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Thread: How to select an amplifier...

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    How to select an amplifier...

    I have a confession to make... I've played the guitar for 25+ years... yet I honestly know embarrassingly little about guitar tone and amplifiers.

    I have been asked to join a very loud rock band. So I am for a new amp, and I looking to finally dig in and become more familiar with amplifiers and how to find the tone I hear in my head.

    I used to own a Marshall JCM2000 TSL 100 w/ a Marshall 1936 2 x 12. Prior to that, I had only played cheap little practice amps. I bought for way less than it was worth to help out a family friend. Having never played through a "high-end" amp before, the first time I strummed a G major chord on the clean channel, it felt like I had been playing guitar through a walkie-talkie my whole life, and someone finally let me hear how good an electric guitar could sound! I owned that amp for several years, but then when I switched over to playing drums mostly and moved a few times, I ended up selling it. And to this day, it is the only "real amp" I've ever owned or even played through.

    I've never played a Fender Deluxe Rev. Twin Rev. Princeton, Brownface, Tweed... Never a Vox AC30/15. No Orange anything. What I have done, however, is record over 100 songs that I've written on guitar into my MacBook Pro using Logic X Pro's digital amp models. So, now that I have to buy an actual hardware amp, I am thoroughly confused by all the ridiculous names Apple gave their fake amps to avoid trademark stuff. Also, the software has so many pre-sets, I can't tell if I select "Surf In Stereo" in the software if that is a Fender Twin Reverb that would sound that way, or if it is some kind of crazy "Twin Reverb head, through a Celesteon speaker can, with a Japanese rotovibe pedal. It's far too confusing.

    I know that I want a separate head and speaker cab. But what advice would you guys give a guy that could spend as much as $3,000 on a head and says that he wants to play really loud rock music that borders on punk but is also melodic and has actual lead guitar lines. Kinda like the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Fugazi, Black Flag, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Soundgarden... but also with some Jimmy Page'esque leads?

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    Senior Member Malcolm Irving's Avatar
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    I would recommend a simple single-channel Marshall (or similar) head. Pay the extra to get a 'hand-wired reissue'. Avoiding printed-circuits, too many knobs on the front, multiple channel switching, digital reverb, speaker emulated outputs, effects loops, multiple power levels, etc. etc. sounds crazy, but will pay dividends in long-term reliability and 'fixability'. To get a variation of distortion level add one or two inexpensive overdrives, a reverb, and any other effects you like, as individual pedals between the guitar and the amp. Any individual pedal may fail at some point (although they seem very reliable these days) but the amp itself will not be compromised,

    Just my own preference, which many others will probably disagree with.

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    Last edited by Malcolm Irving; 03-13-2019 at 10:25 PM.

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    I'm with Malcolm here. Bassman 100, utilitarian 2x12 or 4x12 with efficient speakers, a good overdrive or 2 & a couple other effects, done. Just leave the Master Volume on 10.

    Justin

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    "... If an older Boogie and classic Marshall had a (clearly illegitimate) child and you baked it in an oven set to clown shit crazy." - Chuck H. -
    "Of course that means playing **LOUD** , best but useless solution to modern sissy snowflake players." - J.M. Fahey -
    "All I ever managed to do with that amp was... kill small rodents within a 50 yard radius of my practice building." - Tone Meister -

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dolmetscher007 View Post
    looking to finally dig in and become more familiar with amplifiers and how to find the tone I hear in my head.
    Since your the only one that can hear the tone your searching for , you can spend weeks/hours at the music store ( most frown on cranking it up long enough to get a true feel ) ,listen to other live bands , players ,you might stumble on your tone.
    Can you run Logic pro into powered cabinets ?? it's tones your used to. Fractal , Line 6 Helix all make digital pedal boards , would be more like your mac, amp simulation galore, just hope they never fail. You can always have your cardboard backdrop of endless heads/cabs Do wish you the best on finding what your looking for. Keep it simple and reliable ^^^^^^
    PS: Most of your tone is going to come from you

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    Last edited by shortcircuit; 03-14-2019 at 12:01 AM.

