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Low Wattage (<4W) Valve Amp with Reverb and Tremolo
Old 16th August 2015
  #1
Deleted dc388e1
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Low Wattage (<4W) Valve Amp with Reverb and Tremolo

I'm in serious need of a low wattage valve amp for home use, but as usual I want the Moon on a Stick and I'd like said amp to have valve driven reverb and tremolo too...

I'm not big on pre-amp distortion; I prefer to get my drive by overloading the power amp, so something single ended and Class A (along the lines of a Vox AC4 or a Fender Vibrochamp) would suit my needs except that:

A - Neither has Reverb.

B - even at 4 Watts they're still too loud to drive properly without upsetting my neighbours.

I had a Vox AC4TV a while back, the 1 watt setting was about right for home use.

Being on a budget as usual, I'm thinking of building a clone from scratch. I've a couple of spare chassis knocking about the workshop, and drawers full of common value caps/resistors, so I've already got a head start there.

Can anyone recommend an amp - past or present - that fits the bill?

It's a dream of mine to find that one amp which gives me everything I need without having to use any pedals - valves all the way, with nary a transistor or op-amp in sight

Any/all suggestions will be a great help

Last edited by Deleted dc388e1; 18th August 2015 at 12:34 PM..
Old 16th August 2015
  #2
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Watts are not a good measure of how loud or easy to control an amp will be. A good 30W amp with a master volume control will be easier to use and kinder on the neighbours than some 4W amps.

For what you want, I would look at a reissue Fender Princeton. They are a great recording amp, with nice tremolo and reverb.

Having said that ... I don't think it's necessary to have the tremolo and reverb on board. Something like a Strymon Flint gives you both, with options and a sound quality that I think blows away even the standard Fender FX. Or make your own choice of pedals, because there are some great options that I think are better than the real thing.

I was looking for a small amp recently and ended up getting a Blues Junior. I know there is a lot of confusion about these, and how much better the Pro Junior - etc. I couldn't stand the noise and stupid volume level of the Pro Junior, but the Blues Junior just works for me. The spring reverb is useful - not a dripping surf type unfortunately, but probably more useful for other stuff. I think there are many pedals that are better at spring reverb than real springs - but that's just my taste. The way I see it, real springs defined a sound and an expectation, but most cheapie springs don't deliver - but some digital units get close enough. I like the Strymon Flint.

You could look at outboard spring tanks if the spring sound is really important to you.

I think you'll like the Princetons though ...
Old 16th August 2015 | Show parent
  #3
Deleted dc388e1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
Watts are not a good measure of how loud or easy to control an amp will be. A good 30W amp with a master volume control will be easier to use and kinder on the neighbours than some 4W amps.
They generally are though, aren't they? If I can't get away with cranking a 4W amp, I'm not going to get away with anything bigger.
I've not yet found a master volume amp I like the sound of at low volumes. I can get passable sounds, but never what I'm really looking for.
A low wattage amp I can run flat out is definitely what I'm after.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
For what you want, I would look at a reissue Fender Princeton. They are a great recording amp, with nice tremolo and reverb.
Would certainly love a Princeton, but at 12W it doesn't really fit the bill here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
Having said that ... I don't think it's necessary to have the tremolo and reverb on board.
I do In a perfect world, at least...

To be honest I think I'm probably looking for something that doesn't exist. Can't hurt to look a little harder though
Old 16th August 2015
  #4
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What about modding a kit? I can't see how else you're going to get this set of features for this wattage. By the time you're adding a tube reverb you've another 12AY7 or 2 in there, and another for the trem. At that stage most people would scale up the power supply, and so they'd probably increase the power stage too. Remember that a 10W amp will only be about 3-4dB louder if the amp topology is the same. A 14 W is probably less than 6dB louder than a 4W amp (2* = 3dB, 4* =6dB)

The AC4 is great, by the way. Really enjoyed mine in Japan. If you're really determined to go this way you could stick an FX loop on it after the pre-amp stage you could happily run a small tank (with its own in and output amps) and a trem.
Old 16th August 2015
  #5
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Check out Swart Amps.
Old 16th August 2015
  #6
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To be honest, I don't think the amp makers have a clue how big the market for something like this would be. They tend to think that small amps are for students and they may them crappier. There must be millions of players who want quality at low volume for recording and general practice and small gigs ... I have no idea why it's so hard to buy good stuff.

