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Some British amplifiers that came in for repair:
Hiwatt SA212 RV
Although pretty much all Hiwatt amplifiers bare the caption “Custom Built”, few of them were in reality. There are a few famous custom models such as the Jimmy Page, the Pete Townshend or the John Entwistle (The Ox) amplifiers. But this particular 70’s model is probably one of the most worthy of displaying the Custom adjective. Although it apparently is not so rare in northern Europe and Germany (I have also seen another one in Geneva a few years ago), it is one of the very few Hiwatts to offer reverb and tremolo.
The overall circuit is exactly what anyone would expect from these British workhorses, with a 60’s style preamp circuit and the addition of a great capacitor coupled reverb that sounds good for anything including Surf music. The tremolo is acceptable but its Depth control is all but progressive. As always, the twin Fane speakers really bring up the magic in this amp and it is a wonder why Hiwatt didn’t include this deep boingy reverb in more amplifiers.
Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for such an amount of great tone, and that is wheight! Be sure to invest in a rugged set of castors if you plan to use one of these.
Orange Rockerverb 50
The Orange Rockerverb is one of the most successful model of the new generation of Orange amps. Its two channels and very deep reverb make it ideal for many styles, from pure Surf music to modern Metal. This is quite an achievement for a brand that built its reputation in the 70s on a range of amps that mainly offered one lonely (but great) tone.
This particular Rockerverb belonging to Yann Stefani of Skip The Use is from the first series and employs a quartet of 6V6 in its power section. This is fairly unusual for a British amp and its later version employed a pair of more traditional EL34s. It is in fact the power amp that was causing problems with this amp and after a swift repair and a conversion to EL34s, it was up and running for the traditional summer festivals tour of the band.
Hiwatt Custom 200
If the Ampeg SVT hadn’t come out in the 70s, the Hiwatt Custom 200 would most likely have become the tube bass amp standard. Based on Hiwatt’s traditional designs, it employs KT88 output valves to deliver its thundering power. It can produce pure loud clean tones but it can also deliver a sweet crunch with distinction and class, always maintaining a great level of definition even at high SPLs. It works just as well with guitars but its power makes it a better match for bass in nowadays live music conditions.
This particular example was in much need of a recap to be able to deliver its 200W while keeping its definition. There have been several preamp designs along Hiwatt’s history but it seems that this one beneficiates from the best of them with just enough bass end presence for everybody’s needs. If it had one weak point, it would be its weight but that is the price to pay for quality tube bass amplification.
Vox AC30 Anniversary
Now this is a good looking Vox AC30! Produced prior to the Korg buy-out, these anniversary models are great amps in their own right. They are not electronically accurate reproduction of the 60's models, but they sure sound good. This one also belongs to Geoff from the Live Music Shop who, along with Stewart, the second owner, plays in a great Shadows cover band. I can credit them for teaching me how to set an amp for a great clean sound.
This Vox was screaming from time to time and for no apparent reason. Pretty disturbing when you are in the middle of Apache.
Hiwatt Custom 50
Hiwatt Custom 50 + Marshall 4x12 with 25W Celestions Rola GreenBacks. I bought this one in a faulty state and kept it after I repaired it. Apart from a small torn vinyl corner, it is in great condition. As with all mid-70's Hiwatts, the tone is very bright and cutting. Probably too bright for any modern style of music. Therfore, I slightly modified it by adding a large cap on the cathode of the first triode stage of the Normal channel to give it the proper Hiwatt 60's tone. It is now a lot more usable.
The 4x12 came with my Super Lead (see below) and sounds very warm with few highs and a very full sound.
Carlton Camel FT50
Now this Camel FT50 could have come in a tartan finish! It would have been truer to its origin and probably a bit less boring (who said ugly??). The desing is in the same league as a JCM900. Usable but you wouldn't cut an album with it now that we're out of the nineties.
The footswitch uses a BT connector to perform its 3 duties. Not particularly reliable but easily replaceable.
WEM Control ER15 and ER30
The Watkins Electric Music brand is most known for its 70's PA equipment but but not so famous for its intrument amplifiers. With the ever rising price of the so-called vintage equipment, this is bound to change and late 60's/early 70's WEM amps are now showing up on ebay.