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    Supporting Member TomCarlos's Avatar
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    My good friend (who teaches for a living and is a highly skilled player) reminds me that a horrifically bad guitar player can make a great amp sound crappy.

    Make sure you're in tune and work on your technique. The amp is secondary. I absolutely agree with the comments above. Go for simple and reliable. Look at your song list and then figure out what "extras" you may need. Sometimes, it is a bunch effects pedals. Other times, it might be an all-in-one gizmo that can either be plugged into the "Input" jack or the "Effects Loop" of an amp.

    You're doing the right thing to ask questions now!

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    Quote Originally Posted by TomCarlos View Post
    You're doing the right thing to ask questions now!
    Also take into account : are you the one that's going to be carrying it ??

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    I’d really like to have a Marshall 1959HW 100-watt Handwired Tube Head. But those guys are $3,500 new! Yikes!

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    Senior Member Malcolm Irving's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dolmetscher007 View Post
    I’d really like to have a Marshall 1959HW 100-watt Handwired Tube Head. But those guys are $3,500 new! Yikes!
    Argh! One of those (brand new) in the UK is Ģ1629 (equivalent to $2169).

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    I’ve never built an amp in my life, but I found several kits online, esp. the Mojotone British 100Watt Kit. In 100% seriousness, what are the odds I might electrocute myself if I tried to assemble one of those kits using their diagrams and I structions? They are <$800 and i would LOVE to build my own amp!!!

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    Master Destroyer nosaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dolmetscher007 View Post
    I have a confession to make... I've played the guitar for 25+ years... yet I honestly know embarrassingly little about guitar tone and amplifiers.

    I have been asked to join a very loud rock band. So I am for a new amp, and I looking to finally dig in and become more familiar with amplifiers and how to find the tone I hear in my head.

    I used to own a Marshall JCM2000 TSL 100 w/ a Marshall 1936 2 x 12. Prior to that, I had only played cheap little practice amps. I bought for way less than it was worth to help out a family friend. Having never played through a "high-end" amp before, the first time I strummed a G major chord on the clean channel, it felt like I had been playing guitar through a walkie-talkie my whole life, and someone finally let me hear how good an electric guitar could sound! I owned that amp for several years, but then when I switched over to playing drums mostly and moved a few times, I ended up selling it. And to this day, it is the only "real amp" I've ever owned or even played through.

    I've never played a Fender Deluxe Rev. Twin Rev. Princeton, Brownface, Tweed... Never a Vox AC30/15. No Orange anything. What I have done, however, is record over 100 songs that I've written on guitar into my MacBook Pro using Logic X Pro's digital amp models. So, now that I have to buy an actual hardware amp, I am thoroughly confused by all the ridiculous names Apple gave their fake amps to avoid trademark stuff. Also, the software has so many pre-sets, I can't tell if I select "Surf In Stereo" in the software if that is a Fender Twin Reverb that would sound that way, or if it is some kind of crazy "Twin Reverb head, through a Celesteon speaker can, with a Japanese rotovibe pedal. It's far too confusing.

    I know that I want a separate head and speaker cab. But what advice would you guys give a guy that could spend as much as $3,000 on a head and says that he wants to play really loud rock music that borders on punk but is also melodic and has actual lead guitar lines. Kinda like the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Fugazi, Black Flag, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Soundgarden... but also with some Jimmy Page'esque leads?
    Black Flag Signature tone was a solid state Peavey, imagine Fugazi something similar. Best bet is to GO to a music store and spend the day trying out amps. Don't buy something you don't try first. Only you will know what you really like.

    nosaj

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    Master Destroyer nosaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dolmetscher007 View Post
    I’ve never built an amp in my life, but I found several kits online, esp. the Mojotone British 100Watt Kit. In 100% seriousness, what are the odds I might electrocute myself if I tried to assemble one of those kits using their diagrams and I structions? They are <$800 and i would LOVE to build my own amp!!!
    Will the band wait till you get done building it or move on to another player?

    nosaj

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    Binkie McFartnuggets‏:If we really wanted to know the meaning of life we would have fed Stephen Hawking shrooms a long time ago.

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    If you have a potential $3000 budget...

