Premier Guitar

GALLERY: Nashville Amp Expo 2011

August 24, 2011
On August 19-22, hundreds of amp makers, luthiers, stompbox builders, guitarists, bassists, collectors, tone freaks, and gear fanatics converged on Music City for the third annual Nashville Amp Expo. Organized by Creation Audio Labs, the smooth-running event was held at the Hyatt Place hotel in nearby Brentwood, Tennessee. The Expo took over the entire hotel for three nights and two days of high-decibel glory, and the show’s slogan—Blow It Out Your Amp—proved totally apt.

Roaming the hotel hallways, gig-bag schlepping attendees stopped at exhibitors’ rooms to audition and test drive inspiring boutique amps, guitars, and pedals. Seminars on amp and guitar maintenance gave players of all stylistic persuasions useful info to take home, and at least 10 concerts covered a wide range of music from fiddle-driven bluegrass to skull-crushing rock. Our photo gallery brings you a taste of the new, beautiful, and sometimes outrageous gear that made this year's Nashville Amp Expo such a success.


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Kelemen Over-Drive
Many modern amp makers pay homage to the legendary Alexander Dumble by building interpretations of his classic—and virtually unobtainable—combos and heads.

One of Joe Kelemen’s new Prototype Series, the Over-Drive is a single-channel head with a power section that clips at 30 watts. With a footswitchable overdrive boost that kicks in two additional gain stages, the Over-Drive can generate up to 60 watts when fully cranked. Its preamp includes a “D”-style feedback circuit, a full tone stack, a bright switch, and a 3-way mid boost.

Other features include Drive and Level controls, as well as a rear-panel Trim knob that allows you to dial in how hard the clean preamp pushes the overdrive section.

“I use meticulous, old-school, point-to-point internal wiring,” says Kelemen, “and encase the leads in Teflon tubing. With this style of building, the parts themselves connect the circuit. I’ve designed this low-wattage amp to allow guitarists to really push the power tubes on a club stage.”

The amp accepts 6V6s, EL34s, and 6L6s, and to accommodate these different power tubes, users can easily adjust the bias on the rear panel with a 20-turn trimmer and current test points. This Over-Drive sports an optional Triode/Full Power switch.
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Little Walter 50/15
Designed for studio players who need both clean and distorted tones in a session, the Little Walter 50/15 is actually two separate amps in a single cabinet. One chassis houses the Little Walter 50—a clean head favored by such Nashville players as Vince Gill, Brent Mason, Dann Huff, Joe Perry, and Reggie Young. Its mate, the Little Walter 15, is known for its sweet breakup.

The 50-watt side has 6L6 power tubes, a 5U4 rectifier, and 6SC7 and 6SL7 preamp tubes. Offering a 5Y3 rectifier tube and a pair of 6SC7 preamp tubes, the 15-watt side is powered by 6V6s.

“Both amps have no circuit, tag, or turret boards,” says Little Walter’s Phil Bradbury, “and they employ true point-to-point wiring.”
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Cusack Kingsnake
Fans of the discontinued Reverend Kingsnake will be delighted to hear that Jon Cusack is bringing back the amp under the Cusack badge. “Since we build pedals,” Cusack explains, “we were in the process of designing an amplifier specifically to use with pedalboards. We wanted a loud, clean, lightweight amp with lots of headroom. When we found out the Reverend designs were for sale, we realized they were exactly what we wanted to build anyway, so it made sense for us to purchase the rights to the designs and trade names.”

The Cusack Kingsnake is an all tube, single-channel, 60-watt amp with four 12AX7s and two 6L6s, spring reverb, and an effects loop. All Kingsnake amps and cabinets are available in dark-red snakeskin or black Tolex and the chassis is available in black or yellow. Cabinets are made from lightweight 3/4" aspen with 3/4" Baltic birch plywood baffle boards.

