All-tube amp with "full" MIDI control of all parameters (like Strymon Sunset)?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by 9985, Sep 1, 2019.

  1. Jack Luminous

    Jack Luminous Member

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  2. 9985

    9985 Member

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    Thanks, but looking for heads or combos only, not separate pre-amps.

    I did a little digging around & don't see any other TGP threads talking about the Switchblade's pre-amp tube configuration. I did find a blog post on the HK website that dives very deep on cathode followers in various other amps (of course, not the Switchblade.. grr...):

    http://blog.hughes-and-kettner.com/...h-secret-behind-classic-tube-amp-guitar-tone/

    That lead me to finding this post on the HK forum, I've bolded/highlighted some key details:

    http://handkusers.forumotion.com/t549-switchblade-preamp-tube-question

    I have the schematic of the 50W Combo version, hope that matches.

    No, V1 (T1 on their diagram) is not a loop driver. It is a preamp gain stage followed by a DC Coupled Cathode Follower. The reason for that is simple. The common cathode gain stage is a standard preamp configuration and gives what most preamp stages do in terms of tone. It is not often known that a lot of additional even harmonic valve character is introduced by the DCCF stages in a way unique to them if you know how to bias them to access that. These two stages are giving you the main character of your sound, particularly in overdrive, and the solid state stages are performing the mundane control tasks their stages require cleanly at moderate levels. Each of those SS stages is also protected by a pair of zeners around the feedback loop which will limit the signal and clip it at higher levels, but also they will also perform the additional task of preventing the opamps from clipping internally. This is important as it completely removes the chances of any opamp imposing itself on the signal. Cleverly, some of these zeners are made of differing values which will clip earlier on one side to the other. This produces first clean no distortion, then asymmetric even harmonic, then symmetric odd harmonic distortion as the signal level is increased. That's Clean -> Crunch -> Lead.

    Recovery from internal clipping is one of the (few) ways an opamp can make itself known. Don't let anyone tell you that opamps have a "nasty signature", they absolutely don't! They are absolutely neutral in every way unless they are made to work by poor design outside of their clearly stated capabilities and those are immensely wider than our needs in every way. In an amp which is made to run at 5% distortion levels when clean, does anyone think the <0.01% distortion any decent opamp stage introduces is audible in any way? In making the opamps do the tasks such as level and tone control in a completely neutral way the valve stages are the only real contributor to the amp's tone until you choose to add in some of that built in SS clipping distortion, (which most SS critics seem to want to add externally via their ultra expensive boutique pedals anyway). It looks a very good setup to me and, as you say, you are happy with the sound.

    And yes, V2a/b is a long tailed pair PI just as normal.

    So- assuming this is accurate, the Switchblade has both tube and SS pre-amp elements including onboard distortion pedal-like feature, with only half of one 12AX7 as a tube gain stage. The amp tech that posted the text above praised that design. Given that the Switchblade has a ton of other onboard effects, I don't mind that there's also built in distortion pedal, but - in principle - I am bothered by the lack of multiple tube gain stages in a multi-channel amp, and would REALLY be bothered if the clean channel is SS only (that would rule it out for me as an option). I'm a little unclear from the description above whether the Switchblade's clean channel is SS, or if everything goes through that tube gain stage, with the SS components only jacking up the higher gain channels. The HK blog post said this about the similar-era & design Core Blade:

    Other amps have it both ways, with one channel that works with a cathode follower and another that does without. The Hughes & Kettner Coreblade, for instance, uses a cathode follower circuit to conjure clean tone, but the circuit’s role in shaping distorted sounds is limited.
    Does that also apply to the Switchblade clean channel?
     
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  3. Jack Luminous

    Jack Luminous Member

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  4. davidespinosa

    davidespinosa Supporting Member

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    In that case, let's hope you like the H&K !
     
  5. 9985

    9985 Member

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    That is a very cool amp, I dug around on their website (which doesn't look like it has been updated in 10+ years):

    https://caswellamps.studioelectronics.com/products.html

    https://caswellamps.studioelectronics.com/BlockDiagram.html

    Front & rear panel pics don't show any MIDI input, or even a 1/4" footswitch jack - no mention of controlling the presets by anything other than the front panel, no discussion of MIDI at all except the YouTube video description saying: "Magic" motorized midi-controllable knobs of Number 39 by Caswell Amplification

    The block diagram footnote does say that the push/pull pots on the front panel override the footswitch, so there must be a FS jack somewhere- no images of the FS or mention of its ability (or another MIDI device) controlling the motorized control presets. For giggles, I looked on Reverb, eBay, GC, general web search to see if I find one for sale- nothing; not even an old record of a previous one that already sold. So probably a unicorn-hunt harder than finding a dozen autographed KLON pedals. Anyone ever played or seen one have insight about MIDI controls?
     