    I would think that a fair bit of interaction with the sellers of the kit & getting to know your local amp tech would get you a long way there. It's not "usual" to build a 100W Matshall as a first project, but it's also not an overly complex channel-switcher uber-gain amp, either. If you buy from a reputable kit dealer, the instructions will be fairly clear & some bugs will have been worked out.

    As far as safety, read R.G. Keen's geofex page about tube amp debugging; there's quite a sizeable section on safety, & you won't get any stupid suggestions like "short the caps to ground with a screwdriver..."

    I think with some prep work, an investment in a decent soldering station, a nice multimeter, and a sprinkling of guts j determination, you could do it. We all started somewhere; I started here, actually...

    Take your time, know your safety, & don't take any shortcuts. Tgat said, as nosaj asked above, will the rest of the band wait for you?

    Justin

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    "... If an older Boogie and classic Marshall had a (clearly illegitimate) child and you baked it in an oven set to clown shit crazy." - Chuck H. -
    "Of course that means playing **LOUD** , best but useless solution to modern sissy snowflake players." - J.M. Fahey -
    "All I ever managed to do with that amp was... kill small rodents within a 50 yard radius of my practice building." - Tone Meister -

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    If you do decide to build one, you could always rent amps in the meantime. That way you could try different options in your own space.

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    Old Timer Leo_Gnardo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Justin Thomas View Post
    It's not "usual" to build a 100W Marshall as a first project
    I'd like to reinforce the idea that you will need an adequate tool kit. Not just screwdrivers, pliers & dikes & soldering iron etc but knowledge tools that come only through experience. You can read all you want, but there's no teacher like experience. Best to start simple, very simple. Build a Champ, or a tweed Deluxe. And see if this sort of thing is really for you. BTW zillions of hit recording tracks have been done with a Champ. And Deluxe also - all those ZZ Top solos for pete's sake, Billy G would never complain that's too small & limited an amp. Oh my no, tone for days! Bring it on!

    Also, as recommended have a good local tech that can help you out if you get stuck. Heck, if you decide getting burnt by your soldering iron and all the other setbacks aren't your thing, you might decide it's a good idea after all to have that tech build - and shakedown and troubleshoot - your kit for you. Still a helluva savings compared to spending $3500 for the amp you lust after. Should leave enough loot to buy a competent speaker cab, and have plenty of change left besides.

    Not too far from you there's Mojo in NC. Besides all sorts of amp & guitar parts, they sell a variety of amp kits, including very well made cabinets. By far not the cheapest but always remember and never forget, you get what you pay for, cheap IS cheap.

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    I say there's nothing punk about a $3000 amp. Around here most guys would be too worried about it being stolen after a show to be able to relax and enjoy themselves. I would get a Valveking 100 or something, at least for now, and rock out and chase the magic tone as a parallel track.

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    Master Destroyer nosaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leo_Gnardo View Post
    I'd like to reinforce the idea that you will need an adequate tool kit. Not just screwdrivers, pliers & dikes & soldering iron etc but knowledge tools that come only through experience. You can read all you want, but there's no teacher like experience. Best to start simple, very simple. Build a Champ, or a tweed Deluxe. And see if this sort of thing is really for you.

    Also, as recommended have a good local tech that can help you out if you get stuck. Heck, if you decide getting burnt by your soldering iron and all the other setbacks aren't your thing, you might decide it's a good idea after all to have that tech build - and shakedown and troubleshoot - your kit for you. Still a helluva savings compared to spending $3500 for the amp you lust after. Should leave enough loot to buy a competent speaker cab, and have plenty of change left besides.

    Not too far from you there's Mojo in NC. Besides all sorts of amp & guitar parts, they sell a variety of amp kits, including very well made cabinets. By far not the cheapest but always remember and never forget, you get what you pay for, cheap IS cheap.
    We've made this recommendation many times over for this particular member. I'm sure this thread will suffer the same fate as his others. Big Wishes, no follow up.
    Maybe I'm wrong, wouldn't be the first time or the last.
    nosaj

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    Lifetime Member Enzo's Avatar
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    $3000 new? SO why buy new? We here regularly discuss our 50+ year old amps that are still cranking it out day after day.