“We wanted to address any problems as part of the Kingsnake reissue,” explains Cusack, “so we researched the original amps and people’s experiences with them. We found that although the original version sounded great, some players were afraid to gig with it due to its construction. There were also concerns about transformer reliability. We worked with Heyboer Transformers to design an equivalent to the original Chinese transformer, while increasing the reliability and overhead of both the power and output transformers. Our concept is to produce a more rugged version of the original that’s constructed mostly with USA parts. This Kingsnake is built to stand up to touring and offer ease of servicing. PCBs are all two-sided with plated-through holes for reliability. Not only is the amp assembled in Holland, Michigan, but all the PCBs are built-in house as are the cabinets. The chassis, silkscreening, and some of the wire harnesses are built by West Michigan vendors. The rest of the wiring is built and installed in-house.”

The Kingsnake combo lists for $1399 and comes stock with an Eminence Man O War. Priced at $1199, the Kingsnake head includes reverb. Cusack’s 1x12 cabinet ($479) comes with an Eminence Man O War, and the 2x12 cabinet ($599) has a pair of Eminence Private Jacks.
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D. Allen JohnnyBlades
New from pickup maker David Allen are the Johnny Hiland Signature Dual Blade humbuckers. Like vintage single-coils, these humbuckers are built on fiber flatwork, and plastic covers are available in white, black, creme, and parchment.

“We call these JohnnyBlades,” says Allen. “Johnny and I went through a number of my single-coil sets, and there was one he really liked, the CS HotVintage 54/59. He asked me if I could make these noiseless and wind the bridge pickup just a bit hotter. Johnny needed a set that combined single-coil tone and hum-canceling performance, and could handle anything from country to jazz to blues. But he also wanted the pickups to deal well with high gain, so he could rock out. After about six months of R&D—I made 20 versions of the sets—I finally arrived at four prototype sets. We mixed-and-matched these 12 pickups to get the exact tone Johnny was looking for. It was a challenge to achieve the wide sonic profile Johnny was after, and in the process I ended up having to order custom magnets and blades.”
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Wampler Pedals SLOstortion
Inspired by the sonic characteristics of the classic Soldano SLO-100 head, the Wampler SLOstortion uses two separate, toggle-switched gain settings—Overdrive and Crunch—to create a wide range of distortion colors. The SLOstortion also boasts a newly designed, footswitchable boost circuit, which can be used independently of the distortion. This circuit has its own Boost knob to adjust level. When used with the distortion circuit, the boost follows it to allow solos to cut through the densest mixes. The pedal’s controls are Volume, Gain, Treble, Middle, Bass, and Boost, and it can run on a 9V battery or draw power from a regulated 9V DC, center-pin negative adaptor.

The $219 SLOstortion uses high-grade film capacitors, resistors picked specifically for their sound, and durable jacks and switches. The pedal’s true-bypass switching ensures uncompromised tone when the SLOstortion is not engaged.
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Peter Malinoski Moon Guitar
The 24 3/4"-scale Peter Malinoski Moon guitar has a 3x3 straight-pull headstock and a custom pickup system with three humbuckers and a passive piezo bridge transducer.

“I designed the Moon to be gigging guitar that’s loaded with function and tone,” says Malinoski. “Its shape is reminiscent of a traditional flattop, and its round center pickup plate houses all of the electric components. The Moon’s tones range from sparkle and chime to pure spank, and its series-wired settings capture the acoustic details of the ringing strings. With its silky neck, the guitar is a picker’s dream. It’s becoming a real favorite here in Nashville.”

