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Author Topic: Combining amps - more than one preamp in an amp?  (Read 4437 times)
Tone Control
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« on: October 16, 2010, 05:38:12 AM »

I can see that some amps share similar output sections
I am pretty sure that the output section and power transformer costs 75%+ of the parts cost

My question is:

Can I get an amp made that contains 3 or 4 preamps. I'm not talking about switching, just separate preamps like in a DZ30
e.g. an Overtone, with all the available preamps. It might need a case with a chassis at the top and bottom of a head cab, or a double-height chassis

So there'd be an Overtone with one PPMIV, an OTS preamp, a BM HRM preamp, normal HRM preamp
At present if I bought them all I'd be duplicating the power amps AFAIK

The same with the 18w amps: surely it would be cheaper to make one with multiple preamps than to buy one of each type
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Dr Tone Control, Strats mostly, prefer saturated clean tones, a little OD sometimes
BM50, JTM45, 36w EF86, DZ30, Expression, + non-Ceriatones (Matchless, Victoria, Wienbrock)
Just started with pedals a little after a 10 year purist spell, but usually just delay
wyatt
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2010, 08:24:19 PM »

It's not that it wouldn't be possible, but it may be impractical.

First off you 75% of the cost is power amp doesn't hold up.  You forgot labor and overhead and design. And the 75% will have to change.  You change the number of preamp tubes, you change the current draw...you have to change the power supply or add filament transformers.  You add more than a certain number of channels, you have to change out the chassis, which can mean having to deal with a vendor for a whole new chassis....design, setup, machining, prototype, refinement, etc.

As is these are all the same amp with different mods or tweaks. 

The 18-watter has three popular preamps...Traditional '60's, TMB, and EF86 (the latter two having been invented in the last decade).  Any two of these can be incorporated in the same chassis, using the same transformers.  That's how the TMB and EF86 preamps came about to begin with, the guys over at 18watt.com started playing around with the available space and were able to put in a Pelxi (TMB) and AC15 (EF86) preamp.  Now, as is, you can get any combination of two of these from Nik....Trad and trad, Trad and TMB, TMB and EF86 and there is no reason why he can't make a EF86 and Trad...all using the exact same chassis, transformers, cabinet, and many of the same parts.  But three and shoehorn all three preamps in...new chassis, new transformers, more tubes, etc. 

With the Overtone, they are all variations on the same theme.  None of these, not a one is night and day different from another...you've got your Vanilla, you've got your Vanilla Bean, you've got your French Vanilla , you've got your Creamy Vanilla, etc.  All different, all the same.  The differences are only widely apparent when compared side-by-side. 

While the indecisive, who spent too much time in the clouds dreaming up all the possible options of a setup, always seem to want the "kitchen sink" solution, the truth is eventually they end up settling on a couple of favorite options and the rest go unused.  That's why must manufacturers never get too elaborate in their offers.  So, Nik can offer four different Overtones that can all be built in the same chassis with 90% of the same parts, to meet each buyers palette.  Its just not cost effective to offer a much more complicated specialty amp that combines all of them.  An economical solution is to isolate the few components that make up the largest change in tone and make those switchable (Champ Ultra) to offer better versatility.

As a matter of fact,m I'm sure the only reason that Nik even bothers to offer so many variations of these amps is BECAUSE they reuse most of the same parts; if he ended a custom chassis for each version, chances are there would only be one Overtone available and one 18 watter. 

Aside from all of this, what is the motivation of a manufacturer to reduce the number of amps you buy?

Ultimately our hearing perception strips the details anyway.  Something sounds Marshall-esque or Vox-esque or D*mble-esque or Blackface-esque or Tweed-esque to us.  On a record you may be hearing a AC15, AC30, AC50, or Super Beatle and changes are the best you'll be able to identify it is ..."that's a Vox" because they all have that Vox-voiced preamp.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2010, 08:37:41 PM by wyatt » Logged
Tone Control
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2010, 03:38:54 AM »

there's a lot of sense in what you say.

I checked later, and with Nik's prices 75% power amp costs is a bit too high, since he gets the tubes and transformers cheaper than in the UK, but the other costs are split over pre/power amps in proportion mostly.
This idea came to me looking at my H&K preamps, but seriously, I've bought a lot of full amps pre/power, and wonder how much of that tech is duplicated to some extent

You're right about getting many choices but settling on favourite options, but to me that's great, and it's not because I'm indecisive, surely most of us have a favourite guitar and pickup, but you want others too. I bought a Vox handwired with an EF86 and a top boost channel, each is like a diff amp to me, I know the settings I always use on the EF86, and that's my personal setting for that amp, same with the other channel - a few options on each channel means the manufacturer can leave a bit of fine tuning to me.
Same with my DZ30, 2 amps in one box, I'm just saying "why not 3 or 4?" I can afford many amps and don't need to move them often, but some have less cash and need to move around but maintain diff sounds.