I think the Princetons sound good and are controllable. Watts are all about clean sound. Small amps will crunch up at lower volume, if that's what you want.
Old 16th August 2015 | Show parent
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
Watts are not a good measure of how loud or easy to control an amp will be. A good 30W amp with a master volume control will be easier to use and kinder on the neighbours than some 4W amps.

For what you want, I would look at a reissue Fender Princeton. They are a great recording amp, with nice tremolo and reverb.

Having said that ... I don't think it's necessary to have the tremolo and reverb on board. Something like a Strymon Flint gives you both, with options and a sound quality that I think blows away even the standard Fender FX. Or make your own choice of pedals, because there are some great options that I think are better than the real thing.

I was looking for a small amp recently and ended up getting a Blues Junior. I know there is a lot of confusion about these, and how much better the Pro Junior - etc. I couldn't stand the noise and stupid volume level of the Pro Junior, but the Blues Junior just works for me. The spring reverb is useful - not a dripping surf type unfortunately, but probably more useful for other stuff. I think there are many pedals that are better at spring reverb than real springs - but that's just my taste. The way I see it, real springs defined a sound and an expectation, but most cheapie springs don't deliver - but some digital units get close enough. I like the Strymon Flint.

You could look at outboard spring tanks if the spring sound is really important to you.

I think you'll like the Princetons though ...
As usual, you don't read very well.

He stated that he likes to get his distortion BY OVERDRIVING THE POWER AMP..

That requirement negates pretty much everything you had to say about amps.

And I thinks that our friend KOS is sufficiently experienced to be quite familiar with your suggestion and has already rejected it.

I'd suggest the Vox L'l' Night Train (1.5-2 watts, depending on load) except for the lack of reverb and tremolo.
Old 16th August 2015 | Show parent
  #8
Deleted dc388e1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trickness View Post
Check out Swart Amps.
I wasn't familar with Swart. Checked out the website - the STR Tremolo:

Swart Amplifier Co - STR-Tremolo

would be almost ideal (they even have a couple of UK dealers), but at Β£1400 is way out of my price range at present.

I also suspect that it's do clean tones well, but at 4W would probably still be too loud for home use at full power.

It occurs to me as I write that as a teenager I lived in a flat and would crank my Selmer Treble 'n' Bass 50 all the way.
I'm not sure if I had particularly forgiving neighbours or if I just couldn't hear them shouting at me to shut the f*ck up
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #9
Deleted dc388e1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
To be honest, I don't think the amp makers have a clue how big the market for something like this would be. They tend to think that small amps are for students and they may them crappier. There must be millions of players who want quality at low volume for recording and general practice and small gigs ... I have no idea why it's so hard to buy good stuff.
I'm surprised there aren't more 1 or 2 watt combo's out there too. There are definitely more than there were 10 years ago (the Vox AC4TV has 1 and 1/4W settings, plus the Vox 'lil Night Train at 1.5 and 2W, and the Blackstar HT1 at 1W - although it's my experience that Blackstar amps are universally awful).
I talk to a lot of guitarists who also find a 4W amp too loud to crank at home, so I'm not alone in this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
I think the Princetons sound good and are controllable. Watts are all about clean sound. Small amps will crunch up at lower volume, if that's what you want.
I think you and I look at wattage from 2 different angles. I don't generally see wattage as maximum clean headroom, but a measure of how loud the amp will get before it hits that sweet spot where the output valves start to work their magic.
If I want 'clean' I'll back off the volume - for a young(ish) man I'm fairly traditional in my approach.

