Headstrong vs. Swart vs. Carr - what say you?

Presc

Member
Messages
1,354
I am considering options for a new amp. I currently own a Fender DRRI which I like, but am moving into an apartment and need to downsize - but I don't want to give up tone.

At this point, most little tube amps I have played don't excite me at all, from the Champ 600 to the Orange AD5 even to the 5W Victoria. They all sound too small. An amp can be full sounding without being loud, you know what I mean?

Great clean tones (Fenderish), reverb, and pedal friendliness are a must. I play blues, jazz, and some rock on a G&L Legacy and Heritage 535. The amp does not have to be teeny tiny but I would like a smaller footprint and more controllable quiet volume than the DRRI. For the most part I do not like raw and gritty sounds (HATE fuzz pedals), I like smooth overdrive, and I often find pedals suit me better than powertube OD. So far I have identified 3 amps that might fit me well:

-Headstrong Lil' King 1x12"
-Swart Space Tone Reverb
-Carr Mercury

Any I have left off my list? I hope to be giving the Lil' King a test run this weekend. How do the others compare and fit my needs? I worry the Space Tones are more for dirtier tones. The Carr is the most expensive of the bunch. The Lil King has the most watts, which might be good (clean) or might be bad (too loud!).

All suggestions welcome - it is tough, even though I live in a major metro area tracking down these boutique amps in person is hard.

Thanks!
 

rhinocaster

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
23,328
Three very different amps there.

From your description of the sounds you want I think that the Headstrong is the best fit. It has a more focused sound than the Swart and IMO, the clean tone is much more complex than the Carr.

The Headstrong is a great verson of a lower powered Fender Blackface. It seems to be right up your alley.

The Swart is kinda of a Tweed with reverb. Super organic sounds, but probably more of a raw sound that what you're looking for.

The Carr is very focused, has average clean tones and really doesn't seem to shine unless your driving it. Of course, the attenuator lets you drive it at pretty low levels.
 

tcaron

Member
Messages
436
I have played and like the Lil' King. Nice deep Fender tone.

I have played the Swart Space Tone. I burned my hand on teh tubes while reaching back for something. Tone was not for me.

Own a Carr Rambler and Goodsell MKIII and MKII. Love all three.

The Carr is built like a tank. Great value if you can get it used, otherwise the Headstrong is the answer.

Good luck!
 

marktweedy

In Transit®
Messages
16,159
I have had a Carr Mercury for about 4 years (bought it used) and have nothing but good things to say. It is a very loud 8 watts. The attentuator is helpful and takes less away from the tone than you might expect. The boost circuit takes it from tweedlike to almost Marshall in 2 easy clicks. The reverb will do whatever you ask it too. It takes pedals very well on the clean and first boost settings, not so much on the second one.

I had a tube problem recently and got an email back from the Carr service guy in a matter of hours.

I also own a Victoria 5112. Although I wouldn't agree that it is "small" sounding it does not have the "presence" IMO that the Carr has, although getting volume out of it is not an issue.

Hope this helps.
 

Presc

Member
Messages
1,354
Thanks for all the responses everyone and keep them coming!

For the record, I was playing the Victoria 518, not the 5112. I thought the amp had a nice tonality, but the 8" probably killed it for me. Regardless, I would like reverb.

Definitely the key thing linking these amps is Fender-ish tones, reverb, and low wattage but full size speakers. How does the Goodsell stack up?
 

w302nv

Member
Messages
42
Thanks for all the responses everyone and keep them coming!

For the record, I was playing the Victoria 518, not the 5112. I thought the amp had a nice tonality, but the 8" probably killed it for me. Regardless, I would like reverb.

Definitely the key thing linking these amps is Fender-ish tones, reverb, and low wattage but full size speakers. How does the Goodsell stack up?
Fender-ish....why not look at the real thing? :D
I had a lil' King for about 4 days....took it back...too stiff, and didnt do the dirt thing very well...not sure why, but I wasn't going to waste my time with a new amp that I could take back. It was very well made, but not close enough for that kind of money...aside from that, the Blackface stuff (even the early Silverface stuff) will appreciate in value...the Headstrong, not so much.

Unless you are bent on a new amp, spend the money on a real Princeton Reverb...I got one in decent non-collectors shape for about half of what a Lil' King goes for...it sounds great...and what about the PR reissue? I don't have any firsthand experience, but I have read they sound great...and they are about half of what a Lil' King is..even if you put a 12" in it.

