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Leo Fender Wins A Grammy - Reflections On Tube Guitar Amp Design


On February 4th, 2009, Vintage Guitar reported that "the Recording Academy will honour Clarence "Leo" Fender with a Technical Grammy Award during a special invitation-only ceremony to be held during Grammy Week on Saturday, February 7th".

I thought that was good news and fair recognition for a man who in many respects revolutionized the guitar industry. It caused me to reflect on Leo's amp design legacy and how, I believe, the tube amp industry hasn't created anything truly new since he and few other early amp designers gave us guitar players what remains to this day the blueprint for desirable tube amp tone.

Read an article about the history of Fender and Marshall amps and how current amp designs compare

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Does The World Need A Guitar Amp With 28 Knobs?


28 knobs and 8 switches on the front panel - the new Marshall JVM must hold some sort of record.  Does the guitar playing world need an amp with that many knobs?  I suppose the answer is "yes" as Marshall will presumably sell a bunch of these things.  But, is it necessary?

Four completely independent channels; a gaggle of knobs for each; 8 switches to perform other routing and tone shaping tasks; full MIDI control; two types of effects loops; programmable, DIGITAL reverb; and, according to Marshall "12 all-valve amps in one!".

I'm getting a headache just thinking about it.  As I said, I'm certain they'll sell a bunch of these things to players who will love their amp.  I bet it sounds pretty good too.

However, there's a gaping chasm between the concept behind the JVM and simpler amps that are focussed on pure tone and reliability.  What happens when the JVM breaks and needs repairs?  Judging from the experience of a personal friend who owns a Marshall 25th Anniversary (have never counted the knobs on that amp, bet it's close to the JVM!), it won't be pretty. 

How does a gigging musician cope with all of the flexibility?  We're finding that, at least in our experience, players are more frequently defaulting to simple set ups - get a key tone or two dialed in and leave the amp alone.  Will everyone who buys a JVM be dedicated tap dancers who make use of the flexibility their amp offers at gigs? 

Anyway, "different courses for different horses" as the old saying goes.  Clearly there is a market for the JVM.  Just as clearly that is not where Mack amps are targeted.  Simple design, clean signal path, ultra touch sensitivity, GREAT tube tone ... and a price that mere mortals can afford.

Virtuoso Tone without the Prima Donna Price!

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