Venturing into the Unknown - Part 4
Okay folks here we are at the end of this particular run of posts... Namely - My own PERSONAL (!!!!!!!) 633 Engineering Groove King Head and CUSTOM (!!!!) Zilla Studio Pro 2 x 12 cab!
Woah..., Hang on there sailor what was that? I didn't mention the cab? Hmm, well then I believe a flash back is in order in order to bring you up to speed!
Months and months ago I was at a show as part of the Sean Webster band eagerly awaiting the arrival of the great man himself. Today would be yet another 'new gear day' as he had recently purchased the amp of his dreams, a Blonde Tolex Fender Custom Shop Tonemaster Head, and was looking to acquire a cab. Coming to me with the predicament I referred him to the good folks at Zilla cabs, (who I would later get to know as 'Paul'). Sean was hell bent on recreating the rig he had rented at a festival in Poland, a Tonemaster with a matching 4 x12 cab loaded with a Quartet of Celestian Vintage 30's. The sound was huge. However, as anyone over the age 25 will tell you, 4 x 12 cabs simply are just ridiculous to lug around, store and transport unless on a massive stadium tour with an army of roadies at your disposal...
I had read somewhere about a company producing an oversized 2 x 12 that had the beef of a 4 x 12 with more friendly dimensions... Namely the Zilla Fatboy. A quick look over at the website showed that Zilla had made quite an impact on every review we read with every cab variation reviewed. It seemed then, that Sean's desire for monstrous bottom end and projection was to be satisfied.
When the cab arrived I was amazed at just how well they had managed to match the cab to the Tonemaster aesthetically. When plugged we were greeted with the same monstrous tone we had experienced that time in Poland and sure enough Sean was wearing the same ridiculous grin he had sported when first plugging into the Tonemaster at the festival so it was clear he was happy with the outcome. The sound if anything was more detailed, I put this down to the use of the Celestian G12M - 65 Creamback speakers that Sean had arranged to put into the cab! Personally I've always lusted after a G12M Greenback with more headroom and had heard these bad boys were the real deal. It seems those sources were correct!
So there it was, a very well made and more importantly a great sounding cab. It left an impression with me. Upon looking on their web page I had become increasingly interested in their Studio Pro 2 x12 cab. Slightly oversized, angled baffle and sporting a removable back panel for open back Fendery goodness, it certainly looked to be the kind of cab that, if loaded with a combination of Alnico and Ceramic speakers, would be waffly versatile! All I needed was a reason to buy one...
When it came to ordering my 633 Groove King Head, Zilla cabs were the next people on my list to call. I had taken me ages to come up with a colour scheme for the Groove King, eventually settling the classic vintage vibe of Blonde smooth Tolex with a solid Ash wood front stained to match an Oxblood speaker grill cloth. I really loved this side of the process, albeit a little stressful at times due to me being bonkers OCD mayhem when it comes to amp/guitar colours and being every so slightly image conscious... In the end I decided that as I had opted for a vintage vibe of amp but with modern features and colourful tweaks I would try to encapsulate that in the appearance of that amp. In the end when I went to pick up my head from Cliff of 633 I can tell you I was absolutely blown away with the look of it.
I had arranged to meet Cliff at The Guitar Lounge in Peterborough, kind of a half way point between us both. As it turned out Cliff was good friends with Adrian, owner of the Guitar Lounge and the brains and hands behind the boutique guitar brand Vanquish, (more on that later...).
When I arrived a quick loo stop was at the forefront of my mind so, after thrusting the remainder of Cliff's fee into his hands I went off to the rest room whilst Cliff counted out the dosh. With all of that out of the way and one cup of coffee later it was time to give my amp a whirl. I can tell you, I was a little more than excited at this point. I was first hit by the build quality. The attention to detail is astounding, it feels bulletproof, but not too heavy and bulky. Even the resistance of the controls is perfect, not too stiff that they are difficult to move quickly during a show but not too loose that they feel like they were made in a toy factory. The same can be said for the foot switch which was also custom built with features I had requested: Bright switch On/Off, Boost On/Off and Reverb with a switch for a pre determined amount and then whatever you set on the amp. Playing through an old Cornford 2x12, (I'm assuming V30's), I was instantly taken back to the first visit to Cliff's. Rich lows, chimey highs and lush mids, all topped off with the best reverb I've used to date. Again, the Strat had accompanied me on this trip and a whole range of classic tones were cascading, (ploughing? I had it pretty loud...) through the corridors of the shop. I was grinning ear to ear!
