to read the article (pdf format).



to read the article (pdf format).
with the Tom Short ‘Jonny 2 Bags’
signature unpotted alnico II bridge
P90. That’s OK, we weren’t either.
Jonny 2 Bags is famously famous
for playing double cut Juniors in
Sonic Youth, which means absolutely nothing relative to the tone of the
Downtowner. In the bridge position
this guitar sounds old. For whatever
reason (Gabriel claims it’s the 4 3/8
x 1 1/2 inch mortise neck joint design), it also sustains on the wound
strings like a grand piano. Played
clean the bridge pickup stops short
of sounding sharp and trebly, with
all six strings blending to create a
soundstage that is as deep as it is wide. – part P90 and part
Firebird, both bright and heavy all at once, and that sustain on
the wound strings… Just went back and played it for another
30 minutes, and we can feel the thick African body vibrating
deep within beneath the pickups. This is a sound, voice and
vibe you will not find at Guitar Center.
The combined voice of both pickups really threw us. At first
we thought the pickups were out of phase, in fact, we called
Gabriel for confirmation, and he began to laugh. “No, they
are in phase, it’s just that those two pickups mixed together
create a really wild sound, don’t they?” They do. Imagine the
gutbucket tone of a bridge pickup shunted through a single
6V6 amp with an 8 inch speaker, yet boosted with the percussive treble presence of an under-saddle piezo. Bizarre, and
we have no explanation for it. To confirm Gabriel’s assurance
that the pickups were in phase, we held a Tele pickup over the
polepieces in each P90, and the magnetic attraction to the Tele
polepieces was consistently strong on both. In phase alright,
and yes, they do sound really wild together.
Turning the ‘64 Princeton Reverb up
to 6, the bridge P90 does a stone cold
version of Neil Young’s Old Black –
not the howling feedback from the
Crazy Horse records, but the stringy,
overdriven chords that slice through
the air with the sound of a mongrel
mixed breed Telesbird. A huge, jangly
single coil sound … Aim your pick
just in front of the tailpiece and the
Blackguard vibe jumps up – heavier
and thicker than that, really, and
hardly a traditional 6-string guitar
sound – more of a sacred steel piano
kinda thing that we have never heard
before. Daniel Lanois. Tone… better, bigger, more mysterious, interesting and deep than anything else in the room. A
serious and very weighty step up for those who are worthy…
As described here, the Downtowner Deluxe is $3,300. In our
world you’re barely two cheap guitars or a guitar and amp you
don’t play away from owning your own piece of Echo Park.
Other models and variations are available and priced accordingly. Think of it as buying stock in Gabriel Currie’s art –
stock that will pay dividends you can’t yet imagine for the rest
of your life. If we were you, we would order one of Currie’s
guitars, and make plans to pick it up personally in Echo Park.
Call it a guitarcation. What could possibly be better than that? TQ, 626-536-3317
Andrews Amplifiers
In no small way
we feel great
sympathy for
prospective amp
hunters these
days. Oh, sure,
most of the
familiar vintage
amps are just
that – comfortably familiar
– but the vast
assortment of
contemporary guitar amps being built by a vast assortment
of contemporary amp builders large, medium, small and tiny
is impossible for one person to digest and comprehend. The
amorphous group of modern amp builders working today
has grown so much, that if someone were bold enough to
attempt to assemble every ‘custom’ example in one place, by
the time they finished there would be even more new builders that would have to be added to the original list. In other
words, the shape-shifting nature of this industry cannot be
fully grasped in one snapshot in time. Good for people like us
that write about amplifiers and tone, but bewildering for you.
We were talking to an industry pal the other day, who told us
that someone had told him that the problem with TQR is that
we love everything. We replied that, yeah, we generally find
something to admire in everything we review, because when
we try something that we feel doesn’t deserve your consideration, we don’t review it. Why waste a couple of pages and
your time slamming something we wouldn’t recommend? Who
does that help? Like you, we try all kinds of gear with an
open mind, always hopeful. Sometimes we search things out,
and at other times they find us. Such was the case when Jeff
Andrews contacted us about developing a review of his A-22
and Para-Dyne 20 amplifiers. To our surprise, we discovered
that Jeff was building amps and operating a thriving repair
business just 20 minutes away in the northeast Atlanta suburb
of Dunwoody. Best of all, we also learned that Andrews’ amplifiers absolutely rock. So here’s Jeff’s story, followed by our
review of the A-22 and Para-Dyne 20…
How did you initially become interested in electronics and amplification, Jeff?
