Grateful Dead Music Forum

A place to talk about the music of the Grateful Dead 

 #55601  by SarnoMusicSolutions
 Tue Jan 27, 2009 6:18 pm

Brad Sarno
Sarno Music Solutions

New Tube Guitar Preamp from Sarno Music Solutions

Coming this Spring: the SMS Classic Tube Preamp

Adding to their line of high quality vacuum tube instrument and pedal steel guitar preamplifiers, SMS is preparing to release their latest offering this Spring of 2009. The new, minimalist/purist "SMS Classic Tube Preamp" is housed in a single space 1RU rackmount aluminum chassis. It has an all-tube signal path from input to output. High quality Dale/Vishay metal film and NOS Allen Bradley carbon comp resistors, various sonically superior film and foil audio capacitors, a quiet DC heater supply, and a 300V B+ power supply all contribute to the clear and sweet tone and high headroom of this preamp. The "Classic" also includes a high quality onboard digital reverb that mixes with the dry guitar signal in parallel just as the classic tube reverb amplifiers we all know and love did. Simple treble, mid, bass passive tone-stack tone controls. 3 stages of 12AX7 drive the signal from input to output. The controls will include: Gain, bright/dark switch, treble, mid, bass, and reverb. The "dark" switch position helps to shave off the ultra-crispy highs when used in DI applications, or just to simply warm the top end. No frills, pure and simple.

This preamp is designed to run clean, no added gain or drive stages are involved. For dirt, find or add it elsewhere. The target user for the "SMS Classic" includes pedal steelers, bass players, jazz guitarists, and especially guitar players seeking the legendary clean tube preamp tone of Jerry Garcia. A number of the modifications believed to be integral to Jerry Garcia's tube preamp have heavily inspired the development of the "SMS Classic". The internal layout makes it extremely easy to try different components. If you want the sound of carbon-comp or metal-film plate resistors, the swapping is easy. Want to try various tone and signal capacitors; Orange Drops, Mallorys, Sozos, tinfoil, ceramic disk, milver mica, paper-in-oil, Sprague, Elna, Jupiter, Mojo, etc.? Again the layout makes such changes extremely simple for the qualified electronics tech or safety-trained hobbyist, or such features can be custom ordered from the manufacturer.

Entirely hand built in St. Louis, MO, USA.

Pricing information to be released soon. Visit and stay posted.
 #55605  by waldo041
 Tue Jan 27, 2009 7:27 pm
Let me be the first to say Welcome!

i just deleted the repetious post i had and am glad you joined up.

to the group, this cat is cool and has tons of good advice, skills and knowledge to share when the time comes. we are lucky to have him here among us.

hope to check out the new preamp. the single rack space unit is gonna make me break the rack back out!!!

 #55616  by strumminsix
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 5:16 am
Finally, a rack manufacturer puts reverb in their unit (The Tonic)! Well done.

The only thing missing is a dual outputs that can be used in conjunction:
1 - balanced with cabinet simulator (2x12 open back JBL D120F would be ideal!) & level pot
2 - line for a poweramp

Then you'd have the greatest rack preamp ever! Just saying...

Wait, where are the rack ears for Tonic?
 #55628  by SarnoMusicSolutions
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 9:36 am
strumminsix wrote:Finally, a rack manufacturer puts reverb in their unit (The Tonic)! Well done.

The only thing missing is a dual outputs that can be used in conjunction:
1 - balanced with cabinet simulator (2x12 open back JBL D120F would be ideal!) & level pot
2 - line for a poweramp

Then you'd have the greatest rack preamp ever! Just saying...

Wait, where are the rack ears for Tonic?

I appreciate any and all feedback. First off, the new preamp is NOT the "Tonic". That's last year's compact/portable pedal steel preamp model. This new "SMS Classic" is not yet on the website.

Personally, I'm just not a big fan of cabinet emulators, but I am a fan of real speaker cabinets. The Tonic has a balanced XLR line out and also a 1/4" line out. You can feed a DI and a power amp simultaneously. If someone needs to rack up the Tonic, they simply screw it down to a rack shelf.

The Revelation Tube Preamp has two truly discrete stereo outputs, each simultaneously feeding a balanced XLR (option) and a 1/4" line out. It's fully rackmountable, as is the new "Classic".

The new preamp, the "SMS Classic Tube Preamp", is what's here to provide something very similar to Jerry's. Just like on the back of his amp/preamp head, there's just the single 1/4" output to feed to a power amp. Real bare bones, extra high quality signal path and power supply. It's meant to be a live performing preamp in a Jerry-like rig or pedal steel rig with a separate power amp. Also, we're able to make these things at as good a quality as anything out there for a lot less than anything out there. We have very low overhead, and build everything by hand.