Dont know anything about this one..but they are out there...
http://cgi.ebay.com/Fender-Princeton-Reverb-Amp-Vintage-Blackface_W0QQitemZ120458812018QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item1c0be79a72&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14#ht_500wt_1182
 
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pedalcr8z

Member
Messages
3,440
I assure you if you play a Victoria 5112 contest will be over. It's really nothing like the 518 which indeed is very thin sounding due to it's much smaller cab and 8" driver. I would also label the Swart and Carr as "small box" sounding which you stated is not something you care for. This opinion involves direct intimate comparison in my home with the Carr, Swart and Victoria 5112. I have not played the Headstrong but I understand it a great amp.
One last thing to bear in mind is the fact that the 5112 is a single ended design which is indeed ear candy. In push/pull designs the second order harmonic is canceled out by by the 2 halves of the waveform when they re-combine at the output transformer. This second order harmonic is simply ear candy at it's finest as it's the most musical. The 5112 is also housed inside a Deluxe sized cab and again I assure you "thin sounding" just is not a trait of it. As for you wanting reverb, a 5112's natural reverb with it's highly resonating pine cab may just convince you otherwise......you can always add a pedal for reverb also. Pine cab Tweed circuit amps have re-educated many a players ears as they replicate the verb effect naturally.



Thanks for all the responses everyone and keep them coming!

For the record, I was playing the Victoria 518, not the 5112. I thought the amp had a nice tonality, but the 8" probably killed it for me. Regardless, I would like reverb.

Definitely the key thing linking these amps is Fender-ish tones, reverb, and low wattage but full size speakers. How does the Goodsell stack up?
 
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Presc

Member
Messages
1,354
Fender-ish....why not look at the real thing? :D
I had a lil' King for about 4 days....took it back...too stiff, and didnt do the dirt thing very well...not sure why, but I wasn't going to waste my time with a new amp that I could take back. It was very well made, but not close enough for that kind of money...aside from that, the Blackface stuff (even the early Silverface stuff) will appreciate in value...the Headstrong, not so much.

Unless you are bent on a new amp, spend the money on a real Princeton Reverb...I got one in decent non-collectors shape for about half of what a Lil' King goes for...it sounds great...and what about the PR reissue? I don't have any firsthand experience, but I have read they sound great...and they are about half of what a Lil' King is..even if you put a 12" in it.

Dont know anything about this one..but they are out there...
http://cgi.ebay.com/Fender-Princeton-Reverb-Amp-Vintage-Blackface_W0QQitemZ120458812018QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item1c0be79a72&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14#ht_500wt_1182
Getting an actual vintage Fender is a good idea - and for $999 I would! But is that a normal price range? For some reason I was thinking they were more like $2000 for a Blackface Princeton in good shape, but maybe I'm mistaken. I don't want to deal with having to get work done, or converting it to blackface specs, etc.

Either way, I would be getting this amp used. So then comparing a used Lil King at $1200 ish vs. a Princeton, plus any work it might need? How are the economics of that?

I thought about the Princeton Reissue too, after all I do like my DRRI. I guess the Princeton has no bright cap, which is good for pedal friendliness, but I've read some mixed reviews and I'd probably rather have a 12" and I'm not sure if that fits in the amp without modification. Plus, Fender jacked their prices up so much - if the Headstrong is better, well worth getting the end-game amp for $300 more used vs. a new reissue.

Lots to think about - thanks.

Pedalcr8z - I will have to see if a 5112 will be in stock around me. I understand that some really good amps don't require verb, but I do like a wet sound and would rather not have to deal with adding another pedal on the board. I will keep it on the list though it doesn't hurt to try.

I'm just in due diligence phase now :)
 

Nolatone Ampworks

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
2,771
I just had this same discussion with a local artist who bought one of our Junebug amps. The Junebug is a killin' little amp, but there's one thing 5 watts single ended just won't do: move much are, and have much thump. For that I'm convinced a push pull output is needed (2 output tubes, 15 watts or so...).

In this case, I reworked his Junebug into what is now the Superbug, which is 15 watts with 6V6s, and about 25 with 6L6s.

All this in mind, the Headstrong is the that makes sense of the ones you mentioned. The others are GREAT amps, but don't do what you explained you need.
 

keith_t4e

Member
Messages
1,394
saw Katy Perry a while back. Patrick her guitar player was using Swart as was she. They sounded very good indeed.
 

mattymel

Member
Messages
1,416
ive got a lil king on order. got it with a 10" weber 10F150P as wayne recommended for what i told him i want=basically the PR sound but able to turn it up and get some classic BF overdriven sound. he said it would hold together longer than the typical jensen fender would.
i tried the PR RI and was not impressed at all. past three it was just pure mud on the low E. SF PRs sound pretty good, but i swear for all that you hear about SF being the same as BF, i always hear a difference. maybe its the pine cab of the BF, but they always sound warmer and thicker. but the way i see it, you may buy a BF in good condition for $2000 or maybe a little less. but for me, its not going to be an amp you are going to want to sell to make a quick buck. at least the headstrong is guaranteed to be running at 100%, probably sound better than a SF, and probably be louder than a BF. at least thats what i am hoping for. HA!
 

w302nv

Member
Messages
42
I'm just in due diligence phase now :)
I'm all for due diligence :aok

Like I said....I had a lil' King and didnt like it, I thought about getting one of these, and I ended up with a real 65 with a MM PT and a 12" for half the cost. They are out there, just got be on the lookout for them...in fact I should have bought the one I just posted.

$2k is a bit on the steep side...more like $1500 for the nicer ones and $700 for the player examples.

