AMPLIFIERS & SPEAKERS
THE CORNERSTONE OF BRITISH TONE
I picked up a copy of Rory Gallagher's 1972 'Live in Europe' when I started playing the guitar in 1974. It was clear, I had to own an AC30. 'Messin' with the Kid' sounded incredible... So I found one, almost mint from 1962 with the brass vents on the top and of course, Celestion Alnico 'blue bulldog speakers'. Guess what, I sold it. What a nob...
I have been looking out for another one ever since but prices have gone totally daft.
Fortunately, I bumped into master valve amp technician Roland Lumby from the Amp Clinic in Manchester, England who had a 1962 AC30/6 for sale - this is the model with three channels; vib-trem, normal and brilliant. Yes, it's battered and the vents are missing, but it sounds fantastic.
Everyone bangs on about the 'top boost' model but I don't like or use too much treble. 'Mids' are the key to getting your sound to sit perfectly in a band or mix, you don't need to give the audience a haircut :)
Linking the normal and brilliant channels with a cable enables you to blend, which sounds ace: rich lows and shimmering highs, but very direct and present.
There is no doubt that the 'blue' speaker is one of the finest ever produced for an open back cabinet as in the AC30.
Of course, I join Brian May, The Edge, Hank Marvin, George Harrison, John Lennon, Tom Petty, John Scofield, Daniel Lanois and Peter Buck and many other great players in the love for these amplifiers.
The featured track 'Lay It Out On Me' from the second Starlite Campbell Band album 'The Language of Curiosity' uses the Fender custom shop relic Nocaster and Supertone | Matamp valve reverb.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE?
A legend, and justifiably so...
AC30's have been a part of my guitar playing heritage ever since I picked up a copy of Rory Gallagher's 1972 'Live in Europe'.
When I married my wonderful wife Suzy Starlite in May 2014, a great friend of mine gave us (yes - gave us) his 1969 AC30TB as a wedding present. We now have two of these legendary amplifiers. Amazing...
Before acquiring this amp, I had already picked up a 1962 AC30 from master valve amp technician Roland Lumby of the Amp Clinic in Manchester, England.
Now Anthony, the giver of this great gift, was not a man to service stuff and it arrived fitted with an unearthed two-pin European plug!! I am amazed he actually lived long enough to give it to us :)
The first time I plugged it in, the fuse popped so I immediately sent it over to England for Roland to fix it up. Naturally, it came back in fine condition; yes, it's all beaten up but it sounds fantastic.
This model features the Celestion 'Silver' Alnico speakers, which sound different to the 'blues' in the 1962 model but work really well for this amp.
Everyone bangs on about the 'top boost' model but I don't like or use too much treble. 'Mids' are the key to getting your sound to sit perfectly in a band or mix; you don't need to give the audience a haircut :)
Comparing the two is interesting. On the TB I tend to roll off some bass and add treble but then turn down the 'tone' control, which takes a little edge off. Even when set up identically to the older AC30, it does seem to have more gain than the 1962 model.
Of course, I join Brian May, The Edge, Hank Marvin, George Harrison, John Lennon, Tom Petty, John Scofield, Daniel Lanois, Peter Buck and many other great players in the love for these amplifiers.
I haven't recorded this amp many times but I love the vib-trem circuit which is amazing and quite different in character to a classic Fender. Take a listen to it here in this function on "I Need A Light'.
MORE ULTIMATE BRITISH TONE
My second amplifier 'affair' was with Orange.
The reasons why I sold my Marshall JTM45's and Super Lead 100 are lost in the mists of time but am sure the change was down to one band, Wishbone Ash, as I adored Andy and Ted's guitar sound from the first three records.
It is only recently after chatting with Andy that he told me those early albums were recorded using vintage Fenders - but the live tone was still Orange!
So, why the collaboration between Supertone and Matamp? Matt Methias was the owner and designer at Matamp in the '60s and it was him that the man behind the Orange brand, Cliff Cooper, turned to when designing and building amplifiers.
The early Orange Matamps were used extensively by Fleetwood Mac, Free, Wishbone Ash and Jimmy Page.
We wanted to recreate that early vibe and now have it embodied in the Supertone | Matamp 120 valve head. The team at Matamp have also utilised the preamp circuit in a 200W version which although primarily for bass, can be used (with enough cabinets and ear defenders) for guitar.
The Supertone 'Matamp' 120 valve head is fiendishly loud. For superb sound with guitar, use it with the matching Supertone 'Matamp' 120W 4x12 cabinet, loaded with Celestion G12H-75 30W, 16 ohm heritage loudspeakers which are pushed to the limit when cranked.
Sounds fantastic and unique!!
Take a listen to the Starlite Campbell Band single 'Stone Cold Crazy' from the second album 'The Language of Curiosity' to hear it in action!
The very best Marshall JTM 45 out there
My first amplifiers were Marshall JTM45's. I owned two of them, blew an output transformer, sold them, bought another in the '90s and sold that. The fact is I keep coming back to this amplifier and now have the ultimate clone available - totally breathtaking.
I love Fender amps, but my heart has a very special place for the JTM45. There is nothing quite like my Flying V through this badger.
