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Repost: East Coast Shootout II (Slight Correction)

12/29/2000 7:54 PM
Repost: East Coast Shootout II (Slight Correction)
East Coast Amp Shootout II  
Hey, Mook here. Go grab a beer··.go on, Iâll wait. Now, sit back·..relax. Put your feet up. The only thing youâll need for the next half hour is (perhaps another beer and) your eyes in which to read the following. What youâll be reading are the results of the East Coast Amp Shootout II conducted in Gainesville, Virginia on Saturday October 7th from 9:00am to 5:00pm. The structure of the ECII shootout was exactly that of the original East Coast Amp Shootout. This was a sonic exercise only - no amps were opened, no voltages read, no bias currents read or adjusted, etc.  
Not familiar with the original East Coast Amp Shootout? Well, at this time, Iâd like to direct you to either or simply search alt.guitar.amps for ãEast Coastä or ãAmp Shootoutä, and you should be able to find the results of the first East Coast Amp Shootout. However, if you read the results of the original EC shootout, you might need yet another beer.  
Amp Shootout? Are you really comparing amps? No. The various amps are not pitted against each other, they are simply judged separately and stand on their own merits and downfalls. This review will detail the good AND bad of each amp. After all, no amp is perfect. Guitar magazines (for the most part) will slant their reviews based on advertising dollars ö you wonât find that here. NO ONE, including myself, received compensation IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM for their review input.  
Iâd like to thank Smicz Amplification, Maven Peal Amplification, The Audio Cage, and Fuchs Audio Technology for sending their amps to be tested in the Shootout. In addition, I would like to thank Scott Baker, Pete Cage, Andy Fuchs, and George Waldmann for their review skills and comments.  
This is a very true to heart review - in that the reviewers said exactly what they felt.  
The Players:  
Here is some background from the some of the manufacturers and people involved. It is meant to provide a point of reference when reading the individual reviews (Backgrounds for certain players, like Scott Baker and George Waldmann still ãhold overä from the last Shootout):  
Pete Cage: As a player: Iâve been playing guitar since about 1970. Havenât had a regular gig since about 1991, but still occasionally play out, sitting in with clients & friends. Iâm a sucker for a well-written pop song, and also like straight ahead rock and blues. Guitar influences include: The Beatles, Steely Dan, SRV, Pink Floyd, The Who, Allman Brothers Band, certain Eric Clapton stuff. Artist/songwriting influences include the above plus Joe Jackson, John Hiatt, Don Dixon, Elvis Costello, XTC, Jellyfish, The Grays, Dada; you get the idea. I love amps and guitars, and look for combinations that allow me to be expressive with pick attack and guitar volume and pickup settings. Iâm not a big pedal guy, but occasionally use a fairly clean pedal to push an amp a little harder. I brought three guitars to the shootout: a LP with â57 pickups, a Grosh Electrotone with P-90s, and a MIJ ãâ60âsä Strat with Fralin Vintage Hots.  
As a builder, the three product standards that I hold dear are: 1) Musically useful tone, 2) Solid reliability, and 3) Aesthetics (inside and out) and functionality. I think an amp should be easy to use and should create tones that inspire performance and work well in an ensemble situation. The player, guitar, amp, and speakers must work as a system, and I believe that finding the right combination is worth pursuing. My amps are not designed to be all things to all people, and Iâm always happy to recommend other amps when I feel that they would better meet a playerâs needs.  
Andy Fuchs: Fuchs Audio Technology designs, manufactures, and modifies tube musical instrument and audiophile amplifiers. Andy Fuchs has over twenty years experience as a technician and musician, which provides him with a unique sensitivity to the needs of musicians and audiophiles. All products are hand built of the finest premium parts, and use classic and modern circuit topologies to achieve their sonic goals. After almost 10 years of designing and refining, I am proud to offer my modifications, and manufactured tube products for my customers. I welcome the opportunity to help you reach your tonal goals.  
David Zimmerman: While studying computer simulations of various older amp signals, then engineering graduate student and avid guitar player David Zimmerman realized that if an amplifier's voltage sag could be controlled, the amp's organic sound (or power amp distortion) could also be controlled.  
David's graduate work, designing biologically based neural networks, involved mastering nonlinear analysis, or chaos theory. Using this new design approach, David invented a power supply for musical instrument amplifiers. The Maven Peal Sag Circuit takes advantage of all the benefits today's components have to offer. The result? For the first time in the history of guitar amplifiers, players have unprecedented control over power amp distortion, as well as the number of watts the amp produces. Called ingenious and ahead of its time, the Sag Circuit creates a spectrum of organic sound and touch.  
Founded in 1995, Maven Peal Instruments has already been awarded two U.S. patents in a never ending quest to develop fresh new ideas for guitar amplifiers. For more information, check out  
The Equipment: We used 6 different cabinets while conducting the reviews. Each player picked the cabinet(s) at his own discretion when reviewing each amplifier. There were two Jenkins 2x10s. The first 2x10 was loaded with Weber C10Qs. The second 2x10 was loaded with Weber P10Qs. There were also two Jenkins 2x12s. The first 2x12 was loaded with Weber C12Bs. The second 2x12 was loaded with Weber P12BTs. The fifth cabinet was a Matchless 2x12 loaded with a pair of WeberVST C12AC (custom speakers made for the Cage 18/00 Series amp). The last cabinet was a EL12L loaded Fuchs 1x12 in Maple hardwood.  
The Guitars: We had about 15 guitars with us that day - PRS McCarty, PRS McCarty Soapbar, PRS McCarty Hollowbody I, PRS McCarty Hollowbody II, PRS Custom22, Fender Tele Jr., Grosh Tele (with Duncan P90s), Callaham Strat (with Fralins), Callaham Tele (with Fralins), two Gibson Les Pauls (one of these was Peteâs personal axe, which he said he played over 300 Les Pauls in order to find the perfect one), Heritage 535 (Duncan Antiquities), Fender MIJ ã60âsä Strat (with Fralins Vintage Hots), and Heritage Les Paul (Duncan Seth Lovers). All players/reviews plugged directly into the amps with SpectraFlex cords. We did not use effects boxes or power attenuators. Amps were played at all ranges of volume ö low to full.  
The Write-Up  
The amps are listed in order of their test sequence; we tested them in increasing order of wattage. The reviews for each amp are listed alphabetically by the reviewerâs last name. Review comments are exactly as sent to me by the reviews. That is, NO EDITING (even spelling and punctuation) WAS PERFORMED BY ME. I did, however, include a few editorial notes and commentary where necessary. This is indicated by the text (ed. note: xx yy zz) in parentheses. Web page links of each amp manufacturer are given if you (the reader) need additional details and specifications, option information, or price quotes. Each player had roughly 10 to 15 minutes to play and evaluate each amp, which included turning knobs and trying out different functionality. Other reviews sat back and listened, but also helped twiddle knobs and offer suggestions while someone else was playing.  