I got these 2 (Control ER15 and Control ER30) from two different guys located in the south of France. WEM equipment is pretty scarce in this country so this is maybe more than a coincidence.
Both amps sport two channels, each with its own 2-band EQ and a bright switch for the ER30. They are real point-to-point amplifiers and very easy to work on. Unfortunately, the overall construction is not very sturdy and that may explain why you don't see many of these today. This is a shame as they do sound pretty good, with a very nice AC/DC type crunch at high settings.
The circuit is deceptively simple with a clear effort to have the minimal parts count. Both ER use a conjunctive filter on the output transformer: this type of circuit designed to improve the frequency response of average OP transformers is not often used nowadays, although it could and should for many amps! Some Dr Z amps do use them though, but only to shape the tone of the amplifier.
A sturdier construction would probably have helped these amps make a name for themselves. They are nice to have in a studio, but definetly not on the road!
Want to hear what the WEM sounds like? check out my videos on Youtube
Sound City 100 Mk3
Sound City amps, created by Arbiter in the 60's, are very common in the UK but quite scarce in France. That's a shame because everyone I have worked on has proven to be a great bass amp, like this Sound City 100 Mark 3.
Contrary to popular belief, Sound City amps are not clones of Hiwatts. Some like this one are close to the early Custom 100 of the famous brand, but some models like the L/B 120 bear no resemblance at all. Even the closest models do not sound like Hiwatts because they usually have an emphasised bass end that the others lack, and because as a a result, they have a reduced headroom. Basically, it means that the Arbiter brand amplifiers are warmer and crunchier. That can't be bad, can it?
I prefer Sound City amps when amplifying bass: you can seriously sculpt the mid frequencies and they tend to compress quite a lot which gives them a very satisfaying tone. They can do Dub, Rock, Hardcore, or plain Pop but wouldn't probably cut it for metal unless you use the 200W models.
Now, before spending your cash on a Sound City, it is important to know that most, if not all of them, are noisy. They can produce a lot of hiss and a very annoying mains buzz. This can easily be remedied by a competent tech, but the added cost has to be taken into account.
For more information on Sound City amplifiers, check out the Soundcitysite website. It contains a lot of useful information and schematics.
Laney is one of the old british amps brand. Lyndon Laney started building amps for local bands in the 60s (amongst which Black Sabbath). Although the brand never achieved the cult status of Vox, Marshall or Orange, it is one of the very few which made it to 2010 without any interruption.
Just like pretty much all of the other brands of this era, Laney was building compact valve PA systems 40 years ago, like this PA100. This ancestor of the current powered mixers sported 6 channels with independant EQs and an EL-34 powered output stage delivering 100W. It was more than enough for rehearsal and pub gigs at the time but it is now enable to compete with your average modern PA in terms of sound quality and features.
Nevertheless, it is a perfectly good bass amp once the power supply filtering has been upgraded. It can even work for guitar if you are looking for a very neutral sound as the EQ doesn't change the tone on their middle setting (unlike a conventional guitar amp EQ). The 6 channels allow all sorts of experimentations: you can use one channel for clean and another for crunch, or use both in parallel for an unusual sound. You can also plug a delay in another channel and manipulate its tone with the channel's EQ. Lots of fun! If you want more information on this great big amp, check out the Tech infos page where I have posted its schematic.
This cool Carlsbro 75TCR was a great find. Now, it could do with a more exciting look but it is a great base for mods. The basic sound is just plain clean and not very enticing: great for keyboards but not much beyond that. I converted the first channel into a Blond Tremolux-style preamp, and the second channel was inspired by the crunch channel of a Soldano X88R and the legendary Marshall 2203. It is my third gigging amp and can be heard on Poncharello's new album (on "Remember you" and "Laser Gun"). It sounds nice and big through my custom designed 2x12.
I remember when Carlsbro was bought out in 2001 and they put on a show at Birmingham NEC during one of the annual guitar events. They had a belly dancer in the middle of their ever-ugly amplifiers (sorry guys but it's true). The message was: "Carlsbro doesn't succomb to the charms of the east - production is 100% british". Three month later, they were selling some cheap chinese gear to every second dealer. At least we had a good laugh...
