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paul, the

Valve amps vs Solid State

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Hello,

I've owned some vintage equipment in my time but I've never had a valve amp. Sacrilegious, I know.

I feel like the kind of guy who should own a valve amp because I like to play mostly sixties stuff, especially Motown. But I've always been scared to get one because of; price, lack of understanding and the odd bit of bad luck with vintage gear.

The thing is, I'm young and poor so I was hoping that you would be able to suggest an underrated first time valve amp to get me experiencing the valve tone.

Also, how is their reliability?
Are they expensive to maintain?
The differences of different wattages? (besides perceived volume of course)

I think I understand how the tone is created - with the lack of SS clipping at high volumes. I'd like to know more about their practicality, availability and brand reputation.

Thank you so much,

the paul.

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Here's some info - hopefully you'll get more

Reliability - assuming it's been properly looked after then it should be no less reliable than solid state [b][i]but[/b][/i] bear in mind that the actual valves do wear out and you don't always get warning when this is about to happen. If you can carry spare valves (just one or two, not necessarily a full set) then that should solve that problem.

Expensive to maintain - yes, they can be. If depends on the type of valves and how many there are. Preamp valves are relatively cheap and can last a long time, but a set of 4 power amp valves can be quite expensive (perhaps anything from £50 upwards, depending on type). The valves may also mneed "biasing" when replaced which requires fitting by a service engineer rather than poppomng them in yourself. The life of valves varies enorrmously and wil depend on the valve itself and how often you play. You might get 2 years out of power amp valves, you might get 10 years !

Wattages - you need someone with more experience to answer that one. It's said that valve amps sound louder for the same wattage but the same general rules apply for selecting the required power output as for solid state amps.

Practicality - aside from having to replace valves occasionally, they are just as practical as any other amp. They can be quite heavy but so can some solid sate amps.

"Hybrid" amps offer a compromise. They use valves in the preamp (preamp valves are relatively cheaper and often last longer) but a solid state power amp.

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+1 to BOD2's advice.

Despite popular myth, valve amps are not inherently less reliable than solid state gear. In fact, it can be argued that the opposite is the truer case. A well-designed/built valve amp that is new, or an older one that has been properly maintained, will give years of loyal, worry-free service. While of course you should treat them with care, mechanically valves are pretty rugged (hell, they got us through WWII !), and electrically they'll withstand an astonishing amount of abuse, whereas solid state devices have a lovely habit of falling over STONE DEAD in the blink of an eye as soon as they get a bit too much voltage on the power rails or receive a static shock. :)

Also, by and large, valve amp circuits tend to be a lot simpler than their SS equivalents, and are usually made up of tried-and-trusted architecture with which any good valve technician will be familiar, even if he/she hasn't got access to a circuit diagram. Consequently, should your valve amp develop the odd fault that needs professional attention, it'll be a whole lot easier to diagnose and fix than a box stuffed with a thousand tiny, fragile devices, some of which may be:
1. difficult or impossible to identify without reference to the manufacturer's data
2. one-off chips only available through the manufacturer at a premium price
...or in the case of vintage SS gear,
3. obsolete types for which there is no drop-in modern equivalent!

By now, I hope you're beginning to feel that owning a valve amp is a pretty attractive proposition. However, your biggest challenge lies in trying to obtain something worth having, given your limited budget. Sadly, these days, even half-knackered tatty old valve gear in need of a total overhaul will sell for silly prices because it's supposedly "vintage" or "rare". The days of stumbling across a lovely old Vox/Marshall/Sound City head in your local junk shop are long gone!

One classic British brand with plenty of character that still occasionally goes for reasonable money is Selmer. Tone? Think Ronnie Lane/Small Faces. Nice! There's usually at least one Selmer amp on eBay at any given time. For instance:

[url="http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Selmer-Super-Zodiac-100-Valve-Head-Circa-1969_W0QQitemZ260119349277QQihZ016QQcategoryZ10171QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem"]Selmer Super Zodiac Twin 100[/url]
2 channels, 100 Watts, pre-set tone selector ...AND tremelo!

