Pure Sixty Four Mean Street 50 Review Part One

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by mzero, Dec 20, 2009.

  1. mzero

    mzero Supporting Member

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    INTRODUCTION
    The is a review of my Pure Sixty Four Mean Street 50 head and Pure Sixty Four 1x12 ported cabinet. I have been playing this amp for the last couple of years, and have really gotten to know it, so it seems like the time is right for a review. In the past, over the course of many years of playing and being obsessed with tone -- and owning many amps -- I have noticed that there is commonly a so-called honeymoon period after which I start to notice things that I don’t like about a particular amp. It usually takes a few weeks to a few months at most for this to happen.

    This NOT the case with my Mean Street 50. Two years later, my love for this amplifier has not diminished at all. I will try to keep from being overenthusiastic in this review, but I can’t give you a just the facts review because I feel too passionately about this amplifier, and I remain convinced that it is the finest amp I have ever played.

    One more thing before get to the heart of the review. I have had the opportunity to AB my amp with many different amps (not because I was looking for a new amp, but in many cases because someone else was!): Dr Z Galaxie, Valvetrain, 65 amps, Bruno Cow Tipper, Headstrong Lil King S, Swart AST, Louis Electric, Matchless, Two Rock Onyx, Custom Clean, and Classic Reverb, Fuchs 50 and 100, Carol Ann OD2r and a custom voiced Carol Ann Od2.... whew! I don’t want to give the impression that I had problems with the amps mentioned -- some of those amps are fantastic to be sure -- I just felt in every case that my amplifier spoke with a stronger voice and just frankly moved me more than any of the other amps.

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    CUSTOMER SERVICE
    Before I write about the amp itself, I think it is important to talk a little about customer service, because this figures prominently in why my amp is as perfect for me as it is. Mark Giammattei, the designer and builder of Pure Sixty Four amps is first of all, a pleasure to deal with. I found him at the suggestion of a guitar shop here in NY because the shop felt I needed personal attention to get the sound I was looking for, and they said Mark was the “best in the business.” Right from the start of our first phone call, I could tell that Mark is incredibly passionate about tone. He is the kind of guy that will not rest until he has completely understood what his is working on and learned how to get the absolute best from it (speaking here of an amp circuit, a cabinet, speakers... he approaches everything this way... for example Mark has the largest collection of amp speakers I have ever seen, and tried seemingly every cabinet made before settling on his speaker and cabinet designs). Mark made me feel special, and the personal attention and care he put into our initial talks, and how well he listened to what I was looking for, set the stage for a process that was both enjoyable and led to my perfect amp. Mark is this way with everyone, passionate, and obsessive in just the way you want you amp maker to be.

    What’s more, he didn’t just listen to what I was looking for, he really understood. This is important because as guitarists, even though we may know in our mind and ear exactly what we are looking for, we don’t always know exactly how to ask for it. Mark took the time to understand me as a player, and so he was able to translate what I was looking for into an amp circuit (in fact there were things I mentioned wanting that were actually close to the opposite of what I really wanted! A lessor maker might have given me what I asked for, instead of what I really wanted) Of course Mark can give you exactly what you ask for too, but for those of us who don’t have a deep understanding of electronics, Mark is an ideal translator.

    Mark is also a very fine Blues guitarist who gigs regularly, so he understands tone from both sides of the stage.

    Just one last little anecdote that says a lot about his customer service... when I went to pick up my amp, Mark had had a gig the night before and had slept only three hours, and he was exhausted. But I asked him about tubes, and he took the time -- nearly two hours! -- to exchange all the tubes in my amp one by one with others, including a primo set of NOS tubes, while I played guitar... with each different tube be gave me the time to listen until I really understood what was different, how the sound had changed. This was a tremendous education with me. I had experimented with tubes before, but never with a master amp maker.

    I just can’t say enough about working with Mark. And if you get one of his amps, you have a life long commitment from him... you can call anytime, come to his shop or send in your amp for mods... in short anything you need. In this sense, Mark is old world, of a time when craft mattered, and people took real pride in what they created.

    BUILD QUALITY
    The amp and head are very solidly built, with hand made finger jointed cabinets. Mark designed the cabinets, but he doesn’t make them himself, preferring to have a woodworker make them. Mark uses a local master cabinetmaker, who makes cabinets for a living, so the work is first rate. When you look at the amp and cab, and pick them up, they just feel solidly built, and I have not had a single issue in two years. My cabinets are carefully covered in black tolex, and Mark also offers a beautiful natural finish cabinet.

    The amp has quality all over it too. A heavy duty aluminum chassis, and Mercury Magnetics transformers custom made to Mark’s specs. Mark even uses ceramic tubes sockets for all the tubes (many amp makers use ceramic for the power tubes but not for preamp tubes). He even makes his own power cords because he discovered that a high quality power cord makes a real difference in the sound. I can verify that this is true because I have tried my amp with the stock power cable that comes with most other amps, and I noticed a difference in the clarity and depth of the tone.

