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From jack.zucke–(at)–oftware.rockwell.com Wed Jul 19 12:17:01 CDT 1995
Article: 58303 of rec.music.makers.guitar
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From: jack.zucke–(at)–oftware.rockwell.com (Jack A. Zucker)
Newsgroups: rec.music.makers.guitar
Subject: TopHat Guitar Amp Review
Date: Wed, 19 Jul 95 09:21:32
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I had a chance to use a TopHat amplifier on a gig last night and I
thought I’d share my thoughts. For background purposes, I have been
playing guitar for 22 years. I play a large variety of music from
straight-ahead jazz to fusion to rock to blues to country. On this
particular gig I used a Les Paul, a TopHat 59’er through a TopHat
open-back 2×12 cab with reissue Celestion Greenback speakers. This
particular band plays a mixture of tunes. Mostly blues stuff but we throw
in some Metheny, Coltrane, and other jazz standards as well.

TopHat Amplifiers is located in Anaheim Ca. and run by Brian Gerhard.
Brian does all the amplifier work. The cabs are made locally (for him) by
the same guy who does the VHT, Bogner, and Soldano cabs. He makes hand
wired amplifiers using classic circuit designs. These amps are designed
to sound like the originals but cost much less. He uses all good quality
parts such as Sprague Orange Drops and Electrolytics, Silver Mica dipped
caps, Carbon Film resistors, Mouser pots, etc. The circuit board is
fiberglass with Fender Style eyelets. Soldering is extremely clean and
precise. Common ground is done Marshall style using a bus wire running
along the front of the chassis. Tube sockets are bolted to the chassis of
course. Transformers are typically reissues of the originals or boutique
if the customer desires. (Brian will give you his opinion over the phone
regarding the “worthiness” of a particular boutique transformer) Some of
the boutique transformers available are THD, Kendricks, Hoffman, etc.

Anyway, this particular amp is a variation of the normal 59’er that Brian
makes. Normally a 59 bassman has 2 channels sharing a 12AY7 tube. (Each
channel uses 1/2 the tube). From there the signal goes to the volume
control, 2 more gain stages, the tone circuit, then the phase inverter,
then the power tubes. Brian put an extra tube in this amp and wired one
channel to 1/2 of a 12AY7 like a 59 bassman, and the other channel
through 1/2 of a 12AX7 like a JTM-45 Marshall. To my knowledge, noone
else is doing this. The amp utilizes a GZ-34 rectifier tube and has an
optional THD output transformer as well as a “Trainwreck Type 2” Master
volume circuit. The THD output transformer handles 2,4,8 and 16 ohms and
works with 6L6, EL-34, or 6550. This master volume circuit is unique in
that it sounds completely natural and is effectively “bypassed” and out
of the circuit when the master is “cranked”. The normal 59 bassman head
TopHat makes goes for $750. This amp has the addition tube ($10.00), the
THD Transformer upgrade ($30.00), and the master volume ($10.00) bringing
the total to $800. If you have ever priced ’59 bassmans, you know that
they go for $2000-3000 (of course with 4×10 configuration). An original
JTM-45 head from the 60’s will run you $1200 (in poor condition) to $2000
in very good condition. The reissue bassman goes for around $700-$800 and
the JTM-45 reissue is around the same price. Additionally, I retubed this
amp (originally equipped with Sovtek 5881s) with NOS Phillips 7581 tubes
and rebiased to draw 30ma per side.

I have played quite a few times through the real bassmans and JTM-45s (as
well as reissues).

This amp really sings…

The Bassman side has lower gain and less treble. It tends to sound more
bluesy and more like a fender Tweed amp. With the preamp volume at 10:00,
it’s very nice. Using the treble pickup, the amp will slightly distort
with the guitar’s volume on 10 but becomes totally clean when you back up
on the guitar’s volume. It sounds very much like BB-King Live at the
Regal. It’s extremely inspiring to play blues using the bassman channel.
It really has the vibe of an old time recording. I was really “juiced”
upon hearing it. Being darker, I found that I liked the treble up at
around 2:00 and the presence at 3:00. When I cranked the preamp volume up
to 1:00, it wails. It does not scream so much as it moans. Damn perfect
for the blues !!!!!

The JTM-45 side rocks. It’s much brigter and I had to back the treble and
the presence off to around 1:00. This channel has a definite rock and
roll sound. Playing any type of Clapton stuff ala Bluesbreaker or Early
Cream is extremely rewarding. With the preamp on 1:00 – 2:00, it’s a
beast. This channel does scream. Harmonics literally jump off the notes.
My Les Paul (unfortunately) had very old strings on it, and I was still
getting harmonic feedback on sustained notes almost at will. Turning the
tone knob on the guitar down to 5 evokes the infamous “woman-tone” that
we are always looking for. I couldn’t resist plugging in my Italian Vox
Wah for a couple tunes. It sounded almost exactly like Clapton’s Wah Wah
work on the early Cream records. Additionally, a Tube Screamer in front
of this channel yielded some interesting fusion tones. I was able to get
some “Robbin Ford-like” tones using that approach.

I had been using a 50 watt plexi Marshall with this particular group.
Compared to the TopHat, the Marshall has more gain, is louder, has a
slightly more creamy distortion. Brian tells me that the EL-34s account
for the creamyness and volume differences; small changes in the preamp
circuit account for the gain difference. I know this to be true since I
have spent mucho time with pre-plexi,plexi, and post plexi Marshall
circuits. The JTM-45 circuit is relatively low-gain. The plexi-circuit is
higher gain but still sounds bluesy. The post-plexi is your basic
Aerosmith / Humble Pie / 70’s Rock & Roll amp. It’s incredibly brighter,
has much higher gain, etc. Other than the tube rectifier, any one of
these amps can be converted to any other of these amps in 1/2 an hour by
a knowledgeable tech. I’ve also heard Brian’s Plexi post Plexi amps and
they have corrospondingly large amounts of gain.

If you call Brian, he will custom tailor and amp to your needs and specs.
He makes many diverse models such as:

o 2x6V6 Tweed Deluxe
o 4x6V6 Kelly Style
o 4xEL-84 Class A Vox clone
o Master volume Hot Rods
o etc. (Use your imagination)

Starting in August, Brian will offer reverb in his amps. The reverb will
be 60’s style utilizing Mix, Tone, and Dwell and will use an EL-84 Driver
tube.

Brian also sells tubes and other vintage amplifier parts. His prices on
these items are very good.

Call him. You won’t be disappointed.

You can reach Brian Gerhard of TopHat Amplification at:
714 774 4428

-Jaz


| Jack A Zucker Jack.zucke–(at)–oftware.rockwell.com |
| Rockwell Software Inc. |
| 747 Alpha Drive Voice: 216-646-4668 |
| Highland Hts., OH 44143 Fax: 216-646-4484 |

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