With their first entry into the realm of bass preamps, Port City has produced a well-constructed unit with a straightforward approach.
For a long time, I wasn’t a huge fan of bass rigs with a separate preamp and power amp. I always thought that if I found a head or combo with a preamp I liked, its power stage should work well enough with it. This admittedly limited thinking served me okay for a while—I was able to figure out what I like and don’t like about amps, and then find gear that worked for me—but eventually I had to bite the bullet and find out what all the fuss was about. Plenty of respected companies make separate preamps and power amps used by great players, so there had to be a reason why. What I found out was, for one, some players need a lot more clean, raw power than many heads and combos can deliver. And having all that clean power on hand affords you a lot of flexibility to move from one preamp to another, depending on what the gig or session calls for.
One respected company that’s diving into this sort of bass gear is North Carolina-based Port City Amplification. Builder Daniel Klein’s Wave guitar cabinets are on the road with the likes of Keith Urban, Greg Howe, and David Ryan Harris (John Mayer band), and his boutique amps are gaining ground, too. Klein also makes Wave cabinets for bass, and he has just added the Orleans preamp to his growing line of bass products.
Straight, No Chaser
The handwired Orleans is a no-nonsense preamp without the compressors, DIs, flashing lights, effects, and other bells and whistles we’re accustomed to seeing in a lot of bass gear these days. This fact—along with the Orleans’ minimalist aesthetics—will initially be seen as a shortcoming to some bassists, but a breath of fresh air to others.
The Port City’s solid-aluminum chassis helps keep the preamp light—4 pounds—which is a good thing, since you’ll also be using an external power amp. The front panel has a vintage feel with its pie-piece knobs for controlling the volume, 3-band EQ, and master volume. The Orleans’ back panel is about as simple as it gets: The aluminum plate anchors a hardwired power cable, a fuse receptacle, and a single, unlabeled output jack.
Dance with Me
To test the Orleans, I paired it with a QSC QX3 power amp and an Eden 115XLT cabinet. My test basses were a Sandberg California TM with active electronics, and a passive ’75 Fender P. The Port City’s simple layout and clear-cut controls make it very easy to navigate, so dialing in the Orleans was not difficult at all. I set the EQ at 12 o’clock across the board and was immediately enveloped in warm low end with a bit of midrange bark—a great ’70s punk tone. When I backed off the mids and ever so slightly decreased the treble and bass, the Orleans gave me a vintage fliptop-type tone that made my P bass sound very much at home—it was a sound I would really dig for studio work.
When I initially flipped the thick toggle, I wasn’t very happy with result—my bass suddenly sounded muddy. The thick switch doesn’t behave like a typical exciter, where you set your tone and then thicken it with the exciter circuit afterwards. With the Orleans, I found that you have to think of the thick switch as another part of the EQ and carefully adjust the knobs to complement it. Once I rolled off the bass a little and a dialed in a slight mid boost, the Orleans took a new liking to my P, making it sound even more like they were made for each other. I preferred playing the P without thick engaged, however, because it allowed the bass’ nuances to shine brighter.
One of the things I liked most about how the Orleans sounded with my ’75 Precision was how it seemed to add 10 years to its lifespan, giving it a truly vintage sound. I wouldn’t necessarily call the Orleans a miracle worker, but if you have a bass that needs a little help, this preamp will color it up very well.
Next I tried the Orleans with my active-pickup Sandberg—again starting with the Orleans’ controls at noon—and the amp handled everything I threw at it. The tone was mostly accurate, although slightly pointed. With the active bass, the amp seemed to react better with the thick switch engaged, enhancing the active tone enough to delight any slap player. The preamp stayed even and true, even when I dug in hard at high volumes, and only broke up when I dimed the volume and lowered the master.
With their first entry into the realm of bass preamps, Port City has produced a well-constructed unit with a straightforward approach. It sounded equally impressive with both passive and active basses, too, yielding everything from warm, vintage-flavors with my Fender P bass to taut, powerful slap tones with my Sandberg. With its spartan features, the Orleans isn’t for everyone—but Port City isn’t building it for the masses, either. This boutique, handwired preamp is sonically rich and will fit in with just about any genre of music, so it is going to appeal to some serious tone hounds out there. The price is certainly boutique, but if you’re passionate about your sound and prefer separate amp-and-preamp rigs, there’s a solid case to be made for reaching past the ordinary and making a visit to Port City.