Smicz PORTABLuES 110H (  
Scott Baker: This was the first amp of the test session. It was a return from last year's East Coast Shootout (Editorâs Note: actually, itâs a different model. Last yearâs model was the ã110ä). We tried the amp with both its internal speaker and a 2x10 external cabinet [Kevin what were the speakers in that 2x10?? (Editorâs Note: Weber P10Qs)]. The sound of the amp was pretty much the same with both internal and external speakers (meaning that different speakers didn't help the sound that much) although it did sound a bit bigger with the external speakers. With the amp dimed, it didn't really clean up with turning down your guitar volume. In fact, with the amp dimed it seemed to be not as loud as with the volume at about two-thirds. At two-thirds volume the amp did sound better. [Pete and Andy, being the engineers/amp builders that they are, may have some technical reasons for this given that it is a battery powered amp.] It didn't handle chords very well and did better on single note playing. A problem with the amp this year was that the reverb didn't work. I looked over my comments from last year about this amp after jotting down the preceding paragraph. In last year's shootout I thought the amp sounded a bit thin, humbuckers sounded better than single coils, and the amp sounded better not dimed. A second listen hasn't really changed my view from last year.  
Pete Cage: This amp was reported to be a design similar to a tweed Champ, and I think that is a fair comparison for its basic voice. The 10ä speaker gives it a bit fatter tone than the Champâs 8-incher, but the small cabinet doesnât seem to allow quite as much bass development as I would expect from a ten. The speaker sounded like it was still a bit tight ö perhaps it was new and some break-in time would loosen things up a bit. The reverb was also non-functional. The tank and return seemed to work ö we could get it to boing by moving the cabinet around, but the send was apparently dead. Kevin attempted to fix it by moving connections in the back, but had no success. We ran the rest of the test with the Reverb control turned off. With humbuckers, the tone was totally crunchy by about 9:30 on the volume knob. Flat out, it got kind of farty with humbuckers when hit hard, and lost some distinction with complex chords. With single coils, it was smoother, still with plenty of bite, and a bit spitty when hit hard. Even on a Stratâs neck pickup, the amp was plenty bright (though it could be tamed somewhat with the Tone control ö a feature not normally found on a 5F1). Through the 2x10 cabinet (Jenkins cab with WeberVST P10Q-16, paralleled for 8-ohm load) the amp was less spitty, with better bass, and the tone smoothed out quite a bit. The two PRS hollowbodies sounded very different from one another through this amp ö you could hear the difference between the Maple- and Mahogany bodied guitars quite clearly. The amp has everything that I like and dislike about a 5F1 Champ, with the addition of battery portability (and, potentially, reverb). At $800, it would make a nice amp for a (very successful) subway busker.  
Andy Fuchs: I liked the initial concept of the Portablues when I first found it in a web search of tube amplifiers a few years ago. I really admire the skills of an Engineer who could come up with a circuit to operate a tube amp off batteries. I also respect anyone making a low-priced product like this. I know how difficult it can be to produce a high grade product at a low price point. As a tube fanatic, I wanted to be able to enjoy a truly portable tube amp, instead of a Moose, Mouse, Crate or Fender Amp Can. I was impressed with the fit and finish of the product. The Tweed style Tolex was well applied to a solidly made cabinet. The amp was a comfortable size and weight. When we powered the amp up, it had the normal reverb 'clang', but when we played a guitar through it, no reverb ! We checked the cables to and from the pan, and they were attached, so we moved on to playing it sans reverb. The Smicz tube circuit is based on the original Champ circuit, and sports a simple mic volume, instrument volume and tone controls on the panel. I found the amp to be somewhat thin and weak sounding. The lead tone was fair, but got real edgy (sounds like speaker buzz). The initial tests were done in battery mode. Using Mookâs Heritage ES-335 style guitar, the amp had a buzzy farty tone reminiscent of the Guess Whoâs ãAmerican Womanä. The internal speaker is a Weber C-10-Q. The tone control is a simple high cut type, and does not offer much flexibility. When using humbuckers it has a spitty fuzz-pedal type distortion. It liked a single coil Strat (W/Fralin Vintage Pickups) if only a little more. Using the amp with Mookâs Strat, the rhythm pickup still produced an unpleasant overload. We tried it with a Weber P-10-Q in a Jenkins cabinet (just to see how much of the sound was the speaker). It proved a little less abrasive and more open with the Jenkins cabinet. It still demonstrated a buzzy transistor fuzz tone distortion. It doesnât overload like a simple single-ended Class-A circuit would be expected to. Using Scottâs Callaham Strat with Fralin Vintage pickups, produced a slightly better overall tone. Obviously, you must choose your guitar carefully! The volume control is difficult to use below 9.00. From 0- to 9.00 the control jumps so much in level, itâs very hard to set a low volume setting. I canât understand how the manufacturer would/could settle on a pot with this strange a taper. There may be some caps or equalization effect on the volume control. When run below 2.00, the lows roll off, and beyond 2.00, thereâs an immediate increase in the low end of the amp. Overall, I was disappointed in the performance. We tried connecting the AC power, thinking perhaps the battery circuit was sagging, and there was only a slight improvement in the performance. The amp stayed a little cleaner, a little longer, but overall still did not perform in a way that would make me pass up much lower priced solid state competition that sounded better and offered more features. A brief visit to their website while writing the review, revealed that the amp was a Guitar Player Magazine ãEditors Pickä. I simply donât know what it was that enamoured them about this amp. Unfortunately, the limited performance sound and (potential) reliability issues would turn me off to buying one of these amps. I wouldnât mind toying with the circuit, as I still think the concept may have promise. Maybe if I can find one on e-bay·.  
Kevin Miller: Last year we reviewed the Smicz 110 model, which was more ãblackfaceä inspired. This year, the 110H (ãHä stands for high-gain) provided ãtweedä inspired flavors. This amp definitely had a tweed sound to it, even to include some of the ãmudä associated with tweed-flavored amps. But remember, the ãtweed-mudä sound is great for certain sounds such as a bit of Billy Gibbons and certain old Chess blues recordings. When I first plugged into this amp, I turned the volume up full (I do this because I like to control the overall volume with my guitar). When full out, this amp was a bit too muddy, but we found keeping the volume at about 3:00 was optimal for full out distortion. But this is no surprise. Any tweed amp will get muddy at FULL volumes. To me, this amp seemed to prefer single coils (and Scottâs Callaham strat sounded great!!) strung with .009s or .010s. Any more and it seemed to get a bit splotchy. But again, this is no different than any other tweed-style amp. Humbucker just didnât seem to have any sparkle except for Andyâs PRS Hollowbody I. The PRS HBI just seems to be a perfect match for this amp. The internal speaker, which is a Weber C10Q, seemed a bit lacking in bass. Perhaps the speaker was not broken in yet? Overall, what youâd expect from a tweed-style single-ended amp (except for the fact that this amp runs on an internal battery, which is a big selling point).  
George Waldmann: The Smicz PortaBlues is a little battery-powered combo for street buskers who apparently don't need to put out the tip cup. I did not feel the PortaBlues really belonged in this company -- once again. We had one at the last shootout and it sounded harsh and small, but Smicz later said the amp wasn't functioning properly, so Mook gave him another shot. Well, this one still sounded small and harsh to my ears, and this time the mini-reverb pan wasn't working. The battery power option may be of interest to some people, but Iâve heard numerous small amps Iâve liked better.  
