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  1. #1

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    Attenuators do not get talked about much here. Most of us aren't interested in cranking Marshall half stacks in small clubs or bedrooms. But there is another use for them.

    I got a Bugera PS-1 on the weekend. It's a cheap resisitive attenuator. I can practice with my Deluxe Reverb at 5 and get wonderful Deluxe on the verge of breakup sounds at reasonable volume levels. That's the zone where you not only play the guitar but also play the amp. Your picking dynamics change the amp drastically when amp is at it's full power and ready to be pushed to overdrive (most amps are already at their full power around 5).
    I can also do the same with my Champ. No need for pedals for that slightly dirty, dynamic sound for home practice. Moreover, output of the attenuator is cabinet agnostic. Meaning I can plug my deluxe at 5 into the small 8 inch cab of Champ and vice versa.

    Anybody else use attenuators this way?

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Attenuators do not get talked about much here. Most of us aren't interested in cranking Marshall half stacks in small clubs or bedrooms. But there is another use for them.

    I got a Bugera PS-1 on the weekend. It's a cheap resisitive attenuator. I can practice with my Deluxe Reverb at 5 and get wonderful Deluxe on the verge of breakup sounds at reasonable volume levels. That's the zone where you not only play the guitar but also play the amp. Your picking dynamics change the amp drastically when amp is at it's full power and ready to be pushed to overdrive (most amps are already at their full power around 5).
    I can also do the same with my Champ. No need for pedals for that slightly dirty, dynamic sound for home practice. Moreover, output of the attenuator is cabinet agnostic. Meaning I can plug my deluxe at 5 into the small 8 inch cab of Champ and vice versa.

    Anybody else use attenuators this way?
    Not quite, but I’m not a big fan of power amp distortion or speaker breakup for jazz.

    My general strategy with tube amps is to whack the preamp with a hot signal to get the pre tubes warm, and that seems to work well for mild drive for Grant Green type tones etc using fender amps, esp with a healthy mid boost.

    Contemporary = Grant green + delay haha

    No idea how Grant himself did it.... tweed amps?

    But I’m open to giving it a go! Sometimes recording engineers like the amp to be really really quiet. Not enough for me to invest heavily tho....

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    not a big fan of power amp distortion
    That's the first time I've ever heard anyone say this. Can you explain? How do you hear the difference between preamp and power amp distortion?


    To answer the OP, I do this sometimes but I always go back. Partially because I'm neurotic and don't like having a lot of adjustable parameters. But also partially because I always get the impression the attenuator is taking off too much high end.

  5. #4
    Bugera is only 100USD. I'm surprised how good it sounds. It also has mic simulated XLR out. Attenuators sound unnatural when you push them to extremes. Like if you want to play 100W amp at 11 turned down to home volumes. But playing a 22watt amp at 5 seems to preserve the amp's natural tone really well.
    I used an expensive attenuator in the past with a Mesa amp I had at the time. Mesa had a master volume and I felt the attenuator didn't improve things worth it's price. I returned it. But for vintage style amps with no gain channel, you're effectively adding a master volume. Except master volume comes after power tubes, so you get both types of overdrive. Not speaker distortion though.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 10-31-2019 at 02:38 PM.

  6. #5

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    I have never heard of a attenuator for audio. I am a retired electronic tech. for 39 years.

    I assume it goes between the output transformer and the speaker and simulates a load. That would have an effect on the sound.

    But I don't use tubes so I have no input on the matter.

  7. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by BBGuitar View Post
    I have never heard of a attenuator for audio. I am a retired electronic tech. for 39 years.

    I assume it goes between the output transformer and the speaker and simulates a load. That would have an effect on the sound.

    But I don't use tubes so I have no input on the matter.
    Here is some info:


  8. #7
    One more:

  9. #8

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    Better to simulate a load than stimulate a load.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Better to simulate a load than stimulate a load.
    Says the man who doesn't like the lyric "laugh and run away, like a child at play" ...

