New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Wed Jan 28, 2009 2:59 pm

Billy,

I dont' believe the Trio is a great example of how smooth and silky a nice tube preamp can sound. It's been a while, but believe that unit didn't necessarily have the most choice caps and resistors that you'd want for a loud clean tone. I think that in general the purely clean thing is tough to pull off for a guitar player. Over the years I've struggled with it and always end up using lower power tube amps. That's how I pick, I tend to dig in and "snap" the strings, and admittedly more than I wish I did. I honestly think that to pull off the super-clean preamp thing the most critical factor of all is picking dynamic control. Jerry was a master of this and at a level that continues to astound me. He really picked with incredible delicateness and dynamic control. This is one of the most under rated aspects of his unique approach. I tend to dig hard and snap the strings and just don't have anything like that microscopic control he had. But again, when he did pick hard, and he did at times, the notes just bubbled in a nice and pleasing way, not a painful way. Again, that brings us to the subtle clipping or limiting factor that can be approached in different ways. One very real consideration is to use a nice line-level peak limiter after a clean preamp. Very high ratio, fairly fast attack/release times, and a threshold carefully set to only grab the peak transients and not affect the musical dynamics. It may be clean, but it can smooth out the unpleasant "jabs" that a clean guitar signal can shoot out.

Another factor that I've noticed is that clean rigs have to be very carefully tweaked and matched with the right components. I really don't care for the hard and crisp sounding ceramic magnet E120's compared to the much sweeter and juicier D120 or K120. Also, most power amps are just not pretty for guitar. I think it's dangerous to just throw a clean guitar signal at a high power Crest or Crown or QSC power amp and expect something with rich, smooth, and musical highs. I much prefer high power tube amps or Mosfet amps like Haflers, MosValve 500, and the like. Mosfet output transistors are just worlds sweeter sounding. Jerry's McIntosh was no random accident as a choice for power amp. But in our real world, the McIntosh is simply too big of a monster to reckon with, and so are the little brothers of the MC2300. But I do think the transformer (autoformer) output of the Mac was part of Jer's tone formula. And again, I do like that theory that Jerry's McIntosh peak limiter was part of shaving off the peaks. Still an unproven theory though. I know that in later years Jerry used E120's because they didn't blow as easily, but most of his career was with the alnico D120 and K120. I have found that with the alnico JBL's and a real musical sounding power amp, that a clean tube preamp works quite well. Jerry's rig or one like it can be a lethal thing in the wrong hands. I surely don't claim to be able to work it myself. The tiniest motion of the pick across the strings becomes a WMD. I think that's why many of us do seek other means of clipping the signal just a bit, or at least tailoring the subtle character of the highs, so that they are silky and smooth and clear, and not brutal. It's my hope that with this new "Classic" preamp that we can really dial it in with the right gain and tone settings and collectively as a community come up with more good ideas for power amps and perhaps other peripherals that help us achieve that thing so many of us are after. This preamp is merely one key component of the whole chain, and I think it's gonna be as close as we've gotten yet given the preamp options available out there. Of course we could always lug a Twin around and tap the preamp section. But this is a more practical approach I think.

Regarding the DI/Speaker emulation thing, Boogie has done a pretty nice job over the years of offering a "recording" output that dumps the highs enough to sound more like a speaker. Their older Studio Pre does have a very steep low-pass filter for that output that steeply dumps everything above 5kHz. It's not really a speaker emulation in any way other than that it dumps the unwanted highs. I'm not up on their latest, but those guys are real smart over there. And I agree, most people aren't really trying to go for a clean preamp like Jerry's with no extra switching or overdrive channels. I've always felt that the pure and minimal Fender circuit was part of that extremely clear and nuanced 3D sound Jerry had. So often there's too much crap in a signal path and almost always the signal path component quality is not ideal.

The digital reverb I'm using is actually a med/large Hall emulation. It's pretty guitar friendly. The steel players like it too in the Tonic preamp. It's no TC or Lexicon studio verb, but I find it quite good as a nice and useful guitar reverb. It doesn't zing and sizzle on top like cheap digital reverbs found in a lot of pedals. It's pretty smooth and high resolution. I'm sure some people will find that this particular reverb may not be exactly what they're after, but these days it's so cheap and easy to simply use a rack mounted line-level reverb unit after the preamp section to hone in on the exact thing. But I did want to offer the built in option for ease. Also, in the Twin, there is a section in the circuit that adds a bit of sparkle where the reverb mixes together with the dry signal right before the 3rd tube stage. I've included this "sparkle" feature in the "Classic Pre" in attempts to truly get that sound. The Alembic and Trio and others don't have this small but key feature that's unique to the classic reverb amps.