Maven Peal Zeeta (  
Scott Baker: This is the amp that has some super-secret power supply patents!! The amp looks good, with a cabinet made by Vermont's skilled craftsmen, and appears solid ("except for those 'cheap' 3/8 inch stainless steel hang rails on top" as one of the builders at the shootout remarked, tongue planted firmly in cheek!) Now how does it sound? Well, to me it is an "all distortion- no clean" amp. I think it only cleaned up when I rolled the volume off on the Tele I brought which probably had the lowest output pickups of any of the guitars used in the shoot out. On everything else (PRS, Les Pauls, P-90s, Strat), the amp was into distortion right from the get-go. The volume control went from off to half volume almost instantly; there was no taper at all. The amp has a SAG control that is supposed to control, well, uh, SAG. The SAG control seemed to be either OFF if it was below 3 or ON if it was above 9 but I couldn't tell much difference in the amp's sound with the control at a setting anywhere between 3 and 9. Even where I could tell a difference (below 3 versus above 9), the SAG control was quite subtle. I was expecting more of an effect with twisting the knob. The tone control was pretty much the same. To me, it has three sounds: below 3; half way; and above 9. I didn't hear a smooth variation in tone as it was rotated from min to max - just the three tones. The amp also has a WATTAGE control that acts like a master volume [or power attenuator, again, the amp builders may have some technical discussions about what it does], anyway it sounds like a master volume to me. The amp sounded better with humbuckers than with Strat  
single coils to me. PRS's sounded pretty good as did Les Pauls with the '57 Classic reissue pickups (I think the 57 Classics are pretty good for a stock pickup and I prefer their sound to the pickups used in PRSs). With this amp, I could hear more of a difference between the Les Paul neck and bridge pickups than between the PRS neck and bridge pickups. However, on all the humbuckers I was hearing some mushiness. Pete Cage was using a P-90 equipped guitar and got some good tones out of this amp but he had to sit there and dial them in. It wasn't like you got a really good tone just by plugging in. And when Pete was playing the amp, it did this weird tremolo effect or as Pete termed it, a "tremolum" because it would do this one volume fade and return. Strange! This amp lists for over $3+k, the most expensive amp at the shootout (even if it does come with its own road case). It looked good but sounded too distorted for me. And its unique features, the SAG control and the WATTAGE control, didn't really impress me. I would also want a better taper on the volume and tone controls. And that "tremolum" effect that Pete got would be especially unnerving to me if I paid $3+k for an amp. [After writing the above, I went back and looked at the August 2000 Guitar Player review of boutique amps where they reviewed the Zeeta. They gave the Zeeta an Editor's Choice award. In the same group of amps was the Carlson TurboPup. We had the TurboPup in last year's shootout. I'd take the TurboPup over the Zeeta even if their prices were the same, much less with the current price differential (Zeeta $3+k and TurboPup $1.5k). I preferred the sounds that we got from the TurbopPup last year to the sounds we got from the Zeeta this year. Maybe the Zeeta we were testing was "out of sorts" witness that tremolum effect mentioned earlier. However, Guitar Player did say that the Zeeta was "too aggressive" for jazz or country players and that is very much the case IMHO. Likewise, in the review of the Turbopup, GP said "those seeking overdriven tones won't find it here without the aid of a pedal." Since I prefer an amp with a cleaner sound that can be pushed into overdrive to one that sounds like it's overdriven to begin with (and no clean headroom), my comments should be taken with that in mind. I would find the Turbopup more useful than the Zeeta.]  
Pete Cage: First off, I wonder if this particular amp had some technical problems. There was a high-pitched squeal (~15kHz) that came and went with different settings (even with no input connected), and it got worse the longer we used the amp. A tube swap didnât change it at all. The amp also would break into hard oscillation at some knob combinations. In addition, certain settings of the Sag and Power controls would produce a single-cycle tremolo effect: smack a chord and the amp would cut off and then fade back in. We cut the demo slightly short for this reason, in case things were being damaged inside the amp. I understand that the audio section of the amp is something like a tweed Deluxe with EL84s. The two Volume controls (Instrument and Microphone) had the same kind of interaction as a Deluxe. Varying the level of the unused channel altered the tone and gain of the channel in use. Players have made use of this ãshortcomingä for additional versatility in tweed Deluxes for many years, though the effect seemed less pronounced in the Zeeta. It sounded to me like the EL84s were overwhelmed by the output from the phase inverter ö the amp would break up almost immediately, and not in a particularly friendly way. With Scottâs Callaham Tele (the lowest-output axe in the test) the amp was very distorted with the volume set as low as ã3.ä The distortion lacked the smooth, caramel chewiness of 6V6s, though, and had a brittle, harsh character to it. The Vintage 30 speaker in the open-backed cabinet did little to complement this distortion ö the tone got splatty very quickly, with a broken-glass edge. The Sag control was subtle, but very cool ö you could hear how it changed the attack of the notes, and the wattage control was much more effective than a simple master volume. It didnât change the tone, just the output level. Generally, the amp didnât sound very musical, and I have to reserve judgment because of the possibility of technical problems.  
Andy Fuchs: Similar to the Smicz, the Zeeta is a three-knob Tweed Deluxe-style circuit, supported by a Patented power supply circuit. [The manufacturer is both proud and protective about his circuit. When he had heard my amplifiers employed power supply regulation, I got an e-mail asking if there was any chance I was infringing on his patents. After a brief e-mail exchange, he felt comfortable I was not using his circuit.] Needless to say, I was anxious to hear an amp with this unique and patentable circuit. My first reaction when it was powered up is ãIs this the $ 4,000.00 Smicz ?!ä. The amp features two inputs Mic and Instrument, and a tone control. The power supply incorporates a ãwattageä and ãsagä control. Neither seemed to provide much more than subtle changes to the sound and playing response. The volume controls exhibited the exact same taper problems seen in the Smicz. You need to have a safecrackerâs touch to use any setting below 9.00. The amp goes from off to very loud, very very quickly. Again, I find it confusing that an Engineer could be gifted enough to design a sophisticated power supply and sag circuit, and yet didnât feel the pot taper was not very ergonomic and should be corrected. The Zeeta has otherwise outstanding construction. The cabinet is clearly very strong, the unique oxblood colored Tolex was beautifully applied, and appeared smooth and durable. The chassis mount straps are a formidable heavy Stainless Steel that looked like 3/16 thick ! The chassis is very substantial metal (gauge unknown), and is coated in a black finish, and silk screened in white. The speaker is a Celestion V30. There was noticeable interaction between the (unused) mic channel and the instrument channel. While this is a function carried over from the original Fender circuit, and again I felt that (like the Smicz) the audio circuit should have received the level of attention that the designer put into the power supply circuit. The amplifier exhibited some peculiarities during testing. Pete Cage picked up on a 16 Khz (?) oscillation leaking from the power supply through the amplifier. The overdriven sounds proved spitty. The Sag control changes the character of the amp to a softer overload, but at either end of the sag control, the distortion character never attained a pleasing, singing or sweet character that I feel a tube amp should be expected to deliver. The Wattage control seemed to make the same sonic changes that the sag control delivered. I think part of this has to be due to the limited strengthâs of the audio circuit. Again, I found myself wondering if too much time was spent on the power supply, and the Fender circuit was simply taken and used, on the assumption it was already Îokayâ. [Maven-Peals future higher powered amp may have performance that will demonstrate the capabilityâs of the power supply]. Pete (clearly the anti-Christ this day) managed to make the amp produce an unexpected tremolo effect. He was turning the Wattage control quickly, to demonstrate there was a noticeable lag in itâs operation, and the amp began to pump and slowly modulate up and down on itâs own ! Since the amp has a 12ä speaker, it was a cleaner and more authoritative sound than the similarly circuited Smicz. Still, the amp did not produce enough clean sound before quickly running out of steam, and turning to a rude distortion. The distortion seemed to be more third order than the 2nd order distortion one expects of tubes. Again, not a real-world amp you could take to a jam or a small gig, without worrying about getting ãlost in the sauceä, amongst drums and other instruments. Like the Smicz, humbuckers could make it fart and overload unpleasantly. With single coils, it was somewhat better, but it never seemed to approach the performance I would expect a $ 4,000.00 product should achieve. I understand a higher powered head, using the same power supply technology is coming out, so perhaps a more viable real-world product is on the horizon from Maven-Peal.  