It's not all that loud and therefore you don't need an overdrive or fuzz. A cable straight in the front and a link cable so you can blend the two channels and there you go. Let the amp do the work... and it sounds ace.
Every bugger from Jeff Beck, Angus Young and Billy Gibbons have, or still do, use them.
The head with a great 4x12 sounds fantastic. Yes, it's big and awkward to move around, but worth it. We also have a Club 40 - see below - and an open back 2x12
Greg Germino says: " The Classic 45 uses a Bass circuit as all early JTM era amplifiers. Early plexi tone control values are used consisting of a 56K slope resistor and 250pf capacitor. Filtering is low and combined with the high primary impedance of the R/S output transformer give the amp a softer feel compared to the later EL-34 JTM-50 and JMP-50 Bass models."
Greg personally builds the amplifiers using the finest parts and materials. Spot welded aluminium chassis, mil spec potentiometers, heavy-duty switches, NOS tube sockets, Cliff jacks, F&T electrolytic capacitors. Film/foil vintage mustard style capacitors and carbon film/carbon comp resistor assortment, hand-wired on turret board complete the interior layout. Original diameter copper stranded wire is used for all wiring and each amp is laid out and assembled as an original JTM-45 would be.
I had mine fitted with all NOS tubes and I can tell you (from experience) this amp faithfully replicates the tone of an original JTM-45, only better! I had a great experience dealing with him and the company. Perfect.
You can hear the amp, with the accompanying Germino 4 x12" cabinet, loaded with UK manufactured Heritage Celestion G12M's, on the sample track 'You're So Good For Me' by the Starlite Campbell Band.
Guitar used is the Gibson Les Paul Special with P90's and miked with one Royer R-122 directly into a API 512C preamp with no EQ...
THE ULTIMATE JTM 50
As you will read in the previous article, I love Germino Amplifiers, so much so I have two of the badgers!! This second one is the Club 40, the defining early sound of the JMP-50 watt Bass heads with a circuit voiced for full frequency response like the larger Super Bass models.
Greg says: "The Club 40 moves from big beautiful clean tones to bold crunch effortlessly and excels with either single coils or humbuckers. This amp is very responsive to volume control adjustments from the guitar and gives the user extreme flexibility running the amp with or without pedals. An array of early tones that go from incredible cleans to the definition of British crunch are all there. Pushed, the Club 40™ gives great response and singing single note lines. The perfect amp for a semi-clean/slightly distorted tones with single coil or humbucking pickups. The Club 40 covers a wide range of late '60s and early 70’s classic rock sounds when paired with either a 2 X 12 or 4 X 12 cabinet."
My version has a switchable GZ-34 rectifier (ie a JTM-50 replica) which provides higher voltages in pre-amp section (basically an exact Black Flag JTM-50) to a solid state rectifier which doesn't 'sag' at high volume and is generally tighter.
I use this with the Germino 4x12 (Celestion G12M 20W heritage) or the Supertone | Matamp 2x12 (Celestion G12M 25W greenback).
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE?
No track sample as yet but it will be here soon!
THE ULTIMATE BLACKFACE PRO REVERB
The blackface Fender Pro Reverb was released in 1965 and is heard on literally thousands of records. The baby sister to the Twin Reverb it has 40W and a valve rectifier.
I asked Martin Garton to build me a clone some years ago and it has become a real staple in my amp setup both live and in the studio using it live in conjunction with the Germino Classic 45.
It is now fitted with Supertone | Tayden 25W alnico 'rich' speakers and has a mid control not present in the Fender version which adds to its versatility - set at '5' its the same circuit as the original.
It has a scooped mid sound which lends itself to wonderful rich clean tones, with reverb and tremolo to die for.
Hear it in action on the sample song - 'Thrill You' by Starlite Campbell Band, taken from the European Blues award nominated album 'Blueberry Pie'.
We also use this in the Supertone studio for our 1974 Wurlitzer EP200 electric piano.
An exact replica of a 1960 Fender Bandmaster 'brown' 3x10" combo
The Fender 'brown' amps were more sophisticated than the original Tweeds and it is said that they have the finest 'tremolo' circuit ever made. The 3x10" version is a very rare beast indeed and to buy an original would be monstrously expensive. I thought we needed one of these in the armoury to sit between the Tweed Deluxe and the Blackface Pro Reverb. It has now become one of my firm favourites for recording and live shows.
When doing my research I spoke to friend and tone guru Rob Livesey. He recommended I speak to Martin Garton of Gartone Amplifiers. After some discussion, he came up with the following specification to be known as the Supertone | Gartone Vibrato King.
It has two channels, both of which are very usable. The 'Vibrato' channel has less mid so you can use channel one for solos and go back to the totally amazing tremolo. Yes, its amplitude modulation and hence really 'tremolo'.
The tone controls work beautifully and the sound is rich with a presence that sits great in a band environment.
I had an external speaker jack fitted to feed my time-based effects rack (to be found in a separate article).
For 36 W it's fiendishly loud and the custom-built Supertone 'spark' alnico 10" speakers work wonderfully.
Hear it in action on the sample track - 'Don't Get Me Wrong' from the Starlite Campbell Band's European Blues award nominated album 'Blueberry Pie'.