And yes (if I hadn't made myself clear), a small amp which will crunch up at lower volumes is exactly what I'm after
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #10
Deleted dc388e1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
I'd suggest the Vox L'l' Night Train (1.5-2 watts, depending on load) except for the lack of reverb and tremolo.
I spotted your recommendation for the 'lil Night Train in a similar thread.

I think they're discontinued now, but you can find them for about Β£130 used.

How do they sound? Do they do the power amp OD thing well?
I've listened to a few demos, but they're not always the best way to judge.

I'm currently leaning towards building an amp based on a Vibrochamp circuit, with the reverb from a Deluxe (or similar) added. I'd also like to use an EL84 for the output, ala the vox AC4 (also tempted by an EF86 up front, but I think that's asking for trouble).
Ampmaker here in the UK (http://www.ampmaker.com/store/0-190-...ansformer.html) offer a simple power scaling mod which I think will let me run it at 4, 2 and 0.5W.

The downside of that is that I have no head for maths (although I've designed and built a couple of reasonably successful valve preamps in the past), and I fancy finding the right transformer for the reverb circuit might be tricky.

I've a 1x12 loaded with a Celestion G12M which would make a good partner for the 'lil Night Train. I could probably save myself many hours of toil and cursing by biting the bullet and laying out for one, but where would be the fun in that...

Last edited by Deleted dc388e1; 17th August 2015 at 02:15 AM..
Old 17th August 2015
  #11
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Get a Princeton reverb and an output attenuator. You'll have a very versatile amp for live or studio work with your effect needs, and output crunch at lower volumes covered.

Personally I throw watts in regards to guitar amps almost out the door. I say almost... I had a β‰ˆ 18W tube amp that was clean almost to the top of the dial, and an β‰ˆ 18W tube amp that was dirty almost completely throughout the dial. Both 18W amps go figure? It's all about gain staging, biasing, and speaker sensitivity.
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Mulcahy View Post
Get a Princeton reverb and an output attenuator. You'll have a very versatile amp for live or studio work with your effect needs, and output crunch at lower volumes covered.
I've given that option a lot of thought. I've a Marshall 18W clone and a Fender Vaporizer that I use with my band. The 18 Watter has tremolo but no reverb, the Vaporizer the reverse - if either had both I'd buy an attenuator and be done with it
On top of that, I'd like a small amp I can use at home so I don't have to lug one or other of my other two amps backwards and forwards anymore.

The Princeton plus an attenuator will set me back >Β£1000, which I just can't stretch to at present
Old 17th August 2015
  #13
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Time to break out the soldering iron and learn how to roll yer own!
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Mulcahy View Post
Time to break out the soldering iron and learn how to roll yer own!
That's increasingly looking like the best solution
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
I spotted your recommendation for the 'lil Night Train in a similar thread.

I think they're discontinued now, but you can find them for about Β£130 used.

How do they sound? Do they do the power amp OD thing well?
I've listened to a few demos, but they're not always the best way to judge.

I'm currently leaning towards building an amp based on a Vibrochamp circuit, with the reverb from a Deluxe (or similar) added. I'd also like to use an EL84 for the output, ala the vox AC4 (also tempted by an EF86 up front, but I think that's asking for trouble).
Ampmaker here in the UK (Amp Maker: Guitar amp kits and parts :: Power transformers :: 0-190-275V 20W power transformer) offer a simple power scaling mod which I think will let me run it at 4, 2 and 0.5W.

The downside of that is that I have no head for maths (although I've designed and built a couple of reasonably successful valve preamps in the past), and I fancy finding the right transformer for the reverb circuit might be tricky.

I've a 1x12 loaded with a Celestion G12M which would make a good partner for the 'lil Night Train. I could probably save myself many hours of toil and cursing by biting the bullet and laying out for one, but where would be the fun in that...
They reintroduced them as the "Lil Nightrain ( something or other)" a few months ago, with a gold covered cage instead of silver. I have not seen them in stores but it was listed on the Vox website. Dunno about availability.