Matamps are seldom seen in France but Geoffrey from El Gato being a fan of the brand, one of them was bound to come through my workshop. This is a Matamp GT120 from 2005 that had a temperamental stand-by switch. This switch was not original as very few Matamps have one and it needed to be upgraded to function properly.
Matamp designs seem to constantly evolve. This particular amp's circuit is different than the one that can be found in my Tech Info pages. Although the preamp is quite similar and even shows some of the same design flaws (like the return of the echo loop, or the mains filtering), the phase splitter is quite different and definetly inefficient and unique. It works fine but brings a lot of noise to the amp. Given that the amp sounds ok like that, I guess that this was a deliberate choice from Matamp. Thanks to the Depth and Drive switches, it is possible to modifiy the character of the amp and optimize it for clean or dirty duties. In this respect, the GT120 is reminiscent of a 70's Orange Overdrive. The tones are definetly in the vintage camp with a low mid emphasis and a comparatively limited high end range, but they don't match the old Orange amps for rock tones in my opinion.
Matamps undeniably look good and their manufacturing is of a very high standard and well thought out, with a clever mix of printed circuit board and tag-board construction. Although their electrical design could be questioned they constitute one of the alternative to the common brands and tones.
The AOR series from which comes this Pro-Tube Lead is in my opinion the last of the Laney series offering acceptable quality for touring purposes. The component and construction is comparable to Marshalls from the same era (end of the 80's, beginning of th 90's), with good quality pots and valve bases connected to the PCB by flying leads. No surface mount components or toy-sized pots here. Unfortunately, they do sound really bad despite all of the boost options and 4 band eq! There has been several versions of the Pro-Tube Lead with different circuits for the effects loop and channel switching system. But all of them sound like an old-style hoover: flat, flabby and with no sustain. In a word, unusable.
For all these reasons, Greg from Fast Motion asked me to transform it into something that could be an alternative to his Framus Dragon. This AOR now bears no resemblance in sound to its sibblings. Its preamp is based on that of a Soldano Hot Rod and it exploits all of the push-pull boost options of the amp for great tone variations. The second set of gain and master volume allow to go further in terms of overdrive and output by pressing the footswitch. This beast now has sustain, aggression and punch either in crunch or over-saturated modes. I like it and so does Greg.
The Matamp C7 is one of the offsprings of the small valve amp craze. As with pretty much all Matamp products, it is a nice object. The fully chromed chassis and blue suede covering give it a nice posh look that could nicely blend in with your new sofa. Its tone is typically Matamp with ample mids and easy break-up. But as you will see Tech Info page, the preamp circuit is clearly inspired by Hiwatt DR amplifiers: if you want sweet crunch, you will have to push the output stage to its limits. Rest assured that 7 watt is a lot of power and this C7 can easily be used in a band context.
From a purely technical point, this amp offers some ingenious circuitry (the attack control) and simultaneously some pretty poor design (the lack of a resistor grid on the effect's loop return triode for exemple). The 3-springs reverb tank provides a nice, airy tone but it is maintained only by pressure between the output transformer and the chassis: in the case of this amp, an over-enthusistic roadie caused one of the transducer's bobins to open. Maybe Matamp should use the kind of rubber suspension every other manufacturer employs?
The Hiwatt SA112 is the 1x12 combo version of the famous Custom 50. Dating from 1981, this amp has more gain than its predecessors but its circuit stays true to the Hiwatt origins. The DR's preamp and the presence circuits have evolved over the years and while the tone stays in the same ballpark, later hiwatts can sometimes lack bass end or have a fizzy crunch. Tthis amp was breaking up far too quickly with a rather harsh and unrefined tone. By slightly modifying the preamp's circuit to 60's era specs and changing the preamp valves, it turned into a little tone monster.
The Fane speaker is a big part of the unique Hiwatt sound. this one stays true to its legend with a lot of high end that manages to always stay sweet, flat and velvety mids (as opposed to the typical Celestion sound) and an abundant but well defined bass end. The cabinet also allows this amp to sound a lot bigger than it really is: very few vintage or modern combos can manage this while staying compact.