january 2011

The Valpreaux is powered by two 6973s—tubes that were used in several 1960s Valco, Supro, and Gretsch amp circuits, but in little else that guitar players use.

If you run into Richard Goodsell at a gear show—heck, even if you just spend a few minutes perusing his company’s website—you’ll soon find out why he’s famous for being a character who can barely get through a sentence without a double entendre or humorous metaphor. (One of his newest amps is called the Dominatrix, if that tells you anything.) But over the last six years or so, he’s also become pretty popular for his line of tube amps. Players like Sonny Landreth, Peter Buck, Vince Gill, Gilby Clark, Big Head Todd & the Monsters’ Todd Park Mohr, and Billy Gibbons are digging them, so you know something cool is going on inside his boxes.

We first heard the Goodsell Valpreaux 21 1x12 combo at the New York Amp Show last summer, and we’ve been eager to check it out ever since. What first piqued our interest was the fact that the amp is powered by two 6973s—tubes that were used in several 1960s Valco, Supro, and Gretsch amp circuits, but in little else that guitar players use. Once we heard it fired up, that sealed the deal. We knew the Valpreaux 21 was destined to be put through the PG paces.

The 21-watt Valpreaux weighs a very manageable 30 pounds—roughly three-quarters the heft of a blackface Deluxe Reverb—and it’s available in any covering or grill-cloth option listed on Mojo Musical Supply’s website. Ours came in striking red Tolex with a black-and-tan grill. Top-panel features include a delightfully simple EQ section with crème-colored Tone, Volume, and Gain knobs, as well as Reverb, Depth, and Speed knobs for the three-spring reverb and footswitchable, bias-vary tremolo circuit. There’s also a metal vent beneath the handle to help keep the tubes cool so they last longer and operate more reliably. Other Valpreaux features include a 12" Goodsell RGH speaker modeled after a Celestion G12H, three 12AX7 preamp tubes, and a 5AR4/GZ34 rectifier tube that runs approximately 390 volts.

Despite the fact that the 6973 power tube’s historical applications mostly include now-discontinued guitar amps and some hi-fi and juke-box applications, the fear of scarcity need not be a deterrent to guitarists: Electro-Harmonix is manufacturing new 6973s, so Valpreaux buyers will be able to power the amp for years to come. (Tube gurus note that 6973s look like they could fit into an EL84 socket, but using the two interchangeably is asking for mucho trouble.)

The 6973 puts out about the same amount of power as a 6V6—and Goodsell says they can put out another watt or two if they’re fixed-biased. But the Valpreaux is cathode-biased, which means you’ll never have to find matched 6973s for optimal operation. Just plug ’em in and play—woot!

As you probably figured already, “Valpreaux” is a French-sounding (and looking) contraction of “Valco” and “Supro” (“‘Valpro’ was already being used by a European pharmaceutical company,” Goodsell explains). But while the amp’s name and power train are reminiscent of those old designs, its tones are more in the blackface Fender Princeton and Deluxe Reverb camp. I tested the Valpreaux with a variety of guitars, including a ’50s-style Telecaster with alnico 3 pickups, a Reverend Pete Anderson hollowbody with P-90s, a Schecter Ultra III with mini-humbuckers, and a Godin Session with two single-coils and a bridge humbucker.

As I plugged in and twiddled controls, I thought about how some players will see the single Tone knob as a limitation—because it certainly decreases your ability to home in on exact treble, midrange, and bass frequencies.

However, guitarists who are into this sort of simple topography love it because fewer knobs means fewer potentiometers, wires, and other parts to muddy the signal. I don’t have anything against amps that facilitate precision tone tweaks, especially when working with guitars and pickups of varying character and output. But when an amp with a single tone control gets it right, I am totally into it. And with the Valpreaux, I was there almost immediately.

While I loved the tones almost anywhere I set that one Tone knob—from the fat and slightly scooped sounds perfect for Wes Montgomery-style octave excursions at lower settings to higher settings that brightened the Godin’s humbucker and thinned the Reverend’s corpulent neck pickup tones—it didn’t take long for me to find the right setting for my playing: cranked all the way clockwise.

Why? I favor a full, fairly bright amp sound because I tend to use my bridge pickup and shape my tone by varying picking-hand attack.