However there is one on Reverb right now....https://r*v*rb.c*m/item/869208-vox-l...FQSUfgod_0wBhA
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Mulcahy View Post
Get a Princeton reverb and an output attenuator. You'll have a very versatile amp for live or studio work with your effect needs, and output crunch at lower volumes covered.
Won't sound right.

Quote:
Personally I throw watts in regards to guitar amps almost out the door. I say almost... I had a β‰ˆ 18W tube amp that was clean almost to the top of the dial, and an β‰ˆ 18W tube amp that was dirty almost completely throughout the dial. Both 18W amps go figure? It's all about gain staging, biasing, and speaker sensitivity.
It's also about how different companies rate "watts". Reputable companies adhere to the standard originally defined by the (US) Federal Trade Commission, which was law in the US after about 1970 until "deregulation" hit and gutted the standards. Other companies play fast and loose, making up their own definitions to suit their ad copy.

Last edited by John Eppstein; 17th August 2015 at 09:31 AM..
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
I spotted your recommendation for the 'lil Night Train in a similar thread.

I think they're discontinued now, but you can find them for about Β£130 used.

How do they sound? Do they do the power amp OD thing well?
I've listened to a few demos, but they're not always the best way to judge.

I'm currently leaning towards building an amp based on a Vibrochamp circuit, with the reverb from a Deluxe (or similar) added. I'd also like to use an EL84 for the output, ala the vox AC4 (also tempted by an EF86 up front, but I think that's asking for trouble).
Ampmaker here in the UK (Amp Maker: Guitar amp kits and parts :: Power transformers :: 0-190-275V 20W power transformer) offer a simple power scaling mod which I think will let me run it at 4, 2 and 0.5W.

The downside of that is that I have no head for maths (although I've designed and built a couple of reasonably successful valve preamps in the past), and I fancy finding the right transformer for the reverb circuit might be tricky.

I've a 1x12 loaded with a Celestion G12M which would make a good partner for the 'lil Night Train. I could probably save myself many hours of toil and cursing by biting the bullet and laying out for one, but where would be the fun in that...
It depends on what you want from the power amp. One of the things I like about it is that, despite the low power it's a Class AB push-pull circuit like a big amp, not the single output tube single ended circuit used by most low power amps.

They do this by using a twin-triode tube for the output (12AT7 or 12AU7, I don't remember at the moment and it's late and I'm lazy) instead of the usual single pentode tube. The phase inverter is 1/2 of the preceding tube.

Power scaling by varying plate voltage is only semi effective, depending on what you want. The problem with it is that in the low power modes you're not really "engaging" the output transformer - it's operating way, way, way below the level at which it begins saturating, so you get output tube distortion but not output transformer distortion.

One of the good things about the Lil NT right now is that if you get one used and don't like it you can almost certainly unload it for what you paid or a bit more, assuming you don't overpay yourself.
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #18
Deleted dc388e1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
It depends on what you want from the power amp. One of the things I like about it is that, despite the low power it's a Class AB push-pull circuit like a big amp, not the single output tube single ended circuit used by most low power amps.

They do this by using a twin-triode tube for the output (12AT7 or 12AU7, I don't remember at the moment and it's late and I'm lazy) instead of the usual single pentode tube. The phase inverter is 1/2 of the preceding tube.

One of the good things about the Lil NT right now is that if you get one used and don't like it you can almost certainly unload it for what you paid or a bit more, assuming you don't overpay yourself.

