Gear Reviews:
EL84 Crossover
The 65amps SoHo

By Phil Feser

Since getting up and rolling with a single amp model -- the London -- in 1004, 65Amps founders Dan Boul and Peter Stroud have been awash in creativity -- and tone.

One of their newest models is the SoHo, which is configured as a head/cab and combo.

Like the rest of the company's line they're assembled using only high-quality components like low-tolerance NOS Allen Bradley carbon resistors in all tone-affecting positions, custom tone capacitors based on the original mustard cap, custom Mercury Magnetics transformers, ceramic power-tube sockets, Micalex preamp-tube sockets, sealed military-spec toggle switches, and matching valves from Groove Tubes. It's all assembled on an aluminum chassis and meticulously placed in high-grade Baltic birch cabinet with 12" Celestion speakers (one Alnico Blue and one  ceramic-magnet G12H30 in the cab, single G12H30 in the combo).

Both rigs are dressed up with 65Amps' two-tone Tolex and very retro "hot rod" dual four-slot heat vents trimmed in aluminum with gold piping, split-front speaker grill, cream-colored chicken head control knobs, and stitched leather handle; the overall look and vibe are definitely old-school and distinct -- and instantly recognizable when you see, for instance, Peter Stroud playing them with Sherl Crow on CNN's "Heroes" special, or with Rickie Sambora on "Saturday Night Live."

Tube layout includes an EF86 (covered with heat-shrink and rubber O-ring to prevent "chatter") and a pair of Groove Tubes 7025/12AX7 in the preamps, a matched pair of Groove Tubes EL84s in the power section (producing 20 watts) and a Groove Tubes EZ81 rectifier. The front control panel layout includes a pair of 1/4" input jacks (high and low) a toggle switch to defeat/engage a master volume control, a six position "Bump" midrange tone switch, a Bump Level control, a Bump defeat/engage toggle, Bass and Treble tone stack controls and a Volume control, as well as Power and Standby toggle switches. Engaging the Bump circuit defeats the Bass and Treble tone stack and offers six midrange tone "bumps" that are controlled in intensity by the Bump Level control. The rear panel layout consists of a detachable AC power cord socket, primary and secondary fuse holders, a speaker output jack with an 8-16 ohm toggle, and a footswitch jack for the Bump feature.

Plugging a Fender-inspired Gadow Nashville with a Lindy Fralin single-coil into the SoHo head with the Bump circuit engaged and Master Volume turned off, the amp reveals a harmonically rich, dynamic clean tone with the mildly subdued mids, tight, punchy lows, and silky high-end response. The SoHo's front-end creates a complex harmonic footprint -- thick and in-your-face, no matter how lightly the guitar is picked or played, and ranging from sparkling clean to overdriven simply by modifying one's playing attack. While most good tube amps "clean up" by simply rolling off the guitar's Volume control, the SoHo takes it a step further by letting one's fingers/pick do it, and without sacrificing the rig's natural tone. The results were the same for each guitar we plugged into the SoHo, whether with humbuckers, P-90s or single coils -- a solid tweed-flavored EL84 tone that didn't steal any thunder from the guitar or its pickups. The Gadow's tone pots required only slight tweaking (between the 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock positions) to compensate for different pickups. With the Bump circuit engaged, the SoHo's overall flavor changes noticeably, jumping to a sweet British EL84 tone with more drive and pronounced, complex midrange. Each of the six Bump settings produces a subtle but very musical midrange boost. Again, each guitar/pickup combination sounds the way it should combination sounds the way it should -- natural, with all overtones present no matter one's picking style.

A feature missing here compared to many boutique amps is reverb, but the SoHo's tone suffers not one bit given its complexity.

The Master Volume circuit serves two functions; it allows the player to pull back the overall volume of the amp (great for low-volume use), and it can be used to overdrive the preamp. Some degradation to the tone is apparent, but the guitar's tone controls can be used to make up some of the ground. The fact that the Master Volume can be completely switched out of the circuit is a very nice feature. Though producing only 20 watts output, the SoHo gets plenty loud.

For the most part, the combo and the head/2x12" cab setups perform the same, though the 2x12" inherently offers more high-end snap and cone saturation compared to the combo's 1x12" setup.

The SoHo's ability to cover a range of EL84 tones, from classic tweed to thick British, makes it very versatile. Throw in the switchable Master Volume and you've got an amp that will work great at a gig, in the studio, or in your den.



65AMPS SOHO
Price:
$2,295 (head), $2,895 (combo), $949 (2x12" cab)

Contact: 65amps, 4925 Morella Ave., Valley Village, CA 91607

Website: www.65amps.com


This article originally appeared in VGs Mach 08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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