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    First of all .. how loud is loud and what kind of PA are you using? What genre? I play in a band where the other guitar player insists (unnecessarily imho) on using a 100 watt JCM 2000 half stack. I use a 20 watt (on a good day) Bugera V22. I’m usually miked a little. Our bass player just switched to direct (SansAmp) with no amp at all... but we have 15” stage monitors and a lot of overhead. I’ve used a SansAmp too before. Just an hour ago I did a walk on at small club and plugged a Telecaster direct in to the PA with no interface at all. Sounded fine. I was playing G tuned slide. There are many ways to Egypt... You don’t need to spend $3000. My Bugera was $249 free shipping/no tax from Sweetwater. I took took the badge off and everyone thinks it’s a boutique amp. I own vintage amps but they are usually too big, too loud, or not versatile enough. I use a speaker attenuator with this one most of the time too. Tone is in the hands my friend. Btw.. If you are playing using house PAs.. sound men HATE big loud amps.

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    Last edited by olddawg; 03-15-2019 at 05:32 AM.

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Some of the most fun I ever had playing was with a 1959SLP and a pedal board. I did install the simple master volume so I could drive the preamp with a boost and then get the volume down. It was only later that I learned the real benefits of power tube overdrive as it applies to tone. See, I did just like you propose. I needed a big rock amp and bought a 1959. Good? Yepper. Great? Nope. If I had my druthers I'd have gone with a 50 watter and skipped the master volume.

    For the purposes of keeping the budget I'll suggest a Marshall JMP MKII or similar. But DO play through it before purchasing because some of those amps are a little harsh. Alternately you could go with just about any old Traynor Bassmaster for a similar price. The Marshall has an extra cascade gain stage and a master volume. But these aren't deal breaking features with a pedal board. Either of those amps with a pedal board and a Celestion loaded 2x12 or 4x12 will do ANYTHING. If you ever find yourself under powered you can always install a line out for a boost from the PA or just drop a mic in front of the cabinet.

    Pedal board needs to have a delay pedal to simulate reverb effects, a dirt box, a chorus and a Wah pedal. I like to have a phase shifter too, but I could live without it. Between the amp rig suggested, these pedals and your guitars volume control there's virtually nothing you can't do for any gig short of a coliseum or the halftime show on a football field.

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    "...less ear-friendly but handy for jazz." Leo_Gnardo

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    Stray Cap DrGonz78's Avatar
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    I like chucks recommendation for an old Traynor bass master. I particularly like the yba-1 model since that is one that I own. It's in a great head cab and makes maintenance a breeze. Unmolested the yba-1 is all clean with tons of headroom just begging for some overdrive pedal placed on its input. Just a great amp!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bloomfield View Post
    If you do decide to build one, you could always rent amps in the meantime. That way you could try different options in your own space.
    This is the best suggestion so far, yet no one has batted an eyelid. There's no substitute for real-world experience. Narrow it down to a shortlist to limit time/expenditure. Fender Twin, JTM45, any of the industry standards, together with some effects of your choosing. Like Malcolm, I would avoid overly elaborate amps, not because I'm a luddite, but because they can be a pain in the ass when they play-up.

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    Agree, it all depends on how loud they actually play, and until you actually try out various rigs with them, it's impossible to know what degree of amp power and speaker array is needed to cut the mustard. As the new guy, you've got to fit in, but you don't want to be lugging 100W tube heads and 4x12 cabs around unless absolutely necessary (which might be the case!)
    Whatever you choose, I strongly suggest to prioritise getting pro musician grade (flat freq response) custom made earplugs.

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    Old Timer Leo_Gnardo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nosaj View Post
    We've made this recommendation many times over for this particular member. I'm sure this thread will suffer the same fate as his others. Big Wishes, no follow up.
    Maybe I'm wrong, wouldn't be the first time or the last.
    nosaj
    Well perhaps lurkers who have the same question will get good answers. It's been known to happen. I was one of them once...

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    I really just want to build my own amp!

    I know I started this thread asking about choosing and amp. And at that moment, that is what I thought I would do... just buy a new killer amp.

