New (Old) Amp Day

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    • #2343

      With buckets of gratitude to Matt Hayden, I’ve got a few photos and a review to share…

      I have been on the lookout for small amps for decades. When I played in a prog rock band in northern California in the late 1980s I used a 65 Bandmaster head and a 1×12 cab. Never entirely happy with it or electric guitar, I traded all that in on a good acoustic and did not look back.

      I got in to mandolin, Bluegrass, acoustic jams, etc. Stopped caring about signal paths, foot pedals, wattage, pre-amp stages, cables v wireless units ad infinitum. I enjoyed digging in to one instrument that could be stored in its case in the overhead bin of every plane I have ever been on, including the puddle jumpers. It was liberating to think only about one thing carry only that one thing!

      Then in 2007 my hard rock loving ex wife bought me an Eric Johnson signature Strat. (She hated mandolin.) Hoping to musically compromise with an unreasonable person, I bought a Epiphone Mandobird, and later on a Fender FM-918 (8 string emando), and started looking for small amps. I bought this Ampeg J-12T Jet II in 2007. It was relatively inexpensive at $239.00, and small (15w). It seemed to fit the bill.

      The thing is, I had never explored or learned how tube amps function. So I could not make it sound good on any of my electric instruments at a volume with which I was happy. I saw a Marshall G15 RCD in the late lamented Buffalo Brothers guitars in 2008 or 2009, bought it for $100.00, and that really pushed the Ampeg into the closet.

      In 2012 I left the US to move to the UK –after getting divorced, remarried, and selling the strat– I packed the Marshall for the move and left the Ampeg and another amp I will write about later with Matt Hayden.

      Between 2012 and 2016 I recorded and released 2 CDs that use electric instruments for a bit of ambience rather than as a signature portion of the sound. I started recording my 3rd CD in Jan 2017 and for this one I wanted new sounds.

      The JBovier EMC-5 (5 string emando) that I bought in 2010 came out of of the closet and has gotten a lot of time in the studio in the past year and a half. I have been watching a lot of rig rundowns on Youtube and listening to how excellent players get the sounds they like.

      Just before moving to France last summer, I bought an Arrow G5 (5 string hollowbody emando with a Kent Armstrong pickup), and this has become my gigging mandolin.

      All of this renewed electric activity brought the Ampeg back to mind. So recently Matt shipped it to me here in France.

      (This has gotten kind of long hasn’t it?)

      It arrived last week and I have had exactly 1 hour and 30 minutes in all that time to put it through its paces. I plugged the EMC-5 and the G5 into it directly. No pedals.

      I have to say, now that I know what to expect from it and how to get the best out of it, I love it.

      The J-12T manages both instruments very well. (My E series Squier Tele is another longer, slightly more harrowing tale, but I still have it and it will be restored!)

      This amp has a single gain stage. When you overdrive it, you’re pushing the two EL84s.  So when you get it to break up, which it starts to do when you get past 2 on the volume knob, you get this really wonderful warm, rich, growly crunch (or is that crunchy growl?).

      It has a very British sound to it, probably imparted by the EL-84s. The timbre of the overdriven signal has a bit of sneer in it. It’s a bit dirtier than a Fender. If you have a Vox headphone amp you know what I mean. The J-12T sounds a lot like that, but smoother and of course louder.

      You can see from the photo what settings I was using.  Three on this dial is pretty freaking loud: earplug territory.  But the overdrive on it is epic.  So to make the instrument manageable, I roll the volume knob on the instrument almost all the way off.  That cleans up the tone and reduces dBs.

      Plugging into the “accordion” channel helps too.  It pushes less gain than the “guitar” channel.

      I’ve managed to push the volume knob to 5, and the tone just keeps improving. But my ears cannot take it even at 3 for very long. So I will say that this little guy could easily serve in a full band situation.

      As an electric mandolin player, I am always looking for amps that sit well with my somewhat unusual instruments. Guitar amp circuits are made with the expectation of serving instruments which have lower pitched notes, are centred mostly below middle C, and have longer scale lengths (more juice from the pick-ups generally).

      Three band parametric EQs on amps don’t really work for my emandos. The ‘Bass’ isn’t really there.

      I really like the tone control on the J-12T. It’s basically a treble boost. For my emandos, 3 works perfectly, killing some harshness and allowing the instrument to push the treble rather than adding treble to the tone the amp is getting.

      This amp has been sitting idle so long the tremolo circuit is a bit crusty. I’m having trouble dialing settings that I like. The controls seem to have lost some sensitivity, if they every had any. I’ll keep working it to see if it gets better.

      The reverb is a bit harsh sounding to my ears. it’s a bit too springy. Maybe putting a cover on the chamber would help. But it could also be harsh for my emandos because the amp was designed for guitars rather than emandos. I keep it low.

      I’ll have to be honest here and say that this will probably be a studio amp rather than a stage amp. It does one thing really really well. But that thing is a bit too loud at the moment for my gigging needs.

      Ampeg only made these for 2 years. I think they missed the market trend with it. So they can be had rather inexpensively for a rare bird. If you like or want a good British sounding tube amp, you can’t go wrong with a J-12T.


      • This topic was modified 2 years, 6 months ago by Daniel.
    • #2350

      Great amp, you’re right about the gain stage, those were loud little poppers, way to go Matt!

    • #2356
      Old 97

      Last year I had our local amp guru work on a friend’s Jet 12. A bit of internal work and a new speaker, Jensen MOD, and it was an amp I lusted after. It’s the perfect middle ground between a Tweed Deluxe and Deluxe Reverb with a spicy dash of AC 30. I prefer over TD and DR I am currently using.

      well done Matt!


      • This reply was modified 2 years, 6 months ago by Old 97.
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