Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boutique Amplifiers

Back in the day, when I took up guitar, if you needed a repair done to your amplifier, you took it to a TV and Radio repair shop.  They had manuals from RCA, Crosley, General Electric and Western Electric which were the same circuits’ amplifier manufacturers of the day used to create their products.
Carr Amplifier

Today, televisions and radios are disposable, so TV and Radio repair shops are a rarity.

A  handful of businesses repair amplifiers and some of these companies have gone into creating boutique amplifiers.

Others specialize in building custom amplifiers and modifying existing amps. Many of these companies sell amplifier kits, parts, speakers and cabinets so you can build your own amp.

Torres British Boxer
One of the more well-known companies is Torres Engineering, which is owned and operated by Dan Torres.  His forte is amplifier kits and modification parts and schematics, although he does offer hand built amplifiers for sale.  In addition to amp kits, modification schematics, Torres also sells parts.  Mr. Torres has written articles and advice columns for several guitar publications.

Gerald Weber is the guy behind Kendrick amplifiers and guitars.  He started out repairing and modifying amplifiers before branching out to create his own brand.  He also has created guitars.  He sells parts and kits to build, modify, upgrade or overhaul amplifiers.  

Weber also travels around the country giving hands on seminars, teaching new builders. Mr. Weber is also a writer and dispenses advice through several guitar publications.

For high quality Fender style amps, check out Tube Tone Amplifiers.  They are hand built recreations of Leo Fenders finest creations made by Californian Raybob Bowman .  He uses point to point wiring and solders each connection by hand with short lead dress.  

Bowman, uses the finest parts available, such as Sprague and Mallory capacitors,  Switchcraft jacks, J.J. Power tubes and Carling switches.  The cabinets are handmade of finger-jointed pine.  He adds a bias potentiometer to each power tube so the voltage can be easily adjusted. His amps even include a courtesy input, just like old Fenders.

Tube Tone Vibro Champ
Tube Tone amps range from the 5-watt Tube Tone Vibro-Champ model to the Tube Tone Twin.  

Bowman has come up with a couple of his own creations such as the Super Vibe, which uses a circuit based on a Super Reverb and a Vibroverb.  By flipping a switch on the rear panel, you can achieve the tone of either amp.  As a plus this comes as an amp only unit (head) allowing you to use your own cabinet or purchase one from the manufacturer.

Tube Tone Deluxe Plus
The Tube Tone Deluxe Plus uses two 6L6GC power tubes instead of the usual 6V6GC’s found in Fenders Deluxe Reverb.  Based on this and the use of a larger transformer, the power rating is 37 watts RMS.  

It comes with a 6db boost the power. It also features a unique mod switch that switches tremolo tube to function as a preamp tube which boosts the gain.

Tube Tone Princeton Plus
One of Tube Tones most interesting amplifiers is the Princeton Plus.  This features 6L6GC tubes instead of the normal 6V6GC’s found in a Fender Princeton Reverb.  

The speaker in this amp is a 12” Weber, instead of the normal 10” Fender Special Design.  The amp comes with a mid boost controlled by a foot switch.  

The tremolo circuit uses bias modulation instead of Fenders optical circuit.  There is also a built in impedance selector for adding more speakers.  This amp is beefed up to 35 watts instead of the 18 watts associated with a Princeton Reverb.

Tube Tones pricing is quite reasonable compared to what you would expect to pay for a stock Fender reissue amplifier and especially when comparing price to vintage Fender amplifiers.  Bowman builds Fender amps, like the vintage amps of the 1960's. He also will rebuild your existing Fender amp. 

You ship him your chassis and he will completely redo it to blackface standard.  

If you are considering purchasing a Fender amplifier, I would seriously suggest contacting Tube Tone.

Allen Accomplice
Allen Amplification is a Kentucky company run by Dave Allen.  He sells kits with or without the cabinet and parts.  Allen also sells cabinets. Although he specializes in kits, he does sell completely built amps, based on his own Fender style design.  His creations are unique. 

The Chihuahua

They range from the 10-watt Chihuahua to the 40 watt Old Flame. Like Tube Tone, Allen uses only high quality parts.  He does repairs and modifications on older model Fender amps that do not utilize printed circuit boards.

Brad Paisley & Dr. Z
Mike Zaite was an engineer for General Electric, who built guitar amplifiers as a sideline.  His father owned a TV/Radio repair shop. 

Through circumstance Zaite hooked up with Joe Walsh and provided him with an amplifier, which led to a relationship with (the) Eagles.  Zaite was able to quit his day job and he became Dr Z.

Within a few years, his amplifiers have gone from boutique to almost mainstream.  

His designs are straightforward and somewhat minimal.  They are reminiscent of Ken Fishers Train Wreck amplifiers.

It is worth mentioning that Zaite was a friend of Ken Fisher and collaborated with him on the Train Wreck Airbrake attenuator. 

Zaites amps range from the diminutive 5 watt Mini Z which comes with a built in attenuator to the 60 watt SRZ 65.  

The Dr. Z Carmen Ghia is possibly his most popular amp.

Bruce Zinky worked at Fender for years as an amplifier designer.  He went into business for himself. His most popular product is The Smokey Amp, which is hardly boutique, but most musicians will pay thirty dollars for an amplifier that fits into a shirt pocket and is housed in a pack of cigarettes.  

Zinkys & Supros
Zinky builds only a few amps under his own name.  However, he has procured the Supro brand name and is building Supro amplifiers that are much better than the originals.  

There are two companies worth mentioning for those of you that care to build your own amplifiers. 

Mojotone sells amplifier kits, parts and cabinets. The company has an excellent reputation and are highly regarded for the quality of parts they offer.

Mojotone also offers amp modification kits and electric guitar parts.

Weber, is a company started by Ted Weber who passed away in 2009, makes world class speakers. Most players I know prefer Webers as replacement speakers. Weber also offer amp kits.  They are reasonably priced and may be a good starting point for beginners. The parts are made in China.

Raybob Bowman playing through a Tube Tone Supervibe.

Ken Fisher amplifiers


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