Kevin Miller: Another tweed-inspired amp. David Zimmerman markets this amp as a Tweed Deluxe with EL84s with the special and proprietary (two U.S patents) Maven Peal Sag Circuit. Even for a tweed design, the bass and treble were well balanced. Familiar interactions with the dual volume controls are apparent in this amp ö just like any Tweed Deluxe. The EL84s, as expected, gave more of a British vibe, almost passing into Marshall territory. Since this amp does use the familiar tweed circuit, you can still expect to get the sound to get a bit muddy and splotchy at full volume. While single coil guitars were discernable from double-coil guitars, this amp seemed to prefer single coils, and again, Scottâs Callaham strat just killed through this amp. In addition, Scottâs new Callaham tele sounded just terrific, too. Well, you heard about the basic Tweed Deluxe sounds, what about the Sag Circuit? Well, it works as advertised. The wattage control will take the amp from full wattage down to about 2 watts. Two watts, mind you, is still pretty darn loud and I would not consider this ãbedroom practice levelsä. But, still, two watts is the PERFECT practice wattage. Regardless of the wattage, the sag level does affect the ãfeelä of the amp, both sonically and physically. Sonically, you can hear the amp go from bright to dark. Physically, you can feel (I put my hand on top of the cabinet and I could feel the air from the speaker) the amp go from ãtightä to ãlooseä. When ãtightä (zero to minimal sag) the amp cabinet is vibrating like crazy and the air expelled by the speaker is easily felt. When ãlooseä (maximum sag), the cabinet vibration and speaker movement was much less active. Overall, the effect is NOT like night and day. I wouldnât call it subtle, either. The Sag effect is somewhere in between. Perfect for studio or practice work, but I doubt you could tell in a band situation.  
George Waldmann: Next up was the Maven Peal Zeeta 1x12 combo with the patented sag and wattage-reducing controls. Guitar Player magazine had hyped this one, so interest was high, but it was the disappointment of the group. It had a rather limited range of tones, the sag control had little noticeable effect, and the output cut sounded choked at lower settings, its claims to the contrary notwithstanding, despite the gooped-up mystery box. The power cut feature is supposed to be a better solution than a master volume to get a good sound at low volume, but functionally I canât say it worked better than some of the well-designed master volume amps Iâve played. You could get a good sound out of the Maven Peal within its range, but we also suspected something wasn't right with this amp either as it also had some weird harshness buried under the tone and a squirrelly top end, and at some settings it spontaneously went into pseudo-tremolo and/or squealing. I'm not a tech, but we had guys with serious amp knowledge present and they wondered if the two linked channels were interacting with each other in a strange way. I will say that it was the best looking amp of the bunch, beautifully finished and obviously built like a tank.  
Cage 18/30 (  
Scott Baker: This is Pete's take on an EL-84 quartet amp. It has a very simple layout with two inputs on the left ("like Leo meant for them to be!" per Pete) for a normal and a bright channel. These can be bridged with a LINK switch located by the inputs. Neat idea! There is a volume and a single tone control (that is, no separate treble or bass, just one knob) for each channel (Editorâs Note: This is a 2 channel amp. Each channel has itâs own volume knob and tone knob. Each channel can be played separately or both channels can be bridged together so you are playing through both in tandem.). By linking the channels you can dial in the amount of bright and dark you want and tweak the sound with the tone controls. The tone controls are designed to affect different frequency ranges for each channel, so you have additional flexibility in dialing in your own sound. The amp has a half-power switch for those so inclined. (At full power the amp had more punch and bite than at half power but really not more volume.) We played the amp through a 2x10 cabinet with Weber P10Qs [right Kevin?? I don't remember any others.] (Editorâs Note: We played mostly through the 2x12 with WeberVST C12ACs and then through the 2x10 with WeberVST P10Qs.) Kevin got some good AC/DC tones with his PRS. A P-90 equipped guitar with the volume rolled off a bit got some of that clean Hendrix sound (think Wind Cries Mary). The amp cleans up slowly as the guitar volume is rolled down so you have more control over the transition from clean to distortion. It got a nice not-quite-as-overdriven sound with my Strat (guitar vol on 10) compared to the humbucker-equipped guitars. At full volume, the amp started losing definition of individual notes in a chord to my ears. In the bright channel only, P-90's were certainly bright but not piercing or ice-pick-like. And PRS humbuckers were brighter in this amp on the bright channel than in any of the others to me. I liked the sound of Pete's amp better than the sound of the Zeeta. It also had more control over tone than the Zeeta as well as more control over the amount and onset of distortion.  
Pete Cage: Editorâs Note ö Pete Cage is the maker of this amp, and is therefore not allowed to provide comments.  
