[Harp-L] SPAH Player's Amplifier Show-and-Tell Informal Comparison

I'd previously asked about an informal amp comparison at SPAH, and
despite the thundering silence (amid two or three ayes and several nays) I brought a
couple amps to SPAH, figuring they might come in handy and we might yet
have a "show-and tell." 

On Saturday, the last day of the SPAH conference David Fairweather and I commandeered an empty room  for folks to share and try-out some of the
amps people brought to SPAH.  It turns out SPAH had meant for us to do it there, although nobody told us, no announcements were made, but it worked more or less, so serendipity once again rules. 

I sincerely apologize to any who'd brought amps and were not advised we were going forward, this became a last-minute thing, and we told everyone we saw in the hours leading up to it. 

Thus the SPAH Player's Amplifier Show-and-Tell Informal Comparison Session (SPASTIC Session) occurred at SPAH Saturday August 15, 2009 in Room 309, from 1pm to 3:30pm.  Six working amps were present, and about 25 people came through to try 'em out.    

The Amps (sorry for the lack of detail, it was indeed informal!): 

*Masco head (17 watts, the classic Skip Simmons modification, from Skip Simmons Amp Repair)

*Fender Champ (Silver face.  I'm sorry I don't remember whose!?  Maybe Jimi Lee's?) 

*Sonny Jr. Cruncher (by Gary "Sonny Jr." Onofrio, provided by Kevin Greenwood, it was either his or Gary Smith's)

*Megatone Wezo 45 (Dave Barrett's via Fritz "Harp Mic Man" Hasenpusch, brand new, and co-designed/built by Mike Wesolowski)

*Alamo Fiesta (4 watt '63 Alamo Fiesta Tremelo, owned by Dave Fertig, unmodified)

*Harpgear 30 (built by Brian Purdy, owned by Dave Fertig's, '09) 

Another person's amp was there but not functioning, it will go unnamed, it's
actually a great amp I've played at a gig but here it had a tube or power problem . . .

This was an informal comparison, but we ran it with the following "controls" which were loosely followed:

Each person tried the amps in succession while nobody else played (mostly!)  

Each player used their own mic or one similar to theirs (eg, Controlled reluctance or crystal cartridged bullet styles, a Beta 57, and a stick mic (EV?))

Each player could spend a minute or two at each amp, adjusting the tone controls to suit their ears.  No gadgets were regularly used, although a DanEcho was available at the Wezo 45 - I asked players to try it dry first. 

The most remarkable result, for me, was that the personal tone of the player ruled.  

If you played with fat tone on one amp it was fat on the others, and vice versa.  If you played a bullet mic with a tight hand seal you got more distortion on each amp, and yet your own tone
 shone through.    

Indeed, although the amps varied in such aspects as clarity and compression and distortion and their relative emphases on highs and lows, a player's personal tone remained (to my ears) the most determinative constant. 

Sure, the ancient Masco was cleaner overall, but it broke up real nicely; the Champ (silver label) sounded like a classic Fender, with some break up and nice, slightly sharp tone; the little Alamo was easily overdriven and had a gravelly texture.  And each sounded very different with each player's tone and style.

As for the purpose-built harp amps, they were all superb.  The Sonny Jr. Cruncher, the Megatone Wezo 45 and the Harpgear 30 each are finely constructed, solid, and powerful for their class.  

But since everyone sounded different on 'em and since I don't want to pretend my assesments are scientific (or even intelligent), I see no benefit in pretending to
 distinguish them.  

They each play very warmly, with great break-up in different ways, depending on how you dial 'em in and play, and each conveyed the player's distinct tone intact.  Each of the purpose-built harp amps had a nice variety of settings available (esp. with potential tube switch-outs) to achieve
 varying textures and tones, and I dare say all of us that tried them would welcome using either of them, but of course some people preferred their sound on particular amps more than others, based upon their individual sound and what they liked to hear. 

I am even more convinced than ever the sound of an amp via a recording of another player is in no way demonstrative of how it will sound when you play it.  

So go out there and play 'em and check 'em out!   today's new harp amp mfrs., including many that were not on display here, are doing really great things and you'll only know for yourself when you try 'em for yourself.  

-Dave "Tip toe-ing through the land-mines" Fertig

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