bc audio

A stellar 6V6 combo with inspiring, innovative options.



World-class workmanship. Gorgeous tones. Unique personality. Useful and innovative controls.

Pricey. No reverb.

$2,900 (head only)

BC Audio Bel Air 40


Ease of Use:


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An all-tube guitar amplifier with a unique set of front-panel controls that let the player reach inside the amp.

San Francisco, CA (October 11, 2018) -- Boutique guitar amp builder BC Audio (bcaudio.com) revealed the Bel Air 40, a meticulously hand crafted all-tube guitar amplifier with a unique set of front-panel controls that let the player reach inside the amp, so to speak, and re-wire the power section. The Bel Air 40 features four 6V6GT Power Tubes, two octal 6SL7GT preamp tubes and a GZ34 tube rectifier, and is built with true point-to-point construction – no turret, eyelet or printed circuit board. Power ranges from 40 watts to under 5, depending on how the Power Tube Configuration switches are set.

“We're used to seeing lots of knobs and switches on guitar amps. Normally, those controls operate almost exclusively in the preamp section, while the power section just sits there amplifying what comes its way. This amp turns that approach on its head,” says Bruce Clement, BC Audio founder, award-winning guitarist and tube amp master builder. “The Bel Air 40 gives the player control over what's really going on in that mysterious part of the amp that you can't normally touch, the part that is the key to great tone – the power section.”

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A reinvented plexi with octal preamp tubes and true point-to-point wiring.

It’s one of the best-known tales in the annals of rock gear: Desperate for greater volume, young Pete Townshend more or less harangued Marshall’s designers into creating the 100-watt head in 1965. The first models sat on top of ginormous 8x12 cabinets, soon replaced by pairs of 4x12s. Clapton and Hendrix quickly adopted the configuration, and thus did the iconic Marshall stack earn its lofty location in the rock pantheon.

The Plexiglas panels on the front of those early 100-watt heads earned them the nickname “plexi,” although the official model names were 1959 and Super Lead. (Marshall also made 50-watt plexis.) While guitarists no longer need to summon such volume onstage thanks to modern sound reinforcement, for many, the 100-watt plexi remains the definitive hard rock machine. And to this day, the model tends to be the starting point for designers hoping to craft the ultimate high-wattage beast.
Unlike vintage Marshalls, the JMX 100 is entirely point-to-point wired, with absolutely no circuit board, turret board, or terminal strip.

Mutant Marshall
The Super Lead is also a jumping-off point for San Francisco-based builder Bruce Clement of BC Audio, but the guy jumps pretty darn far. While the basic topology of Clement’s 100-watt JMX 100 clearly descends from the Super Lead, by no stretch of the imagination is this amp a clone. The circuit includes many refinements and departures, but two are especially significant. Unlike vintage Marshalls, the JMX 100 is entirely point-to-point wired, with absolutely no circuit board, turret board, or terminal strip. Also, the amp eschews the usual 9-pin preamp tubes in favor of octal (8-pin) SSL7GT tubes, which are larger and longer than the 12AX7/ECC83 models found in most amps. As on the original 1959, the power section employs a quartet of EL34s, though the earliest 1959s used KT66 tubes.

Internal Beauty
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the first time I peered inside a BC Audio amp, I was so spellbound that it took me a moment to realize the entire thing was wired point-to-point without turret board. (See interior view photo.) The immaculate rectilinear layout resembles a roadmap of some idealized future metropolis. Wire runs are kept to a bare minimum. This is simply magnificent work. (Like some other point-to-point builders, Clement insists that eliminating extraneous wire contributes to the quality and immediacy of an amp’s sound. I’m no electrical engineer, so I remain agnostic on this claim. After all, most of our beloved vintage amps were created with conventional turret board. On the other hand, many of my favorite amps of recent years have also been point-to-point.) The parts are top-shelf, including the ClassicTone transformers.

The exterior is equally lovely. The head cabinet is solid pine wrapped in black tolex with eye-catching red racing stripes. (BC Audio also sells cabinets with matching stripes, though I reviewed the JMX 100 through an old THD cabinet. The miked speaker in the demo clip is a 65-watt Celestion Creamback.)

Playing for Peanuts
Clement says he inherited an affection for octal tubes from his dad, a WWII pilot and passionate electronics hobbyist. “Octal preamp tubes were used in the early days of audio before ‘miniatures’ like the 12AX7 were developed in the 1950s,” he says. “My dad told me that when they first came out, people called them ‘peanut tubes.’” According to Clement, overdriven octal preamp tubes produce a sound closer to power-amp distortion relative to those “peanuts.”

The amp’s sound bears out that claim. Clean tones have more sparkle and snap than equivalent vintage Marshall tones. At times you’d swear you’re hearing a large format Fender. Note fundamentals are rock solid. Transients are crisp and definitive, transmitting every nuance of pick and finger. This is one articulate amp!

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