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1999 NAMM products to look for for quiet cranked-amp tone

I wrote:

>>I aim to systematize the typical amp-tone approaches and recommendations expressed in the guitar magazines, but try to scale these principles and this gear down to headphone level. For many guitarists, cranked-tube-amp tone is their goal and their accustomed stage sound, and they want to obtain cranked-amp tone at far quieter levels. Reading many reviews of ever-lower-power tube amps, all indications are that the move from 15 watts to 10, 5, and then 3 watts (and beyond) is solidly a move in the right direction for quiet cranked-amp tone.

Wayne wrote:

>Care to make any predictions on whether there will be any new releases at NAMM at the end of the month that will feature micro-wattage power amps?

I would expect to see several new products in the range of 5 watts or less.

London Power: Studio amp, 0-10 watts, with Power Scaling. This is entering mass production, so I would expect to see it at NAMM. I think this Power Scaling technology represents genuinely new tube circuit designs, and is important. Much of the testing and development of this design was done in the milliwatt range (the level of a boombox played at work for background music).

JLA: Lawbreaker amp/pedal, 4 watts. This product has been dragging out for a couple years now. Jarrod Lee told me that it is entering production this Spring, so I would expect to see it at NAMM.

I would not expect to see the AX84 amp there, though its design is essentially complete. It is a do-it-yourself project.

The Signature 284 stands to be highly influential, within a couple years, being 3 watts instead of the more familiar 5 watts, and being rackmount rather than a malnourished-combo format. It's a *serious* very-low-power tube amp, more in line with the full-featured Hi-Mu 5.5 head (originally 5-1/2 watts). The Signature 284 is essentially the McIntyre Bluesmaker MKII SPL-3, renamed. The 284 was released in the past year.

You might see the Warwick Quadruplet "bass preamp", which includes an EL84 power tube (but does not have a speaker jack; it always drives the built-in dummy load). When I tested it, I needed a strong-boost pedal such as the Klon Centaur, and the instructions to figure out how to hear power-stage saturation only, not preamp distortion. It's a new product. When I asked for literature recently, it had not been printed yet, and there was no product page on the Web.

You might see the Guytron 3-stage amp there (tube preamp, saturating tube power amp, dummy load, fx loop, linear final tube amp). I think that is about a year old.

I would hope to see the Tuber 1/2 watt rackmount amp, but this is a small, custom, 1-off operation.

It's probably too early to see Bill Young's StudioPlex line. There are at least 3 Champ clones on the market; Bill has come through with roughly the equivalent for Marshall sound: a Marshall Plexi clone that is just 4 watts.

I would hope to see the Paradox 4-watt tube amp head from Rising Force in Bulgaria, but I would not expect it. It seems to have some sort of power attenuation and cabinet simulation filter.

You will probably see the Crate VC508 5 watt combo. I predicted this appearing in Guitar Center, 1 week before it happened; I demo'd it.

I predict you'll see some new 15 watt amps and new 5 watt amps, in the undersized-combo format, but nothing really new such as more 3-watt combo amps like the Clark Lil' Bit, or a 1-watt combo tube amp.

You might see a couple under-10-watt TS-type hybrid amps (tube preamp, solid-state power amp), such as the Little Lanilei. Inspect their marketing material and talk to their reps, to see whether they ever deviate from the established language conventions and call their hybrid amp a "tube amp".

Don't forget to look for half-power capability, like with the Trace-Elliot Velocette 12R (*only* the 12R), which can saturate the power stage at either 7.5 or 15 watts.

You will probably see the Emery Sound: Spotlight 8 watt combo amp; I would especially like to see the separate head and cabinet format.

These 8 watt amps are so misguided. The whole *reason* for an 8-watt amp is quiet cranked-amp tone, but they fail to deliver, because they are not *nearly* low-power enough. What's needed is 20mW or 1/2 watt, not merely a move from 50 watt monster amps to 8 watt monster amps.

I can't find any Net info about the Bluesland: BabyBlues B10 10-watt tube amp. This seems to be a new product.

One of the new 15 watt amps you might see is the Orange combo (1x10 or 1x12). But 15 watt amps (into a serious speaker cabinet) are practically as loud as 50 watts. There are already more than enough 15 watt amps; that phase is past, the experiment has been run, and people know that 15 watts is still way too loud for private amp-cranking. We could see a shake-out, with several 15 watt amps being discontinued. They fail to achieve their claimed goal. Or, maybe there will be a major migration from 50 watt to 15 watts as the new standard for "normal", with the adjective "low-power" switching from 15 watts to 5 watts and less. Monster amps (50-100 watts) are just too limited in their applicability -- they are good for large playing spaces and heavily insulated studios, and that's all. People want the even distribution of sound that a PA provides, without the pinpoint noise source of a single blasting amp.