  6. Jack Luminous

    Jack Luminous Member

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    I talked with someone who bought one on another forum years and years ago. If I remember right, the midi socket is not on the low part of the back panel but slightly upper (where the grill is on a standard marshall 100W head). I semm to recall Tim build 5 of these in total.
     
  7. 9985

    9985 Member

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    Thanks. It counts as meeting the criteria, but if only 5 built total - mere mortals without amp techs/platinum records are unlikely to ever see one for sale. What a collector's item!
     
  8. 9985

    9985 Member

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    The Superfly looks to meet the criteria, although also long out of production since 2008 or 2009 - the Zinky website didn't have a manual, (or much of anything) someone have a manual link? That old reverb listing description said it had 32 MIDI presets, less than I'd prefer given the handful of other choices all have 128, but workable for live gigs. From other stuff, I found references to both head and combo Superfly versions, not sure if all were 120 watt 5881 configured. Saw some old quotes from Bruce Zinky about significant differences from problematic early production versions that involved factory retrofits to correct, so understanding the serial #/date of manufacture where that kicked is critical. There's at least one current used one floating around now.

    EDIT - found original 2003 press release, came as head & 2x12 combo, both 120 watts 4x5881. Really want to read a manual. Several places claim less than 100 made, not sure the split between heads /combos made.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2019
  9. apalazzolo

    apalazzolo Supporting Member

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    Yes ...
    Try the phone number (during normal business hours) on zinky.com. If it's still active Bruce himself should pick up.
     
  10. HotBluePlates

    HotBluePlates Member

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    Thank you both for a mature discussion in a place often lacking it. :aok :beer
     
  11. 9985

    9985 Member

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    There was also an email address on his site, I sent a note asking for the manual, and any info about the serial number range where the mods went into effect, will try calling next week if no reply.

    I'm used to people asking what's wrong with me...
     
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  12. ctreitzell

    ctreitzell Member

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    IIRC Myasnikov makes all midi versions, and his builds are reasonable cost, altho full midi control might push the cost up.

    I think OP understands that for some of us glitchy program change general midi is not an elegant enough solution. Some of us want as close to seemless as possible. Live, high res midi control of specific parameters is achievable.

    Currently my rig is remote controlling 2 Fender CyberTwins simultaneously with a custom made Midi Designer Pro layout. Obviously the CyberTwin is a much hated amp with its SS power, and, further misunderstood due to awful factory preset programs and a cumbersome interface.

    Nevertheless, my MDP2 layout allows remote control over every parameter and makes menu diving obsolete. Instant button pushes without menu diving by SysEx Midi Implementation is a game changer. Master Volume is easily controllable. Ipad connected wirelessly via Yamaha BT01. The only challenge is saving presets which can be done as MDP2 presets; then recall the MDP2 presets and save program/ preset manually on the amps afterward (2 button pushes on amp front panel and name it).

    The other midi cc issue is 127 resolution limitation. It's fine for many params, but pitch and filter sweeping really wants higher res. This should be considered. Digital gets a bad rap because of this, that's why high end companies like Lexicon developed their high resolution SysEx: some params with 1000s of steps of resolution (yep, thousands!)

    Mesa Triaxis doesn't allow direct changes to the amp modes; you have to step thru the modes one at a time, in order, and save a program to later recall a mode. You have to preProgram :-|
    This is really an annoying limitation for live, real time tweaking. I contacted Mesa (via email) and they would not divulge the sysex for the modes. Maybe because I requested from Europe. I am in Petaluma for 6 more weeks, maybe I'll go over to the Mesa offices and see if someone will divulge that SysEx.

    I have a Masotti MXM line mixer and am going to look into the Monster. A Diezel is already on my shortlist, but the demos I have seen don't inspire confidence. Myasnikov is another option for me to explore and I didn't see anyone else mention him here :)
     
  13. 9985

    9985 Member

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    Thanks, but I am not looking for separate preamp /poweramp rack gear, the only MIDI item listed on his website was the X88R 3 channel preamp. Others following this thread may be interested, Nice looking gear.

