Please, Not Another Clone!

There are a handful of famous tube guitar amplifiers: Fender tweed Deluxe and Bassman; Marshall JTM45; Vox AC30; Fender Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb. They’re considered icons, the best of their breed. I don’t build clones of those amps – who needs another tweed Bassman? Modern solid-state amplifiers make use of modeling or digital technology more on that later and can be made for low-cost overseas and offer a wide variety of features, but none have attained the icon status of the great amps of the 1950s and ’60s.

“Hollow-state” technology is non-linear in its response, i.e. how a preamp tube responds- in frequency response, dynamic range, distortion, and amplification -varies depending upon the instantaneous input signal. When you realize that live electric guitar signals are nothing like the waveform-generated signals of a workbench, you also can visualize why creating a musical signal that can replicate this instantaneous harmonic distortion and non-linear response is quite unrealistic, and must depend upon approximations and false assumptions. A modeling amp can sound “sorta” like a vintage amp, at least until you play it side-by-side with a real vintage amp under real live musical situations.

The tube amplifiers that I build are designed to re-introduce these vintage circuit characteristics and combine them with modern quality components, build techniques, grounding techniques, and electrical principles to produce a guitar amplifier that creates a new sound that still seems “vintage” in quality. While I might base my designs around the tweed amps circuits, compared to them I utilize a preamp that operates under higher clean headroom conditions, which both provides a means of highlighting output distortion and makes my amps very pedal friendly, something that wasn’t even considered in the late 1950s or early ’60s. Changes such as voltage and filtering levels, and a low TSR index create a larger input dynamic ranges, reduced third order harmonics and wider input dynamic range at the phase splitter. The resulting sound is what you expect from a hand-built tube guitar amplifier- sweet, dynamic, touch sensitive tones that make your guitar sing.

While my amps are not clones, they’re certainly inspired by those great amps, but with a few good modern touches, all built by hand in Austin, Texas. Maybe that’s why one happy owner recently replaced his famous British amp with a Texas Tone 12.

TexasToneJSB

Better Living Through Better Tone.

-Texas Tone tube guitar amplifiers.

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Texas Tone 12 Public Debut

The Texas Tone 12 had its public debut last week, at an outdoor gig by Rosie and The Ramblers at Freddie’s Place in south Austin.  I was concerned thaTexas Tone 12t, being a small tweed type amplifier surrounded by a full band, it wouldn’t be able to produce enough volume. I was wrong in that concern.  Rosie and The Ramblers didn’t play at ear-splitting volume, but more of a listening level show.  Usually, each of the Ramblers’ two guitarists play through Fender Blues Junior amplifiers.  On this night, John Winsor had agreed to play the Texas Tone 12 after playing though it on a demo session several days earlier.  He still brought his Blues Junior just in case.

John set up the Texas Tone 12 on the stage next to Schley Barrack’s Blues Jr., and put the tremolo footswitch on his pedal board.  After a few minutes of tweaking and sound checks, the Ramblers were ready to go.  After the first song, which sounded very good, I asked them to turn up Rosie’s vocals. She’s an expressive singer with a strong voice, and I wanted that to come through the mix.

The Texas Tone 12 did more than hold its own. John and Schley, who both play Fender Telecasters, trade lead and rhythm parts, and sometimes play harmony lead lines.  Both are very good guitarists.  Schley handled the Albert Lee parts in Emmylou’s Luxury Liner just fine.  John sometimes keeps his leads on the mellow side, but occasionally lets that biting Tele twang come through.  Not only did the lead parts sing through the Texas Tone 12, but the rhythm parts didn’t get lost.

John was quickly able to find the amp’s ‘sweet spot’, which in this case had the volume on 12 and the gain at 6 or 7. At that setting, he could easily play clean or overdriven tones, depending upon his picking style and his guitar’s tone and volume settings.  According to John, “It is really responsive, breaks up nicely, and gives a great warm/slightly-compressed overdrive.”

Playing a mix of country standards and original material, the tonal response of the Texas Tone 12 shone throughout.  Winsor and Barrack were both impressed with the richness of the amp’s tremolo circuit.  Winsor again, “man, that tremolo sounds sweet! There were a couple of those ballads where Schley and I both heard it and gave the thumbs-up!” Rosie, also did not escape those sweet tremolo sounds.  After one of the songs, she said, “How did you like that!” with a smile and a nod of approval.