Thanks for the reply,

If it wasn't for the lack of reverb or tremolo I'd give one a go (I still might, as you say I can pick one up cheap and I'm unlikely to make a loss if I don't get on with it).
I think I'll look into building a clone a little further, see if I can get it all in one box

Do you think the push/pull arrangement makes a big difference tonally, or is it just a clever piece of engineering?
I've always liked the way a single ended amp makes that one output valve work hard, plus they're simpler to build if I do go down that road.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
Power scaling by varying plate voltage is only semi effective, depending on what you want. The problem with it is that in the low power modes you're not really "engaging" the output transformer - it's operating way, way, way below the level at which it begins saturating, so you get output tube distortion but not output transformer distortion.
That makes sense, I've always been a little wary of power scaling. I built the Ampmaker mod I mentioned earlier into my 18W clone recently but it didn't do what I'd hoped it might.
Even at 10% power it wasn't much 'quieter', but it had lost most of it's balls, for want of a better word

On a different note, the Vox AC4TV I had a used a fairly rudimentary attenuator network, but sandwiched it between the output transformer and the speaker.
Would that be a better option than power scaling? I'd always worried it might be putting unnecessary strain on the OT...
Attached Thumbnails
Low Wattage (&lt;4W) Valve Amp with Reverb and Tremolo-voxac4tvh.png  
Old 17th August 2015 | Show parent
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
Thanks for the reply,

If it wasn't for the lack of reverb or tremolo I'd give one a go (I still might, as you say I can pick one up cheap and I'm unlikely to make a loss if I don't get on with it).
I think I'll look into building a clone a little further, see if I can get it all in one box

Do you think the push/pull arrangement makes a big difference tonally, or is it just a clever piece of engineering?
I've always liked the way a single ended amp makes that one output valve work hard, plus they're simpler to build if I do go down that road.
It doers make a difference in the quality of the distortion, definitely. The single ended amps don't clip symmetrically, the bottom (- swing) of the waveform generally clips a bit before the top (+ swing) of the waveform. Different sets of harmonics are emphasized, too, to some degree.


I lucked into mine for $150 used at GC. Apparently it had just come out of the 30 anti-theft hold and had just been put on the shelf. I wasn't really in the market for another amp but I saw the price tag and jumped on it. I run it into a 12" Celestion, not sure which model but it's a lower powered Chinese one with a small magnet that I'd had sitting in my storage - put it in an old RCA PA baffles like the ones schools used to have for announcements when I was a kid that I stuck a piece of plywood on to enclose the back except for a small slot. Sounds great.

Last thanksgiving my lead guitar player borrowed it to take to his family shindig - his brother is the guitarist for The Rubber City Rebels and his cousin (I think) was the bassist for The Count Five and they have a jam when they get together - everybody was blown away by this little thing that fits easily in his overnight bag.

Quote:
On a different note, the Vox AC4TV I had a used a fairly rudimentary attenuator network, but sandwiched it between the output transformer and the speaker.
Would that be a better option than power scaling? I'd always worried it might be putting unnecessary strain on the OT...
Well, that would be about the same thing as running it into a Hot Plate or similar attenuator box. Shouldn't place an undue load on the transformer.

Last edited by John Eppstein; 17th August 2015 at 10:40 PM..
Old 18th August 2015
  #20
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The attenuator is not a great strength of the AC4, in that it sounds really bad. 1W is bearable but the lowest setting has a really awful midrange. No inductors, so the RC is a very rough attempt to correct the purely resistive loading. But it needs an inductive load.
Old 18th August 2015
  #21
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If 4W is too loud, reactive load -> computer -> cab sim -> studio monitors may be the way to go. You can play any amp you like as quiet as you like even if it's cranked up full. You can even be completely silent if you're listening on headphones.

Best part is you can make a good reactive load fairly cheaply with about half a dozen parts based on a Randall Aiken design.
Old 18th August 2015
  #22
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Why even bother having tremolo in the amp? Isn't this something a $50 pedal can accomplish? How often does anyone use tremolo? At some point doesn't it become too much of a gimmick?
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #23
Deleted dc388e1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vintagelove View Post
Why even bother having tremolo in the amp? Isn't this something a $50 pedal can accomplish? How often does anyone use tremolo? At some point doesn't it become too much of a gimmick?
Well obviously I don't know my own mind or how to make my own artistic decisions, nor had I given the matter any thought before I posted this thread.

You sage words of wisdom have opened my eyes...