With a missing pickguard, likely non-original pickups, replacement knobs, and tarnished hardware, this Ibanez Custom Agent is worth only about half of its value in excellent condition. Hi Zach,
With a missing pickguard, likely non-original pickups, replacement knobs, and tarnished hardware, this Ibanez Custom Agent is worth only about half of its value in excellent condition.
I’ve had this Ibanez for at least 25 years, but have never been able to assess its value. The only identification number I can find is “Y20” stamped into the fretboard below the 22nd fret. I’ve seen similar guitars for sale online that range from $750 to $2,500. It seems like the value mainly depends on whether it’s a pre- or post-lawsuit guitar. How can I tell what I’ve got?
Any help you can provide is
Doug in Tampa, FL
The Custom Agent’s unique mandolin-scroll-style headstock represents one of the first examples of an Ibanez original design.
These Ibanez “copy” guitars from the 1970s are so cool in my opinion. While it’s obvious they are copies of popular models, Ibanez designers applied their own artistry and flair to them—something Gibson and Fender rarely dared to try. After looking through the book Ibanez: The Untold Story and older Ibanez catalogs, your guitar appears to be a mid-’70s Custom Agent model 2405.
The Custom Agent 2405 was produced between circa 1974 and 1977, but serial numbers were not applied to Ibanez guitars until September 1975. Since your guitar does not have a serial number (you might want to check the potentiometers for date codes), it was most likely produced before September 1975. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any reference to the Y20 marking on the fretboard.
The development of this guitar is interesting, especially because the design is unique. But first, let me give some background on the “lawsuit era” of Ibanez guitars. Up until the mid-1970s, Ibanez mainly offered Japanese-manufactured copies of popular American designs like the Stratocaster and Les Paul. The large American guitar manufacturers certainly didn’t appreciate the business they were losing as a result of Ibanez blatantly copying their instruments. And on June 28, 1977, Norlin (Gibson’s parent company) filed a lawsuit against Elger (Ibanez’s parent company) for trademark infringement, claiming Ibanez was copying Gibson’s headstocks too closely.
What many people don’t realize is that by 1975, Ibanez was already working on their “original designs.” By the time the lawsuit was filed, nearly all Ibanez guitars had a much different, non-Gibson-style headstock. That’s not to say the body shapes weren’t still being copied, but there wasn’t much Gibson or Fender could do about this since they didn’t have specific enough trademarks on their body shapes or styles. The lawsuit never went to trial, and Elger signed an agreement to stop marketing Gibson-copied designs and using model names suggestive of Gibson. Elger complied, but the lawsuit represented what was really more of a formality than a radical change in the way Ibanez built their guitars.
The model 2405 as it appeared in mid-’70s Ibanez promo literature.
The Custom Agent was one of the first Ibanez guitars to feature an original design. The body is obviously based on a Les Paul, but it has a mandolin-scroll-style headstock, banjo-style fretboard inlays, and a decorative pearl inlay below the stud tailpiece that gives the appearance of a trapeze tailpiece. Though it’s missing on your guitar, the stock pickguard for this model was also uniquely shaped with scrolls.
According to factory literature, the Custom Agent featured a mahogany body with a maple or birch top, a set maple neck, a 22-fret rosewood fretboard, two covered Super 70 humbuckers, and four knobs (two volume, two tone). Today, in excellent original condition, this guitar is worth between $1,200 and $1,500. However, since the pickguard is missing, the pickups may not be original, the knobs appear to have been replaced, and the hardware is tarnished, your guitar is worth between $750 and $900. Original condition is everything!
If possible, you should try to return this guitar to its original condition, or at least as close as you can get. Realistically, you probably won’t be able to find a replacement pickguard, but I’m sure there is someone out there who could build one for you. If you can find some period-correct knobs and a set of Super 70 pickups with covers, you really will have a treasure on your hands!