A tricky thing to keep an eye out for: units that use a preamp tube as a power tube, as with the H&K Cream Machine, the Moonlight Amp, and the ADA Ampulator.

You will probably see several new 1-watt solid-state amps. It's important to monitor what's going on in the extremely low-power solid-state world. It would be significant to see the 3-watt Pignose repackaged with full features, even lower wattage, and a serious speaker cabinet. Look for the Smokey cigarette-box amp and listen to how very loud 1 watt is, when driving a serious speaker cabinet (imagine you are in an apartment, at 1 a.m.). You should also see the 1-watt Spectraflex tiny color-cube amps. Imagine the toy miniature Marshall, Fender, Vox or Danelectro "HoneyTone" amp, reconfigured with better features and casing. It's interesting that the tiny new Smokey and SpectraFlex amps so prominently suggest driving a serious speaker cabinet -- these people realize that 1 watt is the right volume level for home playing, when not crippled by a miniature toy speaker. These are miniature amps that are starting to take themselves seriously, a portentious trend that will influence tube products. http://www.amptone.com/g171.htm -- List of tiny solid-state or hybrid amps, for blasting, experimentation, and parts

At NAMM, keep an eye out for products that combine a low-wattage power tube with any of the following: dummy load, power attenuator, cab-sim filter. If you see any amps with built-in power attenuation, the first thing to ask is what is the minimum power, and is the attenuation on the tube side of the output transformer, or on the speaker side -- is the attenuation before the output transformer, or after it. Before sounds better than after.

In addition to keeping an eye on very-low-wattage hybrid and solid-state amps, it's important to keep an eye on several other product categories, if you are interested in quiet cranked-amp tone. Ideas spill across product categories. You might ignore modelling amps and modelling processors, and then one day find that modelling amps have converged with low-wattage power-tube products. There are rich potentials for technology overlap, so you need to keep an eye on neighboring technologies.

Modelling amps - Yamaha DG100

Amp simulators and amp-modelling processors - check out the Zoom 503 "amp simulator" as opposed to the overly popular Zoom 505 preamp/processor. I keep thinking of the Ibanez VA-3 Virtual Amp (amp simulator) -- the right goals, it's a direct competitor to the POD, perhaps more than the Morley JD-10 and CB Labs PRX-902 amp simulators. Line6 POD, Yamaha DG-1000 processor.

Power attenuator/dummy load/cabsimfilter - McIntyre SPA-25 Speaker Attenuator

Power attenuator/dummy load - Trainwreck Airbrake Mark II, Kendrick Power Glide

Cabinet-simulation filters: Whirlwind: Mic Eliminator

Dummy loads - I haven't heard of any new pure dummy load products or dummyload/cabsimfilter products.

Speaker isolation cabinets -- keep an eye out for any sort of baffling or muffling approach being used anywhere on the floor

MIDI rackmount EQs (roll-your-own distortion voicing and modelling amp) - the Peavey Autograph II is pretty new, and I think was presented at the last NAMM. I have only found 5 such products (product families).

Distortion pedals with pre-distortion EQ to control the distortion voicing - this seems like a design approach that's ready to take off, because there are one or two recent products with a little of this capability, or products expressly meant for pre-distortion EQ. Rocktron Austin Gold overdrive pedal with pre-bass control. (All Rocktron rackmount processors have pre-dist EQ as well as the conventional post-dist EQ, so I would keep a close eye on Rocktron distortion pedals.) The Stringer Very-Tone Dog is a pre-dist EQ filter.

FX processors with a well-placed FX loop (Lexicon MPX G2, Rocktron Prophecy) enabling to wrap the processor not merely around the amp's preamp section, but even better, wrap the processor entirely around a miked tube amp, with EQ and level presets both before and after the amp (roll-your-own modelling amp).

Software-oriented systems: keep an eye out for multifx processors and amp simulators moving online. What is particularly interesting is provisions for looping out to physical gear and back into the computer. This would enable wrapping the computer around a miked cranked tube amp, the latter serving as a Tone Engine. Line6 Amp Farm.

The above products are all covered at this site; search the Home page.

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