particle board, after all, it is covered with tolex. Unless we are soaking the wood in a drink, it is not going to dissolve.

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    Senior Member Euthymia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enzo View Post
    I think Mesa is not in the shop so much because they sell a lot fewer amps than Fender or someone.
    Out here in Northern California, they seem pretty popular. Their usual big sin, left over from the Mark series, is packing their chassis real tight.

    To me, Peavey wins hands down. There is no more customer friendly company on this earth, they will sell parts to anyone and send out drawings to anyone [snip] Their stuff has always been sturdy for me.
    Most of their stuff is pretty sturdy. However, The 5150/6505 (or whatever) is what I consider a serviceperson's nightmare. That big board with the little pots soldered to it that I've never been able to get out, all the tubes mounted horizontally, adds up to a headache.

    That's one of my no-no's in a tube amp, not having at least a separate PCB for the controls. That's the main reason I'm down on the Fender neo-Deluxe (Hotrod, DeVille, etc.) line. The reissues seem pretty okay.

    Fender has certain issues, but overall I find it sturdy and well supported. They won't sell civilians parts, but the parts ar easy enough to come by. The pots tend to be metal bushing and shaft.
    Fender parts are usually easy enough to come by through Antique Electronics or elsewhere. They don't display the hostility/indifference to indie repair people that I've caught from some outfits. Their offering so many schematics on their web site is certainly to be applauded.

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    I kind of put my money where my mouth is. I put all the reliability stuff we could afford in the Workhorse amplifier line when I designed it. Only time will tell if we got it right, but I tried.

    We call the design procedure "quality the hard way".

    • double thickness glass epoxy boards
    • triple thick copper on the boards
    • two steel stiffeners on the main PCB
    • Sixteen (!) screws hold the main PCB to the chassis
    • removable back plate so both sides of the PCB are accessible without removing the main PCB
    • Transformers on connectors; you can replace a transformers by removing at most four screws from the metal chassis
    • socketed 120-240V switch on the PCB
    • All controls, jacks, etc. on flying wires; you can replace a pot by unsolder/solder three wires and you don't even have to take the chassis out of the box to do it
    • tube PCB set up so tube sockets are attached to chassis
    • all tube electrodes available on pads accessible from the back of the amp without removing the chassis
    • thermistor slow-down on power on to blunt inrush surges
    • user biasing from outside the box
    • biasing switch to change from 6L6 to EL34 by switch
    • solid-glued hardwood plywood cabinet, including rabbeted-in baffle board
    • speaker mounting in T nuts, independent of the grilles

    I tried, I really did. Only time will tell.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Euthymia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by R.G. View Post
    I kind of put my money where my mouth is. I put all the reliability stuff we could afford in the Workhorse amplifier line when I designed it.
    Hmm, I hadn't realized that you had brought the line in at such a good price!

    They're not much more than their Fender reissue counterparts, so I can tell people they can try the reissue Fender, or for a coupla hundy more, go up to Blue Note in Berkeley and get something WAY better, plus a good overdrive pedal and a cover thrown in.

    Very impressive.

    The removable plates so that both sides of the board are accessible is something that I love about old Ampegs.

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