Yesterday was a great day for some friends of mine and me.
One of my friends was in the market for a new brand Fender Stratocaster and, I was there also searching some amp with a solid clean channel that could take pedals with ease and cover a wide range of loudness.
We went to Auvisa, a nice music store here in Spain.
We were received by Auvisa staff, which seemed to me very knowledgable, kind and friendly.
They were able to answer any technical question we did, with full sense and, they've helped us to narrow our search to just an small number of items to be tested in depth, as per our description of what we were after.
The store has a very classy but modern look. Spaces are well illuminated and, everything seems sorted and well classified, in separated sections (Guitars, guitar parts, technical support, drums, keyboards, studio and gig gear, bass guitars, etc...).
The Store runs a lot of guitar brands like Fender, Ibanez, Tokai, Jackson, Martin, Vigier, LTD, Shur, Vox, etc. And an impresive number of amp brands as well, as: Marshall, Fender, Vox, Mesa Boogie, Yamaha, Line6, George, Victoria, Ampeg, Custom Audio, TC Electronics, Mark Bass, Shur, Engl, etc.
There is at least a representation of each guitar and amp lines, so we were able to test a broad range of stratos, from the cheapest (but good sounding) Mexican ones to Eric Johnson's model.
Auvisa people had everything ready for our tests. We were lead to the testing room. An impressive room full of nice guitars (Fender, Tokai, Taylor, ...) and full of amps, regular production and more arcane boutique ones and, of any size, from lunchboxes to the half-stacks.
We spent the whole morning just to narrow the set of stratos to just three models, the ones that impressed we all the most. So, before lunch, we narrowed the search to a Vintage Strato with Ash body, an American Deluxe and Eric Johnson's model.
But, my friend was more concerned about ergonomical aspects of the axe and, in that area, the American Deluxe wins hands down. Features of the Deluxe are very wellcome: two posts blade floating bridge, compound radius, staggered locking tunners and, alternate wiring (with the S-1 switch).
My friend felt at home with the Deluxe so, that was his finally election, during the afternoon.
Not sounding bad at all, the Noiseless Samarian-Cobalt 3 pickups that these axes mount stock, aren't so organic as other strato replacement pickups.
But, we weren't worried about it, because we had already a set of David Allen's Dovers (that David sent very kindly to me, to test) and we were already planning to swap the stock pickups with that great sounding set, who should let us close to (or surpass) the sound of EJ's model.
We are planning go back to Auvisa, once the guitar is being setup by my other fellow friend (the luthier) and, those David Allen are in place, to demo the enhancement to Auvisa's people.
To test those stratos, I've initialy selected the Fender Bassman LTD (4 x 10" speakers), because is a fair sounding amp that helps to reveal everything you want to hear in wood and pickups.
Unfortunately, the Bassman had some kind of tube hiss that was a tad uncomfortable and, it doesn't sounds very well at low volume levels. You need to push that baby to get the very well known organic sound.
But, it was ok to select the guitar, anyway.
Then, it was the time to select my amp. This time I went with open mind and not particular prejudices, not positive or negative about brands or models. I've clearly explained what I wanted and, which other amps I've already tested and what I didn't liked. Even that the Bassmann is an awesome amp, it wasn't what I was actually after.
I've bring with myself the whole rig, guitar, pedalboard and cables, to be sure that the amps that I was going to check will deliver with my gear.
This was also a good oportunity to demo to Auvisa people the sets of David Allen Stratcats pickups that I've got actually mounted in my American Deluxe Strato (the old one, without the compound radius).
It seems that a collaboration between David Allen and Auvisa can be possible and, if it works, I will feel really proud of have being the nexus between both parts, without any economical reward.
I believe on David Allen' stuff and, I love how Auvisa run their musical store, how they care about music, tone and people. So, I only wish good luck for both, if there is some agreement.
Well, going back to the amps.
Auvisa's people bring me a George boutique amp. I think it was the Tornado Duo model but, with a snake-skin tolex. I had good expectations with George's amps, after reading a bunch of reviews in guitarists forums.
To be honest, that amp wasn't my cup of tea. To me, it lacked loudness, body and, it was breaking up in a wrong way when pushed hard. It seemed to be as the speaker was farting under high preassure. Probably is a good amp but, it didn't worked fine with my gear so, it was quickly discarded.
Thinking on next one, I was very curious about the Hot Rod series of Fender, that seemed to me (on the paper) good candidates. So I've asked to test some Hot Rod and, a Hot Rod III Deville was already there, in the testing room.
So, I've plugged my gear to that Hot Rod III Deville and, tone was instantaneus. We all smiled and, nodded our heads.
I wasn't really interested on the gain channel, since I wanted to build my own gain textures with my pedals. I just wanted a nice clean channel that could take pedals with ease and that can sound good a lower levels and impressive a gig levels.
In the meanwhile, Auvisa people made me interested into test a Bogner distortion pedal (Ecstasy, the blue one) but, even having a good tone, I prefer myself how the Jetter Gear JetDrive pushed the amp and made those 6L6 tubes to sing. Wah, modulation, vibe, overdrive, distortion, delay, everything worked to my taste. The sound clean was really good and, rock stadium with my gain pedals.
I've jumped out my chair to check where the volume knob was dialed, because I thought the volume should be at 3/4 of its range and, I was concerned about headroom.
My surprise was huge. I was scared seeing that the volume was just at 2.5 !!!.
Mother of God!. What a big sound!.
I thought: "man, this seems the definitive amp, at least for my #1, the strato". But, while I was thinking that way, my friends were saying: "bro, get that one home and sell your rest of amps!. This will be the best amp in your collection. Forget the rest. Even that Marshall cannot be compared to this one".
Unfortunatelly for my pocket, I had to agree with all them so... I did it!!!.
Scared about price, I was greatefully surprised with the deal. Around 900 Eur, with VAT included. This is less than I had to pay for my Princeton Reverb reissue and, the sound has no comparison.
Since I had negative experience with Jensen' speakers, that usually sound beautiful, detailed and silky when playing alone but, that tend to be lost in the mix, I've talked about my concerns with this amp and, wanted to test the rig with some backing tracks, to check if the amp was able to cut the mix with authority.
But then, Auvisa's people told me that starting on series III (or maybe II) of Hot Rods, Fender started to mount Celestion speakers. This one had a couple of 2 x 12 G12P-80 celestions, that are very commonly used in modeling amps, that need to represent a broad range of frequencies and, therefore, every ecualization is able to work with such a speakers.
After this clarification, I was satisfied and finished the economical transaction, to bring that monster home.
Well, probably the speaker isn't the best around there but, to me, it did a nice job in this particular amp.
In any case, this is the only amp I've got loading 6L6s.
I never liked an amp loading 6V6GT tubes. Those sound really nice and sweet alone but, the tend to be lost in the mix and, they have some kind of sag and compression that tames the attack too much for my own taste. 6L6s are other kind of beast, very powerfull and big sounding.
At such a price, it seems to me difficult to get so much tone.
Well, I have a queue of gear to review / demo and, not so much free time.
Will try to post about all this in further entries.
But, yes, we felt ourselves as in guitarists' heaven, yesterday.
A big musical experience in an awesome store.
Thanks to Auvisa' staff!!!.