    John

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by omphalopsychos View Post
    That's the first time I've ever heard anyone say this. Can you explain? How do you hear the difference between preamp and power amp distortion
    Take an amp with a master volume, crank the pre-amp (usually labeled "gain"), and turn the master volume down. That's preamp distortion. Now do the opposite. Exactly how different the two will sound depends on the specific amp design (e.g., how much gain the pre-amp stages have, and how the pre-amp stages and tone controls interact.). Very broadly speaking (with many caveats and exceptions), pre-amp distortion is more compressed and fuzzy; power amp distortion is more dynamic and singing. Fender *.Reverb amps have relatively little pre-amp gain/distortion* (which is why the master volumes on late SF amps are not terribly useful). Mesa Boogies typically have a lot of pre-amp gain (and also chain together more than one pre-amp stage to increase gain/distortion), so their master volumes typically are pretty useful. Attenuators' main purpose is to allow you to use power amp distortion at lower volumes.

    * Gain and distortion are not the same thing, but the way guitar amps are usually designed, more gain is accompanied by more distortion, so they are proxies for each other.

    John

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A. View Post
    Says the man who doesn't like the lyric "laugh and run away, like a child at play" ...

    John
    It is a bad lyric.

    It’s not as bad as MacArthur Park, but that song transcends epic metaphor failure (wherein both the metaphor, and its failure are equally epic) to become something rich and strange.

    I find it hard to imagine that the lyricist with the sense of economy and character that wrote Wichita Lineman is the same man. And yet, he is.

    DoWaR not quite that perplexing, it’s always just a bit excruciating (and entertaining) when someone aims for a literary flourish and ends up falling on their arse.

    Songwriters, know your limits. You are not John Milton.

    Whereas I was making a wanking joke.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    It is a bad lyric.

    It’s not as bad as MacArthur Park, but that song transcends epic metaphor failure (wherein both the metaphor, and its failure are equally epic) to become something rich and strange.

    I find it hard to imagine that the lyricist with the sense of economy and character that wrote Wichita Lineman is the same man. And yet, he is.

    DoWaR not quite that perplexing, it’s always just a bit excruciating (and entertaining) when someone aims for a literary flourish and ends up falling on their arse.

    Songwriters, know your limits. You are not John Milton.

    Whereas I was making a wanking joke.
    Yes, but the wanking joke is a childish funny (laugh), typically followed by running way (you were not actually running way, though who knows? maybe you were ...).

    Anyway, the DoW&R lyrics are a whole lot better if you understand the full context of the film and its sources. The film is a meditation on alcoholism, depression, and lost innocence. It (or at least the title) was inspired by a poem by Ernest Dowson

    They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
    Love and desire and hate:
    I think they have no portion in us after
    We pass the gate.


    They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
    Out of a misty dream
    Our path emerges for a while, then closes
    Within a dream.

    The poem is a not-so-veiled reference to the author's alcoholism and depression, and foreshadowing of his death at a young age therefrom. The lyrics are a re-working of the poem to fit the plot of the movie a little more directly.

    I should probably go now, I think I left my cake out in the rain.

    John

  14. #13

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    If you dont like the lyrics of DOWAR, you haven't heard Tony Bennett sing them with Bill Evans.Now MacArthur park...how much coke you gotta do to think that metaphor works?
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Not quite, but I’m not a big fan of power amp distortion or speaker breakup for jazz.

    My general strategy with tube amps is to whack the preamp with a hot signal to get the pre tubes warm, and that seems to work well for mild drive for Grant Green type tones etc using fender amps, esp with a healthy mid boost.
    ...
    Sounds like a Godfather movie..., "whack the preamp...".
    I know what gangsters mean by this, but not jazz guitarists.

  16. #15

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    I have used an attenuator since they were available, but not (as yet) for jazz. A Scholz Power Soak does it for me. Pristine cleans have their charms, but I also value that zone of sensitivity where light = clean and crisp and successively more energetic picking yields harmonically-altered tones from horn-like on through clipping and beyond.
    Best regards, k

  17. #16

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    Had a couple minutes with a students fryette? Power station.


    i was pretty freaking impressed.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74 View Post
    I have used an attenuator since they were available, but not (as yet) for jazz. A Scholz Power Soak does it for me. Pristine cleans have their charms, but I also value that zone of sensitivity where light = clean and crisp and successively more energetic picking yields harmonically-altered tones from horn-like on through clipping and beyond.
    Yup, 30 years ago, the only way my buddy could get that great cranked sound at home with his Marshall halfstack and Les Paul was by using a TS Power Soak.


