Dec. 06 issue of ToneQuest Report
Volume 8 / Number 2
Lindy Fralin Amp
On the other hand, if you're inspired to run down some musty Fullerton tweed, we'll assume you are also fully prepared to bend over 'til it hurts. Well, know this... there is little correlation between the absolute certainty that you will pay a considerable premium for an unmolested, vintage tweed Fender amp today and an iron-clad promise of awe-inspiring tone. As we've said before, the market value for vintage instruments and amps doesn't carry an implied warranty... You are paying a premium for a collectable amp or guitar based solely on its collectable value; the extent to which it may fulfill its intended purpose to your dismay or delight is a crapshoot unless of course you are able to try before you buy. This didn't matter much when tweed was $50 trash, but throwing down a minimum of two grand today is no joke.
There is less risky and expensive route on the quest for tone, which is to buy a new amp made by people who have figured out how to actually design and build exceptional sounding tools with repeatable consistency. Perhaps you are the type who is risk-adverse, unwilling or afraid to adopt an old amp that may need to be fortified by skilled hands at $75/hour. Well, we've found another stellar new amp, and it carries the familiar name of Lindy Fralin. No, Fralin didn't personally build it, but it is built to his specifications and personal preferences by Vintage Vacuum Tube Amps in Waldorf, Maryland, which is close enough to Lindy Fralin's shop in Richmond, Virginia to have fostered a very productive collaborative relationship.
Lindy Fralin is one of the best known custom pickup makers in the country and an experienced guitarist with an extensive collection of vintage amps. But despite his fat collection, he found himself craving things that weren't collectively found in any one of his vintage amps. Fralin wanted clean headroom at volume levels that could hang with a band in a small to medium-sized club. He also insisted that such an amp be portable enough to be effortlessly carried up and down the stairs in his house and back and forth to gigs. He wanted reverb, and a smooth, musical voice that was compatible with all of his many guitars, and the amp had to be a looker in a dignified, classic sense -- not too plain or gaudy in an effort to appear different or unique.
Fralin and the two founders of VVT spent months working on various prototypes, which involved several rounds of experimentation with custom transformers built by Mercury Magnetics. Once the basic layout was determined, different caps, resistors, tube configurations and speakers were tested, and work continued until Fralin finally heard the sound and feel he had been craving in his head.
The result is a remarkable 30 watt, 1x15" cathode biased beauty that can run on dual ^L^s for maximum headroom or 6V^s for slightly faster breakup. Features are simple and straightforward with just a bright switch, volume, treble, bass and reverb controls. We ran the Fralin through its paces with all of our usual test guitars, and we were consistently impressed with the sound of them all, as well as the hug spring reverb, loads of clean headroom and subtle distortion at higher volumes that adds sustain without substantially altering the beauty of the fundamental note. As we played Fralin's amp, reoccurring visions of Peter Green's brilliant tone came to mind... clean, exceptionally smooth, warm and round with the perfect edge, enabling the guitar to alternate between sweetness and urgency as dictated by the song. Our impression was also echoed the the other guitarist in Delta Moon, Tom Gray. Tome plays slide using acoustic Weissenborn-style guitars loaded with a Sunrise soundhole pickup. Prior to hearing the Fralin, Tom's stage rig consisted of a Blackface Pro reverb head paired with a separate 1x15 cabinet and an Avalon preamp identical to that used by Clapton for his acoustic guitars, live. After Tom played the Fralin amp sent to us for review, he bought it, and now no longer even needs the Avalon.
Aside from looking good and weighing barely 30 pounds, Fralin's amp incorporates an "Integral Beam Diffuser" -- a wooden cross-piece cut out of the baffleboard that bisects the speaker behind the grille cloth, diffusing the sound waves as they come off the speaker cone. Fans of larger '60s Supro amps may be familiar with a similar cross-piece found in those amps, and it does indeed produce a sound that is less beamy and linear (especially helpful when you're crammed on to a tight stage with the amp on the floor). You really can hear it better.
VVT's Fralin amp is simply a compact, lightweight, heavy-duty gig monster, and it definitely deserves your attention. The Weber Classic Alnico 15 thrives on every frequency you can throw at it in the Fralin, and we recommend this amp without reservation for blues, heavy rockin-blues, jazz, country, swing... everything but hard rock and metal. For that, check out the other amps built by VVT.
www.vvtamps.com -- (301) 396-4100
www.fralinpickups.com -- (804) 358-2699