Monday, April 18, 2011

Boutique Amplifiers - Part Two

It is amazing to count the number of boutique amplifiers builders. There were plenty of companies offering amplifiers for sale in the 1960’s, but Fender cornered the market. That is before Marshall and Vox came along, which were patterned on an original Fender Bassman amp.

The only boutique builders of that era I recall would be Ray Butts, who made Ecco-fonic amplifiers and Bob Crooks who made the original Standel amplifiers .  So let’s explore a few more amp builders. 

None of the following builders offer kits and most are high end (expensive) amplifiers.

Steve Carr of Pittsboro North Carolina studied aerospace engineering at Purdue University and physics at the University of North Carolina. Carr played guitar and caught the bug to build his own equipment. So when he wasn’t studying engineering and physics, he spent time in the university libraries reading though old textbooks from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, learning about tube amplification.

He founded Carr Amplification and currently offers five models of guitar amplifiers. His amps feature point-to-point hand-wiring, polypropylene capacitors, which Carr says do not dry up like electrolytic caps, custom transformers made to his specifications, solid gauge aluminum for his chassis, wire from George L. 

His speakers are Weber custom designed models. and he makes his own solid pine cabinets. He also make use old style carbon resistors, high quality hospital grade power cords and paper bobbin transformers.

His current line up is six different amplifiers ranging from 3 watts up to 40 watts RMS. About half operate in Class A mode. Many of them have power switching capability.  The company has an impressive list of users.

Michael Swart is a musician and a recording engineer, also from North Carolina. Throughout his career he used a variety of amplifiers, but was searching for his signature tone.  He designed and built and amplifier that he called The Space Tone rated at 5 watts, which was a small studio amplifier. 

This was followed up by the Atomic Space Tone amplifier, rated at 20 watts, which has become his most requested amplifier.

This amp utilizes a JJ 5AR4 tube rectifier and 2 EH 6V6 power tubes, 3 12AX7’s serve as a phase inverter, preamp and reverb/tremolo tubes.

Swart also builds a 30 watt amplifier called, The Space Tone 30 that comes as a head and cabinet.

Swart amps feature a 12AX7 that functions as a driver for the bias regulated tremolo. This provides a more distinct sound than the typical light dependent resistor or LDR version. Reverb is all tube as well.

Koch Amplifiers, designed and manufactured in Holland by Dolf Koch. He uses only the highest quality parts and tubes. The tubes are protected behind grills to prevent damage. His cabinets are solid, being made of 11 ply birch.

Kock Super Nova
Koch (pronounced cock) builds nine different types of amplifiers from 6 watts through 120 watts.  From comments, Koch amplifiers are noted for their clean sound.  

Most of their amplifiers are combos, they also offer 5 different types of stand alone speaker cabinets and audio equipment for guitarists.

(Andy) Fuchs Amplifiers of New Jersey, builds 7 different tube based guitar amplifiers and one hybrid bass amplifier, that uses tubes in the preamp section and solid state design for the power amp. Depending upon the ohm rating of the speaker cabinet, the Bruiser Bass Amp can provide 250 to 600 watts of power.

Fuchs (pronounced fox) guitar amps range in power from 7 watts to 150 watts.  Many are power switchable. Fuchs also builds stand alone cabinets loaded with a variety of speaker sizes, from one twelve inch up through two twelve inch speakers with open or closed backs.

Louis Rosano, also of New Jersey, starting building clones of Tweed Twins, nineteen years ago. His company, Louis Electric, now builds six different models of amplifiers. His list of well known clients is impressive, including such names as Keith Richards, John Fogarty and Duke Robillard

Based on tweed Fenders, Louis Electric amplifiers have a unique look and feel all their own. Louis Electric makes his own circuits using phenolic board with hand-punched eyelets and Switchcraft or Carling input jacks and switches.

Louis Electric amplifiers range from 25 to 80 watts.  Most come with one-twelve inch Celestion speaker although the 58 Twinmaster model includes dual twelve inch Celestions.

Fred Taccone, from Fullerton California, is the force behind Divided By 13 amplifiers. Taccone sites his father for helping him develop his electronic skills. He started out in the electronic business at a company that made power amps.  Taconne learned to build guitar amplifiers while working at Fender and Music Man under the tutelage of Leo Fender, Doc Kaufmann, and Randall Forest.

He also worked in concert promotions and as a recording engineer, making contacts with some well-known artists. With his background in amplifier building, many of these artists would ask for repairs and modifications. He soon had a job doing this full time. 

In talking with customers and friends, he would often hear, “I like my amp, but I wish it would...” or “I need an amp that could...”  It was not long before he got suggestions to build his own amps and Divided By 13 was born.

They currently offer 10 models of amplifier only units (heads), with or without cabinets.  The cabinets range from one twelve inch speaker to four twelve inch speakers. Divided By 13 has recently added combo amps to the line up. Taccones amplifiers range from 9 watts with the switchable 9/15 up through the 50/100 watt switchable model. He also produces a 200-watt bass amp. 

His list of users is impressive and includes Sir Paul McCartney and his band.

Dr. Rick Jones is the founder of Acoustic Image amplifiers. Dr. Jones takes a much different approach to amplification. His company build high quality solid-state amplifiers that deliver the transparent sound of your instrument, in a highly portable unit.

At one time his Clarus I may have been considered boutique. But the company has become mainstream due to word of mouth recommendations. 

Jazz guitarists and bassists prefer these high quality powerful amplifiers as due to their clean sound and their lightweight. Even his most powerful combo , weighs only 28 pounds. Some of his amps come with a shoulder carrying bag.

The Acoustic Image Clarus is an amp head that is small enough to fit in a guitar gig bag, but produces an amazing 400 watts of Class D power.  

Except for the Claris and Claris II, the other models come with their own small speaker cabinets.  Despite the cabinets’ size, they can handle up to 1000 watts of power.  

Dr. Jones has designed a unique downward firing speaker on the bottom of the amp that uses the floor to bounce sound in a room.


Caribou said...

Koch is not pronounced Cock, it's pronounced Koh followed by a throat-scraping sound we Dutch use to pronounce a G...

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Mojmir Havlik said...

Nice article. Only, Fender Champ 12 has ONE 6L6 in power setion, it's single-ended ;-)

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