Amplifier Maintenance Tips by Jay Lawrence
Jay Lawrence is the amp tech at Gibson Pro Audio and in the coming months he will be a contributing writer to the Gibson Pro Audio Live blog. Jay will be imparting tips and tricks to keep your rig running!
In this first installment of “Amplifier Maintenance Tips”, we will discuss some simple procedures that will extend the life of your tubes and save you $$! The first step is recognizing any tube-related issues your amp may have. Faulty tubes are the most common cause of amplifier problems. Bad tubes can cause a myriad of problems and can be easily resolved if you know what to look for.
If you have no sound, loss of power, hum, popping, squealing, even no tremolo, you may have a bad tube. Try tapping on the tubes with a pencil or chopstick to see if they are microphonic. If the tube is picking up the sound of your tapping, it needs to be replaced. If you see the tubes burning red hot, this is sign of a problem. It may be a bad tube, or it may something else causing the tube to run hot. We will discuss other possible solutions for this problem at a later date.
Resolving most of these issues can be very simple, as tubes are quite easy to change. Try swapping a questionable tube with a known good one of the same value and see if this makes the problem go away. It’s best to wait for the tubes to cool down before pulling them, but if you must do it on the fly, you can use a dry rag or insulated puller like the “Tube Glove” from Electro-Harmonix.
Sometimes, the tube retaining clips (see photo on left) make the power tubes difficult to remove. I like to take a pair of pliers with insulated handles and hold them upside down, using the handles to press down on the metal retaining clip. This forces the retaining clip down and away from the fragile tube base. (see photo on right)
Then carefully remove the tube from the socket with your other hand. Of course, it’s safer to have your amp turned off or unplugged when doing this. Once you have the tube removed, check the socket for “arcing” or burned traces that actually cause the pins of the tube to connect with one another, causing tube malfunction. Sometimes this is caused by contamination on the socket, so make sure your sockets are clean and residue free. In extreme cases of arcing, the socket may need to be replaced. Also, make sure the socket pin connection is not loose. This does happen over time and with frequent tube changes. If the connections are loose, simply take a small-bladed screwdriver and force the contacts together a little bit to make a tighter hold.
Finally, here are some basic procedures that you should get in the habit of performing:
Use Your Standby Switch
When first turning on your amp, wait a minimum of 10 seconds before switching it from Standby mode to Play mode. This allows the tubes to warm up properly and will prevent premature wear and tear.
If you are taking a break, between sets for instance, be sure to put your amp back in Standby mode. This will also save wear and tear on the tubes.
Let ‘em Cool Down
After you are finished using your amp and have turned it off, let it cool down for at least five minutes before moving it. The tubes are very fragile when hot and any bump or jolt can cause damage to them.
By following these simple guidelines, you should be able to get much more value and enjoyment from your tube amp.
Posted: 7/23/2009 1:47:39 PM
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Josh Kelley Endorses Epiphone Blues Custom 30
Epiphone is proud to welcome Josh Kelley as our newest endorsee of the Epiphone Blues Custom amplifier. Signed with DNK Records, Josh is currently on the “Tell It Like It Is” tour in support of his seventh album, “To Remember”. He is out with Ryan Cabrera, but in the past has toured with Rod Stewart, Third Eye Blind and Counting Crows to name a few.
On stage and in the studio, Josh is playing his cherry red Gibson ES-335 through the Blues Custom 30 and he had this to say, “It’s a killer amp! I don’t think there is anything I would change about the BC30.”
Born in Augusta, Georgia, Kelley began his musical career at the age of 11. While still a teenager, Josh formed a band with his brother Charles Kelley, who is now with the trio Lady Antebellum. After meeting on the set of “Only You”, Josh married actress Katherine Heigl in 2007 and they now live in California.
For more information visit www.joshkelley.com
Posted: 4/17/2009 12:27:07 PM
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An Epiphone Blues Custom 30 Fidelity Testimony by Gary McGill
Last week I was noodling on my Epiphone JV-200 and decided to do two things. I tuned the guitar way down to Bb (normal tuning Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-F-Bb) and then plugged it into my GP-8 and then into my Epiphone Blues Custom 30. Wow! This was one of those off the beaten track kind of experiments that I do once in a while and I thought that I would relate it here because although not everyone is going to do this, as acoustic guitars are the domain of amps specifically for that purpose, the necessity to use a normal guitar amp might come up in a pinch.