One of my grandfathers was a technical corporal in the army
in Europe in WWII. His job was keeping the telegraph lines
working while the Germans were trying to make sure they
were cut. As a kid, I loved to go to visit him and see all the
old electrical things he had rigged up around the house. There
were transformers and wires and those old glass insulators
that were used on telephone poles in those days. He had buzzers and bells hooked up so he would know if someone was at
the door when he was working in the basement, and he had
installed a radio speaker in an old wooden wall phone in the
kitchen. This stuff fascinated me and I asked
a lot of questions about
how it worked. My other
grandfather knew about
my interest and allowed
me to “fix” a few
radios and a small TV.
Of course this resulted
in their total destruction,
but I did start learning
to identify some of the
parts and how things
were put together. I was
probably about 7 to 10
years old then. Around that same time, my father and I built a
crystal radio together and he installed a long antenna around
the eaves of our house in Memphis. I thought that was the
coolest thing, picking up radio with just wires and a diode.
I grew up in a musical family and while all this was going on,
I was developing an interest in music. My father went to college on a music scholarship playing the sax and my mother
played piano. I was encouraged to take piano lessons and
then to play sax in the school band. Then I heard Jimi Hendrix. When
he died in
1970 I was
ten years old.
You know
how it is
when a fa-
mous musician dies…
Their music
is played
on the
radio for a
while, and that’s when I really started to notice his music. It
took a few years for me to transition from sax to guitar, but
when I did at around age 14, I started by trying to emulate
Jimi’s sound. My first amp was a little Kay solid state stack
which I soon modified by upgrading the speakers. Then I
got a Sound City 120 and built a 4 X 12 cabinet for it in
shop class and bought a Sound City cabinet to stack on top.
Finally, I got the amp I was really wanting, a Marshall Super
Lead that I set on the two cabs just like Jimi. As I reached
the middle years of high school, my parents started asking
what I was going to do after I graduated. I told them that I
was going to be a famous musician, but they suggested that
I have something to fall back on just in case things don’t
work out with music. Going to electronics school seemed
like a good idea, since I liked electronics and it seemed like
it might be helpful in my musical career. It just so happened
that the local college was still teaching tubes! After finishing
those classes, I quickly found that I could survive as a tech
and I wasn’t making anything playing music. I kept playing
in bands while working on TVs and stereos and maintaining the amps for the bands I was in. As a tech, I eventually
moved into high tech consumer electronics and became a
factory rep and technical trainer for Pioneer Electronics for
several years until I started working full time at my amp
shop in 2004.
How did your initial interest evolve? Were there
any mentors that helped you acquire a better understanding of electronics and amplification?
I learned a lot
about electronics and troubleshooting during my years
of repairing
various equipment, teaching
and supporting a repair
network over
Jim Marshall with Randall Aiken
those twenty
something years before opening my amp shop. It seemed like
I was often on the cutting edge of technology during most of
those years as new products came to market, so I was always
going to training sessions that were taught by the engineers
that designed the products. During the ‘80s, I started winding
down the idea of making it big in music, so I sold the big
Marshall rig and bought some smaller combo amps. There
was a Carvin 1x12 and a couple of Fender silverface combos
during those years. I loved the new sounds and the portability of the amps, but sometimes I missed the Marshall tones. I
started modifying some of my little amps to make them sound
more like what I wanted and that kept me involved in amps
and tube technology. When I started thinking about building
my first amp, I read a lot of stuff by Randall Aiken and Kevin
O’Conner about amp design. I have a lot respect for both of
those guys and learned a lot from them. Even though I’ve
never met either of them, some of their knowledge has found
its way into my designs.
In addition to building your own amps, you also
operate a repair and restoration service. Can you
describe some of the most popular services you
offer in terms of repairs and modifications? We
noted that you are very specific about replacing
caps in older amps, improving their function (such
as increasing the intensity of the tremolo in a
Princeton Reverb), and many improvements for the
Fender Hot Rod Series...