For instance, I love being able to use one amp and pickup setting to really lay into a taut E-string riff that works for punk and hardcore or lean “Helter Skelter”-style rock, switch to hybrid picking for twangy Junior Brown- or Danny Gatton-style licks, or sandwich the pick between my index finger’s first and third knuckles and use the rest of my digits to fingerpick Brian Setzer-esque chords or rhythms where I use the edge of my picking hand for percussive syncopation. With the Valpreaux, I was able to do all that and more with Tone all the way up.

What’s interesting about the Valpreaux’s Tone knob isn’t just that maxing it removes it from the circuit and yields a full sound with eble and a midrange that’s present but not strident—it also brings in glorious texture, character, and gain.

Speaking of gain, after a few weeks of playing the amp with my band, Goodsell emailed me to mention that he felt the Valpreaux really shines with the Gain control near 3 o’clock. He also said the amp was “consistently remarkable” with old Teles that have brass saddles.

Interestingly, I had already arrived at both conclusions on my own. Though I enjoyed playing all my test guitars through the amp, I have never heard my Tele sound better than it did through the Valpreaux with Tone maxed and Gain and Volume a hair under 3 o’clock.

The treble response was among the sweetest I’ve ever heard, and I really can’t imagine a better gamut of tones being available using the various picking techniques I mentioned earlier. Even when I was thrilling to meaty chord inversions, the Valpreaux and Tele somehow sounded scathingly mean and gorgeously refined—not unlike Page’s tone in the middle section of “Carouselambra.”

Likewise, the Tele’s middle-position tones sounded lusciously bell-like, while neck-pickup tones sounded fat and juicy—perfect for anything from bluesy bends to Tom Morello-style riffery. With the Godin’s humbucker and the Reverend’s fat-sounding P-90s, the Valpreaux had a little less of that sparkling magic, but both still sounded quite good. I preferred splitting the Schecter’s mini-humbuckers to decrease the midrange and get a little more spank.

How about the tremolo? In a word, it’s incredible. My Demeter Tremulator pedal has been the one constant on my pedalboard for the last 11 years, and I’ve owned a vintage Vibro Champ and Twin Reverb and Deluxe Reverb reissues—all of which have fantastically lush tremolo. But I’ve never encountered a warble that sounded so fat and three-dimensional. One of my favorite sounds was the Reverend’s soloed neck pickup with Speed at about 10 o’clock and Depth cranked—it was like Hendrix playing “Machine Gun” through a Leslie!

The Goodsell Valpreaux is one of the most enjoyable amps I’ve played in years, and I’ll probably cry when it leaves our office. That said, it wasn’t without its shortcomings: The delightfully long power cord never fell out during use, but it was loose enough that I lost power a few times when I adjusted amp position. And though the reverb was beautiful, it couldn’t touch the depth and sloshiness of a classic Fender tank. Reverberations sounded distant and subtle even when it was all the way up. I preferred my Strymon Blue Sky Reverberator, which sounded like liquid heaven through the amp.

Even with these slight niggles, the Valpreaux earns huge kudos. A lot of affordable 6V6 designs are coming onto the scene these days, so it’s easy to look at this box’s price tag and think its steep. But when you compare the Valpreaux against the more accessible 6V6 options—and I have, side by side—you quickly hear the difference. It’s like fast food vs. a spread cooked by an Iron Chef:

Both fill the empty space, but only one incites ecstasy that stays with you forever.

Video Review - Goodsell Valpreaux 21

Buy if...you crave delectable blackface tones, amazing tremolo, and ecstatically sweet high end.

Skip if...you prefer more precise EQ-ing and surfable reverb.

Street $1999 - Goodsell Amplifiers - superseventeen.com

One gig, two amp setups

When I was a kid growing up in Maryland, I loved going to concerts and seeing the big walls of amps onstage. You’d always see a towering stack of amps behind bands like Van Halen, Y&T, or Ted Nugent. Because I wanted to emulate those guys, of course I was motivated to buy the biggest, loudest amps I could find. In the late ’70s, I saw a magazine ad with Eric Clapton playing through three huge Music Man HD-130 amps. They stood taller than him, and a curly cord dangled seductively from the input of one of the heads. I had to have one. In the ad, his Gibson Firebird also gripped a cigarette between the strings and the headstock, and this looked every bit as cool as the guitar itself. (Fortunately, it didn’t encourage me to take up smoking.) While I was still in high school, I saved up my gig money to purchase a Music Man HD-130. The head sported EL34 tubes and it was my first really professional guitar rig. To mimic the Clapton ad, I bought two of the 4x12 cabinets and stacked the head on top. It was all about the look.

