NAD: Friedman Dirty Shirley Mini, Verbose Review

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by rolsen, May 6, 2016.

  1. rolsen

    rolsen Member

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    *Edit - forgot to include 'Mini' in the Title. This review is for Dirty Shirley Mini.

    Thankfully, the misses worked from home and was able to sign for delivery of my new (barely used, Reverb.com buy) Friedman Dirty Shirley Mini. I exhausted the internet for the last couple months to make a halfway informed purchase and, with and opportunity to pay $200 less than new I pulled the trigger. Last night, I was able to put the amp through its paces with two cab setups, both in home and at rehearsal space, using a variety of guitars and effects. Spoiler alert – I’m absolutely thrilled with this amp. To gauge the value of my opinions, I’ll provide the following: 39 yrs old, playing since 13, in bands since 15 (continuously for the most part), and heavily into the recording engineering and mixing aspect (not professionally) for 10 yrs, having released 4 EPs with my current band. I don’t and can’t shred but my guitar skills align more closely with the Adam Franklin, Johnny Marr style, more chordal with leads. I don’t know my Phrygian from my Lydian, so to speak. Now for the sea trials:


    In my home, I have an Egnater Tweaker open back cab loaded with a Celestion G12H30 Anniversary. Guitars used were a Warmoth build Jazzmaster with Curtis Novak JM90 and JM-Vintage (neck) pickups and a 1990’s Gibson Les Paul Standard with Seth Lover PAFs. I bet the DSM's eq and gain settings as I found them were where the prior owner had them: Bass 6 (number, not o’clock), Mid 6, Treble 6, Master 2, Gain 4, 3 way switch to bottom (mid gain). For the first glorious ‘kerrang’ I wanted the gain up a bit, so up it went to 6 on the dial. I noticed a nice thick articulated crunch, with just enough ‘sting’ in the mids to upper mids – I’m thinking ‘this is going to cut just fine in the band room.’ I twisted the gain down, then up. This amp provides a pretty spanky clean if you want it! Admittedly, for my own music I’m not relying on fendery clean settings but these were just beautiful! As I dialed up the gain incrementally, I started to wonder if I’ve ever played a nicer, richer sounding amp… I don’t think I have but I don’t have a stable of boutiques (owned a Budda SD18, but I think the DSM is a lot nicer). Let me say I’ve never played a ‘big box store’ amp that equaled the DSM.


    For me, I like a distortion that hangs together but isn’t too tight or stiff. I like, if you can picture it, a particular ‘grit’ size or ‘grain’ size of the distortion characteristic. To further describe this, we’ve all played cheapo high gain amps where, to my ears the grain size is small but jagged, shedding off from the core sound in a way we’d describe as fizz or hash. Not pleasing to me. I recall another nasty distortion, from the Fender ‘Evil Twin’ whereby the grain size seemed overly large and crooked, resulting in an undefined slosh with full chords. The DSM has an ideal ‘grain size’ for classic to contemporary rock/alt rock. This is my wheelhouse.


    For giggles, I tried to abuse the inherent definition of this amp with exaggerated bass settings, cranking it all the way. While I wouldn’t record with this normally, I was surprised the amp didn’t totally mush out. The range of each tone knob, in my view is thoughtfully done whereby you don’t have obnoxious ranges at either end of the twist. All knobs maxed sounded kinda cool. Mids maxed sounded very cool and this is the one control I would actually use maxed and not just for some strange tone for recording purposes. Now, I had to get my VH on! I don’t have a guitar for it, but my Seth Lovers in my LP are the closest things I’m going to get to pushy humbuckers. I dialed in a plate-like verb and tape-like delay, both pedals going through the loop. Now, maybe I don’t have the right guitar, but I didn’t find exactly what I think of as early VH tones that I've heard better done on Youtube from dudes playing truer plexi-replica amps. Ballpark, yes but not on the nose. 1980’s ‘butt rock’ tones were to be had and these are a guilty pleasure of mine when no one’s looking, even though I try to pass myself off as an alt-rock connoisseur. With the Jazzmaster, I summoned some modern Dinosaur Jr tones which I could sort of approximate with my Vox AC30cc but not exactly nail. After an hour with the amp it was time to go to the band room.