I don't know for sure how much the power sections vary between very different sounding amps of each family (6L6, etc), I'm guessing once you say "4 EL84s", it's going to be voxy; the dumbley amps are all the same power section I think, which AFAIK is little different from the fendery stuff after the Tweed era.

To me the idea of adding a little more choice on an amp is attractive.
e.g. I bought the Bluesmaster HRM, I understand its blackface tonestack should work well for me, but I would like to have another channel with the normal HRM.
I've seen some of the guys buy 2-3 Overtones for this reason.

Anyway, I can see that from a business point of view it's not good, but Nik is not driven by normal rules or normal customers.
How about a preamp with 3-4 channels that plugs into the return socket on the Overtone.
Let's face facts, there a lot of people on this forum who spend all day tweaking the insides of Nik's amps: trimmers, component values, etc, this is a similar idea, and yes I expect it will only be an idea!

Cheers
Tone
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Dr Tone Control, Strats mostly, prefer saturated clean tones, a little OD sometimes
BM50, JTM45, 36w EF86, DZ30, Expression, + non-Ceriatones (Matchless, Victoria, Wienbrock)
Just started with pedals a little after a 10 year purist spell, but usually just delay
Tone Control
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« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2010, 05:26:03 AM »

And another point:
I find that no matter how long I spend in a store with a guitar or amp,
I only really learn if I truly like it over the next month or two, when I've learned its intricacies
For amps with a more limited pallette, there is less chance I'll get the best out of the amp.
Since I recently learned that guitar stores are not the best place to get amps from (usually just the latest PCB stuff), and it's often better to mail order them from the other world, I am relying on reviews and sound clips, and again having a bit more to play with on the amp is helpful.
Having said that, I do find I'm loving the simple amps a lot, the JTM45 especially
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Dr Tone Control, Strats mostly, prefer saturated clean tones, a little OD sometimes
BM50, JTM45, 36w EF86, DZ30, Expression, + non-Ceriatones (Matchless, Victoria, Wienbrock)
Just started with pedals a little after a 10 year purist spell, but usually just delay
wyatt
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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2010, 06:07:01 PM »

People argue the term" tone is in the fingers" all the time, but there is a lot to that simple phrase. 

You'll note most of the incessant tweakers are mostly hobbyists who enjoying playing with and collecting their equipment as much as they enjoy actually  playing guitar.  For the most part, they are two entirely different, but related, hobbies. 

But ultimately, most people who really know their instrument can coax an infinite about of tones from a single amp channel.  Pros have the luxury of recording with any amp (and usually multiple amps at once) in the studio.  Mark Knopfler is forever associated  with his Brownface Vibrolux, but has cut plenty of great tracks with SLO's, Music Man amps, Crate, and his JTM-45 (Brothers in Arms).  But he manages to play all of those songs live through a single channel Komet 60 or Reinhardt Storm 30 (30-watt JCM 800 clone).  How?  By adjusting his playing style and phrasing.  Tone is as much about what lick you play and how you play it than the equipment it goes through.  You can't make a Marshall sound like a Deluxe Reverb, but you can make each sound like they were the way a song should sound.   if you play blues lick the equipment will sound bluesy, if you play country licks, the equipment will sound country.

The real litmus test isn't that people buy several different Overtones, it's how many do they use at a gig.  Are they going to switch between two different heads within a set or a sound for two slightly different tones?  No.  Recording in a studio?  You can EQ the recorded track to cover the bases of any Overtone and more that is possible from an y of them.  They buy them because they are collecting the equipment, not widening their palate.  Most of the time when people want a 2 channel or 3 channel amp, they want dedicated channels that add a lot of versatility...a la SLO, 6505+, or even your Vox/DZ30 (they are the same circuit, Matchless just made a AC30/4 with heavier filtering).

I would guess (I don't have the figures) for Nik to sit down and engineer a four-channel Overtone and have new chassis and iron developed for it, he would have to change at least as much as two normal Overtones to make a profit.  Like I said, he can offer so many variations of one amp because they all 95% identical, he just has to tweak/change out a few components.  It's very easy to offer 10 variations of the same amp when they are all built to order.  It's a whole thing entirely to design a totally new version of the amp.