Andy Fuchs: In the continuing battle of the lower end of the Boutique market, Pete Cage may rock the DR-Z boat. [This is a segment of the market I have thought of entering, but with competitors like these, It would be a hard nut to crack !] At $ 1,100.00, the Cage 1830 (Editorâs Note: actually, the official name is ã18/30ä.), is an excellent alternative to the DR-Z RT-66. The amp features 2-12AX7âs (our tester had 5751âs for slightly less gain) (Editorâs Note: the ãstockä set-up includes delivery with a pair of 5751s, but any pre-amp tube compliment can be done. It will accept anything from 12AU7 to 12AX7), 2 EL-84âs (Editorâs Note: actually the 18/30 runs with a quartet of EL84s.), and a two channel configuration. The two channels have their own inputs and two very distinct voicings. By using the link switch (it connects your guitar to both channels without needing a Y connector), and lets you tune the sound by setting each channels level control. I wished I had my ES-345, with the stereo cord to see how I could use this to best advantage. It seems like this combo could allow some pretty good tonal range from this type guitar. Iâve always liked the sound of the two pickups feeding separate amps or channels, instead of being tied together through a Y connector or feeding two inputs on one channel of an amp. The cabinet is small and manageable in size, and fit and finish is very good. Each channel has a separate volume and tone controls. The first channel is warm and creamy. When pushed hard, using the Heritage 335 it can comfortably hit a Îwoman toneâ with humbuckers. Low position chords have a lot of force. Using Weber speakers (which Pete uses in modified form), it sounds itâs best. It clearly sounds more powerful than 30 watts has a right to be. It can hang a note nicely. The amp and guitar react well against each other, more organic, more so than I could get with the RT-66. With a PRS Equipped with P-90âs the amp demonstrated a nice articulation and Îspankâ. When driven hard, the brite channel has a nice Îbritishâ almost metal-style edge to it. A nice harmonic structure. A very BIG sound, gutsy. A good overall punch. Sounds like it has a solid power supply and it doesnât blink when hit hard. It was very difficult to find a way to drive the amp into a ãbad zoneä. Even dimed, it leaned more towards a singing rather than screaming or getting rude or obnoxious. It has a surprising low-end kick too. I like the ability to change the voice of the amp by balancing the channels. It has a nice grind as well. The main cabinet we tested with was a Matchless open back, with Weberâs (modified to Peteâs specs) in a 2 X 12 configuration. Even when used on other Webers, or my EV-12-L ported/closed back box, it maintained a tight responsive characteristic. I applaud Pete for having the testicular fortitude to jump into a tight market segment (1-2-K) and to produce an excellent value in this price range. As a manufacturer, I know how hard it can be to produce a low end product that can both perform and make enough money to make manufacturing it worth doing. I wish Pete success with this product, and encourage potential customers in this price range to try to test drive this baby.  
Kevin Miller: This amp was equally good with both humbuckers and single coils. Very natural and balanced, with a slight ãacousticä property to it. Bluesy tones were there, along with a nice mix of English vibe ö the EL84s were immediately identifiable. In addition to liking both dual and single coil guitars, this amp also liked all pickup selections within the guitars ö neck pickups were not mushy and bridge pickups were not brittle. Responded very nicely to picking dynamics and it responded well to rolling off the guitar volume. Once again, Scottâs Callaham strat just sounded ãBell-a-Riffic, Babyä! Also, Scott did a finger-picking exercise on this strat which really brought out those ãacousticä type tones of this amp. Think Vox, but less ãthroatyä. In addition, Andyâs HBI sounded very acoustic and stringy. When pushed, this amp had the perfect grind, that to me, was very smooth. Excellent chime and harmonic content. About the only thing I could think of knocking on this amp was itâs overall lack of gain. Donât get me wrong, this amp did put out, and the AC/DC tones were almost there; but, I prefer amps with a bit more gas. This amp would be perfect for Classic Rock, Blues, and Modern Rock (just not the heavy stuff). I just might have to sell my Carman Ghia in order to purchase one of these.  
George Waldmann: The 30 watt Cage 18-30 (Editorâs Note: actually, itâs called the ã18/30ä.) looks like a Marshall head, but sounds much smoother. This was a terrific amp, with two channels (normal and bright) but a total of only four knobs, one volume and one tone per channel, and a "link" toggle switch that runs them in parallel if you want. With the two channels linked, you can get an amazing variety of tones out of this thing by twiddling the four knobs. Set up the normal channel to taste, then bring up the bright channel's volume and tone to sweeten. Or do it the other way around. Allowed you dial in a wide sweet spot between clean and breakup, or push it beyond. Overall, this one exemplified the best characteristics of both tweed and blackface. The overdrive was tight and well muscled, and the breakup was easily controlled and not mushy, whether using single coils or humbuckers. The high end was smooth so you could listen to this one loud without a lot of ear fatigue.  
Dr. Z Route 66 (  
Scott Baker: This is my amp so I will defer to others to be objective. It's a 1998 model. To me, this is a "British vibe"amp. It ranges from "pop" (think the Beatles' "I Feel Fine") to "hard rock" (think the Stones' "Midnight Rambler") with just a tweak of the volume knob. Just imagine playing the opening riff from either song; this amp can deliver the "feel" of either song while not slavishly aping the actual sound from the records. It makes you want to play different tunes/styles as you turn it up or down. I dig it a lot! It's powered by a rather different tube complement than usual, an EF86 tube in the preamp and two KT-66 power tubes. It has a very big round sound to it that almost sounds like it has some reverb built in! One volume knob, one treble knob, and one bass knob are all the controls it has. The treble and bass controls are more in the nature of extra gain controls than tone controls. One input and speaker outputs for 4, 8, and 16 ohm loads. What more could you want?!!! Andy's PRS sounded really good, not mushy or muddy (the bane of humbuckers IMHO.) George's LP with '57 Classic pickups also sounded really neat. Pete's P-90-equipped guitar sounded really clean, also. I put a Strat and a Tele thru the amp, again both sounded great to me. Great tight bass, nice highs!! A nice overdriven sound when pushed but not one of those buzzy sounding overdriven tones. Biased, not me!! One thing about all Dr. Z amps I've heard is that they have very good definition. On Z amps, I hear each note in a chord while on some of the buzz boxes all I hear is one loud blatt. I much prefer the clarity of a Z amp to a dimed buzz box which mushes everything together. [Guitar Player reviewed the Route 66 in January 1999 and subsequently gave it an Editor's Choice award. I agree with the comments in the GP review, and I heartily agree that it should get the Editor's Choice award. So, even though I differ with the GP reviewers on the Zeeta and Turbopup, sometimes they do get it right!]  
Pete Cage: Let me confess right up front ö Iâm a big fan of this amp. It doesnât sound quite like anything else out there, but it does its own thing extremely well. Itâs hard to find a bad setting on this amp ö the tone controls are limited to a range that is entirely useful. Plus, the Treble control acts as a sort of gain control (kind of like the single-tone-knob tweeds) that lets you decide how much high-frequency content to smack into the output stage. The amp responds very well to volume changes on the guitar, cleaning up without losing clarity. Changes in pick attack produce very linear and predictable responses from the amp, and you can be very expressive without touching a single control. The amp breaks up fairly quickly with humbuckers, and there was slight ghosting at high distortion levels (could have been amp power supply or speakers or both contributing to the ghosties) but the ghost notes seemed somehow pleasing rather than dissonant. Complex chords rang through, even with lots of distortion dialed in. I really love how the bottom end hangs tough at any drive level ö it never gets farty or uncontrolled, and thereâs a richness to the low notes that few amps have. To me, this amp was very musical at all settings with all guitars we tried. Some folks wished for a little more range on the Bass control, but Iâm undecided about that. We tried several cabinets, and the 2x12 with WeberVST C12B was my favorite. What can I say ö I love this amp!  