    A glance inside the chassis reveals Mark’s attention to detail as well. High grade components, careful layout and point-to-point hand wiring... like I said before, my knowledge of electronics in minimal, but the inside of his amp looks solid and definitely inspires confidence in the amp and its longevity.

    Aesthetically I love the simplicity of Marks amps. His logo is understated and elegant. Also definitely check out his natural wood cabinets... the black tolex is great and historically cool, but I might have spent the extra money for the natural wood if I had had it (the extra cost is due to the fact that when the natural cabs are made, Mark and the cabinetmaker don’t have to just consider sound and resonance of the wood, but also visual appeal. Too, the finishing takes much longer.)

    CONTROLS
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    The controls are simple which I really like from the players standpoint. When an amp is as good as this one, you don’t need to fiddle with controls much once you dial in your sound. My amp has volume, treble, mid, bass, and I had him install a tank reverb, so there is also a reverb control. Mark also has an ingenious tone control he calls a curve control. This is a six position rotary switch, each position having a different EQ profile. The tone controls function fully with all the curve switch positions, so there really are many tonal possibilities with these few controls. Mark told me that you can get the personalities of different historical amps, moving from a Fender vibe in position one to a Marshall vibe in position six. Because I was interested in my own tone, I never really thought about that though, and found the curve switch to be invaluable for another use: every amp sounds different in every room, and I keep my main tone controls relatively constant on both my guitar and amp, and just use the curve switch to change the EQ profile for the room... this works amazingly well, and is a very simple way to adapt to any room quickly and get your tone dialed for where you are playing fast. For example a very live room might use one setting, whereas a dead room another setting. I have found this to be a foolproof way to adjust for differences in environment while keeping “my” tone.

    He also included two small toggle switches, a treble cut and low end roll off, which further expand the possibilities. Every control on the amp works synergistically with all the others.

    Also, because Mark voiced this amp for me, my controls are pretty much right in the middle, giving a lot of range for tweaking my tone in either directions should I ever want to. All the controls are incredibly sensitive, more sensitive than any amp I have played or owned. A slight turn of a knob yields a noticeable sonic difference. And the amp has the chicken head knobs which give it a cool retro look, but more importantly it is really easy to glance at the amp while playing and see exactly where everything is set. The knobs also make it easy to make adjustments on the fly.

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    The back of the amp is also simple. Mark offers different options of course, such as a buffered effects loop built in, but mine is basic. Power, fuses, on/off and standby, and three speaker outs for 4, 8 and 167 ohm loads. Lastly Mark has an external bias control which makes adjusting the bias very easy. All you need is a multi meter, and you don’t have to open the amp up, which is a deathwish if you don’t know what you are doing because the capacitors can hold onto 400 watts or more for a while after the power is off (as I learned from Mark). He also can give you biasing advice and is happy to talk tubes any time. Mark voices his amp for a particular set of tubes, but he understands that the player may want to try different tubes, or need to replace them without a repair person, so he makes it easy to do. As a side note, I have had trouble in the past with some other boutique makers who were very sensitive about the bias of their power tubes and made replacing tubes difficult, so I really appreciate Mark’s openness to a basic fact of owning a tube amp.

    SOUND
    Okay, now to the heart of the matter! This is the most important part... all the other stuff, no matter how good it is, doesn’t matter if the tone is not right. If you have read this far, then you won’t be surprised that the tone on this amp is absolutely stellar. I remember about a year ago when I was playing through a Bruno custom Cowtipper. I thought it was a great amp, good clarity and warmth with a full, rich sound. I really enjoyed playing it. I happened to have my Pure Sixty Four in the car, so for fun I brought it in to play next to the Bruno, expecting to like my amp better to be sure, but I was floored by how much better my amp sounded... so much more depth and complexity, and so much more warmth. I was stunned. Like I said I expected my amp to be better sounding, but I underestimated how much better.

    My Mean Street 50 first of all has incredible clarity AND incredible warmth. I have found in the past that these two qualities seem to be present in inverse proportions. The more warmth, the less clarity. I don’t know how Mark did it, but my amp has all the clarity I want for complex chords and subtlety in playing, but a warm, deeply rich sound that just wraps around you. I have struggled in the past with complex chords -- especially with upper extensions -- that can get a little muddy because I like a very warm sound. Not so at all with this amp.

    The tone is also complex and three dimensional. I have been know to use stereo amps or two cabinets in the past to get a three dimensional sound, again giving up some of the clarity I like. When I originally talked to Mark I told him I would likely want two cabinets, but Mark said to just wait and hear the amp. And he was right... I frankly can’t believe how much sound, how much three dimensional sound, comes out of my 1x12 cabinet. Now I have both the clarity AND the warmth, complexity and three dimensionality I have always wanted, and don’t have to lug around a second cabinet.

