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Thread: The Ultimate Clean Amps & Circuits, Other than PRS

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    The Ultimate Clean Amps & Circuits, Other than PRS

    Folks, I won't begin by writing about PRS amps. Reason is, I don't have one, but have PRS guitars. I have a bunch of other companies' amps, and several home-rolled by tubed circuit designers. I was trained in jazz but love all kinds of music. Wildly varying tones of distortion and color are worthwhile, besides those Glorious Cleans, but the best tones from my experience involve a foundational, "clean" tone first. You can always add distortion, squash the frequencies and "EQ" your way to perfection manipulating the tonal eccentricities and attributes of the speaker, amp and pre-amp sections, speaker(s), speaker enclosure, etc. A great clean tonal range is a thing of rare, sonic bliss. I'm convinced that tonal range actually makes us happier human beings...so does rock and "purple haze," but they can get tiresome after awhile, yes?

    I'll start by commending Leo Fender as we all should, for his early (Fender) Cleans. They range from a relatively quiet, smooth clean in the low-watters like the Tweeds, Champs, Deluxes, Princetons, etc. to the piercing cleans of the 60s, 70s and 80s Twins, "ultra-linear" designs up to the Big Iron Fender 140 (I have one, quite marvelous but a bit sterile, IMHO, add pedals) from 1989 and a wide variety of tubed, hybrid and solid state models created more by the marketing department than out of musicians' needs and wants. And sadly, as experts will admit, hardly any two birds of the same feather, such as two Deluxes, truly sound identical. They "tend" to do certain things with certain tubes of a certain age amplifying certain speakers and enclosures; the similarities become less distinct when you start playing around with different tubes, capacitors, resistors, speakers, cabs, etc. This is why Fender purportedly searches for "ideal" Tweeds, Brown and Blackfaces, and then builds reissue designs to sound like those ideal amp examples.

    Next, the point I really want to bring out, all amps have their own versions of clean if played at gain ranges so low the tubes are hardly working, much less tending towards saturation and overdrive. (Ideally, the power and pre-amp signals will come from tubes, exceptions being things like the Fender Jazzmaster Ultralight, which very sadly is no longer being made.) I came back into guitar-playing a few years ago after many years away, seeing Line 6 pushing something they called the Vetta which offered credible emulation of other amps, many of which I'd never heard or played. It seemed like a godsend; I wanted the flexibility of buying one but "hearing" and broadcasting many amps inside. Their PODs and fairly amazing DT50 amp continue in that vein.

    My latest example of another Clean is just so amazing I wanted to start this thread. It's a Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic RA-100. I can't really do justice to the splendid variety of Cleans it has available, but color me amazed and in awe. The designer has actually made the master volume setting meaningful; you can dime the Master and get some great cleans tweaking the "Gain" as you would expect, BUT you can actually thicken and massage the clean tone to new sounds by reducing the Master and raising the Gain. I'm probably distorting the tone somewhat raising the overall volumes with either the Master or the Gain, but they still sound relatively Clean, just hugely enriched or narrowed.

    People say great things about a wide variety of thicker, juicier Cleans from today's 65Amps, Dr. Z, Fender, my favorite home-brewers Dave Lancaster of Lancaster Amplification and Paul Sanchez of Red Iron Amps, the DT50 (and purportedly, DT25) by Line 6 in triode mode and many others. What amps (tubes, speakers, etc.) produce your favorite Clean tonal ranges?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soul.com View Post
    Folks, I won't begin by writing about PRS amps. Reason is, I don't have one, but have PRS guitars. I have a bunch of other companies' amps, and several home-rolled by tubed circuit designers. I was trained in jazz but love all kinds of music. Wildly varying tones of distortion and color are worthwhile, besides those Glorious Cleans, but the best tones from my experience involve a foundational, "clean" tone first. You can always add distortion, squash the frequencies and "EQ" your way to perfection manipulating the tonal eccentricities and attributes of the speaker, amp and pre-amp sections, speaker(s), speaker enclosure, etc. A great clean tonal range is a thing of rare, sonic bliss. I'm convinced that tonal range actually makes us happier human beings...so does rock and "purple haze," but they can get tiresome after awhile, yes?