Moon models feature a Spanish cedar body and pickup plate, a flame maple neck reinforced with carbon fiber rods, a 14"-radius padauk fretboard, a cherry headstock, alnico 5 neck- and middle-position humbuckers, a ceramic magnet bridge humbucker, a Hipshot bridge, and Sperzel tuners. The wood is finished with acrylic lacquer and oil.
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Reason Reato
The 1x12 Reato is Reason's first foray into the land of single-channel amps “But like all our amps, it has a few tricks up its sleeve,” says Reason’s Anthony Bonadio. “With just a pair of 6AQ5 tubes, the Reato achieves 2-, 8-, and 20-watt power settings. The 2- and 8-watt settings are cathode bias, and the 20-watt mode is fixed bias. Aside from bridging the gap from bedroom to stage, this feature makes the Reato perhaps the ultimate recording amp.”

In addition to its 6AQ5 power tubes, the Reato has three 12AX7s and two 12DW7s, and also offers footswitchable reverb and tremolo. The latter has a unique feature: You can adjust tremolo intensity in real-time using a standard volume pedal. “This will change how you use vibrato,” says Bonadio. “We're looking to begin shipping the amp this fall and we’ll announce pricing soon.”
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RS Custom Guitars Epic Jr. and Epic Standard
RS Custom Guitars’ Everett Wood is known for his Red Special models—extraordinary reproductions of Brian May’s own handbuilt axe. But at this show, in addition to his Red Specials, Wood displayed two models from his new Epic line—the Jr. and the Standard.

The RS Custom Epic Standard (left) has an alder body with a 5A quilted-maple top, a maple neck, a 24.75"-scale ebony fretboard, 22 frets, and a pair of D. Allen humbuckers with coil-tap capability.

The Epic Jr. (right) has a mahogany body and neck, a 25"-scale rosewood fretboard, and a fat-toned D. Allen P-90 pickup. And most unusual for a Junior-style guitar: This model has a 24-fret neck.
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Wallace Sophia and Avalon
Brian Wallace introduced two new heads to his impressive line—the Sophia and the Avalon. Sporting three 12AX7s and a quartet of EL84s, the single-channel Sophia (top) pumps out 30 watts and offers a classic set of controls: Volume, Treble, Bass, Mid, and Cut.

The 2-channel, 40-watt Avalon (bottom) has two 12AX7s and a pair of EL34s, and features Volume and Tone knobs for each channel plus a Master volume. The Sophia costs $1200; the Avalon runs $1800.
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Krusa Trillium
New from luthier Kipp Krusa is the Trillium—a 25 1/2"-scale grand concert guitar with a carved top, an elevated fretboard, and an oval soundhole. The Trillium’s top and soundhole are carved from a thick piece of German spruce, and the instrument’s back and sides are made from ziricote. The fretboard and bridge are ebony with mother-of-pearl inlays, and the guitar has gold Waverly tuners with ebony buttons.

“This model employs a traditionally X-braced soundboard that’s graduated in thickness,” says Krusa. “The guitar shown here has a Venetian cutaway and mother-of-pearl vine inlays on both the fretboard and headstock. The Trillium is an immensely responsive instrument that offers brilliant articulation, whether played with a subtle or aggressive technique. It’s available in a variety of different materials, and as with all Krusa guitars, such details as nut width and string spacing at the saddle are customized to the requests of the player.”

You can gauge the thickness of the initial soundboard blank by how high the soundhole lip rises above the carved top.
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Jack Deville Electronics CL3 : AUX and [: tap tap :]
Jack Deville Electronics debuted two innovative devices that expand on their successful Click-Less True-Bypass product line. One is the CL3 : AUX, a 3-button switcher for all Eventide pedals, twin pedals from Boss and DigiTech (including the Jam Man, Expression Factory, Jimi Hendrix, and Brian May), loopers, and more. By putting functions at your feet that are otherwise buried in menus or require programming, the Deville CL3 : AUX offers musicians hands-free operation of their most sophisticated boxes. The CL3 : AUX, which contains three Click-Less True-Bypass switches, has a $59 street price.

