Booya!, Ark, Evil Robot, Pedals…
Don’tcha just love the smell of hot tubes? A cookin’ amp is one key to Woody Tone, and as I’ve said, the Amp Show was full of Wood.
Here are some more finds from the recent NY/NJ Amp Show – but know that I unfortunately didn’t make it to every room. Or I actually mostly did, but some were ocupado (like Jeff Bober’s East Amplification) for too long for me to hang around waiting for a turn.
Booya! Amps Custom Builds
Amps without headboxes look naked to me. Unfinished, even. So I wasn’t real certain what to expect when I stuck my head inside Booya! Amplifiers’ room. For one, I’d never heard of the company – in no way a kiss of death, but the whole first impressions thing. For another, there was this “naked” amp – finished, but naked – no one was playing through.
But what the heck – I plugged in. And it was good! Come to find out from Booya! owner and fellow Jerseyite Jamie Simpson that I was playing through “#24.” That is the sum total of the name of that amp unless whoever ordered that amp names it himself.
Yep, that’s what Jamie does – builds custom, one-off amps to an aural spec. In other words, you tell him something like, “I want the notes to be big and jump off the fretboard like EVH, have every note in a chord be audible, have everything bloom into perfect feedback, XX watts and oh yeah, the amp has to get nasty like early ZZ Top,” and he builds it…with his ears and your ears doing the evaluating.
I like that idea – particularly if it’s cost-effective. And in Jamie’s case it can be.
Here are the specs on #24:
> 2×6550 power tubes for 60 watts
> 6SN7 phase inverter
> 2x12AX7 preamp tubes
> Switchable EQ shift
> Gain, Treble, Mid, Bass, Master Vol, Presence
> External bias test points for easy tube changes (can put different power tubes in)
All that plus custom-voiced for somewhere in the $1,300-$1,400 range. Pretty dang good. I also played a two-channel 6L6-powered head that came in at $1,800 and a rebuilt (for $800) Peavey Classic 30 combo. All sounded great.
Gotta say that:
> Love it when builders make Woody amps with 6550s and 6L6s. Those tubes have their own things going on.
> For a while I played only #24’s feedback using the volume knob. Fun!
Jamie doesn’t have a website yet, but here’s his Facebook page or you can reach him at booyaamps AT gmail.com.
Ark Amps are visual art. No doubt…which causes a problem for some because you don’t usually put art in trunks or in places people can do things like spill beer on them. But here’s the thing:
> Ark owner Matt Schellenberg realizes this, so he’s coming out with a distressed wooden headbox.
> Ark amps are noticeably lower-priced than they were last year.
> The amps sound freakin’ great!
That’s why I went back to the Ark room this year – I had the memory of one of their amps in my brain. That amp is the D-24, a 6v6-powered little monster. It can clean up a bit, but for sure isn’t supposed to be a clean amp. Actually found out it’s a custom circuit built by Randy Fay of Phaez Amps who’s gained a bit of a following over the last few years.
I played the head through an Ark cab with two Jensen MOD12-70s. On the Jensen website, it says “the 70-watt MOD is perfect for a 4×12 cabinet because it embraces the classic Marshall tone.” Tough for me to tell without a Marshall head, but the D-24 sounded great going through them.
Couple more things:
> The clips on the Ark website don’t do the D-24 justice. Sounds a little thin there, in the room at all, particularly at volume, it sounded great.
> As a classic rock guy, I focused on the D-24 but all the Ark Amps sound good. Also, a bass amp they had at the show sounded great.
You’re reading about the D-24 ($1,600) because it’s Woody – check one out if you can.
Kasha Evil Robot
WTF is this Evil Robot thing? Cool name, would hear about the amp once in a while, probably from watching Phil X’s killer riffage on YouTube. So I stopped by the Kasha room and talked to John Kasha, prez of Kasha Amplifiers – like all the amp builders I talked to, he’s a nice guy.