    I'll start by commending Leo Fender as we all should, for his early (Fender) Cleans. They range from a relatively quiet, smooth clean in the low-watters like the Tweeds, Champs, Deluxes, Princetons, etc. to the piercing cleans of the 60s, 70s and 80s Twins, "ultra-linear" designs up to the Big Iron Fender 140 (I have one, quite marvelous but a bit sterile, IMHO, add pedals) from 1989 and a wide variety of tubed, hybrid and solid state models created more by the marketing department than out of musicians' needs and wants. And sadly, as experts will admit, hardly any two birds of the same feather, such as two Deluxes, truly sound identical. They "tend" to do certain things with certain tubes of a certain age amplifying certain speakers and enclosures; the similarities become less distinct when you start playing around with different tubes, capacitors, resistors, speakers, cabs, etc. This is why Fender purportedly searches for "ideal" Tweeds, Brown and Blackfaces, and then builds reissue designs to sound like those ideal amp examples.

    Next, the point I really want to bring out, all amps have their own versions of clean if played at gain ranges so low the tubes are hardly working, much less tending towards saturation and overdrive. (Ideally, the power and pre-amp signals will come from tubes, exceptions being things like the Fender Jazzmaster Ultralight, which very sadly is no longer being made.) I came back into guitar-playing a few years ago after many years away, seeing Line 6 pushing something they called the Vetta which offered credible emulation of other amps, many of which I'd never heard or played. It seemed like a godsend; I wanted the flexibility of buying one but "hearing" and broadcasting many amps inside. Their PODs and fairly amazing DT50 amp continue in that vein.

    My latest example of another Clean is just so amazing I wanted to start this thread. It's a Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic RA-100. I can't really do justice to the splendid variety of Cleans it has available, but color me amazed and in awe. The designer has actually made the master volume setting meaningful; you can dime the Master and get some great cleans tweaking the "Gain" as you would expect, BUT you can actually thicken and massage the clean tone to new sounds by reducing the Master and raising the Gain. I'm probably distorting the tone somewhat raising the overall volumes with either the Master or the Gain, but they still sound relatively Clean, just hugely enriched or narrowed.

    People say great things about a wide variety of thicker, juicier Cleans from today's 65Amps, Dr. Z, Fender, my favorite home-brewers Dave Lancaster of Lancaster Amplification and Paul Sanchez of Red Iron Amps, the DT50 (and purportedly, DT25) by Line 6 in triode mode and many others. What amps (tubes, speakers, etc.) produce your favorite Clean tonal ranges?

    For me on the clean side, its almost anything Fender. My personal favorites are the Super Reverb and 59 Bassman (Original or LTD both work for me!) For over driven tones, only one really works for what my ears want to hear when I am the player. Dumble. Unfortunately for me, you cant have both in one amp, or cabinet. The best cleans have big bottom ends and sweet extended highs. That demands certain tubes, EQ curves, speakers, rectifiers, and speaker enclosures just to start with. The over driven tones I like need almost everything different. I found my magical solution after all these years. Two dedicated rigs and an A/B box!

  3. #3
    I'm pretty flexible on clean tones. In non-PRS amps, I like Two-Rock, Vox, Matchless/Bad Cat, Fender, and Roccaforte.

    But I think the cleans on the HX/DA are wonderful. And the gain sounds are to die for (for me, YMMV, usual disclaimers).

    So...that's the amp I like best.
    If something is too hard to do, then it's not worth doing. You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your short-wave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle and we'll go inside and watch TV.
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    I had a Mesa RA100. I agree that the cleans were amazing.
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    Occasionally Onery Member CantankerousCarl's Avatar
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    I aspire to a PRS amp someday...that being said, I have had about a dozen amps from high school up until now...which is much later.