The cost of entry might be about the same in a lot of cases, but (judging from history and past experience) in 3 years the BF is probably going to be worth more and the HS less than what you paid for it....but that is just one aspect of this.

Tone is what is important and you will have a hard time going wrong with a 1964-1969 PR...after all, its what HS was trying to clone. They are both built about the same, and as long as the amp was serviced you wont have any more problems with it than you would a new one....the stuff was very well built, sounds great, and retains it value.

Bottom line, you have lots of options....and you cant go wrong with either as long as you like the tone.

Good luck!
 

JoeB63

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
13,732
I have a Lil' King. I did swap the tubes for some ANOS ones that I had laying around, and I swapped the 12" speaker to a Eminence Red, White and Blues. I also did a swap of the reverb tank with Headstrong. None of those changes was necessary, but they made the amp more to my taste. I love the amp. It's actually pretty loud (but also sounds good at around 2.5 on the Vol knob, which is pretty low. But I wanted something that was easy to haul to rehearsals --- and loud enough for rehearsals, so the Lil King is perfect in that regard. Sounds great with pedals and great turned up loud (though you've got the watch the bass with HB guitars).

I owned a Carr Rambler for quite a while. The thing I'd say about Carrs (in general) is that they don't sound like a Blackface amp. So if you want Blackface, the Carr isn't going to do it. But you can't beat Carr for quality.

Before I bought the Headstrong I tried a '68 Fender Princeton Reverb with the original 10" speaker. It sounded really great, but it didn't seem to have enough volume for rehearsals and certainly not for gigs. It was $1,500 at a local store. I don't know if I could have gotten it for less than that if I tried, but I'm also pretty sure the caps were original, which meant I would have to pay to replace them.

But the main reason I went with the Headstrong over a Vintage Fender was reliability. An amp that's likely to go down on a gig or at a rehearsal is worthless to me. I wasn't buying an amp as an investment, but as a tool. However, if you're just playing at home, and you really want low volume, that vintage PR is probably a great choice for you. Look for a 68 or 69 Silverface (blackface circuit at less cost).
 

doublescale1

Suhr S-Classic, V60LP's, Soft V neck
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,943
If you need reduced volume and tone for your apartment playing - the Lil King will need an attenuator. The 1X12 version is a loud 12 watts - the one I had did suffer a bit from the small enclosure - kind of boxy sounding at lower volume, better when on ten - when I plugged the amp section of the Lil King into the 1X15 in my Regal II enclosure it really came to life - you can order the Lil King with a 15" and that will take care of the small enclosure blues inherent in the small orig. Princeton size cab. The Carr Mercury will deliver all the low-vol tone you need for your apartment situation - as to the overall tone - the Merc is in the Fender family (more tweedy than BF), the Lil King is a Princeton BF tone clone - apple's & oranges there, but both very tonefull in their own rights. You just need to decide which features/tone will best serve you - you can easily do a jazzy tone thing with the Merc and it's built in attenuation will serve you well at home, the Headstrong Princeton clone tone nails that legendary amp but with out an additional outboard attenuator will be hard to get overdriven tone at home (pedals love the Lil King, BTW). Both are great amps - I did not talk about the Swart as I have not owned one - had a Lil King, still own a Mercury (chassis 005). I did sell off the Lil King as I found that the Regal II could cover that tone territory w/a "15 inch speaker so I moved on.
 

paulgroove82

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
220
Check out the Valvetrain Tall Boy 205. It sounds incredible and really gets the job done; really versatile for the simplicity of the controls.
 

Jim Soloway

Member
Messages
14,396
I have a Headstrong Lil' King 1x12 and use it as my main amp. A few months ago I was loaned a Swart STR and I did a set of AB comparison recordings. I posted them at the time, but in case you missed them, here they are again.

I kept the conditions as close to identical as I could playing the same passage on the same guitar at the same settings, using the mic at the same distance. Clip 1 is the Headstrong. Clip 2 is the Swart.

BTW, both clips are squeaky clean for the simple reason that that's all I do.

http://www.jimsoloway.com/TascamDemos/HvsS1.mp3

http://www.jimsoloway.com/TascamDemos/HvsS2.mp3
 

thesjkexperienc

^^^ I made this guitar^^^
Messages
4,718
I have only tried the Swart and the Carr, but you might consider the Space tones more versatile brother in the Space TOne Reverb tweed Swart. It does the Fender Champ thing, but has two different sounds and a great reverb.

I use mine when the kids are asleep and it still sounds big at low volumes and takes pedals well. You can taylor the tone at any volume with the choice of rectifiers and power tubes.
 

rhollyday

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
679
I own the Headstrong Lil' King-S 1x12. I really like the amp quite a bit. The "S" can get quite loud for a small amp.

Like JoeB63, I am not crazy about the stock speaker which was an eminence legion. (Not enough highs) So, now I am in the process of experimenting with different speakers. I will be trying a eminence Wizard. I also have a Weber 12F150 I would like to try.
 




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