Overall, it was a good first outing.  John Winsor’s thoughts on the amp, “Your Texas Tone sounds great! I think it is an excellent amp… I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”

Do You Like Your Guitar Amp?

Do you like your guitar amp, the way it sounds, the way it makes you sound?  Maybe you play one of those amps that gets a great sound, but only that one sound.  Perhaps you play through a modeling amp, or an amp with lots of “bells and whistles” that can provide a multitude of sounds, some of them bad.  Maybe you have an amp that gets “every sound but the right one.”

It’s my belief and my opinion that a guitar amp is not some stand-alone piece of hardware that exists to make you sound better.  My thought is that a guitar amp is an extension of the electric guitar, and therefore, and extension of the electric guitar player, the artist, the musician.  I’m not alone in that line of thinking.  The most famous and sought after electric guitars and amps are models designed in the 1950s – the original Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul guitars, and the tweed Fender Deluxe and Bassman amplifiers.  These, along with a few electric guitars and amps made in the early-to-mid 1960s are considered the cream of the crop.

The creator of many of those models was Clarence Leo Fender, known as Leo Fender to the industry, or just Leo to his friends.  He created the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars, Precision and Jazz basses, and those wonderful tweed and black-faced amps.  These products are so good and so revered that not only are updated versions of those those guitars still in production, but Fender makes re-issues of many of the originals, and those guitars and amps have been imitated and cloned by many builders in today’s marketplace.

Leo Fender considered the guitar amp to be an extension of the electric guitar.  Fender was issued three original patents on his Telecaster guitar.  The first, granted in 1951, was the invention of the combination bridge and pickup assembly that is still used today.  The second, also from 1951, was for the design and style, the look, of the Telecaster electric Spanish guitar. The third, and the one most fundamental to the guitar/amp combo, was patent 2,784,631 for a Tone Control for Stringed Instruments.  This is Leo Fender’s design for the volume and tone control of the Telecaster.  His design drawing for a guitar tone control included the guitar amp- the amp was “Fig.3.” on his drawing.  The amp section included the coupling capacitor and cathode bias resistor for a tube triode, and a speaker/driver.

Think about this for a moment.  The guitar had a tone and volume control, but the amp had neither.  The first electric guitars and amps designed and built by Leo Fender were the K&F models. Today we call them “lap steels”, but back in the 1940s they were just called electric guitars.  The guitar and amp were sold as a set, and there were no tone or volume controls on the amp.  Most of the smaller Fender tweed amps had only a volume control; set the volume on the amp, and then control the loudness and tone with the controls on your guitar.  Even the larger Fender amps started life with only a volume control (which is really an amp sensitivity control) and one control marked “Tone” that would cut or emphasize either treble or bass frequencies in the preamp circuit.  The idea was for the guitarist to control the sound from the guitar, and the amp would respond.  This is why all of the Fender guitars of the 1950s had switches for fast and easy tone changes- from “take-off” leads to straight rhythm to deep rhythm.  The 3-pickup Stratocaster, the 2-pickup Telecaster, even the 1-pickup Esquire were designed for easy switching between three tones.  You could then fine-tune your sound from the volume, tone, blend, and presets on your Fender guitar.

Because of Leo Fender’s two pieces of the same instrument design philosophy, those old Fender amps were known for their responsiveness.  Fender amps of that era, especially the tweed Champ, Deluxe, and Bassman models, are still considered among the finest amps ever made, and they’re much sought after, cloned, and duplicated.  They’re known for touch-sensitivity and dynamics.  They respond to the player’s touch.  Set the volume of the amp on the verge of breakup, and you can go from squeaky clean to raunchy distortion merely by variations in your guitar’s controls and your picking and fingering techniques.  The electric guitar and the electric guitar amplifier- two pieces of one instrument.

So, in essence, that’s my philosophy on guitar amps.  The amp should respond to the player’s touch, the players style, the player’s technique.  My amps are not copies or clones of an existing design, but are built on the same idea that the amp is not only an extension of the guitar, but along with the guitar, an extension of the player, the artist.

Let nothing come between you and good tone, especially not your amp!

-BGM Blumentritt