Ampeg’s new GVT series, which offers a power range more suited to clubs than Yasgur’s Farm, honors this oft-forgotten part of the company’s legacy with authentic vintage rock tone and styling.
When rock venues began to include bigger arenas and festival grounds in the late ’60s, the clamor for more potent guitar and bass amplification became as deafening as the amps themselves. Few companies skipped a chance to cash in on the big amp movement, and Ampeg, a company that had built well-regarded amps for years, stepped up with its own line of high-decibel bass and guitar amplifiers. The monstrous SVT bass amp packed a then-unprecedented 300 watts of all-tube power, and their 100-watt V series heads (also available in combo form with more modest output under the VT moniker) were adopted by many high-profile performers—most notably the Rolling Stones, who used V series prototypes on their historic (and infamous) 1969 world tour.
Ampeg’s new GVT series, which offers a power range more suited to clubs than Yasgur’s Farm, honors this oft-forgotten part of the company’s legacy with authentic vintage rock tone and styling. And like the V and VT amps of old, they are an interesting option for players looking for something outside of the typical Fender and Marshall spheres. The GVT52-112 reviewed here is a 50-watt (switchable to 25 watts) 1x12 combo that covers a lot of tone territory.
An Honest Homage
This GVT52-112 weighs in at a hefty 52.2 pounds and sports a pair of 6L6 power tubes and three 12AX7s in the preamp section. The birch plywood cabinet of our review specimen comes packed with an 80-watt Celestion Seventy 80 speaker, which can aptly handle the higher wattage output of the GVT52-112. The amp looks sharp with its vintage-correct black vinyl covering, a black sparkle grille cloth, and a silver faceplate. The control array is especially user-friendly, with everything well spaced and logically arranged. The GVT52-112 offers 2 channels, each with its own discreet Baxandall EQ section, Gain, and Volume controls. The footswitchable spring reverb and effects loop can be bypassed. And a multi-color LED that’s too bright to miss indicates the status of the Full Power/Standby/Half Power switch. Around back, effects loop and footswitch jacks can be found aside a variety of speaker outs for extension cabinets.
Running the Range
I plugged in a Custom Shop Stratocaster to get a feeling for the amp’s clean and mild breakup flavors on Channel 1. As I strummed open chords with the EQ knobs at noon, the GVT52-112 delivered an elusive combination of warmth at the low end of the spectrum and sweet musical clarity in the upper midrange and highs.
With its ability to independently boost and cut frequencies, the Baxandall EQ made it easy to tweak what’s a very balanced tone to begin with. I could easily adjust the EQ to conjure a variety of crystalline and round Fender-inspired jazz tones that still packed a punch for solos. But the amp’s wide range of bright clean tones and impressive, snappy responsiveness would suit country styles as well. Tonal complexity was quite good across all these cleaner highheadroom settings and excellent for an amp in this price range, but lacked some of the indefinable singing harmonics you’ll hear in the best point-to-point circuits. And though our review unit exhibited a bit of cabinet vibration at certain settings, the amplifier is extremely noise free, which is great given how well it works with stompboxes.
A Voice All Its Own
The Ampeg really started to shine when I pushed Channel 1 to the point of breakup. And working through various EQ settings and gain levels revealed a uniquely fierce personality. With the EQ knobs dimed and the Gain at 75 percent, I got an awesome live Stones sound with a touch of bright, near-fuzz flavor that would cut through almost any band mix with ease. Breakup sounds organic, and distortion is easy to control with the guitar’s volume knob.
My Les Paul helped deliver classic ’70s crunch in spades. The GVT52-112 loves humbuckers, and at the same gain level, the punchy, fuzz-like tone I extracted from the Stratocaster was transformed into a killer raspy sizzle, roaring with girth.
The higher gain Channel 2 remained defined in grittier settings—even on the Les Paul’s neck pickup. Though the amp’s slight tendency toward the bright side is accentuated in this environment, it works great with humbuckers. Huge sustained chords in the vein of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” ring out in full glory at lower gain levels, with great bloom and sustain. Turning up the gain to noon and switching to the bridge humbucker yielded a thick “Reelin’ in the Years” lead sound that became more focused and gritty when I emphasized the mids with the EQ. After nailing so many classic distortion flavors, I was impressed that the GVT52-112 had much more usable gain on tap—the upper reaches of the Gain knob put me well on the way to Mastodon territory. The footswitchable boost offered a usable bump in output, perfect for the quick switch from rhythm to lead.
From the spot-on vintage design to the unique-but-familiar palate of clean and overdriven tones, the GVT52-112 offers a fresh alternative for those in search of classic sounds and styling that also isn’t from the usual suspects. And its ability to stand apart from the crowd while fitting just about any classic rock setting is its greatest accomplishment. The switchable power, classic, userfriendly control layout, ample gain range, and added modern features lend real-world versatility to this tastefully styled throwback design. And at an accessible price, there’s little reason not to give this combo an audition.
you’ve been looking for an affordable Fender/Marshall/Vox alternative to set you apart sonically and visually.
you have little interest in deviating from proven tone templates.