  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by skykomishone View Post
    Sounds like a Godfather movie..., "whack the preamp...".
    I know what gangsters mean by this, but not jazz guitarists.
    The preamp is evil and must be punished.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    If you dont like the lyrics of DOWAR, you haven't heard Tony Bennett sing them with Bill Evans.Now MacArthur park...how much coke you gotta do to think that metaphor works?
    I left my coke out in the rain.

  21. #20

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  22. #21

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    My good experience with the attenuator/Line out on the Tone Master got me curious about the Bugera PS1, so mine arrived today and I've been playing with it with my Princeton Reverb RI. You have to be careful where you put the PS1 because it can pick up a nasty hum if you set it over, say, a transformer. But placed right, no hum. Here's a clip I made just testing the box, using the XLR output to record the guitar. I had the speaker out line to the PS1, the speaker cable itself plugged into the Bugera, and the XLR going to the PreSonus Audiobox iTwo.

    Two disclaimers: 1) lotsa clams here, I was in a hurry just to try it out 2) WAY too much reverb, sorry about that.

    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  23. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by lawson-stone View Post
    My good experience with the attenuator/Line out on the Tone Master got me curious about the Bugera PS1, so mine arrived today and I've been playing with it with my Princeton Reverb RI. You have to be careful where you put the PS1 because it can pick up a nasty hum if you set it over, say, a transformer. But placed right, no hum. Here's a clip I made just testing the box, using the XLR output to record the guitar. I had the speaker out line to the PS1, the speaker cable itself plugged into the Bugera, and the XLR going to the PreSonus Audiobox iTwo.

    Two disclaimers: 1) lotsa clams here, I was in a hurry just to try it out 2) WAY too much reverb, sorry about that.

    Sounding good.
    One time I tried the XLR out, I thought it sounded surprisingly good too. How do you like it so far? At the very least it makes recording through Princeton easier and let's you use it with the headphones I guess.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 10-31-2019 at 02:12 PM.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Sounding good.
    One time I tried the XLR out, I thought it sounded surprisingly good too. How do you like it so far? At the very least it makes recording through Princeton easier and let's you use it with headphones I guess.
    Yes, I've usually mic'd the PRRI and been happy with that. The PS1 requires set-up, but the mic does too. I like direct recording when possible. I wish I knew what speaker emulation the PS1 uses with the XLR out. I think I'd also like to try an A/B with the Princeton, one mic'd, one with the PS1. This also will be fun to play with using my old Silvertone 1484.
    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A. View Post
    Attenuators' main purpose is to allow you to use power amp distortion at lower volumes.

    John
    Would that result in power tubes wearing out faster? Hope not.

    Doug

  26. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by Doug B View Post
    Would that result in power tubes wearing out faster? Hope not.

    Doug
    Not faster than without the attenuator at the same volume settings.

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Not faster than without the attenuator at the same volume settings.
    That makes sense, thanks.

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Not faster than without the attenuator at the same volume settings.
    Also, the "drain" on the amp is more on the output transformer than on the output tubes. If you run the amp without the speaker, the output transformer is what burns out. So the attenuator's real job is to keep the output transformer correctly loaded so it functions correctly, while then reducing the signal to the speaker and providing a good line level signal out. That's why they are called "power soaks" because they soak up the output and give the transformer the right resistance load.
    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  29. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by lawson-stone View Post
    Also, the "drain" on the amp is more on the output transformer than on the output tubes. If you run the amp without the speaker, the output transformer is what burns out. So the attenuator's real job is to keep the output transformer correctly loaded so it functions correctly, while then reducing the signal to the speaker and providing a good line level signal out. That's why they are called "power soaks" because they soak up the output and give the transformer the right resistance load.
    Yes a tube amp must at all times be connected to a load.

  30. #29

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    there are different types of attenuators..the basic passive model (like the beringer made- bugera) just passes the power into an internal heat sink....your tubes are working hard...but the power to the speaker is recircuited..and yes it takes its toll on tubes...and the attentenuator itself could overheat & fail

    cheers

  31. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic View Post
    there are different types of attenuators..the basic passive model (like the beringer made- bugera) just passes the power into an internal heat sink....your tubes are working hard...but the power to the speaker is recircuited..and yes it takes its toll on tubes...and the attentenuator itself could overheat & fail

    cheers
    Why would they be working harder than when they are just connected to the speaker?