    But... I remembered that I have a Fender Blues Jr. 15 watt 1 x 12" amp at home. I am just going to use that as my amp until I can build one. I am still glad that I started this thread, because it really did force me to think about what I want in an amp. And as @Malcolm Irving said in his response... I want, "...a simple single-channel Marshall (or similar) head... a 'hand-wired reissue'.

    The Mojotone BRITISH STYLE 100W LEAD / BASS HEAD AMPLIFIER KIT, is exactly that!

    I am definitely afraid by the fact that the description says very plainly

    Difficulty: 4 out of 5

    Please note that there is no step-by-step assembly manual available for this amp kit. This amp kit comes only with a technical schematic and a wiring diagram. This is an advanced kit best suited for builders with previous amp building experience and understanding of electrical circuits. We do offer this amp kit fully assembled by Mojotone for an additional fee (Assembled option located in AMP KIT OPTIONS drop down box above).

    I have looked at the wiring diagrams and the schematics and while I do understand what all the symbols mean, and the wiring diagram is very clearly labeled straight-down to the color of wire you should use. But I am the EXACT person that they are speaking to when they say that thsi amp is not for beginners.

    Unfortunately though... when I look at the wiring diagrams and schematics for a Fender Champ amp 5F1... which is supposed to be a great "getting started" amp, I don't see a TON of difference. The Marshall 1959 has 7 tubes and 6 pots (knobs) whereas the Fender has 3 tubes and 1 pot... okay... okay... I guess there is a HUGE difference between these two amps. But the Marshall doesn't have Reverb, Termelo, multiple channels.

    I guess I should just build a damn Fender Champ asap and see if I can do it. Then move on from there.

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    Old Timer J M Fahey's Avatar
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    Build one if you wish, youīll love the experience, but donīt have the band holding on that ... nor build a hurried untested thing just "not to lose the gig", please separate both tasks.

    Rent/borrow , visit equipped rehearsal rooms where you can play way louder and longer than in any shop, so you better make up your mind.

    That said, many "very different inside" amplifiers sound not *that* different if played full blast , into same speakers of course.

    Watch this video /(and afterwards many others) by Johan Segeborn.
    An "eternal teen" he just plays with his toys ... which in this case happen to be LOUD amplifiers.

    Here heīs comparing 5 "very different" amplifiers ... itīs amazing how actually close Classics sound.
    Couldnīt believe how little difference exists between Marshall, Hiwatt and .... Silverface Fender .... and a Bass head at that

    Only noticeable different were "outsiders" (to mainstream that is) , Orange who uses a non FMV tone stack but is closer to Ampeg EQ, not surprisingly "too fat" in my view, and bright chimey Traynor, which I loved.

    But hear it for yourself, then explore other of his options ... all focused on loud Heavy playing:



    A classic "Les Paul into Marshall" guy ... canīt go wrong with that.
    But he also called his Strat wielding friend, to open focus a bit

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    Last edited by J M Fahey; 03-15-2019 at 05:52 AM.
    Juan Manuel Fahey

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    ToneOholic! big_teee's Avatar
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    The Hiwatt, gets my vote!
    T

    **Here's the Hiwatt vs a Plexi.
    The Hiwatt has great british crunch IMO.


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    Last edited by big_teee; 03-14-2019 at 08:48 PM.
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    And what's (probably) the most common & cheapest amp on that list?
    (I'm thinking the Bassman 100. Heck, I owned 2 at once for w a spell.)

    I'd also like to throw a Sovtek Mig in there... Had a Mig-100U & a 78 JMP100 in at the same time. Liked the Sovtek better. & I'm a punk guy.

    Justin

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    "All I ever managed to do with that amp was... kill small rodents within a 50 yard radius of my practice building." - Tone Meister -

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    Re: the idea of renting amps, unless they have changed policy if you buy used gear online from GC you have a 45 day return window, and you can return it to your local store so all you have to pay is original shipping. Not saying to actually use this as a cheap rental thing, but it really can be used that way.