In the case of Leo Fender and G&L, a 1969 Tri-Sonic R&D prototype covered in 20 years of dust, dirt, and grime.
Some of the best seek-and-find gear stories start somberly by someone passing away and their family and friends having to sort through the deceased’s arachnid-filled attic or overflowing garage. This story has already graced PG’s “Guitar of the Month” [“1965 Fender Jazz,” June 2010]. But what do you find in the most heralded guitar builder’s workshop when the head luthier in the sky comes calling? In the case of Leo Fender and G&L, a 1969 Tri-Sonic R&D prototype covered in 20 years of dust, dirt, and grime.
“It was in ’91, one week after Leo’s funeral, and I was cleaning out Leo’s lab when I found it in a small loft just to the left of the front door of his shop,” recalls Gabriel Currie, a G&L employee at the time who was working in the neck department. “I found the slab body and the original templates dated ‘1969,’ and I showed what I had found to the plant foremen John Rodriquez and John McLaren Jr. I asked if I could keep it and they looked at each other and nodded—it was mine and the first thing I thought was, ‘Shit, I have to somehow finish building it and hear how it sounds’ [laughs].” And that’s exactly what he did.
When Leo Fender’s 10-year, no-compete clause expired with CBS (who bought Fender in ’65) and things with CLF Research and Music Man went awry, Fender, George Fullerton, and Dale Hyatt started G&L in 1979. Bringing everything full circle—Fullerton and Hyatt hired Gabriel Currie in 1988. While with G&L, Currie worked in the mill, the wood shop where he was selecting blanks, gluing, milling, and routing all the guitar and bass bodies. With all his expertise gathered at the plant, the eager Currie began plotting his next moves to correctly, and more importantly, complementarily finish building an instrument started in the late ’60s by Leo Fender. So Currie took to a private stash of ’60s parts and pieced the guitar together, even including a rare lefty trem bridge.
The beaten and battered Tri-Sonic (nicknamed Grandpa) has a one-piece ash body that was originally routed for two Z-coil have an axe that would make a great Guitar of the month? then email pics and your instrument’s story to us at email@example.com. pickups—which were eventually implemented on the ASAT Z-3—and one of Leo’s prototype trems. The back of the guitar has a battery pocket (perhaps active electronics were in the works) and the beginnings of a B-Bender slot. Currie made a maple neck at G&L, but it broke during a gig at Al’s Bar in 1993 so he made the current maple neck—currently on its third refret—at Tak Hosono’s shop (Hosono now oversees the Ibanez Custom Shop). Other parts implemented on the guitar are CTS pots, nickel Kluson tuners, and a single-ply pickguard. Right now the guitar is loaded with three Amalfitano vintage-voiced alnico 2 singlecoils, and Currie says it plays and records better than any guitar he’s ever had or heard.
In addition to being an instrument with a historical legacy and holy grail-esque vibe, the Tri-Sonic prototype helped push Currie to start his own guitar company, Echopark Guitars, in 2010. “I’ve wanted to build replicas of this guitar for years, but I wanted to do it in the most reverent and accurate way possible,” says Currie. “The Grandpa has been my muse [laughs]. I’m currently using it as a template for my Tryphonic line that uses the same slab-body construction and I added Victorian rose textile patterns on the guitars’ tops, which are silk-screened between the nitrocellulose lacquer coats. That guitar [original Tri-Sonic] has blessed me with inspiration in guitar building, countless jams with friends and heroes—I just feel lucky it found me.”
A special thanks to Gabriel Currie of Echopark Guitars for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument and its story.
Even though it’s based on what’s been one of the company’s biggest hits, this version uses semi-hollow body construction and a Fishman Powerbridge to expand its sonic potential.
Since opening as a custom shop in 1976, Schecter Guitar Research has evolved considerably over the course of its history. While the company may be best known these days for its associations with heavy rock and metal artists, Schecters have found favor with players as diverse—and musically demanding—as the Cure’s Robert Smith and Beck. Schecter isn’t afraid of tinkering with formulas either, and over the years the company has offered everything from sustainers and 10-string instruments to grab the attention of adventurous players.
By that measure, the Hellraiser Solo-6 E/A may look a little conservative on the surface. But even though it’s based on what’s been one of the company’s biggest hits, this version uses semi-hollow body construction and a Fishman Powerbridge to expand its sonic potential.
