Other US brands

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A few other american amplifiers that came in for repair:

Ceriatone Overtone Special

Of course, the Ceriatone Overtone Special is not a US-made amp but it comes from Asia. Nevertheless, it is based on, or cloned from the famous, ultra-rare and extremely expensive Dumble Overdrive Special. Ceriatone offers many kits to build faithful high-quality copies of famous amplifiers, and it also sell fully assembled amplifiers like this one. In our case, the manufacturing quality is very high with a very clean layout and good solder joints (The main issue of this amplifier was a damaged output jack).

The Dumble ODS being so rare, it is very difficult to determine if the Ceriatone is faithful to its inspiration from an aural point of view. Nevertheless, the amp offers many high-quality tones. The cleans are definitely and logically in the Fender Blackface camp with extended possibilities in the equalization domain thanks to the voicing switches. The Jazz position ensures maximum headroom and reduced highs and lows but with a nice attack to the notes. Selecting the Rock voicing expands the frequency spectrum and brings more slightly aggressive mids. Swiching on the overdrive mode, the tone remains fairly bright whatever the eq settings (the overdrive is generated post-eq) and can only be tamed partially with the presence control: some Dumble included and brightness control for this mode. The ODS has a signature tone that cannot really be compared to any other amplifiers. To get the most out of it, it is necessary to push the power amp which will result in the smoothing of the overall tone. In this case, the amp provides a plethora of high-quality tones from clean to very saturated tones. While it is often said that any style can be played with an ODS, I believe that the Ceriatone Overtone is a great amp for modern blues, jazz and traditional rock.

Mesa Boogie F30

The F series from Mesa is the evolution of the Mark series that made the californian brand famous. The closest model to this F30 is the Mark I from which the preamp is derived. The old model didn't offer the ability to switch between its two input and this issue is addressed here with the addition of separate 3 band eqs for each channels. The secret behind the F30's big sound is the inclusion of a fixed curve graphic eq at the end of the preamp. To put it simply, a V curve is always applied to the tone of the amplifier, particularly in the lead "Contour" mode.

The MarkI has always been one of my favourite Mesa models and the F30 does sound very good in clean, crunch or high gain mode, provided you like dipped mids. The depth of the V curve cannot be altered like on the new MkV model and in some instances, it can keep you from cutting through a busy mix: an additional control pot would have been welcome. Nevertheless, the equalisation is well judged so it gives a good compromise. Just be aware that despite its name, this amplifier only puts out about 20 watts!

Bogner Shiva

Rising to fame fairly recently, Bogner is a brand that has commercially been around for about twenty years. The Fish preamp and the XTC helped popularize its product range in the nineties and the Shiva is one of the later models that grabbed the guitar playing public’s attention. The amp is based around a Fender Blackface-type clean channel and a hot-rodded Marshall 2203 dirty channel, with reverb and effects-loop. I would not be surprised if this design was the result of a standardized Marshall JCM800 2210 modification since this particular amp would be the perfect platform to build a Shiva.

The Shiva offers great clean tones thanks to its classic circuit. All the Blackface-type tones are here, with a slightly smoother saturation when Volume 1 is pushed thanks to a different output stage and speakers (most likely British type). Channel 2 also offers excellent tones from slightly gritty to high-gain Rock. The amp can only do classic Metal at its highest gain settings but it does it well. The boost function is quite effective for lead parts as it ups the overdrive factor and fattens up the tone.

While the reverb sounds good and smooth at all settings, it noticeably changes the tone of the amplifier when engaged. When it is off, the amp’s response is rawer and more aggressive, while it gains a silkier character when on. The Shiva sounds good either way but the tone difference doesn’t really allow switching it on or off in a live context, unless you are looking for a special effect. The FX loop is at line-level and therefore cannot be used with pedals unless a special cable is built. In this case, it is necessary to use the “Booster amp” after the effect to bring the signal back to line-level. This is quite a cumbersome solution and since the Booster amp uses an operational amplifier, the full-valve effects loop might as well be transistor-driven for more flexibility. Nevertheless apart from these niggles, the Shiva offers fantastic core-tones that make you want to play your guitar.