Brad Sarno
 #55629  by Emoto
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 10:03 am
Hey Brad, I have a question about the sound of the new pre-amp. In your press release you talk about it being clean and if one wants distortion, to add it in through other means. I know that using words to characterize sound is almost as worthless as dancing about architecture, but when one digs in hard on a note or a chord, will the sound remain absolutely clean, or will there be a little of that warm tubey fuzziness around the edges?

P.S. Any discount for Westminster alums? :lol: just kidding...
Last edited by Emoto on Wed Jan 28, 2009 11:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
 #55632  by tigerstrat
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 11:05 am
From where do I know the name Brad Sarno? that instantly struck me as pretty familiar ...Gearheads? DeadNet? wait are you the rhythm guitarist in Aerosmith? just kidding... are you connected with the Schwag at all?

This is the first amp I've ever seen that was actually marketed as being modeled after Garcia's.
 #55637  by SarnoMusicSolutions
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 11:49 am

it's really gonna be very much like a Fender Twin. There is a lot of clean headroom in this kind of circuit. Most of the harmonic richness or "halo" comes from the fact that it's tubes, and they naturally have that kind of subtle harmonic distortion even when not even close to clipping. If you really drive the crap out of this or a Fender, you can get to where the very peaks of pick attacks may begin to clip a bit, but you are also dealing with extremely high output signal voltages as well. Like in a real Twin, you're more likely to have your power tubes begin to break up before the preamp has any significant clipping going on. However, the SMS Classic does have some resistor locations so you can tailor the output level a bit. Also, if you have a very hot boosted input signal, you could theoretically clip the input grid of the first tube stage (if you want that particular flavor of clipping), and still not drive the preamp gain very high and achieve some dirt there. Personally, with this preamp approach, I lean toward the use of cool pedals for actual "dirt", and let the preamp run pretty clean with plenty of sparkle and headroom. Then there are other ways to get clipping, such as using some sort of tube power amp or other power amps that have their own ability to clip via a peak limiter.

There has been a lot of interesting discussion around the particular kind of distortion that Jerry achieved with his "clean" tone (ie. no distortion pedals on). From year to year you can hear him lean kind of gritty to spankin' clean. Lots of theories abound as to what exactly is causing that clipping we hear when he really is hitting it hard. Dan Healy swears it's not the preamp being overdriven. His theory is that it's simply the sound of the McIntosh being pushed to the limit and saturating the JBL's. Another theory I like is that the McIntosh peak/protection limiter circuit becomes active at max power, and being a pretty crude limiter circuit only designed for protection, that could also be a source of the distortion we hear. So maybe it's a combination of a few factors. Maybe Jerry did indeed push his Fender pre to where it did begin to clip a tiny bit, and also maybe the power amp did its share, and also those poor JBL's being slammed past where they're clean. Hopefully this new "SMS Classic" preamp will at least provide the correct preamp portion of the entire package. I've also included internal trimpots to help tweak the reverb send and return levels so that the reverb can be optimized for the working signal levels without clipping.

 #55638  by SarnoMusicSolutions
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 12:04 pm
tigerstrat wrote:From where do I know the name Brad Sarno? that instantly struck me as pretty familiar ...Gearheads? DeadNet? wait are you the rhythm guitarist in Aerosmith? just kidding... are you connected with the Schwag at all?

This is the first amp I've ever seen that was actually marketed as being modeled after Garcia's.

No Aerosmith connection, but I was a founding member of the Schwag back in the early '90s when it was a side band for a bunch of us Dead jammers to have a non-Dead musical outlet. But in later years the Schwag evolved into a Dead cover band. My main band back then was called Blue Dixie, long before the term "jam band" was bantered about. We formed back in '88 in Columbia, MO, moved to Charlottesville, VA in '90, and then back to St. Louis, MO till '94 with a few reunion gigs here and there. Just had our 20th anniversary gig this past summer. Played in a few other bluegrass and alt country projects since then, and some pedal steel work here and there. Waiting for the new Jay Farrar album from the Jack Kerouak "Big Sur" documentary to come out. I played pedal steel on a few of those tracks. My current main and only project is with the Auset Music Project:

I've been operating an audio mastering facility since the late '90s as well as designing and manufacturing high-end tube preamps and related devices for pedal steel players for the past few years. Finally I've gotten around to one of my very favorite things in the world; Jerry's amp rig. I've been studying the thing since the late '80s, and working with pedal steel gear, there was a natural connection to this kind of preamp. Fender Twin based circuit, but tweaked for clean and quiet operation. Lots of audiophile mentality in the approach. Very different than most guitar preamps that are geared for clipping and overdrive. When you go super clean, things like capacitors and resistors and power supplies really become critical in tailoring the harmonic response, especially the mids and highs. I'm pretty excited about this one. Hopefully by mid-March.