(Left to right) Roger Eaton, Derek St. Holmes, and Rich Eckhardt jam at the ReTune Nashville
Charity Concert, October 23, 2010. Photo by Dave Dudek

The 130-watt RMS rating was way more amp than I ever needed. In hindsight, I would have been better off with Music Man’s Series 65 head—the 65-watt version of the 130. But I was convinced louder was better, and if Clapton was using the 130, it was the amp I had to have. I’m convinced if someone had made a 500-watt amp, I would have bought it and wondered if a 600- watt amp wouldn’t sound better.

I’ve since learned you can do a lot more with smaller amps. Their power tubes overload more easily, and that breakup gives you a much fatter tone at the right level. Even though big amps look cooler than a monkey on a dirt bike, you rarely need enough volume to single-handedly fill an arena. On those gigs, your amp will be mic’d and run through the PA anyway.

A few weeks ago, while performing on a Nashville benefit show, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with my longtime buddy and fellow axe man, Roger Eaton. Roger has played with some of the biggest names in country music, including Barbara Mandrell, Joe Diffie, and Tanya Tucker. He showed up on the gig with an impressively compact rig consisting of an Ugly Amps 18-watt head and cabinet. The tiny, 2-channel Ugly had two EL84 power tubes and two 12AX7 preamp tubes, and it just plain smoked on the clean country stuff. Additionally, he brought a beefed-up Fender Princeton-style combo made by Rick Hayes at Vintage Sound Amps. It kicked out about 15 watts with a 12" Warehouse Guitar speaker.

Roger ran everything through an imposing pedalboard that allowed him to cover a variety of straight-ahead tones, as well as a few specialized sounds. He also brought an assortment of Clayton and KSM guitars—one of which was a custom-made instrument he’d just picked up on the way to rehearsal.

By contrast, I played a Les Paul Standard and filled the left side of the stage with a 100-watt Marshall JCM900 and a 4x12 cabinet. My Marshall’s previous owner was more of a collector than a player, and he’d only turned it on four or five times in 17 years. It’s one of the early 900-series amps that still has the warmth of the classic vintage Marshalls. I’ve only had this amp for a short time, and I’m still learning all that it can do. A rare find, it’s one of the best-sounding Marshalls I’ve ever played through.

But two guitarists can get onstage with substantially different setups and sonically complement each other, rather than battle each other for space and volume. Approaching the guitar parts with two completely different rigs, Roger and I knew it didn’t have to be the fight of the week: In this corner, weighing in at 122 pounds, 6 ounces, is the World Champion Marshall half-stack! And in this corner, at a scrappy 40 pounds, 1 ounce, is the legendary Fender Princeton. Ding, ding, ding—come out fighting and keep it clean, boys!

Roger and I took two different approaches to the same gig, and that gave the show so much more character and diversity than if we’d both played through the same make and size of amps and used similar guitars. The Eagles have a rule of thumb: If one guitarist is playing a Strat, the other should be on a Les Paul. By following this principle, Roger and I brought a lot of depth to the band’s sound. The show featured a wide variety of artists, and we covered everything from old Patsy Cline to Ted Nugent—and we made it work.

Next time you find yourself in a similar situation, consider this mix-and-match approach. It’s a great way to make your music sound as good as it can.

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Greasy, gritty, low-wattage fun

Download Example 1
Max Gain
Download Example 2
Clips recorded with a 2008 Gibson Les Paul Studio into a Diezel 2x12 cabinet.
Small, low-wattage amps have been an essential part of the recording and performing landscape for too long to be called a fad. But whether it’s the growth of home recording or the ever-growing group of guitarists that need and want the best tone they can get out of a little rig in the corner, the demand for small amps has not abated. And manufacturers large and small are still responding to this demand.

Given the competition that’s heated up as a consequence, it takes a really sweet-sounding amp—or a really versatile one—to stand apart from the pack. Burriss, hot off the heels of the release of their popular Royal Bluesman, packs a lot of both qualities in their newest little monster, the 18-watt, EL84-driven Dirty Red. It’s also built around a cascading preamp design that enables higher-gain sounds at lower volume, which gives it the goods to stand tall in the mini-amp crowd.

