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About John: Equipment: Ampifiers

Amps

1966 Fender Showman
This was the first vintage blackface Fender I bought and is responsible for my ongoing affliction for blackface Fender amps... Over the years, this one has been my primary gigging amp for any room of any real size, the Showman is truly amazing -- it has a ton of volume out of its (very) conservatively rated 4x6L6 85 watts, and a deep rich tremolo (and even slower than stock, thanks to a sweet mod by Mike Pascale) that I haven't heard matched in any pedal or outboard unit. One of my favorite local San Diego guitar players (Chris Haugen - Jambay) was playing a silver face Twin and I loved his tone so I jumped when I found a great deal on this bad boy. Wonderful wide open clean tones with sparkly tops, and handles dirty sounds from pedals with grace and style (so much clean headroom, it's almost impossible to break up without pedals). It's essetially a Twin with no reverb, so for reverb I traditionally added an Alesis Microverb at the end of the signal path (or jumped it into the normal channel). More recently I've switched to the Catalinbread Topanga pedal (again, generally jumped into the normal channel), for its more distinctively authentic Fender spring reverb sound. The '67 / '68 Garcia tone is largely a combination of a Twin and a Showman (ok, with no shortage of the magic of the Wolf, and the man himself of course!). Restored and modded by vintage amp tech / craftsman / miracle worker Mike Pascale (who does his magic on vintage Fenders for the likes of Bob Weir, Steve Kimock, Tim Bluhm, Jackie Greene) to blueprint the vibrato channel, convert the ground switch to drop out 2 of the power tubes to half the output, slow down the tremolo to a sultry wide swing, to convert the "Normal" channel preamp to a tweed style voicing (and enable the tremolo), and convert the "bright" switch to a "fat" boost. An already amazing amp restored and reimagined into an incredibly versatile tone monster. What's not to love?! Seriously though, Mike is the man, and he's very generous with his time and knowledge, and I have come to rely on him quite a bit in my approach to amp acquisition and care. If you've got a vintage Fender that needs some love, check out http://www.VintageFenderAmpRepair.com

1965 Fender Deluxe
Looking for a lower powered amp than the Showman, I initially bought a "Deluxe Reverb '65 Re-issue" model to have a low volume alternative that I could play at home and in small rooms. I replaced the stock ceramic Jensen with a Weber alnico speaker that really complements the inherently chimey and lush tone of the amp, and like all my amps I replaced the grill cloth with vintage Sari cloth (Reissue pictured). I fell in love with the overall vibe of amp, and the sweet power tube breakup tones that are impossible with a high power beast like the Showman. Playing it for years really made me want to look for an original. That's when I found a screaming deal on a bit of a strange one -- a pre-CBS '65 Deluxe (non-reverb) chassis that was in all original condition, but had been removed from the cab and put into a home made head cabinet and the owner didn't really know what to do with it. Sooooooo, I picked it up and (even though it's a slightly narrower form factor) slotted it into the Re-Issue cabinet. Since I'm a sucker for Mike Pascale's work, IU sent it to him to do his magic -- blueprint channel 2, tweed voice channel 1, and slow down the tremolo. Voila, goodbye modern construction printed circuit board, hello hand wired, blue molded caps, all original, all blackface mojo tone! When I need reverb (which admittedly is most of the time, even if it's only a little...), I jump the channels and pipe the Catalinbread Topanga back through the normal channel. Dreamy. [On that note, does anyone need a '65 Reissue chassis with no cabinet? I've got one for sale...make me an offer -- it's a great sounding amp!] This thing is a fantastic on-the-go rig. With a Katana hitting the front end for a little bit of extra gain and drive on the input this thing is a dream. As added bonuses, I can play it at home without doing irreparable harm to my family's ears (or anyone else's on the block!), and I can carry it without throwing out my back.