    My favorite clean channel to-date is my Mesa Boogie Express 5:50 1x12 combo - with the clean channel on the 5W setting it's single-ended Class A and, combined with the "real" reverb, sounds amazing.

    So I guess this is turning into the "Mesa Cleans Rock" thread

    FWIW I recently got rid of an H&K Tubemeister 18 combo, the clean channel was REALLY REALLY clean, lots of headroom, maybe a little sterile but nice with strats and more "stratty" single coils.
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    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    Just to be a conformist, the cleans on my Mesa MkIIA are great, bouncy, shimmery and massive amounts of headroom. The gain on it sucks tho!

    I'm 99% sold on a HXDA, hope to have a NAD soon and can give a tone report

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    Having had a PRS 2ChH and now an HX/DA. I'd have to say the 2ChH has an amazing clean channel. I wasn't really sold on the lead channel, and to my ear the HX/DA spanks it completely. But that clean is gorgeous - I'd love to see that circuit in a plain 1 channel clean amp from PRS. Make it a 1 Channel H/C and I'd grab one to replace my Fender Deluxe in a heartbeat.
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    And my favorite........


    Wait for it.....

    Wait for it.....

    DG Custom 30 - I'm always smitten with a new girlfriend in the beginning, but still...in this case... it's perfect. I like other PRS amps for their gain tones, but not so much for their cleans. This one is different...

  9. #9
    Senior Member Sage's Avatar
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    For me, the ultimate clean tones come from the '65 reissue Fender Twin, or the Roland JC-120.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sage View Post
    For me, the ultimate clean tones come from the '65 reissue Fender Twin, or the Roland JC-120.
    If you like the reissue Twin, you'd like the original even more. Way more.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    If you like the reissue Twin, you'd like the original even more. Way more.
    Les, I would be careful. Maybe with twins which I am not that familiar with, but with Super reverbs, I like the RIs more, and so many guys say the same thing about them. Not sure how it is possible, but I have compared to many to count, and owned a great 66 SR. I have a RI now, which I put up agains several originals. The RI also stood toe to toe with my 35 Cowtipper, which is now gone, and that sounded quite a bit better than my 66 SR. Again, maybe Fender did not do as good a job with the twins, but I would do a good A/Bing with many before selling anything to buy a vintage one. I played a new one for several hours a few days ago and was quite impressed. I guess I am saying be very careful about jumping on the vintage is better band wagon. Most of the time, I prefer newer amps AND guitars.

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    I'm having an existential problem with 'clean' tones being described with any kind of coloration, be it shimmering or thickness or presence or enriched or narrowed or what-have-you.

    True clean tones, if they exist in guitar amplification, would be identical from amp to amp, manufacturer to manufacturer. But I submit that they don't exist.

    We know that tone is the sum of the input and all the parts it passes through, starting right in your guitar at the pickup and then the guitar's electronics. The cables you use, the tubes, caps, resistors, diodes etc in the amp you choose, the wire used, the speakers and the cabinet woods and construction and layout. They all add (or as is more commonly being accepted, subtract) something from the signal.

    Listen to your electric guitar acoustically. Now, set your amp, pedals, processors, cabinets for the most neutral settings you can. Is the tone exactly the same only louder? No.

    I can see selecting an amp/speaker combination for it's version of 'clean', but it will still be colored in some way.