The pickup in this guitar was a stock Epi pickup from an 80’s Epiphone acoustic and to that I dialed in a chorus patch on my GP-8. What was amazing to me was that I kept shaving off treble and it was still quite clear. I don’t know if it was the direction of the amp against an opposing wall, or what, but it filled the room with big, airy, slow relaxing tones, chords and harmonics. I toggled to the A/B class mode at 30 watts and with all the treble off, the mids at 9 o’clock and the bass at about 4 o’clock, I had the biggest, fattest, warmest tone you could imagine. It honestly filled every cubic inch of air in the room. The low tuning coupled with the size of the strings (12-53) and the twin 12 inch speakers gave it "sonic purchase". I can't explain it any better than that.
I’m of the opinion that this frequency range is somehow rarely addressed by acoustic guitar amplifiers. Most acoustic amps of this genre have a couple of small speakers, a horn or two and solid state circuitry. It’s good, it does its job, but this was different. Different enough to be awe inspiring. It wasn’t loud, just ‘BIG’. Big, clear and warm.
Here’s a few examples of something I was playing using the above signal chain tabbed in standard tuning
Asus4 resolving to A
Hit the 7th fret harmonic over the G, D and A strings, then depress the 6th fret on the G string, let the other two ring, and you've resolved from an Asus4 to an A chord.
Let's say you want a polytone, D Maj with a C in the bass. Hit the D triad harmonic on the 7th fret (G,B,D) and then hammer on C on the low E string and you've got your polytone.
<7> = play harmonic at 7th fret
h = hammer on
Posted: 3/3/2009 1:23:23 PM
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Electric Guitar Playing Is A Contact Sport: Staying “In the Field” With A Combo Amp
Today I wanted to talk about using a combo amp on stage and some of the sound field problems that can be overcome. Getting the feel and real time presence of the good tone from your amp that you’ve worked hard to achieve won’t be realized and reacted to as well if you’re standing too far away from your amp when you play. This has probably been addressed in magazines and books for the last 40 years, but here’s my take on it. First off, because your guitar amp is the secondary source, with you striking the strings of your guitar being the primary source, there is, however miniscule, a slight delay. The concern is “when am I going to hear what I’m supposed to be reacting to”? There is a definite inspiration that you get when you hit some fat, juicy, creamy notes and you’re right there to catch them and dish out more, and it forces your hand to play more of the same.
I went to Google and typed in the words “Doppler Equation,” and up came 2,290,000 results. I am not going to get all geeked out and try and add to everything all those folks are saying, but in a small way, all that stuff has to be taken into account. Now for those of us that play in small clubs who have no distance problems, this is a moot point. Those that have a choice, however, should stay where they can feel what they’re playing, within their personal comfort zone, of course.
On stage, I use an Epiphone Blues Custom 30 combo amp. www.epiphone.com
When I’m at a moderate volume with this amplifier, I like to stay right in the sound field, close by. It’s like having a steak dinner. It’s very satisfying. Why distance yourself from that? Now every once in a while, you have to step out front and hear what the house is hearing, and make adjustments accordingly, if you can, (if you don’t have a soundman to address this for you.) It’s important to note that your reaction time will be slower to whoever you’re playing to, or whatever you’re playing with, the further you are away from your amp.
So how can you improve your onstage situation to maximize the relationship you need to have with the amp? Let’s look at several ways you can cure the problem.
– Gary McGill
- Placing a combo amp on the floor of the stage can sometimes add unwanted bottom end and also direct the sound at your feet. Try elevating your combo amp so that the controls are within arm’s reach and the center of the speaker cone is at least mid waist. This way you can hear all the intricacies the amp has to offer and also keep the volume at a reasonable level. Amps stands with multiple adjustment points are a good solution.