Yes, a lot
of older
amps, I
mean the
ones built
1985 or
so are
probably not
as well as they once did. Sometimes the tone degradation happens so slowly that it isn’t noticeable until it’s brought back
to full performance. There will be a lot of capacitors and a
few resistors and of course some tubes that have deteriorated
over the years. Finding and replacing the culprits makes a big
difference in the sound and feel of the amp. It often really
surprises people when they get their amp back and plug it
in because they forget how good it used to sound. I call that
“tone resurrection” and it’s a popular service at the shop. The
electrolytic capacitors are a related issue and I try to educate
people on the importance of replacing them before they go
info full failure mode.They are filled with a electrolyte paste
that dries up over the years and causes all kinds of problems.
The symptoms vary depending on which ones go bad and how
they fail. It could be a bit of hum, blowing fuses, overheating
tubes and transformers, loss of volume, failure of tremolo or
reverb. The electrolytic caps are found in two areas of most
amps. There are filter caps in the power supplies and smaller
“bypass” caps
in the audio
circuit. A lot
of amps come
into the shop
with a few
caps replaced
and a handful
of old original ones still in place. Some techs tend to replace
each one as it starts to fail, but in my experience, once they
start to fail, the rest will soon follow, so it makes sense to replace all of them at the first sign of any going bad (on vintage
amps). On some newer models, we sometimes find a couple
of bad caps due to a manufacturing batch defect. In that case,
I suggest replacing all the identical ones and leave the rest to
live out their natural lives.
As for mods, I do a lot of fine tuning on the Fender Hot Rod
series and the Blues Jr., which are both very popular amps. A
lot of production amps seem to me to be tweaked by the manufacturers to sound impressive at the music store instead of on
stage or in the studio. Bias current will be too high (causing
tube failures and damage to the tube sockets and PC board),
high gain channels will be too bright and volume controls will
be too sensitive in the low numbers. A lot of the mods I do are
really about fine tuning and improving the designs rather than
re-inventing something. Some of the recent Marshalls benefit
from taking a bit of piercing treble out of the lead channels.
Installing standby switches for small amps are popular, too.
Other than that, we see a lot of routine troubleshooting and
repair work on all makes and models of tube amps and a few
solid state ones mixed in.
You also install replacement speakers.. What are
the most popular speakers you install?
I could go on
for a long time
about speakers,
but to answer
your question,
I would say
that speaker
changes over
time. Currently
the Warehouse Guitar
(WGS) G12C/S is getting popular for most blackface and
silverface Fender amps, but the Jensen C8R remains popular for Champs. The Eminence Legend 1258 finds it’s way
into a lot of newer American amps since it’s essentially the
same as many
OEM speakers.
For British amps,
it’s a mixed bag.
Speaker mixing is
popular now so a
lot of people are
putting in a couple
of different kinds
of speakers in the
same cabinet. The
WGS Veteran 30
is a popular replacement for Celestion Vintage 30s since it’s
smoother sounding, more affordable and made in the USA.
Celestion “Blues” remain the top choice for a lot of Vox
amps. Then there are the “in-between” speakers such as the
Eminence Private Jack and the WGS Reaper. They are a little
more aggressive than the American style speakers but not as
extreme as the V30 types. They are popular and work well
in amps from both sides of the pond when you want a little
more volume projection in the mix. The Eminence Ramrod is
the 10" speaker that fits in that category.
What are your favorite tube brands by type and why?
I like JJ preamp tubes because they tend to be as reliable as
anything else. Background noise and microphonics are low
and the price is reasonable. I also like their EL84s pretty well
because they can handle high voltages and they have a nice
punchy bottom end. For EL34s, I keep trying to find a good
low cost option but everything other than Winged C seems to
have high failure rates and a short lifespan, so I’m stocking
only Winged C now. For 6L6, I offer the Winged C and the
Sovtek 5881WXT which are both good tubes. The Winged
C is bright with an authentic vintage sound while the Sovtek
has reduced treble harmonics and a bigger, looser bottom and
a lower price. I usually suggest one or the other based on the
tonal requirements of the amp and the customer. Most of the
other brands have QC problems in my experience. For 6V6s,
I stock JJ and Electro-Harmonix. The JJs are more crunchy
with a bit more midrange while the EH’s are smoother with a
more authentic vintage vibe.