    Mark also makes a 2x12 cab that just kills with this amp, and two 1x12s also sounds amazing. At some point I will definitely get a second cabinet, and if I were playing blues with a louder group I would get the 2x12 for sure. So the option is there, but I have found that a single 1x12 is easiest to carry around and sounds great everywhere.

    A quality guitar really shines through this amplifier because the amp is not just sensitive in terms of the amp controls, but the guitar controls become more sensitive as well. Too, a high quality cable works extremely well (I use Vovox Sonus cables). I have played amps that actually sounded better with cheaper cables, but good cables just get more sound to the amp, and more of the sound of the guitar to the amp. I play with a pick, with fingers and with both, and use a wide variety of attacks and a wide range of dynamics, so this kind of sensitivity in my guitar and amp are very important to me. This amplifier stands head and shoulders above any other amp I have owned in terms of being about to transmit the shades of my playing to the sound waves that make it to the ears of listeners (including me!). The closest comparison is to a fine acoustic guitar.

    I currently play a beautiful acoustic steel string by Bill Tippin, an OMT model, which has incredible response and subtlety, and a deep resonance. I want the same thing from my electric guitar. I think it is essential to understand that when you play electric guitar, the guitar is only half the instrument. Just as wood choice, bracing, design, etc, all combine to create the acoustic sound, so do all those things, plus cable, any effects, and amplifier all combine for the electric sound. In short, everything affects the tone in some way. And there are really an infinity of variables between where you plug your electric guitar in and where the sound waves come out. But, again, that is why I so appreciate Mark’s passion and expertise. I don’t want to learn to be an engineer, and for me, all the searching for the perfect tone can get in the way of playing music. For this reason over the years I have kept trying to settle, to say enough! and focus all my energy on playing music. Well, I just wasn’t able to do that until my Pure Sixty Four. The fullness and complexity of the tone, the versatility, the warmth, the clarity... you just won’t find a better sounding amp anywhere.

    *** NOTE*** this ends Part One of my review due to length restrictions.... please now continue with Part Two, under the heading:

    Pure Sixty Four Mean Street 50 Review Part Two
     
  2. riffmeister

    riffmeister Gold Supporting Member

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    Hey man, turn it up! :)

    With the loud rock band, I usually ran mine at 3 oclock and above on the volume control......great overdrive right from the guitar's volume control.
     
  3. dspblues

    dspblues Silver Supporting Member

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    Payment sent for my 100w Mean Street!!!!

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
     
  4. gweeterman1

    gweeterman1 Supporting Member

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    great review!
    i couldnt agree more nor could i say it better!
     
  5. mzero

    mzero Supporting Member

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    Thanks Mark... it was such a pleasure dealing with you, and I so LOVE my amp.... I have been thinking about writing a review for a while, so I am glad to finally get it done!
     
  6. bluesjuke

    bluesjuke Disrespected Elder

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    I have to say that the amp seems to be one of the most thought out designs I've seen.
    Everthing it needs and nothing it doesn't need.

    Ought to become a classic.
     
  7. tejastubes

    tejastubes Member

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    If you are near or coming to Houston, you are welcome to come check them out!

    Joshua
     
  8. jetattblue

    jetattblue Member

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    I am glad to have read your review. I am very interested in playing a Pure 64 one day.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2010
  9. BudLite

    BudLite Supporting Member

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    I didn't know it was a non master single channel....and these amps are always compared to D-clones...I thought it was a bit of an advertisement when I read it.
    It doesn't seem like a fair comparison. I thought these amps were to out do the D clones? at least that was what was claimed many months back. What is the pure 64 that compares to a Dumble or D clone?
     
  10. riffmeister

    riffmeister Gold Supporting Member

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    I think it is the Nitro that is the Dumble-inspired amp in Mark's lineup.

    I had a 2x6L6 Meanstreet for about a year. It was a really great amp. With the curve switch and treb/mid/bass controls there were a lot of really great voicings available in the amp. It was a mostly clean amp (a bit of smooth crunch with humbuckers up at stage volumes) with a really nice feel, and it took OD pedals extremely well, as good (or maybe better than!) any amp I've owned (TopHat, Dr. Z, Carr, Tone King, Allen, Bruno, blah blah blah....). And Mark bends over backwards to attain ultimate customer satisfaction. I understand the OP's enthusiasm.
     
  11. dspblues

    dspblues Silver Supporting Member

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    Correct, the Dumble references were never around the Mean Street. I believe it was around the Abraxas and its ability to get that singing OD tone.

     
  12. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

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    Builders: take your commentary to the Manufacturer's area.

    Others: if you don't have anything to add, move along. There's no need to enforce your personal agendas or requirements on the OP.

    --chiba
     

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