Honestly, I think you spend way too much time sweating the little things.  HRM or non-HRM?  Not that big a deal.  Pick one and roll with it.  Do you want to spend hours worrying over how much to boost 2.2KHz or do you want to be like so many famous acts who play every night with everything from a PCB Fender Deluxe Reverb RI to a solid-state Peavey Bandit and sound great doing so because they are playing great.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2010, 06:31:18 PM by wyatt » Logged
Tone Control
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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2010, 08:49:07 PM »

The tone should always be in the fingers. That's why I sold all my pedals in the late 90s. I finally bought 2 again this year that I use 10% of the time, last year I got a Boss GT10 to try out - you would not know who was playing through that thing, i sold it after a few weeks.

I'm obviously guilty of spending a lot of time and effort on the equipment side at the minute, but for me it's not a permanent state of tweaking.
I've been playing with the same guitar and amps for about 10 years since my last proper search for gear. The settings on those amps didn't change much over that time, I don't change settings much once I find my sweet spots, but some of those amps didn't please me much.

I've realised that I should have looked for better gear sooner, and Over the last 2-3 years I've been revisiting my gear, with the objective of getting the best gear I can afford that suits my style, since I've realised there's no point waiting for ever. Last year was acoustic guitars, this year it's amps.
So, I've sold all my old amps except the Twin, and I've been playing with what I can find. In time, I expect to sell some of them, and you're quite right, my tone is in my fingers, and I sound just like me on all the amps, but it's fun finding which ones work best for me. With the amps and guitars, the best ones inspire me more, and sound better, but I still sound like me of course.

You must know of bikers with several bikes, or wealthy people with many cars, I know it's possible to survive with only one bike or one car, yet if one has the money, why not have many? In the case of guitar amps, I can afford to own a few, so I do collect gear, I confess.  Even if the recording can be EQ'd, the amps feel different to play.

btw I have heard of people who want a vox and a fender sound in one gig, and know one who had an amp custom-built to do it, A/B switch pedals are popular enough, so I assume a lot of people are playing live with 2 amps. I just found a plug-in preamp module from Randall on ebay today, designed so you can change your preamp in the way I mentioned in a chassis containing a power amp and a space for the preamp.

I think I'm coming at this from the opposite direction from the one you suspect, rather than someone worrying too much about amps when I should work on technique, I've been working on my style and technique for 30 years, and only now am really buying amps that are "special", since it occurred to me that it was foolish to make all the effort and then use inferior gear.
However, trying an amp in guitar shops usually means sticking with the newer models, and even then, a demo and shop-trial can be very different from the way you feel 2 months later. So my theory is "buy a few, test them for a while, then ditch the ones that don't suit", ie. run my own lengthy beauty contest.

btw you are correct, the AC15H1TV and the DZ30 sound very very similar indeed, I think that amp is Vox's re-copy of the DC30, the switches are different but the channels and controls give roughly the same results

Anyway, I think you are right to suppose demand would be too low for amps with 4 preamps. I'm able to buy different amps anyway, so I will survive.

Cheers
Tone
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Dr Tone Control, Strats mostly, prefer saturated clean tones, a little OD sometimes
BM50, JTM45, 36w EF86, DZ30, Expression, + non-Ceriatones (Matchless, Victoria, Wienbrock)
Just started with pedals a little after a 10 year purist spell, but usually just delay
plasticvonaband
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« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2011, 01:47:39 AM »

here ya go up to 12 different pre amps and all tube technology...

http://guitars.musiciansfriend.com/product/Randall-MTS-Series-RM1250U-50W-Rackmount-Tube-Guitar-Amp-Head?sku=423970

or you can get a modular tube preamp with up to 4 different modules at one time and a separate tube power amp

http://www.randallamplifiers.com/Amplifiers/MTS-Rack-Gear/

there are 18 different preamp modules available, all tube driven!!!

http://www.randallamplifiers.com/Amplifiers/MTS-Modules/
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« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2011, 08:29:59 PM »

Fender has been doing this since the 60's. The "normal" and "vibrato" channels use separate but identicle preamps into the same power amp. I think a better idea would be to build a tube power amp and then just build/use whatever preamps you need.
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« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2011, 09:33:32 PM »

I agree. When i started playing guitar in the late 80's early 90's that was the in thing. Racks of preamps and effects and seperate amps, all solid state, of course. Looks like it is gaining popularity again, but tube based. By the way, since no one wanted those "old tube amps" back then you could get em for nothing. I had a blackface princeton reverb and a blackface super reverb that i paid about. $300 each for. If only it were that way now...
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Overdrive is like peanut butter. Some like it crunchy, some like it creamy.
Bluesmaster 50 2x12 combo and some guitars.
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