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by big_teee View Post
    The Hiwatt, gets my vote!
    T

    **Here's the Hiwatt vs a Plexi.
    The Hiwatt has great british crunch

    When I was in my first real band right out of HS about 1975 I spent a small fortune on a 100 watt Hiwatt full stack. My bass player got the 200 watt stack. It was louder than god and hard to get to break up. I got rid of the head and got a 100 watt Marshall. Still a monster. Eventually I had two 50 watt Marshall half stacks. Then a single 50 watt half stack. I later... I remember being on tour with the visible stage amps on standby and I had a cranked old Skylark miked behind them. The last time I used a giant rig was a couple of years ago at an outdoor gig in downtown Las Vegas. The backline provided was two JCM 800s and a JCM 900. I still daisy chained them off of my 18 watt Marshall rig that I stood next to. The mass of amps looked great but was really unnecessary. It was kind of fun to relive the glory days.. If you are older and don’t have a road crew and a stage you could play sports on.... Seriously...Consider the pain in the ass of transporting a halfstack if you don’t really need too. And if you are not driving a huge amp to its sweet spot... you don’t really need it. I guess my point is... a lot of this stuff is “image” related.

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Was anybody else surprised at how similar the HiWatt and the Bassman100 sounded? I absolutely never thought to pair either amp cranked with a strat, but I thought that was really working.

    EDIT: HEY! re: post #25 - What happened to the original video with the HiWatt, Orange, Fender and Marshall?

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    Master Destroyer nosaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    Was anybody else surprised at how similar the HiWatt and the Bassman100 sounded? I absolutely never thought to pair either amp cranked with a strat, but I thought that was really working.

    EDIT: HEY! re: post #25 - What happened to the original video with the HiWatt, Orange, Fender and Marshall?
    Didn't Pete Townsend play a red one with Hiwatts" DR103's

    nosaj

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nosaj View Post
    Didn't Pete Townsend play a red one with Hiwatts" DR103's

    nosaj
    Yes. But Pete's tone was awful. Only Pete could make buzzy and static-y sound good I don't have much experience with HiWatt's and Pete's tone always put me off exploring them. I wondered what the hype was about. I always liked Martin Barr's tone though and I think he used Hiwatt's much of the time. He always sounded more like a dirt box though. So I chalked it up to a Hiwatt being used as a clean re-amp device.

    I did play through a D-103 once, but I couldn't crank it up so it wasn't a fair audition. Hearing these clips with the strat gives me a much better perspective on why players like these amps. And hearing how similar they sound to the Bassman 100 (an amp I have the same level of experience with) gives me a better perspective on why Justin is such a champion for them

    The Bassman 100 in the video appeared to have it's channels jumpered. Unless I was seeing that wrong. They didn't say much about how each amp was set up in the video.

    I thought the Orange had a cool vibe with it's compression and saturation, but WAY too much LF going through the amp. Since the Bassman was jumpered I know they made some effort to get a tone tone from each amp for the comparison so I have to wonder why they ran the bass so high on the Orange.?.

    The Marshall was, well. a Marshall I could lose that Traynor in a flood and not cry about it I remember my Bassmaster sounding better than that by a stretch though so I'll chalk it up to that particular amp being so-so.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    The Bassman 100 in the video appeared to have it's channels jumpered. Unless I was seeing that wrong. They didn't say much about how each amp was set up in the video.
    .
    I thought the same thing but noticed on the Marshall head it looked like the guitar cable was coming in from over the top of the amp from behind, so it was hard to tell for sure. I recently got a project Bassman 100 that has been modified for much more distortion on the normal channel. Kind of sounds like the Orange amp in this video. Haven't decided if that is a good thing or not.

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    Master Destroyer nosaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by glebert View Post
    I thought the same thing but noticed on the Marshall head it looked like the guitar cable was coming in from over the top of the amp from behind, so it was hard to tell for sure. I recently got a project Bassman 100 that has been modified for much more distortion on the normal channel. Kind of sounds like the Orange amp in this video. Haven't decided if that is a good thing or not.
    Not all Bassman 100 circuits are the same, not all sound that good.

    nosaj

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nosaj View Post
    Not all Bassman 100 circuits are the same, not all sound that good.

    nosaj
    What difference? I haven't seen any variation for this model on the schematics other than a later solid state amp. But I don't have a lot of experience with these. Justin would probably know about any variations.

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