NY Amp Show 2009 – Amps, Lunchboxes and Leather!
You want amps? You had ’em at the 2009 NY Amp Show! Loni Specter ran another trouble free amp extravaganza at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Piscataway, New Jersey. There were approximately 64 exhibitors showing their stuff to hundreds of guitar players in attendance. So many goodies, so little time. All right let’s get down to who we had the pleasure to meet and sample some of their creations.
My first stop was to see what Jason Lollar (sporting his new trimmed look) brought to an “amp show”. As many of you know Jason is a wizard behind the pickup winder and you can read the review of his Imperial pickups here and his Spotlight interview here. His suite was loaded with cool guitars outfitted with his great pickups. All Lollar products seem to have a 3D life to them and every guitar I tried sounded completely “Lollar”. His Charlie Christian neck pickup mounted in a Telecaster sounded fat and juicy which was perfect for smoky jazz and blues. One of his latest models is a Charlie Christian Tele pickup for the bridge position. This should be a true winner and I am looking forward to reviewing this model very soon. Another new pickup is a P-90 mounted on a circular plexiglass plate that mounts in your acoustic guitars’ sound hole! This should be excellent for acoustic/blues players. I also got to see his “coodercaster” pickup in person and it is a thing of beauty. Nice one Jason!
Passing through the lobby en route to visit Ken Kantor at ZT Amplifiers I stopped to talk to Bob Schell of Brookwood Leather. If you do not know about Bob’s hand crafted straps then click here to read his interview about his custom made straps. When you purchase a Brookwood Leather guitar strap you first of all buy a little piece of Bob’s energy that went into the long hours of hand crafting and you also buy a guitar strap for life! These straps are of the highest quality materials and workmanship and only get better as they age. But be careful because once you buy one you will want another, I promise you that!
After hanging with Bob I headed over to visit Ken Kantor at ZT Amplifiers. Ken has an incredible little amp called the Lunchbox. He actually sent one of these little buggers to me for review which will be published later this week. Talking with Ken you get a clear picture of exactly what he wanted to accomplish with the Lunchbox. His acoustical engineering background helped him develop a very small (7.3″ x 9.8″ x 4.4″) 9lb amp that is LOUD and full sounding. Disclaimer: Do not judge the Lunchbox by its practice amp size. This amp is no BS and it’s loud with tight bottom end and has plenty of character even though it is solid state. The simple control layout consists of Gain, Volume, Tone and Reverb which is more like an ambience control. You can play it clean and loud or crank up the gain past 2 o’clock and get some great overdrive tones. The right Rev. Billy F. Gibbons sez “they perform beautifully…!LOUD”! This amp is totally amazing and every guitar player should own a Lunchbox because they have 101 uses.
Next stop was upstairs to see the good folks over at Swart Amplifier Co. Funky, cool retro looking amps with tone. Not a tweed, not a Gibby amp of the 1950’s but somewhere in between…… just Swart!. The AST and AST Pro sounded warm and woody with definition and clarity. The reverb sounded just delicious and gave a surfy edge to their atomic tone. Michael also brought along the new Super Space Tone 30 which had the same AST tone but bigger. Kitschy look, sweet sound.
While I was upstairs I saw a young fellow sitting in a room by himself playing a white guitar through a small aluminum chassis amp head with a white lacquer cabinet. The all-white guitar/amp rig combo caught my eye and I decided to pop in for a closer look (and listen). Oh, the wonders you find in a large room full of amp exhibtors. The man’s name playing the guitar was Chess Lim. The amplifier was the AttiTube G20, the guitar was the Shaman JPM Standard. I was intrigued by the attached footpedal to the amp that looked like a wah pedal. Chess explained that it was a foot controlled attenuator! I had to try this. So I whipped out my favorite Tele I brought along and started to jam. This little amp sounded fantastic! It has a simple layout of Volume and Tone but on the front panel it has a three mode switch labeled: Moody, Breezy and Naughty. Each position changed the overall character of the amp with Naughty being the most rowdy of the settings. The amp has custom hand wound transformers designed and wound by Geniel Lim, Chess’ father who has been an engineer for over 50 years! Other features include point to point hand wiring (no board), custom oil condensers and custom 12″ speaker. The tube config is 2-12AX7’s and 2-EL84’s. The attenuator sounded excellent and may have been the best (and simplest) I have ever heard. It was a beauty to look at too.
