More Practice Amps !?!?!?

This summer, I did fairly extensive web and hands-on research to find the best practice amp for my needs. Ironically, the practice amp I decided on was an Ibanez Valbee. I had my eye on one of these years ago, but didn’t bite. However you can get these for about 6000 yen now, much less than they were back then. After modding it, I love the way it sounds, even at volumes which in theory shouldn’t disturb the neighbors (though I secretly suspect it is being reminded a non-Japanese lives next-door that really bothers them.) Unfortunately, at such low levels, the amp’s humming and buzzing even in clean mode is much harder to ignore. So in spite of the various mods I’ve made, the amp’s basic functionality is severely compromised.

My latest attempt to fix the problem by using additional capacitors to check for bad ones failed, confounding me. Right now an electronic engineer in Sweeden who is also a fan of the amp is also helping me to diagnose the problem. After ruling out the preamp, ground  and transformer as the source of the noise, he thinks it’s the tube bias, or maybe even loose rectifier diodes. However, I’m starting to noticed that spending more time messing with things I don’t understand (circuits), is taking time away from something I do understand: playing. Because my goal is to enjoy myself, I’m back in the market for another amp. I still love the valbee, but this amp is better for high-gain. For cleans, I might needs something else like a VOX VT20+ or a Blackstar HT-1R.

The VOX was highly recommended by a pro guitarist from New Zealand I met over the summer who used to work for Ibanez. I just missed an auction for one for starting at 5000 yen, because the aesthetic made me hesitate. The truth is it looks like a lot of fun, but my prejudice against mainstream, mass produced gear for the masses is holding me back. Then again, I’m not on a boutique or rare-vintage budget. Amps like the VT20 were made for amateurs like me, so I should be grateful and buy one. Slightly more appealing is the all-tube Blackstar HT-1R, which costs a bit more. I’ve tried this in stores and wasn’t disappointed with the sound. Actually, I was rather impressed.

Both of these amps also offer an 8″ speaker, built in reverb and speaker emulation and other bells and whistles which the Valbee does not. The only thing the Valbee can offer is real power-tube distortion and a cooler looking cabinet. So what. The other two use pre-amp tubes to simulate power tubes, and nobody’s looking anyway. And I’m free to beautify the amp as I like, right? So now that we’ve sorted out that issue, the only obstacle now is the money, which isn’t really an obstacle either. In conclusion, if the amp is stopping you from PLAYING, something is very wrong. However, there’s nothing wrong with having side-projects to learn from, either. Right now I have about seven projects on my work bench, including the Valbee. Only the Valbee is inhibiting me, though.

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