Rack preamps

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Preamps are probably the most exciting part of a guitarist's rack. That's why they exist in many shapes and colors!

Peavey TG Raxx

Peavey has produced a large quantity of rack gear during the eighties and the nineties. The TG Raxx was the company’s first instrument tube preamp (before the Rockmaster and TubeFex). This is a guitar preamp and there was a bass version called the TB Raxx differing only from a handful of component values.

Although it is a single channel, it features two three band EQs: a passive one at the beginning of the preamp and an active one at the end of the signal chain. Thanks to this unusual configuration, it is surprisingly versatile as it can give convincing results either for pristine-clean sounds or over saturated nu-metal type tones. All the sounds bear the Peavey signature (think Peavey Ultra and Triple XXX) and although they do work well for many applications, I am not too keen on the medium’s response and I therefore had to modify the preamp.

The TG Raxx topology is fairly close to that of an old Mesa Boogie or a Rivera’s channel 2: the signal hits a Fender blackface era preamp, the an additional gain-stage, and finally an active eq to shape the response of the preamp, cut the mids and boost the bass end (it is not active in the case of the Riveras but performs the same function). By modding the TG Raxx’s first eq to Fender specs, replacing a few cheap components and altering the following gain stages, it is possible to get fabulous clean tones, powerful SRV-type crunch tones and happening rock tones. Just add an overdrive and you can play pretty much anything with exciting results. The active eq is well voiced and only needs conservative settings to bring the best out of the preamp. Once modded, this preamp is a fantastic tone tool. If only it wasn’t so ugly!

Groove Tubes Trio

Before it was bought out by Fender, Groove Tubes offered a small range of very classy guitar amplifiers, preamps and power amps. This Trio is one of the second versions as it came with the new 3+1 switch and a brown faceplate (as opposed to the later chrome faceplates).

This preamp is a high quality product that was lauded for its clean channel by Guitar Player some 20 years ago. It features 3 discrete channels switchable from the front panel or from the accompanying footswitch. The clean channel has a Fender blackface topology with reduced bass end to match the other channels (it still has plenty enough) and remains clean even with high gain settings. The "Mean" channel is a slightly modified Marshall 2203 preamp, and the "Scream" channel is a heavily modified 2203 version (think Bogner type). The 3+1 switch reconfigures this last channel by inserting the clean channel at the beginning of the signal chain.

The Mean channel is very good for overdriven rythm work, with good dynamics and sustain but may not be fat enough for some tastes. I modified mine back to 2203 specs and it sounds like a high quality version of its inspiration: the highs are less harsh and the notes definition is very good. That could be due to the high quality components. the Scream channel goes very far in terms of saturation. It definetly shreds and is primarily aimed at lead work with strong mids and moderate bass end. In its 3+1 mode, it has a bit less gain, more dynamics and a more "vintage" or "Fendery" flavour. This mode can pretty much do it all, from pop to rock, to metal. It is one of my favorite tones from this preamp. In fact just talking about it makes me want to play it!

The Trio's effects loop is a passive resistance network. It doesn't offer the versatility of an active loop. but it doesn't alter the fantastic tones that this preamp offers.

Soldano SP77

Here is the cheapest Soldano piece of gear you can buy on the second-hand market (apart from the HotMod maybe)! The SP77 preamplifier is very close to the preamp part of an SLO. The Lead channel is everything you'd expect from Soldano: it goes from crunch to ultra-high-gain without ever sounding mushy or harsh. Even with the gain cranked, you can play complex chords and you'll here every string plucked. But my favorite tones come from the Rythm channel which can give you a very nice clean with Marshall-style cutting high mids and Fender-style depth. It will also crunch nicely at high gain settings, and this is probably my favorite tone. The end result is very dependent on the power amp used: that may explain why some players think it doesn't sound so good. As far as I am concerned, it's one of the best sounding preamps on the market, and I have played a few...

This preamp belongs to Mr MaPoule, my bassist in Poncharello, who also plays guitar with a new up and coming band. He needed a bit more gain in the Rythm channel so I did the famous "Micheal Landau" mod, which roughly consists in putting the Rythm channel in Crunch mod, as on the SLO. It sounds just as good as before, but with a bit more gain. Put a nice compressor in front and your stratocaster will wail all night long. Nice...

Mesa Rectifier Preamp

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.

Mesa Triaxis

Keeping with the preamp theme, this Mesa Boogie Triaxis came to me because two of its multiple channels greatly lacked gain. The Triaxis is the flagship preamp of the californian brand. Thanks to a complex switching system, the circuit is reconfigured for each channel, allowing the preamp to recreate many classic Mesa tones. This preamp is also famous for a reliability issue, mainly due to this complex system. In fact, many professional tech simply refuse to repair it. When it works though, it is possible to get some great traditionnal Mesa Boogie tones out of it (think Mark I, II and IV). Clean, crunch or high gain, this preamp is one of the few that can convincingly do it all. You can spend hours having fun playing the presets without getting bored, and that's always a good sign.

This Triaxis was switching on several channels at once, resulting in some incoherent circuitry. This explained the gain problems and after a good overhaul, it was fit to boogie again.