  32. #31

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    because you have the amp volume on 8-10, but are getting a low decibel result...

    to get the same decibel result without the attenuator the tubes would be running at amp volume around 2!

    be like gunning your amp all the time...that burns thru tubes...and can overheat amp components

    in the rock era when bands kept their stacks on 9-10 volume levels, amps actually caught fire!!!

    you are doing the same thing with a passive attenuator...you just arent killing your hearing


    cheers

  33. #32
    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic View Post
    because you have the amp volume on 8-10, but are getting a low decibel result...

    to get the same decibel result without the attenuator the tubes would be running at amp volume around 2!

    be like gunning your amp all the time...that burns thru tubes...and can overheat amp components

    in the rock era when bands kept their stacks on 9-10 volume levels, amps actually caught fire!!!

    you are doing the same thing with a passive attenuator...you just arent killing your hearing


    cheers
    Yes, I get that. My understanding of the question earlier was if attenuators put extra burden on the tubes. Of course pushing the amp will reduce the life of the tubes and attenuators can't do magic.
    In other words the tubes get the same amount of wear and tear whether the amp is connected to speakers or an attenuator for the same power usage.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 10-31-2019 at 02:10 PM.

  34. #33

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    ???
    pushing the amp is why you use an attenuator!!!..thats its sole purpose!! to allow you to "blast" your amp at bedroom level volumes..so in my book yes using a passive attenuator is responsible for shortened tube life!! and possibly worse!

    thats why active attenuators are big $$$


    cheers

  35. #34
    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic View Post
    ???
    pushing the amp is why you use an attenuator!!!..thats its sole purpose!! to allow you to "blast" your amp at bedroom level volumes..so in my book yes using a passive attenuator is responsible for shortened tube life!! and possibly worse!

    thats why active attenuators are big $$$


    cheers
    So active attenuators do not shorten tube life when amp is pushed?

  36. #35

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  37. #36
    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic View Post
    I actually already read that article. It doesn't say anything about passive attenuators shortening tube life more than active ones. Did I miss it?

  38. #37
    I mean reactive attenuators are more expensive because they are designed to more closely mimic speaker response. Some people prefer them because they believe they provide more realistic attenuation. But in terms of the potential burden on the amp, I've read quite varied opinions. There doesn't seem to be a clear consensus and both types of attenuators are considered safe barring anecdotal, hear-say evidence.

  39. #38

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    anytime you run your tube amp at full or near full volume for extended lengths of time (repeatedly) you can run into problems!..why low power amps have become so popular these days!!! and modelers!

    when a power tube goes south it takes out the protective screen resistor and usually shorts the fuse...but if the resistor is off spec or the fuse is not up to task, lots of components in the circuit can fry...even transformers..its a foul smelling situation! hah

    i like to lessen the possibilty of failure...not multiply ...

    luck

    cheers
    Last edited by neatomic; 10-30-2019 at 07:10 PM.

  40. #39

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    Actually the attenuator is not merely to "blast" the amp. Anytime you want to have the amp's full character but want to control the volume an attenuator can be useful. Or if you are recording direct or performing direct to FoH and want less volume on stage/in studio, an attenuator is a good tool.
    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  41. #40

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    the speaker operating at its natural potential is essential to the amps "full character"...once you mess with that..the equation is thrown off!!

    attenuators are nothing new...i fooled with em on tube amps in the 80's...and if you like good for you...but they do tax your amp tubes with prolonged use..especially with todays sub par tubes...be aware

    and cheapo versions with a buck fifty worth of iffy parts on your expensive tube amp may fail easily and leave you up the creek

    come back in a years time

    luck

    cheers

  42. #41
    Attenuators allow one to use their amp at it's sweet spot whatever that may be for a player.
    If you're not going to turn the volume of your amp to 5 so that your tubes will last longer, may be tube amps aren't for you
    Last edited by Tal_175; 10-31-2019 at 02:09 PM.

  43. #42

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    This is a recording using the Bugera PS-1 Power Soak and a Fender Princeton Reverb Re-Issue. The PS-1 is between the speaker-output and the speaker itself. PS-1 XLR to a PreSonus AudioBox iTwo. Also, a Shure SM57 microphone on the cabinet turned up with the attenuator to about 40% on the dial, also into the PreSonus, USB to MacBook Pro and recorded on QuickTime Player, edited in ScreenFlow.