- Point your amp in the sweet spot – where you take your solo. Although it seems straight forward enough, I see a lot of guys setting up by pointing the amp at their vocal mic. This is a problem since you would probably increase your volume to solo and decrease it to sing. If you step back to solo and the amp is pointed away from you, you’re inspiration is compromised.
- The two amp system. One amp pointed into the solo sweet spot, while the other is pointed directly at your singing position. By using an A/B box you can control either amp and also have different volume settings.
- Enhancers can be used to elevate and angle the amp from floor level and direct the sound where it is needed on stage. Commercially available, these wedge shaped devices fit under the amp and the angle determines the throw of the speakers. Correctly placed, they can also reinforce the bottom end due to a forward facing, open front end of the wedge shape.
Posted: 2/5/2009 6:47:13 AM
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Introducing the Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II
Hello all out there in guitar land. I would like to spend some time talking about the Les Paul Ultra II guitar from Epiphone. Since about 1991, I’ve been a chickin’ pickin’, plank spankin’ sort of guy, with some forays into shredding, sweep picking and economy picking a-la Frank Gambale. This was all on top of my usual repertoire. Before this, however, back in the '70s and '80s I was a straight-ahead knuckles-to-the-pickups McLaughlinesque “see who I can impress” fusion jazz rocker. I’m glad that I grew out of all of that. (So is everyone else around these parts…) The guitars that I used for this were always Gibson Melody Makers that I preferred over everything else because of their neck profile and especially because of their light weight. I have always loved, but never owned a Les Paul for the same reason; it was too heavy for me, and my back. Great guitar, don’t get me wrong — but I just couldn’t do it.
What a great joy when I strapped on the Epi Les Paul Ultra II. This mahogany body and maple cap beauty is chambered out in key places making it one of the lighter electric guitars I’ve ever had over my shoulders! One might be thinking that there is a compromise in tone if a guitar is lighter — this is not the case. This particular guitar is outfitted with Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pros in the neck position and a Seymour Duncan Custom/Custom in the bridge position. There’s only one word that comes into my head to describe the tones that I can get out of this guitar, no matter what I’m doing at the gig or at home. Juicy!
Epiphone has also seen to it that the back of the mahogany neck has a satin finish for guys like me that get stuck, promoting ease of motion. There is something else that I can’t get out of my other guitars that this one has . . . Strummmmability. Strummishness? Strumola. Strumtastic . . . I know they’re not real words, but you know what I mean. Many electrics currently available can’t handle a full on strum like Tom Petty for example who plays electric rhythm with a clean sound. Many of those guitars go out of tune or sound “clangy”. Most folks leave this up to the acoustic guitar, should they have one in their band, or just play solo. As well, most electrics go out of tune should you put a beatin on it, but this baby doesn’t. As a great added bonus, the Ultra II is also equipped with a low impedance cobalt pickup located at the end of the fingerboard. The NanoMag© pickup gives you shimmering acoustic like tones. One achieves this by just rolling back the “southern-most” knob where the tone pot would be on the front in the usual bridge pickup location. There’s also active tone and gain controls for the NanoMag pickup located on a control panel on the back of the guitar. Roll it back to the Seymour Duncan’s, give it a crank, and you’re good to go with songs like Sweet Child O’ Mine, or any fat sounding Les Paul song you can think of without missing a beat. You can noodle around with some jazz tones and I roll back the tone pot, with the neck pickup toggled, and got some very sweet, convincing jazzy archtop tones as well. That also illustrates this point: if you’re a beginner learning everything under the sun on guitar, or if you are a journeyman player taking requests of every sort - this would be the guitar for you! The lightweight construction doesn’t weigh heavily on you over a four hour gig, and the body width and bout are just pronounced enough for you to engage in hours-on-end practicing.