Edited by Oxblood

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+1 to Oxblood All I can say is go for it every bass player should own at least 1 Valve amp in their life,Yea they can be quite heavy but when you can bleed notes into one another with feedback its turns the amp into another instrument .As for valve amp costs as Oxblood said theres not a lot to go wrong in fact I've owned about 5 valve amps in total and never even had a blown tube compared to about 5 S/S heads which 3 have all gone to the repairman so go figure. :)

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Uh-oh. Counterpoint time.
I've owned ONE fully tube device, an Ampeg SVP-Pro. It can work fine, and when it does, it sounds lovely. It has never made it through a whole gig, no matter how short.

It just cuts out, and won't come back. It's been looked at 3 times, and no-one can fix it.

YES! Of course it's out of warranty.

And it always brings its buddy, captain 50hz hum to the party.

It has had a second full set of valves, supposedly "good" ones, yet still it happens.

Conversely, my Trace Elliot is now 10 years old, and has suffered nought but a microphonic pre-amp valve (!) and a loose connection that I found and hardwired.

My "little" 80w 1x12 practice amp is now over 20 years old and just keeps on delivering excellent tone against a silent background. It's Solid State I'm afraid.

I'd love a quiet, modern sounding, all-valve front-end, but I really can't be convinced to part with the money based on my experiences of poor reliability.

All of my problems have been pre-amps using 12AX7s (the Ampeg uses an AU7 for its OD circuit), so I daren't ever use anything that uses valves for power amplification!

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I suppose everyone should own a valve amp, I have, as I started playing when valve was the only option. But I my opinion these days valve is more trouble than its worth.

The worst amp I ever owned was a Boogie 400+, hundreds of expensive valves and always blowing one. OK, so I know that amp had a problem, which was never identified, but you can't accept unreliable equipment. The best amp I owned was a Dynacord BS412, which was solid state and a fabulous sound. The current SVT3 has a valve pre-amp and mosfet power section. That is as far as I'll go on valves now and this seems to be a good combination.

Spend as much as you can, then a bit more. High end bass gear seems to be mosfet these days, Epifani, Markbass, EA, Eden etc. High end hi-fi got rid of valves years ago, until you get to the stupidly expensive stuff. Even if you get a wonderful valve amp you will always Di through a valveless PA system. No one expects to use valves in a PA system do they?

In my opinion it is a myth that valves sound better. They are different, but an average bass and bad technique will affect your sound much more than the amp you play through. If you want to improve your sound put your favourite amp through a good speaker.... in my opinion EV's are the best sounding speaker you can get. A good cab with an EV will really make you go WOW!!

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LFalex, I feel for you. You've been bitten by a bad valve product, and understandably you're very wary about throwing any more money in the direction of things hot and glowing. With any amp, whether valve or SS, obviously it's design and build quality that matters, and you'd expect a reputable - nay, legendary - name like Ampeg to be the bees knees, wouldn't you? But you've been landed with a dog, and you're not alone. Recently, when I was round at Thumper's gaff to hear his cabs, he mentioned having once owned an Ampeg valve pre (probably an SVP-Pro - can't remember exactly) and he was just as disappointed with it. "I looked inside and the build quality was dreadful" was his basic assessment. That's why in my last post I was careful to specify "a [i]well designed/built[/i] valve amp".

If it were in my power, I'd go out right now and buy you a nice tasty point-to-point wired, hand-built Bass head or rackmount pre, then sit back and watch your smile get wider and wider. :)



[quote name='Lfalex v1.1' post='2773' date='May 20 2007, 12:01 PM']Uh-oh. Counterpoint time.
I've owned ONE fully tube device, an Ampeg SVP-Pro. It can work fine, and when it does, it sounds lovely. It has never made it through a whole gig, no matter how short.

It just cuts out, and won't come back. It's been looked at 3 times, and no-one can fix it.