    The Left channel is the XLR output from the PS-1. The Right channel is the SM57. Other than equalizing the volumes a little (they were already close) I've done nothing else.

    The backing track is center-panned. I then repeat the guitar track a second time, without the backing track.

    Hope this helps anyone wanting to evaluate the utility of the PS-1 for recording.

    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  44. #43

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    I thought this sounded really good, and I would like to give it a try!

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    I thought this sounded really good, and I would like to give it a try!
    I confess to being quite uexpectedly impressed. The Direct line really nailed the sound. The mic on the (attenuated!) speaker also sounded way better than I expected.

    I don't need the attenuator for playing over-driven at low volumes, but the PRRI does develop a certain quality at about 5 (volume) that can be too loud for recording where I have to practice. Being able to use the attenuator to get the line out is really convenient.
    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  46. #45
    Also note that, although the amp must be connected to PS-1 at all times, PS-1 doesn't need to be connected to a speaker. So you can use it in quiet stage situations or when you want to only hear it through monitors/headphones when recording.

  47. #46

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Also note that, although the amp must be connected to PS-1 at all times, PS-1 doesn't need to be connected to a speaker. So you can use it in quiet stage situations or when you want to only hear it through monitors/headphones when recording.
    Right you are. The amp has to be connected to the appropriate load. I think neatomic's cautions above are also worth bearing in mind. I don't plan to keep my Princeton or Silvertone connected to the PS-1 all the time. Only when I want to record direct, which is increasingly how I like to record anyhow. Otherwise, speakers.
    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  48. #47

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    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic View Post
    the speaker operating at its natural potential is essential to the amps "full character"...once you mess with that..the equation is thrown off!!

    attenuators are nothing new...i fooled with em on tube amps in the 80's...and if you like good for you...but they do tax your amp tubes with prolonged use..especially with todays sub par tubes...be aware

    and cheapo versions with a buck fifty worth of iffy parts on your expensive tube amp may fail easily and leave you up the creek

    come back in a years time

    luck

    cheers
    Absolutely correct! I consider the tradeoff worth it and much better that developing ear fatigue or worse playing at higher than necessary levels. Periodic visits to the Amp Vet are a must!
    Best regards, k

  49. #48

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    Here's another demo of the Bugera PS1 Power Soak, this time with my 1965 (or so) Silvertone 1484. I have intentionally "cranked" the amp a bit more than normal to get some break up. I actually don't like this amp cranked so high, but it's also possible that this amp has some innards that are not in premium working order. The tubes are good... I don't know about the rest! It has s 3 prong plug but I don't know if any caps or resistors have been upgraded, and the transformers are definitely stock.

    For those that don't know, the Silvertone 1484 uses 2 6L6 power tubes and was advertised nominally at 40 watts or so. It had a fantastic (I think) vibrato/tremolo (whatever) and probably the worst reverb every installed on any amp in the universe. The reverb is so bad it's actually worth duplicating in a pedal as an effect. It shipped with a head and a 2x12 cab that had a space for the head to be transported in the cab. I don't have the cab, but play it either through the 2x10 speakers of my Yamaha G100-210 or through a 12" 4 Ohm speaker rated at 100 watts. It sounds pretty good either way, though I wouldn't gig with it without giving it a complete upgrade inside where needed. Someday I'd like to do that.

    The reverb on these is horrible so this is recorded dry, no reverb. XLR direct from the PS1 to the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo, from there to my MacBook Pro with Quicktime. The guitar is alone on the Left channel. The solo is Jimmy Raney's "Blues for Wes" from the Aebersold set.

    I don't post all these clips to showcase my playing, though I enjoy doing it. I post it because we all wonder about these various pieces of gear and the demos online are normally rock and Strat/Tele oriented, not jazz archtops and warm/clean. So I"m trying to help a little as folks ponder these.

    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  50. #49
    When you play chords lightly, the breakup sounds really good in this setup, like towards the very end. I guess dynamics become something to experiment with when playing on the verge of breakup. Amp becomes another expressive dimension like blues/soul singers' voice getting hoarse when they sing louder. I could hear you were interacting with the amp that way at times. I would overdrive the amp a bit less normally for that effect however.

  51. #50

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    Thanks, LS!
    Best regards, k