A Hellbound’s Heart
The Hellraiser is a very well-built guitar. I was hard-pressed to find any construction or finish flaws anywhere on the neck or body, which is semi-hollow mahogany with a quilted maple top in a deep Black Cherry finish. The body also sports a solid center block with two tone chambers designed to lend acoustic resonance. The three-piece mahogany neck is capped by a 24-fret rosewood slab fretboard and affixed to the body with Schecter’s highly sculpted Ultra Access neck joint.
With brightly hued abalone gothic cross inlays and double abalone binding along the top of the body, this Hellraiser isn’t shy about ornamentation. And the lines are simultaneously classic and forward-looking, combining an offset waist with Les Paul and Rickenbacker design motifs. In sum, it’s a very striking guitar.
The Hellraiser is packed with enough features and options to cover just about any musical situation you can think of. Two EMG active humbuckers—an 81 in the bridge and an 89 in the neck—are wired with a coil tap that splits the 89. EMG humbuckers are known for screaming lead tone when combined with high-gain amps, and the 89 ups the ante on that count by starting with two alnico 5 magnets, rather than ceramic magnets.
The 89 is effectively two different pickups in one, and the guitar offers separate preamps for each coil. When combined in series, the tone is more like an 85 model. When split, you get brighter tones more typical of the company’s SA single-coil. In the Hellraiser, the coil tap cuts out the coil closest to the neck, leaving the one closest to the bridge active.
The magnetic pickups can be combined with quasi-acoustic tones from the guitar’s Fishman TOM Powerbridge piezo system, or removed from the mix completely to let the Powerbridge sounds shine on their own. Schecter also includes a TRS Y-cable for splitting the EMG’s output to one amp and the Fishman’s to another. There are dedicated single Volume and Tone controls for the EMGs, a Volume for the Fishman’s output, a 3-way switch to select individual pickups or combine the Fishman and EMG outputs, and a conventional 3-way pickup selector switch.
Beer Drinkers & Hellraisers
The Hellraiser Solo-6 E/A isn’t a dark sounding guitar by any means. Pretty much every amplifier highlighted its bright, high-end tendencies, but it excels at smooth, searing high-gain tones. With a 2011 Mesa/Boogie Multi-Watt Dual Rectifier, the fire-breathing EMG 81 pickup was simultaneously detailed and pummeling amid a flurry of trills, triplets, and hard-edged, staccato riffing. Thanks to the guitar’s solid center block, there was no feedback, which helped the notes bloom and soar in ways that only a good semihollow body design can do.
The 89 had a pleasant, thick tone when I played single-note melodies at low-gain settings, but sounded less smooth than say, an EMG 85. The real strength of this pickup comes from its coil-tapped mode, which sounded round and punchy with a complex high end through the Mesa’s clean channel. With a Fender ’65 Twin Reverb reissue, the tone was warm and fuller still. You can coax a lot of great sounds out of the Hellraiser’s magnetic pickup set, but this one was the king of all of them. Maxing the guitar’s Tone control yielded a harmonically rich jangle that was perfect for ’60s garage rock, though I typically had to back the control about 3/4 of the way down to prevent the high end from becoming overpowering.
While the Fishman’s piezo-powered acoustic tones were usable and powerful, they’re also pretty bright. I really would have liked to have had a separate Tone control on the guitar for the Fishman system, which would have greatly expanded the sonic range—especially when combining the Fishman and magnetic pickup outputs. Running through the Ozzy Osbourne classic, “Diary of a Madman,” I kept having to drop the treble and bring up the bass on the Mesa when I would flip to the Fishman for the song’s classical intro, verse, and bridge buildup sections. It would have been so much easier to be able to control that from the guitar itself. Despite that drawback, the acoustic tones were still highly detailed with a nice, sparkly sheen on the highs, even when I would drop the amp’s Treble knob.
One of the Hellraiser’s biggest strengths is its ability to split its EMG and Fishman outputs into dedicated signals to two separate amps. Using the Twin and the Mesa, I piped the acoustic signal to the Dual Rec, which is significantly darker, and sent the EMG signals into the Twin. For years, guitarists have used acoustic guitars in the studio to thicken up backing riffs. With the Hellraiser, I was able to faithfully approximate this effect in a live situation, which was a blast to experience. Playing the arpeggiated opening line to “Diary of a Madman” never sounded so good, with the electric signal filling in a smooth midrange between the Fishman’s highs and lows.
Schecter’s Hellraiser Solo-6 E/A is an extremely versatile rock machine that offers the added benefit of being able to select acoustic tones on the fly. These tones may tend to toward the bright side, but they’re still smooth and fluid with great sustain. If you need a guitar that can cover all the bases—including playing acoustic passages in the middle of a tune—it’s absolutely worth a play.
Watch our video review:
you need an all-in-one rock workhorse with usable acoustic tones.
you prefer to work with multiple guitars or you need a single-coil in the bridge position.