Peavey 5150 II

Peavey really established itself in the guitar amp manufacturers top ten with the first 5150 amp. While it was noisy and could become fuzzy at high gain settings, its unique aggressive tone won the Meridian brand a lot of metal and hardcore fans. While the first version is still my favorite, this second version is in itself a great amp too. Although it won’t produce cleans at high volumes, the crunch and lead channels can cover a lot of ground with class for all types of rock music.

This 5150II’s lead channel was mainly used for rhythm duties (like so many of them) by Alex, the great guitarist of the hardcore metal band General Lee. As a consequence, its voicing had too much high mids and didn’t produce enough weight for their heavy brand of music. Alex asked me to modify his amp in that respect before auditioning for the band. I guess that the fact that he is now part of it is proof of the modification’s success!

Mesa Roadster Combo

The Mesa Rectifier range is quite a long running one. Since the beginning of the 90's, the Dual Rectifier and Triple Rectifier have been used by many pros and amateurs for all kinds of music. The most famous tones of the Rectifier range - from the Red channel in "Modern" mode - are strongly based on the Soldano SLO lead channel. In fact, the first models of the range were almost solely based around this circuit. With time and msuicians input, they evolved to include cleaner modes like with this Roadster, the RoadKing, the Solo Head or the Rect-o-Verb. On the big closed-back 2x12 combo we have here, the two cleaner channels are based on a Fender Blackface-style preamp with various degrees of boosts, while the remaining two employ the SLO's configuration. With all sorts of bells and whistles, the Roadster could be a pain to operate but thanks to a clean and logical layout, it is in fact quite straightforward.

This particular amp had a faulty effects loop which produced dramatic losses of volume on all channels. Once repaired, the amp produced strong and bold tones in every mode. This is in fact a recurring characteristic of the Rectifier amplifiers: the bass end is always emphasised, the mids are restrained and the highs are present but restrained in the upper range. This gives great tones at moderate levels at home or in the shop, but they simply don't cut through the mix in a live band situation. The Roadster is probably the one amp from the Rectifier range that best avoids the problem: the Celection V30s and the cab construction may help in that matter. At the end of the day, it provides all sorts of good tones, from ultra-clean to ultra-saturated and everything in between, making it ideal for cover bands requiring ultimate flexibility.

MusicMan 2275

I have always been into 4 by 10 combo amplifiers so it was a pleasure to receive this 2275 for servicing. The MusicMan brand as everyone knows was created by a group of businessmen including Leo Fender. There has been a truckload of MusicMan amplifier models and this 2275 is part of the earlier range of the brand. It employs a 12AX7 for the phase splitting duty (later ones use transistors for this as well as transisor drivers for the output valves) and twin EL34s for power. MM amps were very succesful in the 70's and early 80's to the point that Peavey based many of its own models on them, at least for the output stages.

Mr Fender's touch is all over these amplifiers from design to manufacturing. The circuit is very clean and is pretty much organised like that of a Silverface amp. The tone is geared towards clean and clear and this amp works well for many applications: guitar, organ or bass (with different speakers). The Deep switch has to be on all the time otherwise the tone is a bit thin for modern music. The tremolo can be very deep and isn't as smooth as its Fender counterpart. It remains quite pleasing nonetheless.

This particular 2275 was suffering from a very early breakup partly because of failing components and partly because the circuit headroom is insufficient for modern high output pickups. Apart from that, the high quality manufacturing has stood the test of time and provides a high reliability that so many modern amps fail to be delivering.

This Mesa Rectifier belongs to the Redstudio in Douai. The Recording line output was suffering from real bad cracking and clipping noise but it got sorted out quite quickly.