Brad

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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby jonarobb » Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:25 pm

Welcome Brad. Really appreciate your thorough responses to all the questions. Great info and thanks!
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby tigerstrat » Wed Jan 28, 2009 4:19 pm

welcome Brad,

I remember Blue Dixie having some Chicago gigs in the mid 90's, like Biddy Mulligan's or maybe Brixie's, Durty Nellie's... never managed to catch you though. I had a very brief but fun association w/ the Schwag for their '99-'00 new year's shows, subbing for Nick & Gary... I might have read more of the Steel Forum than I thought I had, and recog your name from there!

The Classic looks in print to be ... well, an instant classic! Can't wait to hear one. Price going to be somewhat ballpark of the other 2 pres in your line?

bcresci wrote:I've been fooling around a bit with my Trio and have found that using Channel 2 with the gain turned low is giving me a clean-like tone with a bit more warmth than Channel 1. Still have some playing around to do to get it where I want it, but not too bad so far.


It's also conceivable that you have a nicer-sounding tube in the socket for Ch 2. You ever swap it with the tube from Ch 1 (or another known good tube) and A/B them?
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Wed Jan 28, 2009 5:07 pm

Yes indeed,

It was Biddy Mulligans. We played there a bunch and the Cubby Bear a few times, probably circa '91 thru '94. I played in a bluegrassy trio with Nick up until he died about 4 years ago. Great player. Say hi to Gary for me if you run into him.

I'm shooting for a price in the mid to low $600's, but until I do a cost analysis, I won't know for sure, so nobody hold me to it. We only sell direct, so essentially we're wholesaling them to the public, no markup, no middleman, and no skimping on quality parts. Plus my wife and I hand build everything, so our overhead is low. This is not the economic climate for $1000+ preamps, and based on what it is we're making and how the industry prices things, this would probably be about an $1100 to $1300 preamp in that world. But we're gonna try to be around half that.


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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby tigerstrat » Wed Jan 28, 2009 5:28 pm

SarnoMusicSolutions wrote:It was Biddy Mulligans. We played there a bunch and the Cubby Bear a few times, probably circa '91 thru '94. I played in a bluegrassy trio with Nick up until he died about 4 years ago. Great player. Say hi to Gary for me if you run into him.


Never actually met Nick, but am very saddened to hear of his passing. Gary and I (both being in the far west Chi. burbs) became good pals and did a little playing out together as a duo in the months before my wife and I moved west. Thesedaze, rukind's own Strumminsix (our Nick) and/or the Boukinator cross paths with Gary from time to time if I'm not mistaken.
"There, in huge black letters, was 'The Grateful Dead'. It just... cancelled my mind out."-Garcia
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby Chuckles » Wed Jan 28, 2009 7:02 pm

Romanoff died? That's freakin' awful news.

Sorry to sidetrack - the preamp sounds schweet!
Seems like I've been here before...

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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Wed Jan 28, 2009 9:12 pm

Yeah, I still miss Nick a lot. He was a great guy, friend, player, and more. His second heart attack wasn't as forgiving as the first. We had a great memorial and a few annual gigs to celebrate him. He was St. Louis' finest Jerry-esque player we ever had.


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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby bcresci » Thu Jan 29, 2009 6:29 am

tigerstrat wrote:
It's also conceivable that you have a nicer-sounding tube in the socket for Ch 2. You ever swap it with the tube from Ch 1 (or another known good tube) and A/B them?


Not yet. I'll probably fool around with this in the future and also scour the posts for tube suggestions. At some point I'll try to post a couple of clips and get some feedback and suggestions on the tone. I'm a bit distracted with other things right now.

On a side note, not sure if there's a thread out there, but it would be nice to see a consolidated list of links to everyone's tunes and rig setups. I've seen pictures of rigs, but don't know if everyone links to tunes as well.
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby strumminsix » Thu Jan 29, 2009 6:41 am

tigerstrat wrote:
SarnoMusicSolutions wrote:It was Biddy Mulligans. We played there a bunch and the Cubby Bear a few times, probably circa '91 thru '94. I played in a bluegrassy trio with Nick up until he died about 4 years ago. Great player. Say hi to Gary for me if you run into him.


Never actually met Nick, but am very saddened to hear of his passing. Gary and I (both being in the far west Chi. burbs) became good pals and did a little playing out together as a duo in the months before my wife and I moved west. Thesedaze, rukind's own Strumminsix (our Nick) and/or the Boukinator cross paths with Gary from time to time if I'm not mistaken.


