Hello and welcome to part 2 of "Venturing into the unknown"!!! To recap part 1, I was discussing the merits of using a multi amp set up and my 'larger than you'd think a blues player would surely need' pedal board as part of the Sean Webster Band. In my role I swap between a Strat and a Les Paul frequently in a bid to sound as close as possible to the recorded guitar sounds on Sean's most recent release See It Through. Sean's song writing style spans across genres and therefore you can go from all out rock on songs such as the Mayer through to classic blues and soul on the title track See it Through. In a studio this is not a problem as you can choose guitar and amp combinations that define the recorded guitar parts. However, if I were to bring out every guitar and amp I used on the album there would be no room on stage for anyone else... So, as any guitar player will tell you, it's a compromise. Unless you're playing on the hugest of stages it just is not practical to have a plethora of gear with you in the van. So, we're back at my rig, the two amp and 10 pedal rig that I have been carting across the UK and EU for the last three years. The most 'diet' combination of my stuff whilst still being able to obtain the tone...
Really though when it comes down to it all I really want from all of this stuff is a great Strat tone and a great Les Paul tone. Should be easy right? One amp, fuzz, a boost, a tape echo and a little Deja Vibe for good measure. Not a crazy notion... Well apparently it is.
On to Part 2...
So my friends I am in the market for a new amp. One amp. One tone defining masterpiece that will elevate my guitar sound out of the stratosphere and into the nebulas of tone nirvana. Plug in a Strat, boom it's there, Les Paul? Boom! Dare I say Grestch? One amp that can handle all of the usual single coil, hum bucker and filtertron requirements will equal measure.
My initial research found me in families territory, namely Two Rock, Jackson Ampworks, Matchless, Dr Z etc. The list is long and expensive. They all have one thing in common. They are all manufactured in the US. Now I obviously don't have an issue with that, the majority of my guitars all hail from that side of the Atlantic but this did get me thinking, surely there is a UK based company that build, or would be willing, to build me an amp that would be able to go to the places I need it to, not be too loud, (lets say 50ish watts) and not break my back... Having had issues with products in the past that needed sending back to America I thought buying from a UK manufacturer would be the more sensible option from an after sales point of view.
Fast forward to an early recording session for my upcoming debut album, (plug!), I mention this predicament to a friend of mine whom knew someone that might be able to help me. Cliff Brown, formerly of Blackstar. Now self employed and working for himself building amplifiers under the name 633 Engineering.
A few google searches and youtube videos later I'm wondering, 'this could be the guy!!!'... When looking at Cliff's website it is clear that he isn't just rehashing the same old designs we have seen/heard for the last 60 years and then charging ££££££'s for, but in fact building amps from the ground up with the guitar player's needs being the focus of the amp.
I started thinking about an amp that would get the most out of my guitars, and have features built in like boosts and reverb and foot switchable features such as brightness and reverb amount. It was clear watching the product demos online that the amps he had built so far were versatile and sounded great with a wide range of guitars and had a killer feature I had never seen in another amp. Namely, Variable Headroom. This, so it said on the website, would effectively adjust the headroom on the power valves and enable the user to select at what point the output becomes overdriven. Up to this point I had only ever used attenuators for this type of output valve break up at volumes that wouldn't obliterate the audience's ear drums. Having always been pretty happy with the results of the THD Hot plate attenuators I was intrigued by this concept. The problem with attenuators, or so I’m told, is they separate the amp from the speaker, therefore severing the relationship between amp and speaker. Now although I don't know the science behind why this is considered to be bad, I had been told that it is bad and has a pretty detrimental effect on tone. So, any new method of having the ability to control your amp's natural output break up without needing something in between the amp and speaker could only be a good thing.
So, with the potential of having one amp, voiced specifically to my requirements, selectable output break up etc I figured I would set up a meeting with Cliff at 633. As per info on the website amp demonstrations range from one off days in music shops across the UK or a private consultation at 633 HQ.
My diary was pretty full with gigs etc so it would be a two month wait before I would get to have a go.
Look out for part 3 of what I found at 633 Engineering!