Most amp builders seem to develop an idea of what
they want to build as a result of working on various
other models over the years. How has your experience in working on well-known vintage amps influenced and shaped your own designs?
It’s been a huge advantage to have worked on so many makes
and models that span a period from the ‘30s till the present.
The vintage models are truly the basis for all the different tube
amps that have come since then. After seeing how all the old
amps are designed and built and knowing what kind of tones
I like, it
their way into my designs. For example, there are things like
welded steel chassis, thick tag boards, pots and sockets that
are mounted to the chassis instead of the circuit board. These
are things you’ll find in amps that are still working great
after 40 years. Then there are vintage concepts related to tone
that are worth repeating – things like having just the right
transformer specs, specific phase inverter configurations, tone
stack circuits, tried and true tube types, etc. Then there is the
experience with some of the not-so-great things in the old designs that are to be avoided – things like improper grounding
schemes, insufficient power supply filtering, carbon composition resistors where they don’t belong and poor choices of
tag board materials. A lot of new boutique amp designs copy
some of the old design flaws either because there is an idea
among builders that it is somehow wrong to mess with classic designs, or, sometimes I believe the designer just doesn’t
know any better.
The preamp is the place where
I like to make my mark. That’s
where I can spend hundreds of
hours listening and tweaking
and fine tuning the voice of
the amp. If the output and
power supply circuits are solid
and stable and have the right
transformers, most of the attention can be focused on the
Among all the amps you have worked on other than
your own, what are your favorite models and why?
There will
always be
a place in
my heart
for the
Reverb, Super Reverb and Twin Reverb and the Marshall
Super Lead. I feel that they define the era of music that I grew
up with and still love to this day. I also like that they are well
designed for long life and easy service.
Let’s talk about your own designs... What inspired
you to begin building your own amplifiers? Were
you pursuing a specific niche or a certain sound
you were hearing in your head?
Well, I just couldn’t find a 20 to 30 watt combo that sounded
like my old Super Lead, so I decided to build one. I had
some great Fenders, but no matter what pedal I tried, I
couldn’t quite get that British tone when I wanted it, so I
decided to build what I wanted. When it became time to get
started, I bought an old Traynor YGM-3 for $300, gutted it
and built my first amp on that chassis, which was based on
the Super Lead circuit but it ran on EL84s and produced
about 25 watts of output power. That amp became the basic
concept for the A-22 which I still build although it has been
refined over the years.
models have
a different
lineage. The
20 was a
build for a
request. It
was tube rectified and had two channels, each with a separate
input jack. Channel one had an EF86 first preamp stage and
a six-position “depth” switch. Channel two ran on a 12AX7
with a standard tone stack. The output circuit was from the
A-22 and ran on EL84’s in class AB mode. We had beautiful
bird’s eye and walnut cabinets of my design built for it. It was
a bit like a Matchless HC-30 with a different output circuit.
Only one of that version was built. When I decided to come
up with a new model based on that amp, I decided to do away
with the EF86 because I had so much trouble finding good
ones. I’ve managed to get what I wanted out of a 12AX7 for
the clean channel now. I also switched from EL84s to 6V6 on
the 20 watt models since they are a bit smoother. I still offer
them with EL84s too which have a little more thump on the
bottom end. The Para-Dyne 50s come standard with EL34s,
but again, I offer them with 6L6s for a deeper bottom at the
expense of being a bit sharper in the treble. So, I guess you
could say the inspiration for Para-Dyne models was to add to
the tonal palette of the Andrews model lineup.
I have
ways I
want all
the parts
to fit
stability, low
noise and reliability. So, although it’s more expensive, I use
a lot of custom parts. I draw out the chassis and turret boards
in AutoCAD and have them custom built. They’re welded at
the corners for strength and then ground smooth before being
plated. Most of the transformers are custom built to my specs,
so I can get just what I want for the designs. I believe that
metal film resistors are best for most positions in the preamps.