YES! Of course it's out of warranty.

And it always brings its buddy, captain 50hz hum to the party.

It has had a second full set of valves, supposedly "good" ones, yet still it happens.

Conversely, my Trace Elliot is now 10 years old, and has suffered nought but a microphonic pre-amp valve (!) and a loose connection that I found and hardwired.

My "little" 80w 1x12 practice amp is now over 20 years old and just keeps on delivering excellent tone against a silent background. It's Solid State I'm afraid.

I'd love a quiet, modern sounding, all-valve front-end, but I really can't be convinced to part with the money based on my experiences of poor reliability.

All of my problems have been pre-amps using 12AX7s (the Ampeg uses an AU7 for its OD circuit), so I daren't ever use anything that uses valves for power amplification![/quote]

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Interesting reading! I have owned a couple of all valve amplifiers now, and have had mixed results with each. My mesa 400+ was superb, very heavy but sounded just extremely juicy and fat with my graphite necked basses, which kiwi predicted. However one of the power tubes went during a practice and I ended up getting a full set of matched Harma valves for it, specifically biased and matched for the 400+. They sounded amazing and I was assured by the very nice bloke at Watford Valves that he has the same in his 400+ and it has been going 7 years. I sold the amp shortly after but beleive it is still A1.

My current amplifier is a Trace V4 15" combo with 4 KT88 power tubes and 6 pre tubes. It sounds out of this world, more creamy and detailed than the 400+, and as a rare beast with 'legendary' status (handed down from the v8) it is just lovely to have and play with. However, for gigging, I tend to cut amplifiers out of the equasion completely, as I find them a pain in the bottom to move, carry, load up, mic, position etc to the point where there is basically no point in having one on stage - I now use my pod xt pro with some very carefully set patches direct to the PA and use in ear monitoring and surround myself with floor monitors for the rumble. It has sounded fantastic every time and I know I can get exactly what I want in my ears at least, every gig. Once or twice when I had the mesa rig and matching massive cabinet I looked behind myself and thought 'what is the point in that sitting there' as I could not really hear it - everything was coming from the monitors.

Needless to say there are times when an amplifier is neccesary (no PA for example) so I have my Trace for that - but like some others have said, in many gig situations it is nice to lean on the PA and play with the happy knowledge that you have an extremely fine valve amp at home waiting to be fired up in the comfort of your own home!

I do not think valve amps are expensive to maintain at all if you look after them - you will probably spend more on strings in a year than valve amp related upkeep (if you get a good-un). It is good to see some modern amplifier designs using power tubes, such as the new markbass thingy. Are we in for a revolution? My trace has a self bias feature which is great, so I can use any power tubes that are matched as a quartet - it was annoying with the 400+ having a fixed bias so that you had to buy certain sets which were inflated in price!

There are some wonderfully knowledgeable people out there who can, as Oxblood says, open up a well made valve amp and fix it in seconds for bugger all. It is a lost art. I know that if anything happens to mine it is nothing that cannot be fixed pretty easily by some people on this forum, most of whom will be only too willing to help for the sheer enjoyment of fiddling around with these really quite wonderful pieces of equipment!

Cheers
ped

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[quote name='ped' post='2851' date='May 20 2007, 01:45 PM']There are some wonderfully knowledgeable people out there who can, as Oxblood says, open up a well made valve amp and fix it in seconds for bugger all. [b]It is a lost art.[/b] I know that if anything happens to mine it is nothing that cannot be fixed pretty easily by some people on this forum, most of whom will be only too willing to help for the sheer enjoyment of fiddling around with these really quite wonderful pieces of equipment![/quote]

Not yet it ain't! As long as people want to make (and, more importantly, [i]use[/i]) valve gear, there will be wild-eyed solder-heads out in the backwoods with the necessary skills to fettle 'em. Hurrah!

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I've read these through and probably will do again,

A couple of questions, sorry if they've been covered (no doubt there'll be more on the way):


Compatibility; if it has valves in it, can you play bass through it?