1967 Fender Vibrolux Reverb
Another vintage blackface Fender in basically blueprinted condition, but with a Tweed voiced normal channel (patching reverb and tremolo into channel 1), and a slowed down tremolo, courtesy of Mike Pascale. When I bought it the reverb tank was dead, so I pulled the tank from my '65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue (see above -- replaced it with a vintage non-reverb amp, so wasn't using the tank anymore), and slotted it in, and bingo! Like all my amps, I covered over the grill cloth with some beautiful vintage Indian sari cloth for a unique impression. Similar to the Deluxe, the relatively low power output (relative to a Twin or Showman, anyway) makes it a great recording amp. Live, it works well in smallish rooms as well, but with more volume and clean headroom than the Deluxe, and the 10" speakers give it a tighter, punchier sound (but with two of them, it's still a lot of speaker surface area so they really project). While not impossible, it's tough to get this one to break up without getting really loud, so with this bad boy I usually get dirt out of pedals. It's kind of a middle ground between the Showman and the Deluxe. 35 watts, 2x10" speakers (1971 Oxfords, reconed by Dusty's Speaker Repair), and a near mint cabinet. Spectacular amp, classic blackface vibe and tone, gorgeous reverb and tremolo, nice tight response and punch. . John Hiatt wasn't kidding about the Tele / Vibrolux turned up to 10 combo...!

1985 Mesa Boogie Mark III
A VERY early MKIII ("Black Stripe", serial number 103) introduced in 1985 following the classic MKIIC+ model, still using the massive IIC+ power tranny, among other things from it's predecessor's classic and highly coveted design. Perhaps not surprising that an amp that was originally modeled off of the Blackface Fender architecture but with lots of modern bells and whistles (especially the stacked gain stages) might be interesting to me... A MONSTER with all kinds of flexibility, in an incredible compact (but extremely heavy) head. This one really blows your hair back. Like many other Boogie players, I never quite figured out how to dial it in for real three channel usage (the settings you need to sound good on one channel are challenging to make work when you switch...), so when using it live I tend to use it for the clean and "Rhythm 2" channels for a more Garcia / Anastasio* sound rather than the lead channel Santana sound, and instead I get the dirt from whatever pedal du-jour I'm feeling in the mood for. I used this amp quite a bit when touring with King Harvest. I like it for recording because of the huge range of sounds you can get out of it (without having to be beholden to its limitations in the channel switching context). If only it had a tremolo circuit... (This is the only amp I own that doesn't have a tremolo -- I must admit that I'm completely and utterly obsessed with that sound!)

* Trey Anastasio of Phish famously said of the Mk III Boogie he toured with for decades that despite being a "much maligned" amp (because of its infamous challenges with dialing in settings that work for switching between the three channels live), "being familiar with your gear is more important than having really good gear." Point taken (and he was able to achieve what many others failed at -- one of his secrets is use of the EQ in Auto setting, so it only applies to the Lead channel, giving an extra bility to control / tame that channel when you switch over), but I tend to consider this amp "really good gear" anyway...

2007 Vox AC15cc 1x12 combo
A re-issue of this classic I bough for a practice amp. Probably not what the original was, but still a nice British flavor in a small amp. At only 15 watts and with a master volume to boot, you can get great, cranked and saturated tones out of it without actually blowing your hair back. There's a killer tremolo channel too! Ok, I admit it, I'm a sucker for the tremolo... This is a great amp for working on stuff at home, and I've even used it in small rooms before. I replaced the stock wolfdale speaker with the stock Jensen from the re-issue Deluxe, which was a bit of an upgrade to my ears -- some British vibe in the amp voicing, mellowed out with the American speaker choice.

Cabinets

Custom Pine 2x12
I had a custom vintage Fender style cabinet built by TRM Guitar Cabs. Unfinished, just tung oiled, with a convertible (open / closed) 3 piece back. Very versatile cab, sounds great, and is beautiful with all the hand built tongue and groove joints showing. I load this up with a rotating cast of speakers. Right now, Celestions Classic Lead 80's, which a pair of easily handle any of the amps I throw at them. Tomorrow, who knows . . . ?

Mesa Boogie 1x12
A match pair to my Mark III head, this little bad boy is loaded with a Mesa branded Celestion Black Shadow -- a tweaked Classic Lead 80 designed to handle more power. Closed back cab design makes this thing extremely responsive and throws a ton of volume. Nice tight low end, lots of touch and response, very directional. Combined with the Mesa head, this thing is a beast.

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