Andy Fuchs: I was looking forward to hearing a number of amps that were on the participants list. Sadly, a number of invited vendors (Aiken, Barden, and Norwine) didnât show (Editorâs Note: Unfortunately, there were some last minute cancellations in both the vendors AND reviewers. Of the ones mentioned, Norwine {who was in last yearâs Shootout} was never a confirmed attendee; more of a ãhopeful showä, if you will.). The RT-66 was an amp I particularly wanted to hear, as itâs received excellent comments throughout the Internet, and it appeared to represent an excellent Îbang for the buckâ. At 32 watts, it sports a pair of KT-66âs and a simple front panel with Volume, Bass, and Treble controls. The construction quality is very good. The chassis is a thick metal (at least .080 or more), and the transformers are a healthy size for the power output of the amp. They never got more than warm to the touch, during testing. The front grille is held in with Velcro (nice touch), and was removed to reveal solid construction and a clean open layout. The amp has a EF86 and a 12AX7 and 2 KT-66âs, plus a tube rectifier. The head is a nice compact size and weight. The Tolex was smooth and well applied. The faceplate is engraved black plastic. The first thought I had was ãloud and clearä. Itâs a dimensional sound, not gritty and is authoritative and solid. Yes, I thought it could be a little more forward or a little more ãEnglishä, but this is a personal preference. Maybe adding a brite pull pot or pull presence pot ? I thought itâs sound was overall very good. When pushed to distortion, the distortion character has a nice detail and a lack of clutter. Itâs mid focused, and sounds like it could cut through a band or mix quite well. I kept thinking I wouldnât mind a little more sparkle overall, but again, that could cause the qualities I like to be changed or lost. It has a fast response, and goes from clean to mean easily controlled by the guitar, which I like a lot. The distortion likes simple two note forms. It lends itself well to blues riffs a la Clapton or Buddy Guy. The tone controls are fairly effective. The treble pot clearly runs the show, and sets the overall characteristic of the overall sound. The bass control seems a little limited in itâs range (likely a simple cut circuit), but does more than many Marshallâs or other amps Iâve played. We later realized the bass control frequency is set really low. Using a 4X 12 setup, we heard the control as more active. Maybe it need to be raised in frequency a tad. I just prefer as much tonal range as I can get from the controls at hand. Like anything in life, too much of a good thing can be bad. It can be driven to a point where it gets unpleasant. It can get ugly with very hot pickups, when pushed to the max. When George played some John McLaughlin-esque large suspended chords, the amp showed itâs displeasure. There are some pickups and chord forms you need to avoid, unless you cut back on the gain or your guitar. Again I must stress: when properly used (not abused) within itâs reasonable range, it has many ãsweet spotsä and itâs an excellent product. On the downside, there was a very slight residual hum (sounded like 120 hz power supply hum, not transformer hum field or grounding type hum), that seemed like it could have been Engineered out. This was with the amp ãdimedä, and in a quiet listening room. On a bandstand or even a studio, it wouldnât likely be much of an issue. Into my EV-12-L equipped cabinet, it projected very well. I have heard many amps that were noisier in similar control settings, however. I think itâs a very nice amp, and represents a good value. Itâs sales and popularity have proven this.  
Kevin Miller: This amp had a different sound and feel ö perhaps one of the most ãuniqueä sound to come out in a long time. In short, this amp is summed up at ãsmooth grindä. I thought this amp preferred ceramic speakers as they seemed to give the amp a bit more bite. I notice that changing speaker cabs with this amp yielded wide results, perhaps more than any other amp we tried today. Smooth, controlled feedback. To my ears, the perfect ãStonesä grind. The treble and bass controls were very, very useful and had a very wide range. In fact, it seemed that a lot of the gain is controlled through the treble control. As all Dr. Z amps (as Iâve played and owned many of them), the Route 66 gave perfect voice changes when changing pickups on the guitar and responded very well when rolling back the guitar volume. Nice detail and ãstringinessä. Complex chords were heard well. Again, like the Cage, this amp would be a perfect addition to my amp collect if it had a bit more gain. Overall, a very well done bluesy/jazzy grindbox.  
George Waldmann: The Dr. Z Route 66 was a hoot. Just a bone simple kick-ass amp for rock and roll. Three knobs, no fuss. Not much clean headroom to speak of, but great distortion and cutting power. You have to crank this amp to take advantage of it. When you do, it has terrific grind up and down the range, without getting sloppy or farting out. The bottom end holds together about as well anything Iâve heard, and the top end is clear without being piercing or unpleasant. Very well balanced. A one-trick pony, but a very good one, as long as you're willing to play loud.  
Bruno Underground 45 (  
Scott Baker: This is Kevin's amp and he said that it basically had no clean sounds. I agree. When George played his LP thru the amp he didn't get AC/DC like sounds, and when playing 2 or more notes the amp sounded messy with each note not being clear. When the amp was at 9:00 on the volume knob, it was about as loud as it got. Beyond that it was just more buzz. We started out running the amp into a 2x12 cabinet with C12 Webers that had been doped; however, the amp sounded better when played thru Andy's cabinet, a single 12 with an EV12L. Thru Andy's cabinet I heard some of the early Cream tones. Andy's cabinet was closed back and Mook's was open back which would account for some of the differences between the two cabinets. IMHO, this amp is strictly a buzz box. If you look for some good clean sounds (I do), then this is probably not the amp for you.  
Pete Cage: This is a LOUD amp, and as close as I could tell, it only does one thing: raw, screaming, chainsaw distortion. While it lacks versatility, itâs clear that that one tone has been very carefully tweaked and massaged ö it does that one thing extremely well. There is no clean tone ö with humbuckers it goes from silent to full roar as soon as you move the Volume knob. Even with low-output single coils, the tone is crunchy right away, and itâs roaring by 10:00 on the knob. From 12:00 on the Volume knob all the rest of the way up, thereâs not much change to the gain ö itâs all there already, though the tone may thicken a bit. Plus, itâs LOUD. I liked the amp best with Andyâs PRS hollowbody at fairly low settings on the ampâs volume control (though it sounded like the amp was dimed at those settings. Iâll admit that Iâd probably like it better psychologically if that tone was produced at a dimed setting, so the amp would have more range.) It was brittle with the Strats, even on middle and neck pickups. Even the Les Paul was very bright. The amp sounded angry, almost evil, and would most certainly cut through a mix. Most of the tones were kind of like an ice pick in the ear ö this amp had more reviewers covering their ears than any other in the shootout, especially at 15 feet from the speaker cab, on axis. There was quite a lot of ghosting, even with doped speakers, probably due to the sheer amount of power thatâs coming from the amp. It is LOUD. The 45 required careful playing to get the most out of it, though it did reward your efforts. Sloppy execution and/or complex chords wonât cut it with this amp ö you have to play the right stuff and you have to play it well. The tricky part would be finding a gig where you could use that one tone, at that one volume level. This would be a great amp to have in your studio arsenal when you need that one special texture. Did I mention that itâs LOUD?  