They provide lower noise and higher reliability that other
types. However, if you look inside any Andrews amp, you’ll
see a few carbon composition resistors in places where they
should be to sweeten the tone without adding noise. I’ve also
been customizing pot tapers lately by changing to different
pot values and adding resistors across them. Sometimes the
off-the-shelf pots just don’t have the tapers I want. I use extra
thick epoxy turret boards and mount the transformers on spacers so they don’t rattle at high volume. There are a few other
secret little tricks, but I’ll keep those to myself.
As for the sound, I’m building two distinct types that translate
into quite a few different models if you count all the different
cabinet configurations and output power levels. The A series
amps are inspired by vintage Marshalls but they have one
balanced channel instead of one that’s too bright and one that’s
too dark. I’ve brought the power down to 22 watts and added
a post phase inverter master volume so those great tones don’t
have to be at paint cracking volumes. The gain can be customized by the user with a tube change for different situations.
The Para-Dynes are named for their two channels of dynamic
tone and are not based on any particular other amp. The clean
channel is cleaner than the A series models and the overdrive
channel has more gain than the A-series. The overdrive channel is designed to be smooth and sustaining while maintaining
definition and dynamics. Overall, I consider both amps to be
unique while maintaining a familiar vibe. The A-series models
bring to mind a classic British sound while the Para-Dyne
models are a bit more modern.
Can you describe the design features and components that make your amps unique? What do you
do differently, how and why, and how would you
describe their unique sound?
What do you want to accomplish in the future in
terms of your own amp designs?
I’ve learned over the years that a lot of the songs and recordings I love were played on Fender Twin Reverbs and Marshall
Super Leads. Both of those amps are solid state rectified and
have a very punchy and dynamic sound. I generally prefer that
type of response over the saggy and compressed sound and
feel of a lot of other amps, so I’ll probably stick to that format
for a while longer. The next step will be to add more features
for even more versatility. I’ve gone about as far as I can on the
small chassis we’re using since there isn’t room for any more
knobs, jacks or switches. The next series will be a bit bigger.
The most requested feature for the next model is reverb, so I’ll
probably add that. It really depends on how the market trends.
Building a high quality hand-wired amp with every feature
I would want will be very expensive. It remains to be seen if
there is a market for it in these days given the increasing variety of cheap imported amps. The direction of future designs
depends on the success of the current models. I’m currently
looking for dealers across the country to make the amps available for more people to try. Of course, I’m also looking for
some top level players to put the amps on big stages to help
spread the word.
A-22 & Para-Dyne 20 Review
Evaluating anything from a ‘new’ builder always adds
suspense and mystery to the process. With absolutely no
preconceptions formed from past experience, the reviewer
works with a blank canvas as the amplifier gradually paints
the picture that is ultimately described to the reader. And like
you, throughout the entire arduous process of digesting sound,
in the back of our mind we are asking, “How is this amplifier
unique from all the rest? What does it do best, and better than
most?” Well, let’s start there.
The voice of the 20 watt dual EL-84 A-22 gracefully ventures
into both 20 watt Marshall and 15 watt Vox territory, but with
superior clean tones, more headroom when needed, and a far
more versatile tone stack than typical vintage amps and reproductions. You can also expect (and we’re quoting from our
notes here), ‘an exceptionally wide range of volume and distortion levels between both input channels.’ That’s the gist of
this amp – high and low inputs with 9 db more gain in the high
input, a simple control layout consisting of Volume, Treble,
Bass, Cut
and Master
Volume, and
a pull switch
on the treble
control that
acts as a mid
boost. Even
the most
plug & play
players can
While most 20 watt amps new and old are by nature easily
overdriven to produce singing sustain and distortion, they
are also by nature void of usable clean tones at performance
volume. In this regard the A-22 offers a big leap forward with
outstanding clean headroom. You can get there by plugging
into the high gain Channel 1 input and leaving the Volume
set below 3 for an edgy clean tone with the Master Volume
cranked, or by using the Channel 2 Low input for a more pristine clean, again, with the Volume set low. You’ll never find
a low-power Marshall that can touch the A-22 for clean tones
that can also be set to produce a chimey, very Vox-like sparkle
on the top that can be effectively managed with the Cut and
Treble controls.
