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45 Degrees of Tone: The JTM45 Roundup




Wallace Amplification BKW45

Brian Wallace has electronics in his DNA. His father, an electronics engineer, and his grandfather, an RCA tube repairman, were both instrumental in his early education and development in tubes and electronics. When he was young his father gave him a 75-in-1 electronic projects kit and further encouraged Brian by letting him watch as he built his own projects. Like all of the builders in the roundup, Brian is a player. He began modifying amps in 1974, when he removed the speakers and baffle in his Checkmate amp and replaced them with a baffle he created and some purchased speakers—altering the sound of the amp and thus beginning his lifelong journey. In 1995, he was approached by Guytron Amplification to help out while they were getting started. A positive experience, it propelled him to the next level and led to the creation of Wallace Amplification, which now offers several amp models as well as replacement transformers under the Marstran name.

Wallace’s first amp is the BKW45, but he is more than a clone maker. Recently he introduced the Abaddon, which is a 50-watt master volume head consisting of four gain stages in the preamp. There is much more to come, including a line of pedals and a reissue of the Fuzz Ace pedal he made back in the early 90s. The BKW45 is a unique flavor of JTM45. A hair darker in tone and possessing slightly less gain than all of the other models, including both the vintage and reissue Marshall, it yielded enormous bloom and a bold, thick, sustaining quality. Even though there was a little less gain, it didn’t affect playability, and we never struggled with the amp. It was one of the rarest qualities I’ve experienced in an amp, and certainly an unexpected bonus.

The Wallace had a magical ability to push notes through loud and clear while still being able to dish out gritty and harmonically pleasing chords that didn’t fight the non-perfect intervals they were built on. This all came out of an amp that was using tubes you can buy today without breaking the bank.

Speaking of breaking, check out the sidebar on what the BKW45 was subjected to by UPS en route to our roundup. In spite of the gorilla treatment it received, the amp arrived without shattered glass and performed flawlessly throughout the entire set of three sessions of playing and listening. That’s a testament to a solidly built and roadworthy piece of equipment. And one look inside the amp will show what a dedicated and precise builder Wallace is. In tone and build quality, the amp is a work of art.

wallaceamps.com

Ever wonder what could happen to your amp in shipping? In the case of Brian Wallace’s BKW45 amp, UPS had a field day, and decided it would be a lot of fun to throw it around. When the amp arrived, it was packed neatly in a new cardboard box with padding inside suspending the padded road case that housed the amp. That’s double-boxed and protected by a case built for heavy abuse. Sadly, it took one good slide down the end of a ramp and collided with either another box or the wall of the truck. Though the box didn’t show any signs of abuse on the outside, it was clear that something had shifted when I opened the case. Take a look at this picture of the damage and the way the entire amp was shifted to one side because of the impact. Believe it or not, the tubes didn’t shatter and the amp worked fine, but it was cosmetically damaged by a broken front Plexi panel. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it happen with this type of road-worthy packing. Let this serve as a reminder to always insure your amps, as the shipping company can’t tell if you’ve got a bag of peanuts in a box or an amp that was lovingly built by somebody like Brian.