This might get a little complex, but; other than the valves, what makes one valve amp sound different from another?


---

If this is pinned, I'll add oxblood's valve description in That valve sound... (from BT)

[quote name='oxblood' post='265198' date='May 14 2007, 03:51 AM']Well now, there's a short question with a long answer... :)

The only way to really 'get' it, of course, is to experience it for yourself, and now you've posted this, I'm willing to bet that it won't be long before you get a chance. Odds are there's a BT member in your neck of the woods who has a valve rig and wouldn't mind you having a bash on it. After about 30 seconds, the whole tone thing will make perfect sense - and you'll be GASsing for something hot 'n heavy of your very own!

Meanwhile, I can give you a basic idea of what the technical difference is. Among amp designers and audio boffins, the ability of an amplifier to faithfully reproduce the signal it receives at its input is known as 'linearity'. In essence, the whole 'valve tone' thing boils down to the fact that, from a purely scientific standpoint, valves are not very good at being linear! If you want clinically perfect reproduction, Solid State devices win hands down. As I'm sure you know, the classic behaviour of a Solid State device is that, as you increase the amount of signal (turn up the volume) its output remains clean until it hits the limit of its amplifying ability and starts to 'clip' - i.e. the tops and bottoms of the waveform are literally clipped off. This clipped signal is rich in odd harmonics, which sound harsh and unmusical. A heavily clipping SS amplifier is a HORRIBLE sound, and its nasty hard-edged waveform is full of high frequency crap that can actually damage tweeters. So, in order to avoid the risk of driving their SS amp into clipping, it's customary for musicians to buy an amp that has plenty of 'headroom' - i.e. it has far more available power than they're ever likely to need. That's why some bassists have a 1000 Watt SS rig, even though they might only be playing small club gigs.

Valves, on the other hand, behave differently. With a small signal at the input, the amplified signal coming out of the valve will be a pretty faithful copy. As input signal level increases, though, the output signal gradually starts to bend out of shape, and this bending adds a range of predominantly even harmonics, which to human ears are percieved as sweet and musical. The effect is to very subtly enrich the note - a bit like opening up the stops on a church organ. At this stage, most listeners won't even characterise the signal as being distorted. To them it'll just have "midrange warmth" or "thickness".

As we drive the valve harder, the proportion of harmonics in the signal increases, becomes even more complex, and the balance of even and odd harmonics shifts. Eventually, if we drive it all the way to its limit, the valve will clip - but even at this point, the transition of the waveform into flattened off tops and bottoms is nowhere near as hard-edged as with a Solid State device. The resulting sound is heavily distorted, but if you're a heavy metal freak, it's still a musically appealing sound.

Another side effect of the harmonic enrichment is that it helps the signal 'cut through' in a live situation. The human ear literally has more information to get hold of, so takes more notice of it! Also, strictly speaking there is more energy present in the valve amp's bent-outta-shape signal. This is why a valve amp will always appear to be 'louder' than a SS amp of the same wattage. 300 Watts of clean SS signal is just not as attention-grabbing as 200 Watts of sweet, complex, harmonically enriched valve WOOF.

There's a lot more to it than that, of course, but hell - it's 4am and I need me bed. Nighty night! :huh:[/quote]


The reason I ask about compatibility continues from when I was asking rodl2005 about his Eminar PA head that he used for bass:

From BT

[quote name='rodl2005' post='257077' date='Apr 26 2007, 08:32 AM']Here's my small- er tube rig( an Eminar P.A. head from '76- 6 x KT77/6CA7's 4 x 12AX7) 180w & My EB MM Stingray 5 & Squier Special Anniversary 5 [/quote]


He told me about it:

"Gave a great tone for Guitar or bass but the EQ section was obviously NOT set up for bass really, so I usually stuck a pre-amp pedal type o' thang in B4 it. A while ago it was a ZOOM 506-later a V-amp & then a POD- these gave a much better EQ range for bass!"