Volume in
the Marshall side of the A-22’s split personality. In the Low
input, increases in Volume gradually ramp up into a very realistic sound of moderate output tube distortion with the Master
advanced past 6-7. This is a good and righteous busted-up
tone for rhythms and blues. For a hotter, steadier and very
realistic ‘70s Marshall burn, move to the Channel 1 High
input. Unlike old 18 and 20 watt heaters, the Bass and Treble
controls on the A-22 really work to fatten or brighten up yer
tone, the Cut control adds more presence or perceived mids,
and for high Gain settings the pull/boost on the treble knob
throws more wood on the fire.
We should also
mention that for
you ‘bedroom’
players, Volume
can be cranked
with the Master
Volume turned
down for those
special 3 watt
ZZ Top moments in the
midnight hour.
It’s not a place we
habitually visit, but the welcome mat is out nonetheless, and
the A-22 does a fine job of producing intense sustain at low
volume. You’ll also like the big tone of the Warehouse Reaper
HP (high power) – full and rich with a little push in the upper
mids, musical but never piercing treble tones, and rated at 50
watts. Recommended as an alternative for Vintage 30 fans.
The overall flavor of the A-22 is definitely British, but the enhanced versatility, clean tones and headroom must be credited
to Jeff Andrews’ design. The A-22 truly stands out as an extremely toneful and versatile hand-wired amp. The birch-ply
cabinet is rock solid in the style of an older Matchless, and in
all respects the A-22 is meticulously built. In our experience,
you couldn’t wish for more in a dual EL-84 combo or head,
pedals not required.
Para-Dyne 20
You’ll appreciate what
transpired as
we settled in
to evaluate and
take notes on
the Para-Dyne
20… After running through
various settings
in the Lead and
Clean channels
of this dual6V6 amp, we picked up our ‘57 Historic Goldtop loaded with
early ‘60s patent number sticker humbuckers, plugged into
the Lead Channel with the Gain and Master Volume set on 6,
and 30 minutes later we realized we hadn’t stopped playing
to take notes. That’s an endorsement. Like the A-22, the ParaDyne 20 has also been designed to deliver exceptionally lush
clean tones via the Clean Channel that are rarely present in
amps that also deliver roaring sustain. Utilizing a pair of 6V6
output tubes, the voice of the Para-Dyne is also rounder, fuller
and deeper – a sound we always seem to prefer in smaller
amps. Fans of both Fender and Marshall amps will love the
Para-Dyne 20 for its clean tones, thick and musical overdriven
intensity, and user-friendly (but plenty loud) 20 watts with
Master Volume.
Hi and
to access Clean Channel 1 when not using the supplied footswitch, 3-position bright toggle for the Clean Channel, Depth
for Channel 1, Gain for Channel 2, Treble, Middle, Bass,
Master Volume, and a pentode/triode toggle switch on the
back panel. We’re not
big fans of the triode/
pentode half power
switch – no news there,
but for a lower volume,
cranked vibe it does
that. We just prefer to
get there at full power,
so we usually ignore it.
What can’t be ignored
is the absolutely stellar
quality of sound produced by the Para-Dyne 20. It’s voice
and presence are huge for its size, equally nimble as a clean
machine or rendering an overdriven tone that, combined with
the Goldtop, produced a very authentic and Creamy Marshall
tone circa 1968 (that’s where we lost the 30 minutes), and all
at a perfectly stout 20 watts. The Warehouse ET65 ceramic
magnet speaker is a big bruiser, bold and balanced with solid
lows, smooth mids and sparkling treble. Very highly recommended. For tube hounds, Andrews has included a bias adjust
and test points on the back panel, along with a footswitch jack
included for channel switching, an extension speaker jack,
impedance selector switch, and an optional buffered serial
effects loop.
of the
us not
only for
their extraordinary tone, but also for the practical features that
make them so uncommonly versatile. We can’t recall having
played two better sounding 20 watt amplifiers that offer such
lush clean tones and headroom combined with uncompromised muscle, attitude and gain. TQ, 770-671-0485
K-Line Texola
“I don’t know if we can do any better than this.”
We made that comment to a friend when describing the
guitars featured in this issue, and we sincerely believe it to
be true. You may remember our June 2011 interview with the
founder of K-Line Guitars, Chris Kroenlein, who grew up listening to his uncles’ weekend jam sessions in his father’s auto

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