The tiny Deville [: tap tap :] works with any device that provides tap tempo, and gives you immediate access to a dedicated tap-tempo button via its single CLTBS switch. According to Deville, the $29 box is perfect for Boss DD series pedals.
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Joseph Zaukus 6224TD and 6224TD3
Joseph Zaukus showed his new single-cut models in both dual- and triple-pickup configurations. These 24.75"-scale Zaukus guitars have a solid lightweight mahogany back and a deeply carved Eastern curly maple top, a nitrocellulose lacquer finish, a one-piece quartersawn mahogany neck with a slight asymmetrical profile, a 10"-radius Madagascar rosewood fretboard with 22 frets, a Tone Pros locking bridge and aluminum tailpiece, Kluson tuners, and custom handwound Motor City pickups. Options include a green abalone center-strip body inlay and an ebony fretboard with mother-of-pearl arched trapezoid inlays. Zaukus guitars come with a handcrafted Cedar Creek hardshell case or a SKB flight case.

The guitars pictured here are a 6224TD (left) in Faded Burst with optional Abalone body inlay ($3595, as shown), a 6224TD3 (center) in Antiquated Black with optional arched trapezoid inlays and aged hardware package ($3870), and a 6224TD (right) in Transparent Dolphin
with an optional Ultra Curl A+ top ($4050).

“Each of my instruments is meticulously handcrafted—no CNC machines—using only the finest materials and traditional construction techniques,” says Zaukus. “I strive to build guitars that rise to the level of a playable work of art.”
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Tonic Vapour
Tonic is now offering their single-channel Vapour and Absinthe heads and cabs in beautiful hardwood enclosures. Shown here is the Vapour clad in sapele wood. The 20-watt Vapour is a class AB head that can run on either a pair of EL84 or 6V6 power tubes. “Instead of using channel switching,” says Tonic’s designer Darin Ellingson, “you can get a rainbow of tones simply by using your guitar’s volume knob as a gain control.”
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Tonic Absinthe
Tonic’s 30-watt Absinthe head in claro walnut. This amp is compatible with 6V6, 6L6, KT66, KT77, and 5881 power tubes and—like the Vapour—allows you to easily move from clean to crunchy tones by simply manipulating your guitar’s volume knob.
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Prairiewood Prairiecaster
Prairiewood’s Rob Dixon was on hand to launch his new Prairiecasters—guitars that wrap elements of Tele, Ricky, and LP Junior designs into a cool, sonically gratifying package.

The $1535 Prairiecaster on the left has a one-piece Eastern maple set neck with a 12" radius and a 25.5" scale length, medium Jescar frets, a two-piece swamp ash body, a Marc Rutters bridge with brass saddles, and Gotoh open-back tuners. A Fralin neck pickup and Budz Purebred bridge pickup round out the package.

The second Prairiecaster boasts an Eastern maple set neck topped with a 12" radius, a 25.5"-scale Indian rosewood fretboard, medium Jescar frets, a one-piece alder body, a custom Marc Rutters reverse-angle bridge, and Gotoh Delta 510 tuners. Like its sibling, this $1575 guitar has Fralin and Budz Purebred pickups in the neck and bridge positions, respectively.

The Marc Rutters reverse-angle bridge simply flips a Tele-style pickup’s orientation to the neck and saddles. And speaking of saddles: The 6th and 5th strings sit on an aluminum saddle, while the others ride on brass. Pretty cool.
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Egnater Tweaker-40 and Tweaker-88
Two new amps from celebrated designer Bruce Egnater continue the evolution of his Tweaker Series heads and combos. While upholding the line’s sonic heritage, the Tweaker 40 (right) delivers more than double the power of its ancestors. Featuring 6L6 power tubes, the 40-watt 2-channel amp has an expanded set of 11 Tweaker switches and is available as a head or 1x12 open-back combo. In addition to Bass, Middle, and Treble knobs, the Tweaker-40 has a Voicing Switch for AC, British, or American tonal response.