I have never been a fan of this series and this preamp won't change my mind. They are some great nu-metal sounds in there but apart from that, nothing spectacular. The clean sound badly lack sparkle and are almost muffled. The headroom is pretty poor and it is easy to overload the output stages (the manual actually warns against that) and the crunch sounds would beneficiate from more dynamics.

But the real problem with these amps is the lack of mids: if you have ever seen a band playing these, you'll have notuced that the guitars sound great on heir own but almost totally disappear once the bass and the drums come in. I only know of one great player who can make these sound good: Lyle Workman, especially in his work with Franck Black.

The Sunn brand is only vaguely known these days for the few models produced after the Fender buy-out that are no longer in production (T50C and T100C amongst others). Although very good in their own right, these amps had nothing to do with the 60's and 70's models used by many guitarists including Hendrix: Centaura, Sceptre, Solarus, Model T, etc...

I had some fond memories of a Beta Bass combo I used to use in my beginner's years and while doing some research on the brand, this 1976 Concert Lead cropped up a few miles away from home. It was faulty but I had to get it, if only for the great 6x10 cab and the very low asking price. A few power transistors and some TLC later, this monster can now scream its 150W.

Transistor Sunn amplifiers usually have an extremely good reputation despite their scarcity. Some claim that they put out more than their rated power, but this is not the case. It is nonetheless true that they are powerful and conservatively rated compared to the then and now over-rated poor man's transistor amps. It is also claimed that their tone is reminiscent to valve amps, and this is true. With their J-Fet preamps, they can produce an overdrive that responds extremely well to playing dynamics, and they never exhibit the horrid high end found on many similar silicon based amps. Instead, the sound is precise and clear, but always somewhat smooth: in this sense, it is very comparable to a Roland Jazz Chorus. The Concert Lead's distortion switch only produces low amounts of overdrive, but put a Tube Screamer in front of it and it burns! Coupled to its 610L cab, the bass is simply enormous and the tone is very modern. With a bass and plugged into an appropriate cab, this head is just great in both clean or distorting modes: the Concert Bass of the same year was the exact same amp without the distortion and reverb.

The sound isn't that of any valve amp I know, but it is pretty unique and is just plain nice. Add to this the great reverb with its dedicated tone control, and you get one of the very best sounding transistor head you can buy. I wouldn't be surprised if a metal band gave it a new fame...

This Super Lead 60 is one of the lesser known models of the Soldano brand. It is in fact the older brother of the original Hot Rod 50, with a difference of only 3 components value (apart from the transformers). For those desperately looking for the schematic of both amps, here it is for the first time on the net (there is another SL60 schematic floating around but it contains big errors).

Like its little brother, the SL60 is very well built and well thought-out. It can produce nice clean tones, sweet crunch and burning overdrive. It's only downfall is an extended high end that doesn't work well with all speakers (try Soldano cabs with XP12000 to correct this), and somewhat a lack of bass end. This is why Mike Soldano created the XL mod for the Hot Rods. It is like a resonnance control on 11 (see schematic for more info) and in my point of view, it is a bit overkill and mushes-up the tone. I like to use a 100kOhm resistor in place of the 1MOhm: I think that covers pretty much everybody's needs in terms of bass end, even when you like that a lot like myself.

This Hot Rod 50 sounded like pants and its Low input didn't work when it was brought to me by Greg from Fast Motion. That's pretty unusual for a Soldano but the reason was easily traced back to a poorly designed and badly implemented modification. Someone had tried to create a second switchable channel in this end, rendering the amp totally unstable. To correct this, a cap had been soldered accross the input and it had the same effect as a totally rolled of guitar tone pot. Talk about bodging... Anyway, once back to its original spec, it sounded quite nice, chunky and simultaneously cutting.

I like Soldanos. They are built to last a very long time, are very easy to service, look good and always produce a broad range of classy tones. These definetly will be real vintage amps in the future.