    So, the 'ultimate clean amp' probably doesn't exist. The good news is that there are plenty of amps to choose from to find the few that fit our individual ideas of 'clean.'
    Last edited by rugerpc; 09-27-2013 at 01:15 PM.
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    I haven't tried a lot of the boutique amps and high end Fenders, but I have tried some mid priced amps that I like a lot for cleans. I've always had a soft spot for the Fender Blues Deluxe, I'm sure many favor other Fender amps above it, but it just sounds good to me. Its black sheep sibling, the Hot Rod Deluxe, sounds like junk to me, which I find strange, but whatever. Also love the cleans from the Peavey Classic 50 4x10. So those probably aren't the official best clean amps ever, just some of my favorites from experience. I would love to try some of the 65 Amps stuff, I think Dan is a genius and they make great amps that aren't just vintage clones for cork sniffers. Same with Two Rock. Also would love to get my hands on a 2 Channel C for a while. The H has the more universally accepted clean tone, but in demos the C seems to have a certain character to its cleans that is a little more unique.
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  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by rugerpc View Post
    I'm having an existential problem with 'clean' tones being described with any kind of coloration, be it shimmering or thickness or presence or enriched or narrowed or what-have-you.

    True clean tones, if they exist in guitar amplification, would be identical from amp to amp, manufacturer to manufacturer. But I submit that they don't exist.
    Well, a good studio direct box will give you an exact rendition of how the guitar sounds clean without coloration. I've got one, an Avalon U5, that is a pure Class A high fidelity device when its tone controls are switched out.

    And...fact is, that uncolored electric guitar tones pretty much suck, which is why people use amps, with all of their distortion and coloration, even clean. Even with a very good guitar, the direct box signal lacks the complexity to excite the ear. Magnetic pickups just aren't as good as a microphone at making a slab o'wood exciting sounding.

    Try a direct box into a recording console through neutral sounding studio monitors if you haven't already, and tell me if you like the tone. A few players have recorded that way, but their tones have been pretty unremarkable.

    A typical guitar amp will have distortion levels exceeding 10% even on its cleanest setting, and that's before it gets to the speaker. But it's the distortion still present in a clean amp that tends to give the signal that "something extra" that the ear craves. In comparison, something like a hi fi amp or good recording equipment, whether tube or solid state, will have distortion levels of no more than .01% at rated power.

    It is the very distortion inherent in a traditional guitar amp that makes the signal complex and musical.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tag View Post
    Les, I would be careful. Maybe with twins which I am not that familiar with, but with Super reverbs, I like the RIs more, and so many guys say the same thing about them. Not sure how it is possible, but I have compared to many to count, and owned a great 66 SR. I have a RI now, which I put up agains several originals. The RI also stood toe to toe with my 35 Cowtipper, which is now gone, and that sounded quite a bit better than my 66 SR. Again, maybe Fender did not do as good a job with the twins, but I would do a good A/Bing with many before selling anything to buy a vintage one. I played a new one for several hours a few days ago and was quite impressed. I guess I am saying be very careful about jumping on the vintage is better band wagon. Most of the time, I prefer newer amps AND guitars.
    Well, I actually happen to share your preference for newer amps and guitars! That's why I don't have a vintage amp.

    But I regularly play a friend's original '65 Twin that is in superb condition, and was meticulously maintained, and it really does have a special flavor that the reissues don't have. There are a ton of old Twins floating around out there, and as with anything old, whether it's as good or better than a new thing depends on factors that are outside of one's control. That's why a reissue Twin is a good investment, of course.

    But an old Twin that has been well taken care of has something that's pretty special.

    I have very little experience with Supers, so I can't speak to that model.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 09-28-2013 at 11:07 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Well, a good studio direct box will give you an exact rendition of how the guitar sounds clean without coloration. I've got one, an Avalon U5, that is a pure Class A high fidelity device when its tone controls are switched out.

    And...fact is, that uncolored electric guitar tones pretty much suck, which is why people use amps, with all of their distortion and coloration, even clean. Even with a very good guitar, the direct box signal lacks the complexity to excite the ear. Magnetic pickups just aren't as good as a microphone at making a slab o'wood exciting sounding.

    Try a direct box into a recording console through neutral sounding studio monitors if you haven't already, and tell me if you like the tone. A few players have recorded that way, but their tones have been pretty unremarkable.

    A typical guitar amp will have distortion levels exceeding 10% even on its cleanest setting, and that's before it gets to the speaker. But it's the distortion still present in a clean amp that tends to give the signal that "something extra" that the ear craves. In comparison, something like a hi fi amp or good recording equipment, whether tube or solid state, will have distortion levels of no more than .01% at rated power.