"I A/B'd it next to my Ampeg SVT3PRO a few yrs ago & there wasn't much difference-in fact the PA head had a better tube sound-just not quite as "EQ-able""

If this isn't kosher let me know?


Any thoughts?

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Why do people always assume valve = big fat sound?

I've owned a Boogie 220 and a 400+ and you could cut glass with the tone from both of them (regardless of which bass I put in the front end). Yet I've had SS amps that have been silky smooth and buttery!

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There is no equal to a well designed, multi speaker tube amp. Pluses...tone...tone...tone....Negatives...weight...tube replacement..bias adjustment by a quliafied tech (on older models)heat, (can warm a small home).

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[quote name='warwickhunt' post='3006' date='May 20 2007, 05:29 PM']Why do people always assume valve = big fat sound?

I've owned a Boogie 220 and a 400+ and you could cut glass with the tone from both of them (regardless of which bass I put in the front end). Yet I've had SS amps that have been silky smooth and buttery![/quote]


I have heard that about mesa bass amps...hence I only own Ampeg. I have owned many s/s amps...you can use their headroom to boost the lows, to make up for the lack of natural tone that tubes emit. Hi end stereo also use tubes for their "realistic" tone. I used to have hot, mono tube amps for my home stereo...the sweetness and harmonic realism was frightning at times.....

Edited by jammie17

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[quote name='warwickhunt' post='3006' date='May 20 2007, 06:29 PM']Why do people always assume valve = big fat sound?

I've owned a Boogie 220 and a 400+ and you could cut glass with the tone from both of them (regardless of which bass I put in the front end). Yet I've had SS amps that have been silky smooth and buttery![/quote]
Good point. While it's broadly true to say that most valve instrument amps tend toward the warm midrangey woofy thing, it's by no means a given. The sound of a valve amp is hugely affected by circuit design factors: which valve types have been chosen for what parts of the circuit, the operating conditions they're being run under (i.e. DC voltage levels, bias point etc), the kind of EQ stage that's being used and so on.

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I've used all types of amps in my 27 yrs of playing live in pubs & most of whats above I agree with. Cuppla things IMHO valve amps do NOT need anymore servicing than S.S. amps. As long as U put quality tubes in they should last as long as said above- 10 yrs... more depending on use! BUT IMHO U should have ANY regularly used amp serviced every few yrs-depending on use! & IME I've spent equally as much on my s.s. amps as I have on my tube amps over the last 27 yrs! IME( :-) sorry 4 all the IME 's etc... ) usually when a valve amp goes down -it's a tube/s when a s.s. amp goes down..... good guess!! & 4 me has been lotsa $$$$.

Also- sure a poorly designed/made valve amp is gonna sound just-almost ;-) - as bad as a poor s.s. amp. Warm & fat sound only happens when the valve amp is nice, speakers are good & bass is good! IME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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[quote name='rodl2005' post='4217' date='May 22 2007, 11:05 AM']I've used all types of amps in my 27 yrs of playing live in pubs & most of whats above I agree with. Cuppla things IMHO valve amps do NOT need anymore servicing than S.S. amps. As long as U put quality tubes in they should last as long as said above- 10 yrs... more depending on use! BUT IMHO U should have ANY regularly used amp serviced every few yrs-depending on use! & IME I've spent equally as much on my s.s. amps as I have on my tube amps over the last 27 yrs! IME( :-) sorry 4 all the IME 's etc... ) usually when a valve amp goes down -it's a tube/s when a s.s. amp goes down..... good guess!! & 4 me has been lotsa $$$$.

Also- sure [b]a poorly designed/made valve amp is gonna sound just-almost ;-) - as bad as a poor s.s. amp. Warm & fat sound only happens when the valve amp is nice, speakers are good & bass is good! IME!!!!!!!!!!!!!![/b][/quote]
IME too ! :)

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Jesus why is everyone talking in abbrevations?

Anyway here is my take on things.