The very first guitar amps built by Hartley Peavey mainly were Fender Blackface copies. Some of them are on display at the Peavey museum in Meridian, Mississipi. And Hartley didn't stop there and kept on producing amplifiers that were directly inspired by the succesful amps of the time.

The VTX range arrived in 1981, right after the VT range. Both ranges consisted of hybrid amps with transistor preamps and valve power amps, very much in the vein of the succesful Musicman amps of their era. They look very similar feature-wise but the circuits are actually different. The VT and VTX amps were built to last and had a pretty good success with working musicians when they came out. They use high quality components, are solidly built and their layout is quite clean.

The Classic VTX offers two channels with shared eq, a very nice reverb and a crazy phaser which modulation can be frozen for an analog filter-like effect (whatch the video on Youtube). It is also fitted with an effects loop and two speaker outputs on the back. You really need a treble booster or a graphic eq on the front of the amp to make it sound good but it has a lot of valve power (you can cut it down with the half-power mode). The speakers are Peavey Scorpions which are not very refined but are built like tanks and capable of projecting your sound at the back of a large concert hall. All in all, the Classic VTX is an amp for someone who wants a fair share of valve power on the cheap. Check out these two vids to hear the amp in clean mode and crunch mode!

Another Sunn Concert Lead. The amps really aren't taken care of by their owners. This one is missing its wooden enclosure but at least it works flawlessly

The Concert Lead tone is as always excellent for guitar and for bass, in clean or crunch mode. This one is going to warm up Poncharello's rehearsal studio as it is going straight to Mr Mapoule, the band's 4 stringer.

VHT here stands for Very Harsh Tone. At least it did until I repaired the reverb of this VHT ST50 that was generating an instability in the preamp. This particular model uses EL84 output valves and has a clean and a dirty channel, and an EL84 driven reverb. As with many VHT amps, the plethora of tone control and switches means that you need to spend some time to find your sound. There are some really great tones to be found and the character of the amp is definetly more metal than blues. It rarely gets smooth but it is very precise and extremely punchy, which reminded me of a Diezel VH4 I played some time ago.

This amp had also suffered from a shorted output valve in the past which led to a screen resistor burning through a part of the circuit board. Although the amp luckily still works fine, this is for me a case in favour of point-to-point or tag-board construction, despite Mr Fryette's claims!

The Acoustic Control Corporation brand is apparently back on tracks, but its success is for now long gone. Famous players such as Jaco Pastorius, Robbie Kriegger and Ray Manzarek from the Doors, employed these to craft their tone in the 70's. This Model 220 from 1980 is the working man's bass amp with a single channel, a 3 band eq with bright switch, and a graphic equaliser. It can put out 160 watts of old-style solid-state power into 2 Ohms (although I would not try it with such a load) and is a very neutral sounding amplifier. It packs plenty of punch and can definetly compete with a loud drummer despite its apparently low power rating.

This particular amp was suffering from intermittent level drop-outs and a faulty graphic eq. It has to be noted that because the power transistors are located inside the chassis with almost no cooloing system, these amps can be prone to overheating, bringing all sorts of faults. Buyers beware!

The Ampeg V4BH could be considered as the little brother of the SVT. It develops "only" 100 watts but has pretty much the same control panel as the current version of the king of bass valve amps (and is cheaper to re-tube). This one belongs to Max from the metal band Tang. After a cold night spent outside on a damp railway site thanks to mischievous yobs, and a poor repair by a local professional, it seriously needed a good overall.

Despite the average reputation of the current Ampeg production, these amps are fairly well made, with good and solid circuit boards and hefty transformers. They are just a bit ackward to get out of their boxes. The tones are everything you'd expect from an SVT, just a tad quieter : the bass is deep and pretty solid, the mids can be tailored to taste thanks to the frequency selector and highs are anything but harsh. Just a good all rounder. Ampeg should probably offer it with 6550 for a bit more power and punch.