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What can a guitarist expect to hear when upgrading their transformers in a newer amp?
An amp’s transformers are the most important component in determining the quality of amplified guitar tone. And it’s no coincidence that they’re the most expensive parts in an amplifier. Many of the newer amps just don’t have the same “overkill” factor with their transformers as the amps in the ’50s and ’60s. Why? Ignorance and a bean-counter mentality. What’s good for accounting isn’t necessarily good for tone from an amp. Sadly, the people making these decisions are probably not players themselves and don’t seem to realize the damage they’re doing to the industry.
It’s not unusual to find a current production amp with a power transformer running hotter than hell, even without cranking the amp all the way. Or having an undersized, cheaply built output transformer whose sphincter begins to tighten the moment the guitarist reaches for the amp’s volume knob. An amp built around anemic transformers yields only to dull, thin, noisy, fuzzy mids and mushy bass. That’s what makes your notes sound more like farts through a pillow. This overkill factor is probably the only edge that some of the vintage amps have over the newer amps.
Have you ever noticed how most newer amps often weigh less, sometimes a lot less, than the older ones? That’s usually the weight difference between the old and new transformer designs. There is a direct relationship between weight and having transformers that seem to stay cooler and “loaf around” with power to spare, until a player demands more from their amp. It’s like they are waiting around having a card game, waiting for the player to do something. The best vintage tone was born that way. Newer amp tone can be easily improved—if the builder follows some of the same ideas.
Upgrading with quality transformers gives a second chance to a new amp owner to make things right with their tone, by reclaiming that overkill factor. Assuming there are no issues with the amp’s circuitry like bad parts or worn out tubes, a guitarist should hear and feel improvements with the very first pluck of the guitar. They should expect to hear the notes more detailed with overtones, and a quicker and more immediate response to their playing. Clean notes will have less sonic collisions with noise and reveal more bell tones, chimes, etc.
When more distortion is required, the player will sense better control of crunch and when break-up begins to happen. The coughing and hacking that happens when a stock amp is pushed, will vanish with a transformer upgrade. It will be replaced with longer sustains and notes that reach farther. The amp will also sound closer and bigger than the power it puts out—and the bass notes will have a tighter, rounder bottom end. And when pushed, she will still be able to hold that quarter from dropping—no matter how tall her high heels—something most musicians are looking for.
It’s not uncommon for guitarists to report that it took a few weeks of playing to fully realize what they’ve gained in terms of harmonic richness. These players have typically played longer and felt more inspirational emotions sucking them in, as they have invested more time into relearning and becoming reacquainted with their amps.
Many players become very attached to the transformers in their vintage amps. When you create ToneClones or Radiospares and Partridge versions of these classic transformers, how close are they get to the originals?
Radiospares and Partridge are our brand specific clones, whereas ToneClones are “best-of-breed” duplicates culled from the hundreds of other brands that have made transformers over the years.
We have made it our mission to duplicate the performance of the best original transformer designs of all time. In terms of amplified guitar tone history, these transformers represent the best ever produced. In the grand scheme of tone pursuit, these designs are incredibility important and deserve to be considered treasures.
This is an ongoing project for us, spanning almost three decades now. And it couldn’t have been accomplished without the enormous amount of assistance we’ve received from top players and amp collectors around the world.