I have fried several SS amps, but at present I still use SS. The simple reason being that most of the time I cannot afford to buy a valve amp. I have played through a few valve amps and have mixed opinions. I have gigged an SVT 2 rig on several occasions and been bitterly disappointed. I found them to be very thin sounding and completely lacking in any "grunt". I have also played a couple of Trace valve amps, which were alright. The one that totally blew me away was the Marshall VBA400. They are somewhere in the region of £749 new which is reasonable for an all valve head and the sound is nothing short of monstrous. It is fairly likely to give you a hernia when you move it, but I think the unberable abdominal pain you will suffer is well worth it when you see how many people are either making small sewage factories in their pants, or have simply gone deaf.

I am going to sit on the fence on this debate. Yes, a good valve amp sounds better, but they are more expensive, they can be very heavy and they do generally cost more to maintain. SS amps are cheaper, some of them do sound really good, but you can't get [i]that[/i] tone :)

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To throw in my sixpen'orth - Just look around on big stages,TV shows,DVD's etc, and see what keeps coming up time and time again- the mighty
Ampeg SVT rig. This 300 watt all valve amp coupled with the 8x10 speaker cab is still THE industry standard, some nearly 40 years after its introduction in the late sixties. This is surely the definitive set-up. In my 20 years of bass playing, it is the only amp that completely does the job, and if well looked after is supremely reliable too. Hire companies etc would n't use them if not. Unfrortunately I had to let mine go some years back - due to practical considerations of size/weight/transport . Since then, I've tried most stuff out there,a lot of it okay. The closest being a Gallien Krueger 800RB - another old design( but no valves in sight ), small and light but with a superb fat old school sound and extremely reliable. Also had an Ashdown ABM500 with a valve in the preamp which was okay too. Still hanker after the SVT experience again though - jump at the chance to play through one and you'll never
turn back!

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I have to agree that running costs, potential failure, quality of sound and all of the other points raised equate to their not being a massive difference and each probably has an equal numbers of supporters (difference being that valve lovers tend to stand on the nearest box and shout louder :) ). However for me the one consideration that can't really be disputed (at the moment) is the weight factor! I realise their are hybrids and pre/powers but invariably valves = weight.

Oh and a +1 for the old trusty GK 800rb. Great amp, shame they missed a trick with the output ratings and load capacity (4/8 ohms)

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[quote name='casapete' post='6313' date='May 25 2007, 08:50 AM']To throw in my sixpen'orth - Just look around on big stages,TV shows,DVD's etc, and see what keeps coming up time and time again- the mighty
Ampeg SVT rig. This 300 watt all valve amp coupled with the 8x10 speaker cab is still THE industry standard, some nearly 40 years after its introduction in the late sixties. This is surely the definitive set-up.[/quote]

Definitive in terms of image more than sound I reckon. A lot of these are rented mate, and chosen for the image rather than the sound. I've known one big festival to use the same bass rig for four bands - wheeled off at the end of each set only to be wheeled back on again for the next band.

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In response to the SVT thing - I would add that my favourite recorded bass tone was done through an SVT 4, my fave amp I have ever played live was an SVT 3 and by far the most disappointing amp I have ever played was an SVT 2, which is supposed to be one of their monsters......go figure!

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I am the lucky so and so who has Ped's Mesa Boogie 400 +. I use it with an Ashdown ABM810 and it is simply monstrous. I can get anything from a heavy DUB tone to the aforementioned cutting glass sound - neither of which I favour, but that's just my taste. I do find the amp will deliver a solid tone time after time. I had owned a 400+ about 10 years ago ( with a matching Powerhouse 1000 cab - both immaculate though gigged regularly ) and as soon as I sold it I regretted it. I am so glad to have that sound back - it sounds great with either my StingRay 5'er or G&L L2500.

A big, fat, round, well articulated sound !! Just like it's owner really :)

S

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LOL!! Really glad you are still in love with it. How are you getting on with the Basson cabinet?

You will have to come down and see the Trace sometime. Mind you, I suppose the distance is quite considerable...

Cheers
ped

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