TOP: With its quality tonewoods, high-end appointments, and detailed inlay work, a pre-owned Larrivée OM- 10 is a relative bargain considering its current value of $1,600 to $2,000. BOTTOM:
TOP: With its quality tonewoods, high-end appointments, and detailed inlay work, a pre-owned Larrivée OM- 10 is a relative bargain considering its current value of $1,600 to $2,000. BOTTOM: The OM-10 sports rosewood back and sides and a single-piece mahogany neck.
I’m a big fan of Jean Larrivée and his guitars. I used to own a Larrivée OM-10 and sold it for $1,450 in 2002. Could you provide some history on Larrivée and tell me what this guitar is worth today? I feel like Larrivée is an underappreciated luthier and I don’t hear much about him. I’m curious if I sold this guitar too cheaply!
Stan in Portland, OR
Jean Larrivée has been building for more than 40 years and many of his instruments feature beautiful inlay work. Like you, many guitarists aren’t familiar with Larrivée’s history, so before we get into the OM-10 you sold, let’s take a moment to recap the Canadian luthier’s journey.
Larrivée began studying classical guitar at the age of 20, and four years into his study, he met German classical-guitar luthier Edgar Mönch. Larrivée began an apprenticeship with the luthier in Toronto, and built two guitars under Mönch’s guidance before starting to build guitars on his own in his home workshop.
Larrivée Guitars officially launched in 1968 and Larrivée moved into his first true workshop in 1970, which was located above a theater. At first, he focused exclusively on classical guitars, but then in 1971 he built his first steel-string. After a period of extensive experimentation, he began introducing his own body styles and shapes, as well as original bracing systems and other unique features. In 1972, Larrivée married his wife Wendy, who designs and engraves the inlays on many of the company’s guitars.
Larrivée Guitars grew throughout the 1970s, and by 1976, the company had eight employees and was building between 25 and 30 guitars a month. In 1977, Larrivée moved operations to the island city of Victoria, British Columbia, providing access to the wet, coastal forests of Western Canada. Five years later, Larrivée moved the company to the mainland of British Columbia, right around the time most acoustic guitar manufacturers were going through their toughest times. But instead of consolidating operations, Larrivée began building solidbody electric guitars in 1983. Production of his electric guitars lasted through 1989, when the market had improved enough for him to focus solely on acoustics again.
The 1990s marked a resurgence in guitar manufacturing and the company moved to an 11,000 square foot factory in 1991, where they employed 35 people and built 25 guitars a day. In 1997, Larrivée Guitars introduced the lowest-priced model in their lineup with the D-03, which would firmly establish Larrivée in the acoustic guitar arena. In 1998, they moved into another new factory with 33,000 square feet, employing 100 people and producing 60 to 72 guitars per day. Three years later, Larrivée opened a U.S. factory in Southern California, just ten days before September 11, 2001.
During the next two years, Larrivée overhauled and streamlined their production process, ultimately building the 03 Series guitars in Canada and all remaining models in the U.S. In 2005 Larrivée introduced the Traditional Series guitars, and in 2008 the company again ventured into the electric realm with the RS-4 model.
Today, Larrivée is very much a family operation. Jean, his wife Wendy, son Matthew, and daughter Christine all work in the California plant where they build the company’s gloss-finish guitars. Larrivée’s other son, John Jr., operates the plant in Canada, which produces their satin-finished models. The company continues to offer several body shapes—including traditional designs and a few of Larrivée’s own—and several decoration levels for their models, from simple to highly ornate.
The Larrivée OM-10, as its name implies, has an OM-style body. Specifications include a Canadian Sitka spruce top, rosewood back and sides, abalone rosette, abalone purfling, and a mahogany neck. The OM-10 boasts other high-end features such as the ivoroid-bound ebony fretboard with deluxe abalone inlays, sterling silver headstock border with mother-ofpearl inlay, and an ebony bridge. Currently, this guitar is worth between $1,600 and $2,000 in excellent condition.
Considering what you sold it for and what it is worth today, I don’t think either party should feel cheated. Regardless of the owner, I’d treat this guitar as a treasure. Typically, you can’t buy guitars with such exquisite inlays for under $5,000, which makes this very fine flattop a relative bargain.