    It is the very distortion inherent in a traditional guitar amp that makes the signal complex and musical.
    This is pretty much what I was getting at. For electric guitars at least, it seems that we are not really looking for a true clean signal. Every ear has something they want to hear and I don't believe it is the pure acoustic sound of an electric amplified. We can already get that from an acoustic, after all.

    In electric guitars, we are looking for some coloring, even in our 'clean' tones.
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    My fav cleans are a Fuchs TDS clean channel (which I've recently traded towards a Bogner 100b and I like the green channel with a Hermida reverb in the loop) and a Badcat Tremcat. I also have a Soldano SLO 100 but I am having soo much fun on the lead channel I haven't tried the clean channel yet bawhahaha...

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    Another vote for the Twin, also the entire Mesa Mk series up to the V (not had a chance to play one of those yet), the Peavey classic amps are nice too. One of my favorites is from the Fender Cyber Deluxe modeling amp, the second "Tweed" setting is fantastic, sounds great direct too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PlayPRSs View Post
    I also have a Soldano SLO 100 but I am having soo much fun on the lead channel I haven't tried the clean channel yet bawhahaha...

    Sorry to side track for a minute here. SLO story. I happened to walk into the local guitar center about 4-5 years ago, and I guess some guy had just come in and traded in all this Soldano stuff. There were 2-3 heads and a few cabinets. While they are not for my style any longer, I always loved the unique tone they had. Almost Dumble like in a sense because of the heavy mids, although they are NOT smooth. Anyway, I tried them and really dug them, but the last one I plugged into was a 100 watt SLO. DAMN was that thing insane! It had bigger lower mids and more thump on the bottom than the others, and was just richer all the way around. THAT was the sound I was used to hearing when I thought "Soldano". I played that thing for over an hour just ripping and wanking away with a huge grin on my face. I became a typical GC noisemaker for a while! I had to grab myself by the collar and walk myself away from that thing, I wanted it in a BAD way, but knew it was not for me in the long haul. Amazingly to, was the price. I cant remember what it was, but it was stupid low for an SLO at that time. How many times do you see THAT at GC?? Anyway, I get your drift, and can imagine how much fun you are having with that bad boy. Truly an original and very cool non typical or cliche tone. Smoking amp!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tag View Post
    Sorry to side track for a minute here. SLO story. I happened to walk into the local guitar center about 4-5 years ago, and I guess some guy had just come in and traded in all this Soldano stuff. There were 2-3 heads and a few cabinets. While they are not for my style any longer, I always loved the unique tone they had. Almost Dumble like in a sense because of the heavy mids, although they are NOT smooth. Anyway, I tried them and really dug them, but the last one I plugged into was a 100 watt SLO. DAMN was that thing insane! It had bigger lower mids and more thump on the bottom than the others, and was just richer all the way around. THAT was the sound I was used to hearing when I thought "Soldano". I played that thing for over an hour just ripping and wanking away with a huge grin on my face. I became a typical GC noisemaker for a while! I had to grab myself by the collar and walk myself away from that thing, I wanted it in a BAD way, but knew it was not for me in the long haul. Amazingly to, was the price. I cant remember what it was, but it was stupid low for an SLO at that time. How many times do you see THAT at GC?? Anyway, I get your drift, and can imagine how much fun you are having with that bad boy. Truly an original and very cool non typical or cliche tone. Smoking amp!!
    Great story Tag. I have very few regrets in life but not getting a SLO years ago is one of them. It even inspired me to redo my rack and use a Soldano X88R which I use for the wet side and the SLO for the dry side. By the way, playing through the SLO and a Bogner 100b at the same time is pretty smile inducing... PRS should make a SLO / 100b amp and call it the BS or the SLOB

  20. #20
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    My gigging amp is a '68 Super Reverb. All about Fender cleans and then pedals for drive.

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