Andy Fuchs: Brunoâs amps always intrigued me. Tonyâs first shops were right near where I grew up in Queens, yet I was surprised I didnât know him or know of him, (With my dad owning a music store, I thought I knew all the technicians and amp-geeks in the area!). His website is a very professional and polished site. He certainly has a nice assortment of products on his site, and he gets a pretty decent buck for his products. I have seen a few of his amps and have been in some cases quite impressed, and in other cases pretty shocked. I rehearsed at a studio in NYC and heard his Cowtipper, and found it to have a nice Fender vibe to it. It was pretty clean and carried through the band fairly well. [The same guitarist tried to put his 63 Black top Les Paul through the Underground 45 and felt it ãunusableä, as it was brash and glassy. This is a guitar and player Iâve never heard sound bad, and Iâve worked with this guitarist (Bill Price) and heard this axe through lots of different amps and in various playing situations]. I later found out this studio is owned by Tony Brunoâs partner (Gene), and functions as a studio as well as being the NYC Bruno Showroom of sorts. The Bruno product exteriorâs seems professional and well built, but Iâve heard mixed reviews on internal construction. I had the opportunity to spend some time with his 6-K Dumble clone. I found the sound pretty disappointing with controls that did strange things, switches that popped, and generally producing lackluster overdrive. The internal construction was even more of a let down: from sloppy wiring, unused tube sockets left in place with wires clipped, pots from many different manufacturers. One corner of the cabinet was separating at the finger joint, and generally looking more like a prototype inside than a finished product, it did not justify itâs 6-K price in my book. Mook had opened this amp previously, (no amps were opened up during the Shootout), and felt the construction was ãclose to Harry Joyce qualityä (Editorâs Note: The build is ãreminiscentä of Joyce ö not as neat, but the basics are there). So the confusion continues. How do you know what your getting when you buy a Bruno ? Is it like a ãMonday Carä or needs to be subject to a full inspection before purchase ? Are some models worthy of excellent construction, or are there certain models to avoid? It would concern me as a consumer, and it frustrates me even more as a manufacturer. On to the Underground 45. The amp appeared to be solidly built. The cabinet seemed strong, and the fit and finish of the chassis and Tolex were excellent. The amp did not display any malfunctions or outright misbehaviors. When Kevin (Mook) told us this amp had ãhairy ballsä, I had no idea what to expect. It suffers from the ãavalancheä volume control taper demonstrated by the Smicz and Peal amps. From 0 to 9.00 is a sharp increase in volume, with very little control. (Again, the voice in my head kept asking: ãdoesnât anyone sit down and play these amps and think this might be a problem easily fixed ? ä ). The amp displays very little clean sound before it goes into what I call ãholocaustä overdrive. Everyone in the room had their hands on their ears in seconds. Even Pete Cage (who remembered earplugs, lucky bastard), had his ears covered with the plugs in place ! I found the amp hard to take and really metalic on the high strings. Pete played the opening riff from 867-5309/Jennie by Tommy Tutone (Editorâs Note: actually, George had been the one playing that lick. Everyone, please give George a hard time for actually knowing this lick! J ), and it almost had too much brang. Little or no real low end ãchunkä. None of the woody push I like to feel from a good vintage Marshall. You know the feeling when an amp pushes on your guts. The first position ÎAâ chord and ÎEâ chords move your innerds back a little. Sorry, none of that here. Lots of 3rd order distortion. Has a real almost ãtransitoryä overdrive to it. Shit loads of volume at 8.00. Needs a half power or triode switch to maybe tame it. Tone controls wonât save you either. They have some range, but donât have the ability to pull you back from itâs hellish character. Not very musical at all. A nasty overall gnarly presentation. Tons of white noise (more than I would think normal). Sounds like an LPB-1 gain booster plugged into it. Not much hum (but maybe the white noise masked some, and my temporary hearing loss at the time did as well). Kevin said he uses an attenuator with it, and it doesnât surprise me. I wish someone wouldâve asked to try hooking the attenuator up ! Maybe a power attenuator would tame some of the objectionable qualities the amp displayed. While lots of this is my personal opinion, I canât see anyone but a devoted metalhead appreciating this amps sound. Even trying to think as a rock player (like say 20 years ago), I couldnât see myself liking nor using an amp like this. I canât understand making an amp with such a narrow ãfield of performanceä as this amp has. It might be the right amp for a select few players, but I wonât be one of them·.  
Kevin Miller: This is my personal amp. Trainwreck inspired. I bought this amp to ãreplaceä the Callaham amp reviewed last year in the original East Coast Shootout. This amp is topologically the same as the Callaham, but uses EL34s in place of the 84s. Aside from the difference of tubes, the Bruno is much more aggressive and not as midrangey than the Cally. This amp has teeth. No, this amp has fangs! Yes·.fangs! Also, if you look around back, youâll be able to see gonads hanging off the output transformer. Big Cajones!! In addition to a much more aggressive sound, the Bruno cleans up nicely when rolling back the guitar volume. Clean sounds, while minimal, are there ö you just have to work a little harder to get them. Most of the clean sounds are achieved by setting the volume around 10 oâclock and rolling back the guitar volume. Tons of low end. Responds well to pick attack, and nice transition from semi-distorted to full-thick distorted notes/tones. I think if Eddie Van Halen were to play a boutique amp, this would be it ö EVH sounds are there in spades. I can pull heavily-overdriven Robben Ford sounds out of this amp, too. This amp favors humbuckers, but does a respectable job with single coils. Iâve given a name to this amp, and itâs name is ãDiabloä.  
George Waldmann: The Bruno Underground 45 was another one I'd looked forward to. I once heard someone playing a Strat through an Underground 30 and getting some of the sweetest tones on the edge of breakup I'd ever heard. The 45, however, was another animal altogether, a beast in fact. Starts out loud and nasty and goes up from there. The taper goes from zero directly to about nine, and between nine and ten the rest of the dial just adds a bit of squish to the compression, not a lot. There is almost no application for this amp short of fairly large venues. All distortion all the time, very hairy. Not metal distortion, but heavy, thumping rock and roll distortion with strong mids. Sounds great for that kind of thing, but I suspect only a few guitarists can really use this thing to its full advantage. I would not use this amp for anything other than the simplest chords as it did not retain the necessary definition for more complex ones. If you want killer, barely under control lead tones, this might be the amp youâre looking for, but for most general applications it would be very hard to use this amp.  
Fuchs Overdrive Supreme 100 (  
Scott Baker: This amp is not for the faint of heart. First, it had more controls than any other amp. In contrast to Pete's single-vol/tone-control-per-channel setup, Andy's amp had more knobs than I could count [you need to check Andy's web site to see the number of controls/features available]. And it had half power, pentode/triode, and studio switches. I would need an instruction manual to operate it. Second, when cranked it was one LOUD 100 watt amp, especially through Andy's 1x12 cabinet with an EV12L If we had run this amp through a 4x12 cabinet, it probably would have lifted Mook's house off of its foundation. If this amp is not loud enough for your application, probably NO amp would be. The single 12 cabinet with the EV12L sounded a bit aggressive compared to the 2x12 cabinet with Webers we also used. Third, this amp will point out your mistakes rather than cover them up. But if you're looking for that Robben Ford/Larry Carlton/Eric Johnson overdriven sound, this is the amp for you. We got some very nice clean jazz sounds out of LPs w/humbuckers with this amp. Tweak the knobs and you get "Black Magic Woman" tone with a PRS (the amp took the PRS humbuckers especially well). The amp sounded very good clean and had a very good overdriven sound plus it seemed easy for Andy to dial it in (as one would expect, since he designed/built the amp). My Tele was able to get overdriven sounds on this amp easier than on the other amps. The amp went from clean to overdriven smoothly and had more than enough power. I thought it was the most versatile amp we tested. And the $2.9k price makes it way less expensive than the Zeeta. It is also more than competitive with the Two Rock we tested last year, probably its closest sonic competitor. If you're a sloppy player (me!) you probably would be disappointed by this amp because it would highlight your sloppiness. However, for those technically proficient types who know what Dumble-like tones they are looking for and love to twiddle knobs and flip switches, this is the best performance/price Dumble-like tone I've heard.  