Egnater’s 2-channel Tweaker-88 is the powerhouse model of the line. Boasting 13 Tweaker switches and an independent boost for each channel, the Tweaker-88 delivers a vast palette of tones. The 88-watt amp runs on big KT88 bottles and contains four 12AX7 preamp tubes. Like its smaller sibling, the 88 has a 3-way Voicing Switch and a buffered effects loop with level selector. The burly amp plays nicely with Egnater’s semi open-back Tweaker 2x12 cab, which houses Celestion Elite GH-50s.
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Redentore LJ Custom FS
Mark Piper has built an enviable reputation for his beautiful Redentore archtops, and with the L.J. Custom FS, fans of Bigsby-equipped hollowbodies will have something new to lust after. Made from curly cherry wood, the $4795 FS (short for fingerstyle) has a generous 15" lower bout, a 3" depth, and a solid carved and braced top. The sides consist of longitudinal .020 4-ply cherry laminate that‘s crafted for rigidity, and the guitar has a flat back. “That’s for acoustical purposes,” Piper explains.

The guitar’s neck is reinforced with carbon-fiber strips, the 25"-scale ebony fretboard has acrylic inlays, and the headstock sports gold Sperzel locking tuners and a Graph Tech nut. The Bigsby trem is mated with an ABR bridge on a swivel base. For electronics, the FS has TV Jones Classic pickups, Bourns sealed pots, and a .02 Sprague Orange Drop tone cap. A black veneer arm bevel provides both visual flair and playing comfort.
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Satellite Elmer
Satellite’s new Elmer comes as a head or a small combo with either a 10" alnico Fane or a 12" alnico Celestion Blue. Controls on the tremolo-equipped Elmer are Volume, Tone, Speed, and Depth. The amp’s tube complement is a pair of 6AQ5s in a push-pull setup. The Elmer uses a 6CA4 rectifier and has a pair of 12AX7s for its preamp, driver, and bias tremolo circuit. A footpedal is included to activate the trem. The combo lists for $1150, and the head runs $1000.
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Ark Model D-24
Ark’s Model D-24 (perched above an arresting Model A piggyback) is a 24-watt, point-to-point wired “brown tone” head with two 6V6s running in a fixed-bias configuration. EL84 power tubes are an option, as is the Arkaic cosmetic package, which consists of distressed barn wood. The D-24 is designed to provide a variety of tones from clean Fender- and Vox-inspired twang and chime to gnarly-yet-defined high-gain grit. The amp comes with a custom soft case, and prices start at $1599.
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Stratage Tinian SE
Guitarists looking for something different will appreciate the Stratage Tinian SE. Highlights include a sculpted mahogany body with black mother-of-pearl binding, a rare burl top and burl pickup surround, a laminated burl headstock cap, a maple neck and 25.5"-scale fretboard, locking tuners, a Graph Tech nut, a Wilkinson trem with stainless-steel saddles, and custom Stratage pickups in a single/single/hum configuration.

The Tinian SE ships with active electronics made by Great American Sounds. This GASCAPS Model 1 system has a 7-way touch-button pickup selector with LEDs to indicated which of the seven pickup combinations is currently active. The Model 1 also features a 6 dB gain-boost button and active Treble and Bass controls that can independently boost or cut selected frequencies.
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Cavey’s Clubs ST and GT
“I don’t think of my guitars as axes,” says builder Matt Blake. “No, they’re clubs. And because as a kid my nickname was Caveman, I call my handcrafted 6-strings Cavey’s Clubs.”

The 25.5"-scale Lake Blue ST model (right) has a compound fretboard radius of 12" to 14", an extra-large neck pocket, and is wired with Lace Gold Sensors. The ST is also available with three single-coils, in lieu of the single/single/hum configuration pictured here.

Cavey's GT model (left) has a 25.5"-scale fretboard, locking tuners, a Trem King TK-3 fixed-bridge vibrato system, and a 5-way pickup switch. The GT is loaded with custom humbuckers that have a 7.5k (neck) and 10k (bridge) output.
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