 #55640  by strumminsix
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 12:08 pm
Got it. I don't personal care for sims either but I figure ask. Problem is my band likes to go direct to the board often and I HATE the POD I use. Was hoping you'd provide something so I I could get REAL TUBE GOODNESS!

My main amp is a Custom Fargen which was made to be a "half a twin" but better. It's absolutely mind-boggling delicious and figure I could get a similar pre from you.
 #55641  by SarnoMusicSolutions
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 12:21 pm
The crispy/zingy high end that you hear when going DI instead of thru a guitar speaker can be a problem. All of my preamps do address this issue just a little bit. The bright switch can be clicked in the down position to engage the "dark" mode. This is a subtle, 6dB per octave low-pass-filter that starts at around 4.5kHz. It doesn't emulate a speaker, but it does tame the tweetery highs so that going direct is much more pleasant. There are actually a number of pedal steelers who use my preamps that way and are quite happy with that feature. But again, 6dB/octave is not that steep, and it won't totally dump the highs and do the loading/emulation to create the sound of a mic'd speaker. It's still a direct sound, and sounds pretty nice if you like the DI sound.

 #55645  by Emoto
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 12:46 pm
SarnoMusicSolutions wrote:Emoto,

it's really gonna be very much like a Fender Twin. There is a lot of clean headroom in this kind of circuit. <snip>
Thank you for the thorough answer.

I look forward to hearing one some day.

 #55647  by Crazy 9.5 Fingers
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 1:28 pm
Brad welcome to the group and I look forward to learning more about this particular amp. May I say you are the MVP noob of this site in my opinion.

I am sure you will never get "Koonsed" here.
 #55648  by playingdead
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 1:35 pm
I've taken it to that place where the preamp is absolutely crystal clean, and gotten comments that it sounded too sterile or thin ... that was with a Trio preamp on the "clean channel" wide open, and a solid state power amp. The preamp I am using now gives me the option of a tube Twin-type circuit, with all the headroom in the world, and a Deluxe-type circuit, which I can push the gain on a little bit, to add the dirt. I find myself liking the Deluxe circuit better in the mix and the overall warmth of the sound. I am also using a different solid state power amp which has a warmer sound to it.

I am curious about the onboard reverb, is it a digital re-creation of a spring reverb (like the Holy Grail) or more of a digital "hall" type reverb?

It would be interesting to do some A/B comparisons with this new preamp sometime; I can round up a modified 73 Twin head, a Trio and my Egnater M4 current setup, with a Real Tube Reverb, all through the same power amp and a pair of E-120s, and record the miked cabinet in my home studio with the Tiger guitar.

I'm finally very happy with my tone live now, the last thing I need is some new seductive preamp out there ... LOL

FWIW, we tried taking an XLR feed out of my power amp at the gigs where we got a great soundboard, as well as a Rode and Sennheiser mic on each E-120, but the engineer didn't use it in the mix, it was much too bright. I have yet to find a good cabinet emulation (and judging by the 94-95 tone, Jerry didn't either) although there are some pretty extensive options in the new Logic Studio software I am using to record original material with, ranging from three types of 1X12 speakers, different cabinets, voicings, miking techniques, etc. Pretty dramatic results, but I have not tried to dial in a Jerry tone, although there are Blackface models, and so forth.

One thing to keep in mind, as I am currently interested in the Fractal Audio AxeFX, which is a very powerful (and pricey) modeling preamp that is allegedly "as good" as the dozens of tube amps it models to the point where some of the amp collectors have been selling off their amps after buying it, is any sort of speaker emulation - direct out thing will never sound "like" the amp and the JBLs, it will sound like the amp and the JBLs miked up, through the mains. So it can never have the same sort of feel playing it live. The place to compare it is on the recording, and lots of these guys are going out and buying full range powered speakers systems for their stage rigs. The consensus seems to be, awesome for recording, very consistent for playing out live, but on stage, hard to get used to.
 #55651  by strumminsix
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 2:06 pm
Quick thoughts on PlayinDead's post:
- I've found that often going guitar preamp > PA poweramp sometimes sound like something is unfocuses and rather thin. Conversely, guitar poweramp I feel do a better job. Of course exceptions are out there, JG being one of them, just saying to my ears.

- The Mesa Recording Recto does a GREAT job of sounding like a cab perfectly mic'd. But I cannot get into the clean channel enough to pull it into my rig

I think cab sim technology will be there soon. As soon as too many stop trying to be "a million & one sounds in one package" to 1 good sound like our new friend Brad.
 #55655  by bcresci
 Wed Jan 28, 2009 2:40 pm
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.
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