Pete Cage: I hear a Dumble influence here, yet Andy Fuchs has clearly taken this amp in his own direction. The clean tones were very punchy, especially on the 100w settings. The tightness of the amp gave a jazzy flavor to the clean tones, which were a bit drier than, say, BF Fender-ish clean. The many controls and switches allowed quite a bit of variation to the clean tones. The reverb times were long, though I understand that there is an internal control that allows you to adjust the amount of drive thatâs sent to the tank (Iâd like a bit less for a shorter decay, but thatâs just me.) This ampâs forte is gain, though, and it gives you a tremendous amount of control over how that gain is generated and shaped. To my ears, itâs a very specific kind of gain ö not the kind of JCM-900 gain that makes nearly anyone sound talented, but the really refined kind of gain that rewards serious chops and allows articulation to come through. Think Larry Carlton or Eric Johnson, for instance. This amp will give enormous quantities of smooth, liquid, singing gain and yet you can still hear everything thatâs being done on the guitar ö with the right and left hands. If you miss a note, even a little bit, everyone is going to know it. In this respect, itâs very unforgiving, but at the same time it is there for you - IF youâre good enough. This is an amp that will delight a talented player and frustrate a hack. And thatâs a beautiful thing. I also liked the power controls. Among the 100-watt/50-watt, Pentode/Triode, and Normal/Studio Power switches, there is a wide range of power and drive combinations that would let this amp find its sweet spot in any environment from living room to concert hall. The EV12L speaker gave a focused, midrange-y sound that would find sonic space in dense arrangements without any difficulty. The smallish, ported cabinet sounded a bit like the earlier Boogie amps ö not voluptuous when played alone, but I suspect that it would find its sonic niche when played in ensemble and not get lost in the mix. Unaccompanied, I liked the amp best through the 2x10 cabinet (WeberVST P10Q) where it had a wider frequency range and more bass ö though Iâd want to try both cabinets in an ensemble setting to see which worked best. I have to admit: Iâm not really good enough to play this kind of amp. I just donât have the chops. In the right hands, though, it sounded fabulous, and the controls allowed plenty of adjustment range. You would want to spend some serious time with this amp to find all of its various voices ö there are quite a few knobs and switches and they all really do something. As a builder, I recognize that gain is easy to do, but good gain is really hard to do. This is good gain: itâs articulate, itâs extremely controllable, and it will convey your every nuance. My hatâs off to Andy for sweating the details and getting it right.  
Andy Fuchs: Editorâs Note ö Andy Fuchs is the maker of this amp, and is therefore not allowed to provide comments.  
Kevin Miller: Iâm already accustomed to Andyâs work as I already own a ODS-100 (albeit, itâs a modified Bassman). This amp is definitely a Fender-voiced, Dumble-inspired work-of-art. Overall, this amp is a bit higher gain than some of the other ãDumbleä inspired creations on the market today. Very touch responsive ö pick attack is everything with this amp. This amp responds well to rolling off the guitar volume. There is a seamless transition from clean to distortion, and the distortion sounds huge! Donât think modern distortion. Think of that familiar Santana/Boogie and Robben Ford sound. The clean channel was warm, punchy, and harmonic. The overdrive channel adds fatness, harmonics, and singing lead distortion. Even at high distortion volumes, complex chords were easily discernable. About ¸ way through auditioning this amp, someone commented about the 6L6 tubes. Andy said, ãno, this amp is powered by EL34sä. Wow! I was fooled. Somehow, Andy figured out how to get an ãAmericanä sound out of those EL34s. This amp can get ãgainyä and crunchy, but still retain the Fenderish sound, but there is a hint of British vibe. Like the Cage, this amp liked both double-coil and single-coil guitars. Watch out Mr. Dumble, you will soon be completely out of business (rumour has it that Howard is still making one or two amps a year).  
George Waldmann: The Fuchs Audio Overdrive Supreme is said to be a take on a Dumble. I've never played one, so I can't compare, but this one had the most "audiophile" sound of the group -- very clear, controlled and cutting. Also had the most high-end, at least the way most of us had it dialed in Tons of knobs to play with, maybe too many for a lot of plug and play types, but you can dial in a huge variety of sounds and tailor them anyway you want. If it had a flaw, it might be that it was a touch on the dry side, could have used a bit more warmth, but thatâs probably something that could be dialed in with a little more tweaking. Itâs a very versatile amp with an excellent range of tones from clean to overdriven. You can use this one for jazz/pop stuff, dial it up a bit for a slight edge, take it into blues territory or grind it all the way up to fairly heavy distortion. Not sloppy distortion, but tight, well-controlled grind. With more time, we probably could have found all kinds of sounds in there. It was also relatively small and portable, so if you needed just one amp to fill the bill for a lot of different applications, the Fuchs would be a great choice.  
Post Shootout Comments:  
After the shootout, David Zimmerman of Maven Peal had the following words to say: ãManufacturer's Response - David Zimmerman of Maven Peal: Well, as Andy pointed out, I spent an awful lot of time designing a dynamite power supply, and yet, I obviously did not test this particular amplifier enough before sending it out. I apologize to everyone, especially the reviewers, that this Zeeta could not fully participate in this review. Pete was correct when he wondered if this amp had a technical problem. In fact, it had a bad power supply regulator chip, which will cause all of the technical problems found in this review. I am concerned, however, that even if this chip was working, that many of the reviewers here would not enjoy the Zeeta. After all, it *is* a tweed Deluxe, and will behave accordingly (e.g. odd harmonic power amp distortion as opposed to even harmonic preamp distortion). If this amp had gone to a customer and failed, I would have sent FedEx out to pick up the amp, on my dime. I would have fixed the amp, installed the new push-pull tone knob (pushed-in you get a tweed Super power amp, pulled-out you get a tweed Deluxe power amp) that I've added since this review, and sent the amp back, via FedEx, on my dime. I've also increased the wattage control range, which *functions* very much like a master volume control, but *sounds and feels* very different, to 1 watt. And Andy, Thomas Jefferson said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Before I applied for my patents (which are public domain on for patent numbers 5,635,872 and 5,909,145) no one seemed to care much about the amplifier's power supply. In fact, most of everyone's efforts centered on preamp distortion. So when anyone, small or large, starts talking about the power supply, I am vigilant. There is one thing I can agree with Scott on. I'd also rather play a functioning TurboPup than a broken Zeeta any day. :-)ä

Bryan James as always mook great report. -- 12/29/2000 8:31 PM