The Evil Robot is an updated version of Phil’s ’50s-’60s Magnatone Tonemaster Troubador 214 amp. It’s a Class A amp, and you can get it in two versions: 18w combo (2x6v6) and 18/30 head (4x6v6) and 2×12 cab.
Kasha says it has “incredibly smooth harmonics” and “sweet Class A tone.” It has that for sure, but it’s tough to describe because it’s a version of a pretty obscure amp – meaning it definitely has its own thing going on.
If you’re a classic rock Cro-magnon like I am, you may not dig the amp right off – though Phil X is a classic rocker and recently used the amp on tour with Bon Jovi.
Phil’s a star – dude can sing too!
The amp has just a couple knobs, which take a little tweaking to get your particular Wood. I’ll tell you, though, with the Kasha 4-channel Overdrive pedal, the amp is gold – to my ears. Just great. Nice pedal. If I remember right (not phrased like this on the website), one channel is classic Marshall, one channel is Voxy, one channel is gainier Marshall and one is a boost.
Have to add that Kasha’s new Chime Chorus pedal – not yet on the website – maybe be the nicest, clearest chorus I’ve ever heard. I HATE chorus pedals, but this one does the best job of giving the essential chorus stuff without muddying up/watering down the tone that I’ve ever heard. But I say that as a non-pedal guy who does not keep up with pedals. (Pedals are fun, but the Wood is in the amps!)
Apologies to the amp makers whose rooms I didn’t make it to/through. I particularly wanted to try East and Red Iron – bummed that it didn’t happen. That said, my eyes and ears were opened once again, and I’m again convinced that great tone is in “boutique” amps.
Few more tidbits:
I mentioned in part 1 that there was an amp that was sort of a level “down” from the handbuilt amps at the show. Actually “amps,” the only mass-produced amps I saw there: Laneys.
Now don’t get me wrong: The two Laneys I played – the Lionheart 4xEL84 head and VC30-212 4xEL84 combo – sounded good, particularly the combo. But not the same level of good as the other amps.
That’s nothing against Laneys or mass-produced amps at all. Just not in the same league as handmade amps IMO.
A good thing is that Laney has new distribution now, so these amps actually should be more available in the U.S.
New Lynch Celestion
Celestion has a new, George Lynch-endorsed speaker out, which I played through and it sounded really, really good. More on that coming.
Freekish Blues Pedals
I’m not a pedal guy, but I have to mention three Freekish Blues pedals. If you’ve never heard of ’em, I hadn’t either, but three of the five or six FB pedals that were at the show sounded great. I know this because a) they sounded great and b) they were run through a Fender combo that to my ears sounded like absolute crap without the pedals – a good test.
The M22 Rock Crusher was my favorite. All you gigging guys take note: It made a crappy-sounding Fender amp sound like a good Marshall.
The Betty Boost likewise had it going on tone-wise, and the Chubb Up! Octave Fuzz actually made my boat-anchor Les Paul sound like Jimi’s Strat with his Roger Mayer thing going on. The Chubb Up! is a Davy Knowles signature pedal, and if you’ve ever had the good fortune of seeing and hearing Davy, he seems to be a guy with good ears for tone.
Props to Ken Abate of Freekish Blues for making some great sh*t!
> One thing I’d forgotten about killer “boutique” amps is feedback – or, rather, sustain that morphs into sweet feedback. I’m assuming this is designed into these amps rather than being a happy accident as it was back in the early days of rock. Doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is it’s great, and with many of the amps you could actually “play the feedback” – meaning it gives your guitar another tonal palette.
> The number of amp makers at this year’s show was down from last year, as was show traffic according to some of the amp folks I asked. Probably expected given the economy. The good part was that it enabled you to see the show quicker and spend more time playing, and less time waiting.
> If you’re wondering why there aren’t more YouTube vids with these posts, it’s because NO friggin’ YouTube vid can do any great amp justice. Don’t base your decisions on them! The only thing I’ve realized from watching YouTube vids is that they can generally make a great amp sound terrible and a terrible amp sound decent. Some exceptions, but that’s a general rule….