    New toys to run with the DSM: Avatar 2x12 Classic oval-open back cab, loaded with an Alnico Blue 50 watt and a G12H30 55 hz – both of these are Weber offerings. Guitar used was a 2013 Fender Tele Deluxe, rosewood fretboard with the sometimes-loathed-around-here N3 noiseless pickups. Oh my god. Bigger, better speaker cab, better speakers and this amp just came alive. My drummer was willing to entertain my twiddling for a little bit but I didn’t re-tread all the various dial settings, rather I made sure I was hitting the right band room volume levels, tweaked my pedalboard a bit through the loop (reverb and delay settings needed to be a tad different than they were going through my Vox AC30ccH effects loop). Bass on 4, Mid 6, Treble 6, Master 5, Gain 6… I could just leave it here forever and be fine with it! Oh yeah, gain switch in bottom, mid-gain position. Compared to my Vox, there is no lack of low end wallop. Chesty and defined. It’s strange cranking the amp to 5, halfway on the master volume – this is a volume level my other amps would never, ever see either in the rehearsal room or especially playing live (recording, maybe). At this volume, compared to drums and vocal PA level, I was fairly matching the volume of my AC30, and I’ll note this is also a volume level I tend to hover around live (but get told to turn down sometimes). I have no volume concerns whatsoever with the DSM for my uses. To experiment, as I turned the Master up towards 8, I heard a distinct increase is distortion and I presume the power tubes were now heavily saturating. So far, I see I have easily another couple notches on the dial beyond my normal playing level if I need it. I’ve not yet dimed the Master and incrementally worked my way up from zero on the gain knob – I’m interested in what overdrive textures I’ll get.

    With my settings as described above, rolling back guitar volume to roughly half yielded nice hairy cleans that didn’t seem to lose sheen or, surprisingly, workable volume. Sounded like a full on guitar volume pot into a hairy-clean amp! Normally the drums won’t be pounding when you’re playing and rolling off to clean, so slight volume decreases by rolling off guitar volume are, by default, mitigated by natural decreases in band dynamics. With all my other amps, there is some degradation and darkening of the signal when using guitar volume roll off. I will admit, I’ve mostly been a fan of keeping that guitar volume on full. I might revisit this position. I will also say some amps aren’t kind to middle or neck pickup positions where bite and clarity are concerned. I’ve always gravitated to the middle position and have played and recorded a great deal, especially with my Jazzmaster in this position. DSM provided as much clarity and bite as needed in the middle and neck positions of my JM, LP and Tele. Wow. Also, I heard no difference connecting and disconnecting my pedalboard, which has buffered pedals though I was wearing my custom earplugs (light filtering, just 9db) while doing this particular test, so there’s the caveat. In front of the amp, I use a Wampler Euphoria with distortion on zero, volume up high, no bass and 10 o’clock on the treble set to ‘open’ setting to go from solid crunch to bigger crunch. I’ll have to revisit my pedal settings, as I got more cut with this pedal through my Vox set to crunch tones. Kicking on the Euphoria in front of the DSM added more gain but added a smoothing butter layer without as much cut I was hoping for. Now, I did have the DSM dialed in with more gain than my Vox, so maybe that has something to do with it. Hmm….

    Couple final notes. I was surprised to hear more similarities with my Vox than I expected. Definitely different amp family (and way more mojo, juiciness, refinement and all the other intangibles you might expect) but there was a mid to high mid chime that was familiar to my ears. I was bracing myself for a darker amp, a description I’ve read from some reviews. I don’t find this to be the case at all. This amp is bright-eyed and balanced. On a 5 star scale for all those little tone intangibles, the DSM is a 5+ and my Vox is 3.5. My Egnater Tweaker at home is a 2.7. I’m very fortunate and have worked hard to be in a financial situation where I could drop $3000 on an amp if I wanted to, but I really don’t want to and I have other responsibilities, priorities just like everyone. I also have other hobbies (recording being a not-free one, either). For $1500 new (or $1300 used) I feel I entered, for the first time the ‘boutique’ hand wired top notch amp world and gained undeniable tonal dividends in doing so. The DSM and the price point achieved, presumably from its modest features and power output makes this a more palatable entry into high-end amps. I suspect there might be a point of diminishing returns right around the corner from this price/feature set. I’ve now tasted a newer ‘depth’ of tone capabilities, including the feel under the fingers, the way the notes ring out and decay so beautifully, the nebulae of chewy organic harmonic overtones… I just wanted a reason to say those words together. The DSM is a special little beast with instantly recognizable merit that, at least in my view sets it beyond the pack. I hope someone may find this review useful as I benefited greatly from all the other contributions here and elsewhere.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2016
  2. Bobby D

    Bobby D Member

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    nice review!

    I played thru a DS combo a few months ago, and it blew me away how good that amp sounds. The Dirty Shirley is everything I would want in a small Marshally combo for club gigs.
     
  3. crifasta

    crifasta Gold Supporting Member

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    Thanks for the in depth review. Perfect timing as I just bought a used one off reverb today! Very pumped.
     