In the Court of the Crimson King
The Dirty Red is pretty full-featured for such a tiny amplifier. And it looks built for business, inside and out. The little 18-watter is fired by three Mullard reissue 12AX7 preamp tubes, an Electro-Harmonix EZ81 rectifier tube and two JJ EL84 tubes in the power section. The Dirty Red’s all-metal construction feels rugged, but at just under 13 pounds, the amp is surprisingly light.

On the front panel, you’ll find a familiar 3-band equalization section consisting of Bass, Middle, and Treble knobs, along with separate Gain and Master volume controls. But nestled between the Middle and Treble controls, you’ll find another knob called Top Cut. Burriss says the control is designed to tame the high end and warm the signal at higher gain settings. Anyone familiar with a presence control will find it works in a similar fashion. Finally, there’s a Loop switch for engaging the effects loop, which can also be activated using a footswitch inserted into a rear-panel TRS 1/4" jack.

The Dirty Red’s optional Power Loop Pedal footswitch sports a Boss-style power jack designed to run outboard pedals and eliminate the need for extra cords and power supplies that can introduce noise and clutter. This footswitch is capable of delivering 500 mA of juice to as many as 10 pedals. The Dirty Red has another unusual trick up its sleeve, courtesy of its 3-way power switch. The top position turns the amp on and the middle position is off—no surprises here. But the bottom position—dubbed FX— activates a slave mode that effectively lets you run the Burriss as an overdrive unit plugged into an external amplifier. In FX mode, you simply run a shielded cable from the Dirty Red’s effects send to the second amplifier’s input. Clever design considerations like these make the Dirty Red a neat little amp.

Red Hot!

With a name like Dirty Red, it’s a safe guess that this amp excels at high-gain sounds. It does, but the Dirty Red’s mid-gain tones are excellent, too. Using a Diezel 2x12 semi-open-back cabinet with Hempcone speakers, I set up a rig with the Dirty Red, a 2008 Gibson Les Paul Studio, a 2009 Fender American Stratocaster, and a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom.

With the Les Paul Studio and the amp’s gain control set to 10 o’clock, the amp was snarling and growling with every pick stroke. Even when backing off the gain significantly, it was kind of hard to dial out the overdrive entirely. And I had better luck getting a clean signal with the Stratocaster, but even then I had to drop the gain to between the 8 and 9 o’clock positions, and crank the master pretty high to get the amp to push any air. It may not be the best amp for super clear, chiming sounds or transparent jangle, but the mild overdrive tones are sweet enough to make you forget this limitation.

The Dirty Red has a great, chewy midrange with just a little grit that makes it a blast to play lead lines. I’ve always judged great amp overdrive by how fat and defined each note is in big firstposition chords. The Dirty Red had those traits in spades, and retains that quality when using a guitar with hotter pickups like my Les Paul Custom with Tom Anderson humbuckers. To retain note-to-note definition, I sometimes had to drop the amp’s gain down a bit to compensate for the added signal, but generally I was able to do so while retaining the personality of the hotter instrument. Cranking the gain made it possible to play around with some pretty aggressive metal riffing. Though the midrange and top end are looser than, say, on a vintage Marshall JCM800 head, the Dirty Red retained the ferocity and vigor of a bigger amp, even at much lower volumes.

The range and responsiveness of each of the Dirty Red’s controls is another impressive aspect of this amp. The Top Cut in particular provides real tone-shaping power and flexibility. Most small-wattage amplifiers don’t have a huge amount of low end, but the Dirty Red certainly does, and its ability to shape the bass was invaluable. I dialed the Bass knob back to noon most of the time, and even when I was really pushing the amp with an aggressive rock riff, I rarely set the Bass control much past 1 o’clock.

The Verdict
Burriss Amps’ Dirty Red is a fantastic sounding and well-rounded amp head by the standards of any wattage class. The equalization range was impressive, yet easy to manage. The amount of volume available was more than enough to carry through a band practice, and most certainly enough to carry through a bar or venue with the help of a good microphone and PA. Its aggressive nature and voicing made it difficult to coax out a pure, sparkling clean tone, but its full-bodied and slightly gritty sound offers the vintage vibe of late-’60s British amplification. If you’re a fan of greasy, low-wattage EL84 tone, but don’t want to have to lug around a hefty combo or stack, mark my words—you’ll want to try the Dirty Red.

Video Review:

Buy if...
you’re after a greasy, small-wattage tone that has mega volume.
Skip if...
you need a rock amp with a fuller, more guttural response or one capable of generating crystal-clear tones.

Street $1195 - Burriss Amps - burrissamps.com