As I started to case my Tele, Chess handed me the Shaman guitar. As compared to my Tele the Shaman is a pretty modern guitar. Mahogany body with maple top, maple neck with long set tenon, Lace Alumitone pickups, Wilkinson trem and custom locking tuners. A far cry from my beloved #1 Tele. So I decided to give it a whirl. This guitar rocks! It has a very balanced feel and was very lightweight. I’d say in the 7lb range. The neck had a very comfortable feel, not too big and not too weeny. The fret work was some of the best I’ve seen and felt on a production guitar and the fit and finish was flawless. The feel of the finish was not thick and plastic-like. What a guitar to find at an amp show! Thanks Chess!!
Now with my head spinning a little from checking out all this cool gear a small pile of daphne blue tolex amps caught my eye. This was the Nolatone suite. Paul Sanders is the builder and designer of the Nolatone amps. He brought along the Chimey Limey (can you say fat AC15?) that has a switch on the back of the chassis to select either a 12AX7 or EF86 for the first gain stage. The 5 watt June Bug which has 3 gain stages for thick sounding overdrive and a removable baffle ring to accommodate a 10″ or 12″ speaker. And last was my personal fave the 22 Tango. This was one of the loudest, clearest 2x6V6 amps I ever heard. It reminded me of a tweed Bassman tone with tone stack controls that were much more effective. Paul says that the big, clear sound has to do with the special Mercury Magnetics RSO type output transformer. Whatever the recipe is it sounded great and had a big amp feel to it.
Traveling back downstairs through the lobby my buddy Bob from Brookwood Leather caught me and introduced me to Ed Hoffman from CE Distribution. CE Distribution is the exclusive U.S. Importer of Jensen speakers. Their suite was loaded wall to wall with Jensen’s. Ed explained to me that CE Distribution’s orders outnumber the orders that Jensen gets form all other sources combined! That’s a lot of speakers! Ed supplies all the amplifier manufacturers large and boutique with Jensen speakers. Another really cool thing that Ed and his partner, Kurt Prange, turned me on to was the MOD 101 Amplifier kit. Kurt actually designed the kit and explained to me that the amp is a 60 watt class AB power section with a modified blackface preamp section. I played this amp through a separate 4×10 cabinet loaded with (Celestions just kidding Ed!!) Jensen P10R speakers. It sounded punchy and open with nice definition and just enough character to keep things interesting. Kurt also put a lot of time and thought into the instructions for DIYer’s to build this amp with ease. If you want to try to build yourself an amp this is a great kit to start with. High quality components, easy to build and you have a great amp in the end. Oh did I mention that the MOD 101 Amp kit has 32 different variations of the circuit to suit your personal style? Can you say Customize?
Analogman Mike had a new AR20DL Analog Delay at the show and this was a killer delay. As you would expect from Analogman the sound was well…..analog. There are more features and functions than the old model and it should be available very soon.
And lastly I got to spend some time with Jimmy Somma and Rick Lane in the Sommatone suite. Jimmy was debuting his new model the Overdrive 35. This new model is similar in features as the Roaring 40 but has some different circuitry and 6L6’s which is a first for Sommatone! Plugging my old faithful Tele into an A/B switch I first played the new Overdrive 35. This new model is a winner and had a nice roundness to it due to the 6L6 tubes. The driven sounds were smooth and distinct and it responded well to picking dynamics and the guitar’s volume control. Hitting the A/B switch over to the Roaring 40 you could hear some similarities but that EL84 midrange was ever present. Then a guy waiting patiently in line to try the Sommatones told Jimmy to hit the A+B switch. This lets you play through both amps at the same time and that’s when the tone party started to escalate. These two Sommatone’s together sounded outrageous. If you decide to try a Sommatone listen closely: “Do not try them both together”. You WILL want both amps because the combination sounded that good. Remember, you were warned.
There were plenty more sights to see and hear. Loudest amp of the day goes to: Wizard amps. Wildest looking amp of the day: ARK Amps. Most laid back personnel in their suite: Brown Note. Most people loitering about in the hall outside their suite: Carol Ann Amps. There were a ton more but I just ran out of time to have a more lengthy visit with.
Right before I headed for the door to take my tinnitus home I chatted with Loni Specter. Loni is a super nice guy and runs a great show. I suggest that if you missed this year’s show get out to next year’s NY Amp Show. There are over 60 manufacturers that you can visit with and check out their goods. Completely worth the admission price for all this incredible gear under one roof. Great job Loni! See you next year.
Well, that about wraps it up. I’m still reeling from the show and trying to sort out all the cool stuff I saw and heard. For those of you who live in California the Amp Show is coming your way on 10-3-09 at the Airtel Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in Van Nuys. Here is the link for the hotel: http://www.airtelplaza.com/. Now I’m off to play with my new little ZT Amplifiers Lunchbox, the loudest little amp on the planet. Cheers!