Posted: 12/8/2008 12:55:31 PM
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The Loudest Gig On My Circuit
I play a 200 seat room in a small town 40 minutes south of London, Ontario where the owners, staff, and patrons, indeed everyone- just says “crank it”, and until getting my hands on the Epiphone Blues Custom 30, I could never do this particular situation justice. The great thing about this room is the old, wide hardwood floor that enhanced the Sweet Authority of the BC 30. You know that Pete Townsend A major chord that we all do? Well, just getting levels at the beginning of the night saw this little move pushing back the first couple of tables …Sorry, I grinned to myself, thinking this was going to be a great night. Sure, you say: “This is just a tube amp turned up, what’s the big deal?” To explain, I’ve lived a somewhat fettered sonic existence for the last decade or more using a 90 watt European hybrid amp with one 12″ speaker and one 12ax7 tube, but mostly solid state. Compared to the BC 30 with two 6L6 and five 12Ax7 tubes, the old amp just didn’t cut it. I spent years getting my quick PA tweakage down, and in my opinion, my weakest link was my guitar sound. Things are now complete for me.
So, with a volume setting of only about 2, in A/B mode, I work through my repertoire - The Cars, ZZ Top, Led Zep, SRV, Clapton, Joe Jackson, Men at Work, Peter Gabriel- dialing in every specific thing for each piece, surprising me at every turn. The tone patch that I usually use for my David Wilcox numbers (not the talented American folkie, but the bluesy rockin’ Canadian guitar icon) were what came alive for me on this night. Fat, juicy, full spectrum, all-you-could-ask-for TONE in what otherwise, in my old amp, was always this little Pignose type sound out of a 12” enclosure. In pushing the new amp to its limits on this night over four hours, I realized why the Blues Custom 30 was constructed so heavily. The levels, peaks and valleys that this baby produced demanded 11 Ply Birch! Incidentally, the weight of the amp, flat on the hardwood floor, with no flight case in between, seemed to make a difference, I think. The crowd was watching every reaction to what I was getting out of the amp and on my breaks there were a few guitar players that wanted to immediately put this amp on their shopping list. I knew they were serious because they mentioned it in whispering tones, as their wives were sitting at the table!
Something Everyone Can Afford
A few years ago, I went in to our largest music store in town, and pointed at a new box that I hadn’t seen before built by a well known British manufacturer. The salesman that day said, “oh, that’s an 18 watt class A amp.” “How much?” I asked. “About 2200 dollars” came the reply. I’m a working fella, and I wasn’t going to entertain the thought.
Growing up, there was some kind of rule in our neighborhood that automatically put musicians in the league of tire-kickers at a used car lot. “How many cylinders, and how many miles per gallon?” was the oft used query of the frugal buyer. Akin to that, we always expected a certain “dollar per watt” which is hilarious knowing what we know now to be true. “How many watts? How much?”- “You gotta be jokin!” or…”hey, that’s not bad….”
That aside, over the years, there was this ‘brand building’ and accompanied snobbery which some amp makers were capable of merely because their products were in the hands of Hendrix, Clapton, Brian May, et al. Folks, I’m here to tell you that those days are gone with the advent of amplifiers like the BC 30. “Something everyone can afford, that everyone wants to hear.” The folks at Epiphone are on to something.
Posted: 11/19/2008 1:17:38 PM
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Adventures at the Jam
In my town there is a weekly jam on Saturday evening and everyone in the east end of the city comes out to crank it up and have a good time. I had never brought my own amp before, so I was never guaranteed a spot, but on this night I brought my trusty new Epiphone Blues Custom 30 -The Sweet Authority. No one there had ever seen this amp before. On this occasion, there were four guitarists playing at once, with me off to the side, near the exit door. The room itself has a capacity of about 120. I brought along my 1961 Melody Maker (customized beyond recognition with three mini humbuckers and a five way switch) and plugged in directly to the BC 30, with no effects except for channel switching and a bit of ‘verb.
My first solo brought stares of “what on earth is THAT?” The volume on the amp was nowhere near even “4”. The crunch was so sweet it just sung and filled the air. On the first break, guys gathered round to ask questions, and I told them all that I knew about the amp, and it seemed after a while like everyone that night wanted to go out and buy one. After the break, the host let me sing a tune, so I had to take center stage half way out on the dance floor, with the amp was about 15 feet away, angled in a bit toward the center of the room. The song I picked to do was BB King’s “Caldonia” which put me into the mode of “clean rules”. I had to use a center position to get that plinky, in between sound that BB’s 335 is famous for, and the amp did not let me down in this area at all. I had my treble almost off, with my mids cranked. I played the verses with the guitar pot rolled back to almost half and gave full juice on the solos, and although it was just “volume hot”, I stayed in the clean channel.