During my time with the amp in the store, (some 3 hours...), I tried a Vanquish Classic guitar with PAF's, again the Groove King did it's thing only this time with the kind of sustain you'd expect from a Mahogany/Humbucker combination. On a side note the Vanquish was exquisite, a real beauty to behold and sounding as good as, (if not better...gulp!!),than it looked.
I did eventually leave the shop with my Groove King safely covered with the supplied Roqsolid Amp cover. I was so Impressed with this I immediately ordered one for my 'arriving any day now' Zilla cabinet. I was still very excited to hear the amp through the cab as I'd never played the amp with the Alnico/Ceramic combination of speakers I'd opted for with the cab.
When the cab arrived again I was impressed with the build quality. The cab had a lot to live up to as everything that comes out of 633 is seemingly hand built to the highest standards so I was very happy when the cab arrived. The pair look awesome and the sound is beyond what I had hoped. In fact. I have taken to moving the dials into the extreme of territories just to see if I can find a bad sound. There hasn't been one as yet...
The first gig was to be on a cruise liner in Rotterdam as part of a Blues festival take takes place on a boat, sailing through the night around the city of Rotterdam whilst the bands play. I'm used to these stages and therefore getting a usable guitar sound was a doddle, in fact if I remember correctly I literally turned it on, set the volume and was good to go!
The big test would be the following week playing outside on a festival stage. We would be opening for Status Quo at the Rock On Windermere festival, organised in aid of the tragic Cumbria foods of 2015. Getting a guitar sound I am happy with is something I have always struggled with outdoors. I attribute this to a lack of experience as I have played many more indoor shows than outdoor. The 633 again blew me away with the ease of use reminding me once again why I wanted to simplify my rig and go with a single channel 50 watt amp. The projection of the Zilla Studio Pro enabled me to not have to require any of me in the monitor, (something I've always hated as it never sounds the same as the amp tone), the slight upwards angle of the baffle makes a remarkable difference to on stage presence.
So, all in all a successful journey. I still love the vintage amp thing and I'm sure over the next few years I'll be drooling over the usual array of blackface Deluxe Fenders, AC30's and JTM45's that I see from time to time on Gumtree. However, as a tool for my job as a guitar player I have to say I believe the search is over and no matter what equipment comes and goes this amp will be the basis of my tone shaping with the occasional Leslie thrown in for good measure. Using a combination of the Volume, Master Volume and Headroom control there are a myriad of tones you can squeeze out this thing. The best way I can describe it is like a Fender but HiFi, everything sounds polished, exquisite and at the same time ballsy. The mission was to find an amp that could go to all of the places my two amp Marshall/Fender rig could go without the back breaking weight and phasing problems I was regularly encountering. I'm sure at some point I'll end up blending the 633 maybe with the Quad, I'm sure it would be immense to have them both up on stage, however the wonderful thing is now I don't have to. Mission accomplished.
Thank you for reading this blog, I've really enjoyed writing it and appreciate you taking the time to read it. I'll be shooting some video blogs at some point in the future. Most probably once the album is out. At this time of writing the Album is mostly mixed and all the photos and artwork is finished so these last two weeks will require all hands on decks to get it completed!
I've put links to 633 Engineering and Zilla cabs below so anyone wanting to find out a little more about either company can follow the link. Both Cliff (633) and Paul (Zilla) are absolutely top guys and happy to answer questions relating to their products.
All the best and thank you for reading!
Venturing into the Unknown. The End.
Photos by Jonathan Patchett