In this tiny recording studio, I've managed to squeeze in seven guitars but only one guitar amp. But what a monster it is!
It's a Marshall 4140 'Club and Country' 2 x 12 100 watt combo, made in 1978, covered in brown Tolex with a straw coloured front and the ubiquitous gold Marshall facia. Unusually for Marshall, it was designed to be a 'clean' sounding amp, and as I discovered only recently, the second channel (y'know - the one nobody uses on their amp) was voiced to sound like a Fender Twin. It has a spring reverb on the first channel, as well as 'boost' and 'bright' switches and a master volume (hmmm...) for both. Apparently, Stevie Ray Vaughan used one for his clean sound in the early eighties.
This beast seems to be known in the States as the Big Twin Reverb or the Loud Twin Reverb. It has 9 valves in it, with four EL34s at the power stage.
And oh boy is it loud!
As a result, although I'm an electric guitarist, I rarely play electric guitar. Well, I do, but I never plug it in - so really I'm just a very quiet acoustic guitarist. With a tremolo arm. And neighbours who still wish me Merry Christmas once a year.
Anyway, this has often struck me as an anomaly, and I've kept a weather eye out for a decent little valve practice amp that I could wail away with at home or take out for the occasional jam, without having to hire a truck with reinforced springs.
And a couple of weeks ago, I bought an Epiphone Valve Junior. No cunning digital circuitry, no LCD panel, no list of 20 amp simulators - just an input socket, a volume knob and an on switch. Oh, and an EL84 valve.
5 tiny watts of monster rock
Now, the first thing to note is that this is still a loud amp. You don't get the amp to distort until you turn it up, overload the power stage and work the speaker. No fizzy pre-amp distortion here. And the second thing to remember is that the relationship between decibels and watts is logarithmic, not linear. Subjectively, my 100 watt Marshall sounds maybe twice as loud as this little thing. The trick with it is to whack it up and then use your guitar controls to manage the tone and volume. Roll off your guitar volume and it grinds; roll off a little more and it sparkles and chimes; pull it right up and it stings and wails.
BUT... isn't there always?
It's only got an eight inch speaker. It has no standby switch - in fact there are a few reasons why it costs a tenth of the 'boutique' hand-wired valve combos. And it was while I was researching on the 'net that I came across a succinct list of its weaknesses and the name of the man who has taken it upon himself to transform this mongrel into a - erm... mongrel with a very fancy collar (bloody metaphors - I wouldn't recommend them. In fact what I need is someone who can offer a metaphor tweaking service.).
Modding the Epiphone Valve Junior
Yup. 'Modding'. From 'Mod'. From 'Modification'. I'm sure there used to be a longer verb associated with that? Ah well, welcome to the 21st century...
Anyway, A gentleman who goes by the handle alnicomagnet sells EVJ (as we afficiandos call it) mods on eBay. Epiphone Valve Junior - mods by Alnicomagnet .
I availed myself of his services, and as a result, while my EVJ looks completely stock at the front, the back is a different matter.
From left to right:
- HT Fuse
- Standby Switch (a necessity)
- Line Out (after the output transformer (not a pre-amp feed)
- Silent Running (switch to a dummy load, so the speaker is silenced without blowing up the amp)
- 4-8ohm speaker switch (for alternative speaker cabinet)
What you can't see is the 'Fender Champ' mod to tweak and configure the components so that it sounds like a little practice amp from the glory days.
For my money, the best mod of all was item 4 - 'Silent Running' (Alnicomagnet is obviously a Sci-Fi fan). I wanted to know why I couldn't disable the speaker if I was using the Line Out to send the output somewhere else, and he suggested using a dummy load. You can't just unplug the speaker because (to use another metaphor) the amplifier section is pushing against something and if you take away the speaker the amp will fall over, usually with disastrous consequences. The obvious solution was to include the dummy load in the amp cabinet, rather than having a little external box with a couple of massive resistors plugged into the speaker socket.
And why is that cool? Because now I can run a line out to my recording rig, switch off the speaker, and record enormous guitar sound without waking all the dogs in the neighbourhood. Not to mention missing out on all those Christmas cards from the neighbours once a year. The only downside is that an overworked speaker also contributes to the unique sound, so I'll still need to use some digital trickery in Logic Pro to get round that.
I've just realised you'll want to know what it sounds like. It's 1.30am!
Well, I've just discovered that all my digital amp simulators in Logic don't have the option to switch off the amp section and just use speaker emulation. OK, tomorrow I'll record the real thing and then see what can be done.
Now it's back to real work (and that means the day job - not computer games!).