  4. lowpaygigs

    lowpaygigs Member

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    You have definitely wowed with words! Impressed to see your credentials included audio engineering. Would you kindly make some clips of the amp? We'd love to hear them!
     
  5. lowpaygigs

    lowpaygigs Member

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    The one in Virginia?
     
  6. rolsen

    rolsen Member

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    Humbly, my audio engineering is of the home studio variety. Not a pro! I'm mixing my band's album now but I'll try to throw a clip together.
     
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  7. crifasta

    crifasta Gold Supporting Member

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    Yep, that's the one.
     
    lowpaygigs likes this.
  8. river_jetties

    river_jetties Member

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    They need to make mini smallbox!
     
    highwaystar30 and HoboMan like this.
  9. metal_murf

    metal_murf Member

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    Welcome to the club.
     
  10. sickboy79

    sickboy79 Member

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    Congrats on the new amp!
     
  11. Crash-VR

    Crash-VR Supporting Member

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    I think that's the Pink Taco... I read they're adding the gain switch on it. That would definitely cover all the tones of the Smallbox.
     
  12. jimijimmyjeffy

    jimijimmyjeffy Member

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    Have you ever tried a Pink Taco? I think it's a little different, but in that direction for a great mini.
     
  13. jimijimmyjeffy

    jimijimmyjeffy Member

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    Great review, thanks! It's the kind of amp that can make one wax poetic... :)

    (tho I have the 40 watter)
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2016
  14. kmoomey2

    kmoomey2 Member

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    Wow, great review! And very accurate to how I'm finding my new DS mini as well. I really like your "grain size" description and that's exactly what I hear from the amp too. Great amp!
     
  15. river_jetties

    river_jetties Member

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    Played a Pink Taco once - I feel it had a bit of a different sound than the smallbox. Not sure if tube type or circuit but think a mini jubilee-ized Smallbox would be great.
     
  16. rolsen

    rolsen Member

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    Glad you guys enjoyed the review. Try as I might, I could not find a way to edit the title to clarify this is the 'mini' DS. I also flaked on the gain selector switch.. meant down position, which is the mid gain position.

    In my long winded review, I didn't mention my prior Marshall experiences. Been a Vox AC30 man for quite a while but owned a TSL combo (never found a 'great' tone in this overpriced amp, that broke), JCM 900 Dual Reverb (sounded like Janes Addiction, cool but I needed a less 'tightness') and what I recall as the JCM 900 SLX (I was 19 and didn't know tone yet, sold for two channel amp... this was probably a good marshall!).

    DSM sounds nothing like those, from what I recall (thank God!). Sounds nothing like a Budda SD18. I have a new description for the DSM after playing today: juicy!

    First owner left (virtually unused) original tubes in it. I haven't cracked open the amp to see what's in there and probably won't get itchy to tube swap for some time. I just defaulted to JJs all around in my Vox. Any thoughts on preamp or power tubes for the DSM?
     
  17. guitargeezer

    guitargeezer Silver Supporting Member

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    Rosen, you can edit the title in Thread Tools at the top of your post.
     
  18. rippingrudy

    rippingrudy Member

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    I read any review with "verbose" in the thread title.
     
  19. jimijimmyjeffy

    jimijimmyjeffy Member

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    I share this question. Tone Merchants is tight lipped about tubes. Basically they say it's not worth messing with it for the small difference it might make. Not sure I believe that. Years ago Dave recommended jjs to someone. But the last thing I heard from Rob is that the issue with tubes is not tone but reliability, and it's all one can to to just find a box of tubes where most of them are even good. So I am guessing they had subsequent problems with jjs. I begged him to give me a recommendation for replacement tubes, and ... nada. No comment is the final answer. Only time I've ever been frustrated about this amp.

    So now I have to replace a tube and have zero idea how to proceed. After hearing hundreds of people excitedly rave about the difference some tube made for them, this is somewhat frustrating. So I posted a thread asking for help, and the typical TGP answer was that you just have to buy them all, and try them all! Great. Can't seem to get off square one on this issue. Meanwhile my amp sits unplayed. It sucks being obsessive. I should just forget about it and put any old tube in, though I probably would violate the warranty if I try that myself. But I see it as a golden opportunity to get an even better tone.

    I guess I have to send my amp back to Friedman and just get more of their stock Chinese ones. I guess they're good? I've never had to buy a tube before, or really thought about them much. I'd like to find a tube that's not harsh sounding and is best for the mids, if that's even possible.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2016
  20. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    DS, DSM, DSL..man I'm gonna need to take a community course in TGP pretty soon. lol.

    Congrats on the amp!
     

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