Above the din of players learning to play with each other for the first time, this amplifier was transcendent, clear, and explicit in all that I asked of it. On the bottom end it was fat and juicy without being muddy, and way up top it did all the plinky business that it was supposed to, given the demands of the song. This is important to me, because when I cover something, I tend to want to really do it like the original artist. This helps me widen out as a musician myself. When I was up there, I took note of the other gear that was in the back line. Beside me, there was a Super Reverb, in the middle of the stage there were two small Marshall combos, and at the other end there was a Peavey Vintage about the same size as the Super Reverb. I had the Class toggle setting on the back of the amp set to A/B, 30 watts. For the duration of the evening, even though I was courteous and generous in respect to supporting the other players when it came time to lay back, my non biased opinion, shared with the others both on stage and in the audience, is that the Epiphone Blues Custom 30 dominated the venue. Very cool.
Photo: Geri Risser
Posted: 11/3/2008 1:54:24 PM
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Epiphone Blues Custom 30
As an Epiphone endorsee, Gary recently received the new Blues Custom 30 to work into his live shows. These blogs will track his use of various Epiphone instruments and amplifiers over the course of time. We hope, through Gary’s keen insight , you can learn some valuable tricks, tips and just some good old fashioned tried and true info that you can incorporate into your playing.
When I opened the box and pulled the amp out, I was amazed at the sturdy construction; although simple and straightforward in its attributes, it is more meticulous than most in its detail, as well, in appointments and design. Very retro and cool.
I plugged the Epiphone Blues Custom 30 in and commenced to putting this amp through every pace/application I could think of. Big reverb with rockabilly twang, fat bluesy tones with just a little bit of dirt, gargantuan crunch, and even A/B tested some of the same settings with different guitars.
I made a discovery: When other amps that I have rarely portray a marked difference in tonality, this particular unit came through and showed me tones that I never thought were even available to me on my main guitar, which I’ve had since 1991. The other great thing is purity and sustain that happens naturally with a Class A amplifier.
The speaker mass here commensurate for my immediate application is more than enough for some of those 1000+ tunes in my repertoire which may include ZZ Top, Green Day, Ozzy, Peter Gabriel, Motorhead, etc, but in times of delicate nuance, the Lenny Breau harmonic cascades and the pluckiness of Mark Knopfler are still there, ringing true in a way, certainly that I’ve never heard before at a gig with noteworthy (no pun intended) fidelity.
I am looking forward to giving an account of the performance of this amplifier through various situations and gigs, with different types of music.
Posted: 10/20/2008 7:33:50 AM
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Gibson Pro Audio Live
Welcome to the Gibson Pro Audio Live Blog with Gary McGill
This blog will feature both Gibson and Epiphone amplifiers and the ongoing perspective of amps and their use in concert, clubs, clinics and the like. We have chosen Gary McGill to help us tell the story. Gary is a seasoned performer, clinician and session man who will give his perspective on our amp line as he uses them in different circumstances, imparting techniques, tips and tricks along the way. We hope you enjoy Gary’s content and visit with us often.
Gary McGill is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, teacher and clinician who was born in London, Ontario, Canada. Gary has gained respect foremost as a fine guitarist with impressive abilities in both live venues and recording sessions. Summoning admiration from his peers, Bill Durst of Thundermug said, “Gary’s musical skills are one of Canada’s best kept secrets”
Gary’s imposing resume as a sideman found him wailing loudly in various big production heavy rock bands, playing guitar and keyboards in a Beatles clone act and picking and grinning his way through an eight-piece Irish show band. If not diverse enough, he has also played drums and bass. Since l983, McGill has been a high-tech solo act, playing colleges, universities, and opening for such acts as Al Stewart, Midge Ure, Dave Mason, and Trooper.
Recently, Gary McGill released his first solo album “Alien Resident in Waiting” and is working on a follow up CD entitled “Verite”.
Photo: Stephen Ferry
Posted: 10/15/2008 7:35:46 AM
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