NAD: Custom creation based on a '40s National

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by nmiller, Mar 28, 2015.

  1. nmiller

    nmiller Drowning in lap steels Silver Supporting Member

    Messages:
    6,022
    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Location:
    Rocky Hill, CT
    I play without distortion 90% of the time, but I'm not into sparkling cleans - I like smooth, slightly muddy amps from the 1930s and 1940s like you hear on early jazz records. I own several amps from that period, and one of them is simply the best amp I've ever heard for lap steels and big archtop guitars. It's a National 1205 from 1947, and its whopping 20W and 12" speaker made it the top of the National line in its day. While it works fine, I'm a little leary about taking it out of the house. Should something happen to that field-coil Rola, it might be impossible to replace. It also uses early 6L6 variants that aren't made anymore, and those suckers have gotten expensive. My solution was to have a custom amp built, and I knew just the guy to build it. Mike Whitney has serviced and restored a few amps for me, and I knew he's easy to work with and has an appreciation for the oddball vintage pieces I keep bringing him. He also quoted less than I expected for a totally-custom amp.

    I started by giving Mike a copy of the schematic that I had for the National 1205. I don't know for certain that the amp follows this schematic, but it was likely to be close since the model wasn't manufactured long enough to undergo a ton of changes. I wanted to add a couple of modern twists, though: remove the second channel, add reverb, use a lightweight modern speaker, and allow the amp to use modern 6L6s. Mike converted the second channel into a reverb circuit with mix and dwell controls. Because the mix knob is actually an independent volume control for the reverb, the wet signal seems to "float" behind the dry signal and leaves the dry signal unaffected. I chose an Eminence Lil' Texas speaker with a neodymium magnet to reduce the weight. A solid-state rectifier also removed a little weight and helped keep the amp from distorting. I chose the tolex and grill because they looked old but weren't as overdone as black or tweed.

    The end result, which I picked up today, is superb. It doesn't sound exactly like the National, but I didn't expect it to given the differences. The tone control, however, does retain the 1205's unique sweep. It's moderately bright when turned all the way up, but when turned down the amp becomes slightly boxy rather than muddy. It never gets excessively mellow. The result is the first amp I've ever played whose single tone control was usable throughout its entire range. The boxiness is great at reining in high-output pickups so that the amp doesn't fart out. When the tone is turned up, the amp becomes a much better rock and roll amp than the National ever could be. It works much better with solidbodies and dirt pedals as well. The bass is a little reserved, but I expect this to improve as the speaker breaks in. The amp puts out 32W (hence Mike's "Octal 30" designation) from two 6L6s partly because it's biased cold to maximize headroom. It's not a Fender Twin, nor was it supposed to be; I intend to use this for practice, recording and small shows where my louder amps would be overkill.

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    I've made four demos; except for the first one, all have the instruments' volume and tone controls all the way up:

    With a 1953 Epiphone Zephyr Deluxe Regent, tone control halfway back. Amp settings: Mix 10, Dwell 7, Tone 5, Volume 6.
    [SOUNDCLOUD]https://soundcloud.com/therhinestones/epi-10-7-5-6[/SOUNDCLOUD]

    With a Fano RB6 (Fralin P90s). Amp settings: Mix 8, Dwell 8, Volume 3. This clip demos the range of the tone control, first 10, then 5, then 0. At the end I kicked in an Xotic RC boost for some dirt with the tone at 5 and 10.
    [SOUNDCLOUD]https://soundcloud.com/therhinestones/fano-8-8-x-3[/SOUNDCLOUD]

    With a 1960 Rickenbacker B7 lap steel. Amp settings: Mix 8, Dwell 8, Tone 0, Volume 4.
    [SOUNDCLOUD]https://soundcloud.com/therhinestones/ric-8-8-0-4[/SOUNDCLOUD]

    With a 1940-2 Gibson EH-185 (pictured above). Amp settings: Mix 10, Dwell 10, Tone 4 to 10, Volume 4.
    [SOUNDCLOUD]https://soundcloud.com/therhinestones/gibson-10-10-x-4[/SOUNDCLOUD]
     
  2. phalanges

    phalanges Member

    Messages:
    481
    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2006
    That's a-nice-a-demo.
    Seriously, well thought through and well played.
    Enjoy in good health.
     

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