Last edited by Deleted dc388e1; 18th August 2015 at 09:15 AM..
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcgruff View Post
If 4W is too loud, reactive load -> computer -> cab sim -> studio monitors may be the way to go. You can play any amp you like as quiet as you like even if it's cranked up full. You can even be completely silent if you're listening on headphones.

Best part is you can make a good reactive load fairly cheaply with about half a dozen parts based on a Randall Aiken design.
I don't think I'll ever go down the guitar into computer route - I just can't see the point.
I did give some thought to getting one of these new generation of practice amps with various fx/modelling built in, but at the end of the day I know I'm not going to form as rich a musical a bond with something that's pretending to a be a guitar amp as with the real deal.

I've been playing guitar well over 20 years. I've tried most things along the way and I know which elements make up the sounds I like.

Thanks for the reactive load link, interesting stuff

Last edited by Deleted dc388e1; 18th August 2015 at 09:25 AM..
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
Well obviously I don't know my own mind or how to make my own artistic decisions, nor had I given the matter any thought before I posted this thread.

You sage words of wisdom have opened my eyes...

I literally never use tremolo. Is an amp tremolo that much different from a pedal? I would think a pedal would be much more versatile with the ability to tap tempo etc. Genuinely curious because your not the first person i have seen fuss over an amp with tremolo.
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #26
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Originally Posted by Jazz Noise View Post
The attenuator is not a great strength of the AC4, in that it sounds really bad. 1W is bearable but the lowest setting has a really awful midrange. No inductors, so the RC is a very rough attempt to correct the purely resistive loading. But it needs an inductive load.
I liked the 1W setting, but I agree about the 1/4W. I thought the amp had bigger issues with the stock speaker.

Looks like inductive loads are the next thing on my list
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vintagelove View Post
I literally never use tremolo. Is an amp tremolo that much different from a pedal? I would think a pedal would be much more versatile with the ability to tap tempo etc. Genuinely curious because your not the first person i have seen fuss over an amp with tremolo.


YOU never use tremolo.

Fine.

YOU'RE not the OP.

Obviously his needs are different from YOURS.

This thread is not about YOU.

Obviously.
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post


YOU never use tremolo.

Fine.

YOU'RE not the OP.

Obviously his needs are different from YOURS.

This thread is not about YOU.

Obviously.

So instead of answering the question, you complain???


My main point is it severely limits the number of amps he will be able to choose from. But I would still like to know what an amp tremolo can do that a pedal can't.
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vintagelove View Post
So instead of answering the question, you complain???


My main point is it severely limits the number of amps he will be able to choose from. But I would still like to know what an amp tremolo can do that a pedal can't.
Not that he needs me to fight his battles, but John has already been very helpful here.

I'm fully aware that I'm limiting my choices, that's why I posted this thread.

I'm not looking to get into a thing about it, but I can never understand why people post on this forum when they clearly haven't:

-read/understood the thread
-anything to contribute

It's not a particularly long example and I think I've been pretty clear about what I'm looking for.

Regarding tremolo - there are plenty of pedals out there which do an excellent job (although not for $50, in my experience), but in this instance they're not what I need.
Old 18th August 2015 | Show parent
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
It doers make a difference in the quality of the distortion, definitely. The single ended amps don't clip symmetrically, the bottom (- swing) of the waveform generally clips a bit before the top (+ swing) of the waveform. Different sets of harmonics are emphasized, too, to some degree.
Interesting. I may be wide of the mark, but I thought asymmetrical clipping was generally considered a good thing in guitar amps, or is that more desirable in pre-amp valves?

I suppose the single ended vs. push/pull isn't really the most important factor as far as the amp I'm looking for here is concerned, although it's always nice to know a little more about how different topologies can effect the end result.


Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
Well, that would be about the same thing as running it into a Hot Plate or similar attenuator box. Shouldn't place an undue load on the transformer.
That's good news, although it seems the attenuator in the Vox isn't a particularly good example
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