Correct. Gary is playing in Bouk's band on bass. I also played in a band with Gary briefly.
Gary also played in my band for a fill in gig until we were lucky enough to get Michael Hazdra.
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby strumminsix » Thu Jan 29, 2009 7:00 am

SarnoMusicSolutions wrote:I really don't care for the hard and crisp sounding ceramic magnet E120's compared to the much sweeter and juicier D120 or K120. Also, most power amps are just not pretty for guitar. I think it's dangerous to just throw a clean guitar signal at a high power Crest or Crown or QSC power amp and expect something with rich, smooth, and musical highs. I much prefer high power tube amps or Mosfet amps like Haflers, MosValve 500, and the like. Mosfet output transistors are just worlds sweeter sounding. Jerry's McIntosh was no random accident as a choice for power amp. But in our real world, the McIntosh is simply too big of a monster to reckon with, and so are the little brothers of the MC2300.


Big +1

The only poweramp I use are either TubeWorks or MosValve. They were voiced for guitar and have some heavy hardware on-board.

They inherently have a musical nature to them versus a PA poweramp which only seem to reproduce the input at a louder volume.
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Thu Jan 29, 2009 8:10 am

Yup.

I think that too many people going for the Jerry sound have made the mistake of simply choosing a loud PA amplifier, often too powerful. That's really such a critical stage to consider. We guitar players know that there has to be come give or "gush" as we reach the maximum power of our rigs. That's why most of us use tube amps. They reach the ceiling and then put a nice musical sounding cap on the peaks. I think Jerry had this.

There was some math bantered about a while back that took a close look at how Jerry used his McIntosh MC2300. As I recall this had to do with how Jerry reportedly (Healy) only used one side of his MC2300, at least for a large period of time, and also mismatched the impedance of his cab and the McIntosh output taps. The McIntosh has an autoformer output so that the power transistors themselves see a constant load. Jerry supposedly connected his 3-JBL cab (approx 2.7-Ohm net) to the 2-ohm taps. The impedance math suggests that this would actually be providing about 225 (or so) watts to his speaker cab. The theory continues to suggest that if he was pushing the McIntosh to where it began to max out and activate its peak limiter, this whole action would be happening with a peak limited max power range in the low/mid 200 watts arena. This would have let Jerry just bang away on that amp setup and it would remain pretty clean and protected, maybe with some limiter dirt. Look at the fact that for a long stretch of time he used 3 K120's. He'd blow them now and then, but not every show. So consider the power limitations of those drivers, and what that would indicate about how much power Jerry was actually using on stage. I've seen some guys bridge their power amps providing 600+, sometimes over 1000 watts, non-peak-limited to a clean Jerry-type rig. To me that's just deadly, cut your head off. And on top of that, the power amp wasn't even necessarily a sweet sounding one, just a clinically powerful one. So there are maximum power (max SPL) issues, peak limiting issues, and power amp tone character issues to be considered. 200 watts or so driving JBL's should be all or more than we should ever consider subjecting our eardrums to.

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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby tigerstrat » Thu Jan 29, 2009 11:29 am

SarnoMusicSolutions wrote:There was some math bantered about a while back that took a close look at how Jerry used his McIntosh MC2300. As I recall this had to do with how Jerry reportedly (Healy) only used one side of his MC2300, at least for a large period of time, and also mismatched the impedance of his cab and the McIntosh output taps. The McIntosh has an autoformer output so that the power transistors themselves see a constant load. Jerry supposedly connected his 3-JBL cab (approx 2.7-Ohm net) to the 2-ohm taps. The impedance math suggests that this would actually be providing about 225 (or so) watts to his speaker cab. The theory continues to suggest that if he was pushing the McIntosh to where it began to max out and activate its peak limiter, this whole action would be happening with a peak limited max power range in the low/mid 200 watts arena. This would have let Jerry just bang away on that amp setup and it would remain pretty clean and protected, maybe with some limiter dirt. Look at the fact that for a long stretch of time he used 3 K120's. He'd blow them now and then, but not every show. So consider the power limitations of those drivers, and what that would indicate about how much power Jerry was actually using on stage.


Maybe you are in Y!Gearheads afterall? Anyway, I do remember this being discussed in that forum, but it seems to be fairly era-specific: Garcia used 4 drivers from '76 to '82, which as near as I've figured is when the black 3x12 first appeared (seen at the OKC Zoo). I also have observed that he only had 2 JBLs in the 3x12 during much of 1991. Pre-retirement he obviously used many many more drivers, and different power arrangments etc. And of course, everybody has different favorite eras of the JG tone...
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby playingdead » Thu Jan 29, 2009 12:51 pm

That's why I eventually switched from a Crown power amp to using the power amp section of a Acoustic Image Focus 2R Class D head (I plug the output of my preamp into the return on one channel, and the output from the Real Tube Reverb into the return on the other at a lower level) ... it's 800 watts so it can drive the hell out of the E-120s with plenty of headroom (I rarely turn it up over 3) but it's warmer and more musical compared to the Crown.

Let's not forget that both Bob and Phil switched from McIntosh 2300s to those massive Godzilla amps ... they were solid state, as I recall. I wonder how musical they sounded compared the 2300?

