Part 3!!!! Finally, after getting over the worst case of flu I've ever had, here we are! So in this post I'm going to be discussing one of the coolest experiences I've had as a guitar player. Namely meeting Cliff Brown at 633 Engineering. As I've discussed in previous posts, the idea of having an amp built around you is something I've drooled about since first hearing about the etherial Howard Dumble and his complicated/expensive/only if you're worthy amp building process. It's got me to thinking many times in the past why there are not more people out there that offer a similar service? Especially seeing as there are people willing to part with many thousands of pounds for vintage or reproductions of vintage amps, clearly not happy with the choice on the market for I personally do not think there has been a harder time to purchase gear. The amount of choice is mind boggling, with amps to suit the pocket of every player from the bedroom enthusiast all the way through to seasoned professional.
I have found myself exhausted with it all lately. GAS. A seemingly endless quest in the pursuit of tone etc etc you've heard it all before!
Having arranged a day with Cliff where we were both free I was quite excited about driving over to Northampton for a trip to the tone zone! Armed with my Strat and Les Paul, (my regular gigging guitars), I left the bright lights of Skegness and with the help of Kevin Smith and Mark Hamill, (on an excellent podcast called Fatman on Batman, compulsive listening if you're a comic book/movie geek like myself!), had a very pleasant drive!
Arriving at 633 Engineering was like coming down the stairs aged 12 on Christmas Day, (also my birthday...). A selection of amp and cabs loaded with beauties such as Alnico Golds and Creamback 65's. A filtered coffee and introduction took place before tone crafting commenced and boy, did it commence!
I have not played through anything made this century that has inspired my playing so much. If I am gassing it's generally for vintage stuff. However, having a busy gig schedule does show the cracks in the 50 some year amplifiers I use on tour. Something newer has been on my list of priority 'gear to acquire' for this very reason.
Cliff is a really great guy to work with and understands the personal nature of tone and is super knowledgeable about tone shaping and the various amps that are responsible for the sounds we all have in our heads. Cliff was happy to show be the basic functions of the amps and then leave me to vibe up with my guitars for a thorough test drive!
The amp that really grabbed my attention was 633's Groove King, and not just because of the name! Pitched somewhere between a Super Reverb and an AC30 this, on paper at least, seemed to be the answer to my two amp aggravated spine problem... First up was the Strat, I've had that guitar over 15 years so I know how it sounds... The first thing that struck me was how the amp responded to playing dynamics. straight away it reminded me of an old blackface Fender Deluxe reverb I'd played through a while back, (and still lust after to this day...), cranking it up and using the guitar's volume and tone controls to clean up the tone was also surpassing my expectations. Play hard with guitar wide open, rich tubey sounds with a lot of pleasant harmonic overtones, a little softer with the guitar's volume wound down a little and it's the glassy Strat tone we have all grown to love. The EQ on the amp was equally responsive, behaving more like a Fender than a Marshall, the bass response especially impressed me! Another welcome surprise was the bright switch, something on a Fender that I find generally harsh and spikey, actually added enough top end sparkle without the tinnitus inducing 'brightness' I've grown accustomed to on a lot of Fender amps.
The real ace up the sleeve though is the Variable Headroom feature. I don't quite understand the science behind it but essentially it alters the point where the output valves break up, thus giving you the cranked 6L6 thing at a variety of volumes. It actually works and I was able to find the tones I was looking for at a variety of volumes that would suit the many differing types of venues I play in when on tour. The amp also responded really well to pedals, especially the fuzz face type pedals that I like to use...
Plugging in the Les Paul was again a smile inducing process. The amp actually responded better to this guitar's electrics than my existing amps so I was able to get sounds I'd never achieved with that guitar. Very exciting... Some 4 hours later and I was putting an order in for a 633 Engineering Groove King, to me the most exciting 'new' amp I've played through with the added feature of being able to customise the feature set to suit my playing style and wish list of practical aids such as foot switchable brightness control, 6dB boost etc.
So it looks like the Germany/Poland tour I'm about to embark on is to be my last for a while with the vintage amps as we are edging ever closer to the completion estimate, (they are all hand made to order).
Once it's complete and road tested, (633 road test the amps before delivery), I'll post a few tone vids to show you guys how it stacks up against some more well know amplifiers. I think you'll agree that upon trying one that it's a future classic, I also think it's really refreshing to see some new ideas in an amp that has a classic sound but with a modern feature set.
I've really enjoyed this process so far and I literally cannot wait for the completion date!!!! In the meantime if you have a minute check out the website. There are some videos of the various amps including the Groove King!
Again thank you for reading! I'm going to be posting some gear demos in the later half of May starting with some very sexy Fuzz Face type pedals. I'll keep you posted with that upon my return for this next Sean Webster Band tour.