(This was first published on WoodyTone.com –Ed.) If you care about your tone (and I know you do), the Amp Show is an incendiary sensory explosion – and yet, it’s also like meditation. It’s a ride through lollipop fields and gumdrop mountains (or whatever) for tone-fiend, gear-head adults. If there was an F ticket at Disney, this would be it.
Get the picture? Yes, it’s that freakin’ great.
So great, in fact, that even though I was at this weekend’s NY/NJ Amp Show – both days – I’m already jonesing for another off-the-charts tonal fix. B-b-b-b bad. The next Amp Show is in Nashville, and I’m thinking I need to be there. NEED. VERY BAD. (When it’s bad like that, your brain sends instructions in words that are no longer than 4 letters. Just basic stuff, man.)
Where to begin?
In an ideal Fantasy Island world, me and Tattoo would’ve walked out of the show with no fewer than half a dozen new amps. But, and I kid you not here, even if I was assigned to pick out just six amps that I could walk out of the show with, it would be hard! Because there were so many great ones.
And they were no-freakin’-doubt-about-it great. No Guitar Center messing around with knobs to get a good tone. No pedals needed. Just great. This isn’t the golden age of amps (that was the ’60s and ’70s), but it’s whatever amazing age comes after that.
At the show, I didn’t hear a bad amp. I heard some that weren’t my cup o’ tea, or were mostly for Strat guys or pedal guys or “clean headroom” aficionados, none of which I am. And yet even I could tell that they were literal light years beyond anything that has a major-name label on it. (I feel sorta bad for the majors saying that, and I’d love to be proven wrong, but….)
The Dumble-type stuff I’m starting – just starting – to get a handle on, enough that in my opinion calling something Dumble-esque or some version of “Overdrive Special” might actually be more limiting than helpful. Because the supposedly Dumble-esque amps I heard weren’t real similar. In fact, I’d say that all were different enough that they should be known more by the builder name than anything. But that’s of course IMO.
The Marshall-esque, classic rock and Les Paul-loving amps at the Amp Show were OUTRAGEOUS. I’m a Les Paul-type guy with simple Billy Gibbons-type chops (in my dreams, but you get what I mean) who comes from the late ’70s/early ’80s school so I love the punch and power tube-sounding gain from higher-watt amps. I got that in spades at show (even from a couple of small amps), and WAY better than I could literally imagine.
I brought my stock 1980 Les Paul Standard, and that’s where it got real interesting for me:
> Some amps sounded great with Les Pauls and not nearly as great with Fender-type guitars, and vice versa.
> Some sounded great no matter what guitar went through them, and all the guitars sounded different.
> I guess all amps sound “like” some classic or ground-breaking amp, but so many of these amps had their own cool vibes – and bear in mind that I plugged straight in to every one I played. No pedals (oops, except one: Louis Electric).
I will in subsequent posts, mostly on AmpGAS.com, detail the amps that I really liked and interview the guys who make these pieces of tonal art, but here’s my brief review of the stuff I particularly liked in no particular order:
> East – Budda founder Jeff Bober’s new company is East Amplification. He’s built two of the most incredible amps ever. Period. If you play the 2-watter, you will in this order 1) be amazed 2) be transported 3) be in shock 4) be a customer. I kid you not.
> Satellite Amps – I hesitate to describe what these amazing two-knob amps sound like because even though you hear different flavors, they truly are their own animals. But I will say this: People with ears far more sophisticated than mine, people with friends like Joe Perry, absolutely loved these amps.
> Sommatone – Jimmy Somma’s amps are across-the-board tonal gold, and likewise are their own Somma-fied animals. I’m not sure why or how, but if his amps sold for half of what they do now I’m sure everyone would know Sommatone’s name. In other words, they’re worth every penny. One of the top tonal experiences I had at the show was listening to Jimmy (on slide) and Carmen Sclafani (both of the band Wiser Time) jam with another guy who played a Rossington Les Paul, all through different Sommatone amps. It sounded better right there in the hotel room than shows I’ve paid a lot of $ to see. Lots more about Jimmy and the Sommatome gang on the way.
> Reinhardt – I don’t want to sound weird here, but I literally wanted to hug Bob Reinhardt. Maybe more than once. For me, a Marshall guy, hearing his amps was a “where have you been all my life” moment. If you love Marshalls and have “that [Marshall] sound” in your head but don’t want exact one-amp clones, you have to hear his amps. I wanted them all. Still do.
> Goodsell – I heard the Black Dog clips on-line and yawned, so I almost didn’t stop by the Goodsell room. Almost. I got there with 45 minutes to go before Richard Goodsell took off for Newark Airport, plugged into the 18-watt Dominatrix and was instantly in love. Gnarly sustained-filled big rock tones. I actually played better. Truth be told, Richard saw me walk in with a Les Paul and steered me right to that amp. He knew. He made me a sweet deal on it, but I was at the point where I literally had enough money for just one amp and couldn’t have made up my mind to save my life (still haven’t). Side note: Don’t put all your faith in Internet clips!
> Electroplex – Ever heard of Electroplex Rocket amps? Me neither. They seemed to be Fender-ish, but WAY better. Every guitar sounded great (and distinct) through these puppies. Builder Don Morris is onto something truly stellar, and they look so cool too. I do not like Fender-style amps. I loved the Rockets.
> The art gallery-quality Ark Amps should not be written off as merely…art. The tonal guts in these things are great. The 6V6 amp in particular was one I just didn’t want to stop playing.
> Again, I am no Dumble-esque expert, but of all such amps I heard, my ears liked the Fuchs Overdrive Supreme the best. Fuchs’ Train Forty-Five was a blast to play through – you can use your volume knob in an entirely new way.
> I don’t know if the Carol-Ann Tucana is Dumble-esque but that is an amazing amp.
> Nolatone‘s Junebug is a pint-sized high-gain (or not) machine, but I liked the Rotten Johnny more: another little combo, it’s very cool, does lots of things.
> Louis Rosano’s (Louis Electric) little Buster amp had such a big sound for such a small amp. If you’re a pedal guy, check one out for sure.
> As good as the Bludotone amps are, the highlight of that visit for me was self-described Bludo “solder jockey” Brandon Montgomery singing Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tightrope” while someone played that tune through a copy of Eric Johnson’s Dumble-made Steel String Singer amp.
Seemed like a few of the manufacturers that were supposed to be at the show didn’t make it for some reason, but here’s everyone else I got to:
> Heard some good stuff about Tomaszewicz from a couple other builders, checked it out briefly, nice stuff. Didn’t spend enough time there.
> Didn’t stop by the Marshall and Vox rooms (they were last for me, no time). Did stop by the Peavey/Budda room and just…couldn’t…bond with the Buddas, except for maybe the 4xEL84 model. The handwired Peavey was…yikes.
> The Voodoo Amps rooms were once again a metal shred-fest – as in people waiting in line to shred. Those amps must rock that world.
> You could hear the Wizard amps from other rooms! Great hammering tone into your brain tone. Wish I heard them at lower volumes.
All For Now
I’ve got a lot more to say about the amps, so stay tuned to AmpGAS.com for more. But hopefully you got a flavor for it from the above.
And once again, the Amp Show is an experience that literally has no peer. You might think the NAMM show is as good or better, and maybe it is in some ways. But at NAMM you are distracted by rock stars, lines to get to those rock stars, crowds and the enormity of the whole hype-filled week. The Amp Show is just focused tone – and this year it seemed like there were fewer folks, plus it was two days. Just more time to be blown away, and to find your sound.
I still haven’t found mine yet, but thanks to the Amp Show I’m on my way. Now to sell some gear….