The problem I have with a tube power amp in these applications is it adds its own compression and shaping to the tone, especially depending on what power tubes you use and what class its run in.

I think tube power amps sound terrific in general for guitar rigs, but in a pure "Jerry" scenario, I'm not so sure that's the way to go. I think it was more about a guitar signal from the preamp being amplified and speakered (bespoked?) in as pure and uncolored a way as possible -- thus the choice of the JBLs and huge power amp instead of, say, a Marshall and some Celestions. An extension of the philosophy behind the Wall of Sound, if you will ... make it loud, make it clean, reduce IM distortion, etc. etc. etc. Is there much doubt that plugging Jerry's guitar into that mountain of JBL speakers and 2300's didn't' form later versions of "The Tone" to begin with?
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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby SarnoMusicSolutions » Thu Jan 29, 2009 3:27 pm

I bet that sounds pretty good. I've heard good things about the Acoustic Image Class-D power. Some steel players are using that same one for power with my steel guitar preamps. For guitar however, that amount of linear power still scares me personally because I just don't have the picking control. Theoretically, that's 3 to 4 times more power than Jerry used. But as I say, theoretically. I've been very intrigued by some of the in depth discussions that go on over at GearHeads about these kinds of specifics over the past year or so.

I'm sure I don't have the details right, but I gather, roughly, that when Jerry began really cleaning up his tone and was using the Alligator Strat with the buffering and mods, he also began using a Twin as a preamp only, and I believe, an MC3500 tube power amp with a couple or a few 2-12" JBL cab's. This seemed to carry into '73 and then the Wolf came, and also the MC2300 and the tower of JBL's for the Wall. Then, like you mentioned, he kept that essential rig from then on, albeit a much smaller tower of JBL's. But clearly he found IT with that rig for sure. To my ears, the only major changes over the years after that were the pickups and guitars (not counting the Boogie stint), and how hard he drove the rig from clean to dirty. And I won't even discuss the horrendous tone he got in the last couple of years with the GD using the Trio pre going direct. At least he kept the good rig for the JGB. But in the bigger picture, the preamped Twin idea may go back farther than we know. There are rumors that the Twin-MC3500 thing goes back well before '72. I have no idea personally. But clearly he was digging the tone control and reverb of the Twin, and the higher/cleaner power with gobs of headroom. The '72 tone was kind of dirty and likely the sound of either Twins clipping or a MC3500 clipping. But in '73 things got a whole lot more hi-fi. I agree, he apparently didn't want that tube amp compression, but instead wanted a much more linear dynamic response. But you can definitely hear some clipping in his clean tone during pretty much all those MC2300 years. It's subtle, but it's there. He could just lay into that rig hard, and it had a cap on it, the peak levels were clipped somehow. His Chuck Berry licks and his fast/hard scrubbing was not really that clean, but you can tell it's his clean setting. I think that's where it's really hard for us to totally nail that sound by using high power, clean amps. I'm not suggesting that I even have the solution for how to achieve this at reasonable stage volumes. Not yet at least. I'm definitely thinking about it a lot, and I'm hoping that as a community we can be a think-tank and find it. That rig and that tone Jerry had is just too awesome to not be shared with the future generations of guitar players seeking that end result.


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Re: New Tube Preamp for Jerry Tone

Postby tigerstrat » Thu Jan 29, 2009 3:56 pm

SarnoMusicSolutions wrote:But in the bigger picture, the preamped Twin idea may go back farther than we know. There are rumors that the Twin-MC3500 thing goes back well before '72.
MC3500 seems to have been used for JG's guitar only the last quarter of '72 (seen in Barncard's 12/31 set) before the band bought a truckload of the new MC2300's at the outset of 73 (it briefly pops up again at Orpheum 76). Prior to fall 72, seen mostly in the 8/27/72 film and various shots from Europe, MC275's are seen by the side of Jerry's stack. Supposedly this practice began in '69 sometime (I'm thinking maybe fall, shows like 10/25, 11/2, 12/12...not the early 69 Live Dead era which is clearly dimed Twins imho). Phil is using 3500's at 8/27 and there is a shot of Keith w/a 3500 in his rig at the German TV shoot in April. When the new system in 73 came into being, they used their leftover tube 3500's for the vocal highs, everything else was 2300/ss-powered.

SarnoMusicSolutions wrote: I agree, he apparently didn't want that tube amp compression, but instead wanted a much more linear dynamic response. But you can definitely hear some clipping in his clean tone during pretty much all those MC2300 years. It's subtle, but it's there. He could just lay into that rig hard, and it had a cap on it, the peak levels were clipped somehow. His Chuck Berry licks and his fast/hard scrubbing was not really that clean, but you can tell it's his clean setting.
Jerry's amazing digital(finger) compression. Hard, soft, always perfectly controlled.
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