    I don't know what general MIDI's inherent limitations are for speed/lag when changing presets live (mid song), that's one of the questions I have about the Switchblade. I'm going to find out how well it works on the Elektron Analog drive when I get it next week. That Pedal Show's video review was extensive, and included using an expression pedal like a wah to sweep mid frequency in real time, didn't seem to be any lag at all.
    Sysex ultra-granularity would be better, but you are talking more about effects parameters. I personally think for an amp's EQ/gain/volume/other rotary settings, 128 steps are enough. The TriAxis or any other separate preamp isn't in the running for me, hope you figure it out for your rig. I'm looking to save amp settings to presets recalled with snapshot/presets on my HX FX, real time tweaking live if needed for me would be via the hard controls on the amp, (just like I do with my current amp). Possible exception of maybe using expression pedal for amp's gain/volume. I have an ART SGX 2000 (bought new in 94!) that I programmed to control both gain and volume on the same expression pedal, could see doing that again.
     
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  14. ctreitzell

    ctreitzell Member

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    ok, it sounds like you are more interested in PC than CCs, I misunderstood your original question

    I come from the 80s school of changing presets/programs for song parts, not only between songs...and the glitch of PC mid-song needs to be a seemless as poss

    good luck...it'll be interesting to see what you go with
     
  15. Jack Luminous

    Jack Luminous Member

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    I totally understand the mindset of the thread. For years, I was obsessed with fully programmable analog guitar gear. I used Mesa Triaxis, H&K Axcess, Soldano X99 etc. I considered the Tim Caswell thing, Zinky Superfly, Masotti etc... Once I bought the Soldano X99, the need was entirely fulfilled and my interests shifted in other directions...
     
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  16. 9985

    9985 Member

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    I'm definitely interested in changing presets mid song, not only between songs, minimal plans for real time adjustments of individual amp parameters via midi controller, other than maybe gain/volume via espression pedal. All the choices identified so far are out of production, except the HK GM40 Deluxe. Some were boutique/low production that are hard to find used. The Switchblade 50 watt combo is the leader, I want to learn more about it (open questions in this thread) and try one in person.
     
  17. 9985

    9985 Member

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    The amount of times rack preamp options keep coming up makes me fell like I need to explain why that isn't desirable for me. I have 2 massive 100 watt heads and 2x12/4x12 cabinets that are all logistical nightmares to haul to gigs, so I got a PRS Archon 1x12 combo that is much more manageable & totally sufficient for stage volume. The path that brought me here was looking to swap out my Archon for another 50 watt 1x12 for reasons related to it's channel master & loop design. Archon itself is a great amp, but I find limited flexibility in its lead channel for low/mid gain, and it doesn't play nice with my Synergy SYN1, or really any outboard preamp in the loop, switching live between the outboard & onboard channels requires a bunch of level /gain tweaks, too much time consuming fiddling. Mesa TC-50 was where I was heading, until I learned about the limitations of its MIDI controls, like almost all other MIDI amps, and from this thread, all the full MIDI controllable alternatives... Which I now want. Any rack preamp would still involve me swapping out the Archon for something else, rack power amp & a 1x12 cab, or a different combo. Really like the compact nature of 1x12 combo. I'd still like to be able to use my SYN1 with whatever I end up getting for the incredible range of tones available in my various modules.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
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  18. davidespinosa

    davidespinosa Supporting Member

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    @9985

    Some options:
    * Light-weight solid-state rack-mount power amp
    * Rack-mount Synergy chassis or amp
     
  19. 9985

    9985 Member

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    Bruce Zinky was kind enough to email me back over the weekend about when the Superfly revisions went into production:

    "Early amps can be updated, but amps after s/n 60 have advantages, and amps after #70 have further refinements. Still, an early amp could have gotten updated after that, so who can say what you're looking at when you find a used one. They are heavy, and I don't recommend shipping them, as the chassis can bend if dropped, and more so on amps s/n 50 and lower."

    The used one that I found for sale is sadly a low S/N well below 50, and would require shipment cross-country. I found a very lengthy web post about another sub-50 s/n Superfly that had its chassis/board bent in shipping (albeit internationally), so that one is too risky for me.

    I also found a pretty detailed video review of the SD50 and SD30 from Andertons Music:



    some of the comments on that review broke my heart that it's out of production, this one in particular:

    "...The only thing about these that some people have mentioned is that the marketing is just all wrong... I can't see many (Stoner rocker players) wanting 128 different full tube amps in one box... The people that do want that are the session guys. Somebody playing a corporate function or a high end wedding where the set calls for Brown Sugar, followed by Uptown Funk, followed by Living On A Prayer (I have done sets like this on bass many times), would LOVE this amp. Set it cathode-biased and squashy for that tweed Fender tone, then fixed-bias, super clean and scooped for a Silverface Fender funk, maybe kick in a comp for total funk, then go fixed bias, high gain and mid-pushed for all out Marshall-ish rock."
     

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