Tone King Imperial - from Amps&Cabs

Discussion in 'Builder's & Retailer's Forum' started by tonekingamps, Feb 8, 2012.

  1. tonekingamps

    tonekingamps Member

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    Hi All,
    Back on the Amps & Cabs page, I noticed a number of posts from folks modding their Imperial amps for a darker sound. I thought I'd start this thread here, in case anyone would like to have a discussion about this. I'd really like to hear about the cases where the amp is sounding too bright, and would be happy to offer any advice I can.

    To start off, I should mention that there have been a few design changes to the Imperial since it was first introduced which affected the tone. I can run through a few quick ones here -

    The signal path has changed very little over the years. At one point, back in the mid-late 90's, I changed the value of the "midrange" resistor from 6.8k to 10k, to thicken up the mids a bit. For a period of a few years, starting around 1996, the Imperial had a different trem circuit, which was designed to roughly approximate a Magnatone "pitch-shifting" trem. This circuit used vactrols (essentially opto couplers) to control filtering circuits, and I have seen a few in which the bass vactrol was burned out, which made the tone very thin, even with the trem off.

    We've used the same speaker all along, but the cabinet design has changed, and this is the main source of difference in tone between old and new Imperials. The original design used a pine baffle board, and pine mounting blocks. This was difficult to deal with in terms of dimensional stability, and I eventually found it necessary to go to a plywood baffle, some time around 2005, after the Imperial was brought back into production. From then on, the treatment of the baffle and its attachment to the cabinet was changed several times, eventually settling on the design we have now. Over the course of this, some of the amps sounded thinner/brighter than one ones we're making today. I have a brand new one here in my office, and I set the rhythm channel with all the controls straight up (5.5), and the tonal balance is appropriate for a BF style amp. This is a large carpeted room with high ceilings, so it would naturally sound different in a home environment. I'd be interested in hearing about what settings and environments you all are using, and what you are hearing.

    Mark Bartel
    Premier Builders Guild / Tone King
     
  2. jayb6120

    jayb6120 Member

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    Thanks for starting this thread Mark. And let me start by saying I really dig your amps!

    I've listened to every demo I can find and most Imperials seem to sound a little thicker than mine does, I wouldn't say it's harshly bright on the rhythm channel, but definitely bright when compared to the most recent demos I've heard. Especially the lead channel, there have been times when I've turned the tone control just a spec above all the way down, mostly it sits at or just below 3, and using the mid-bite just makes it really bright.

    I mainly use a Gretsch 6120, Gretsch PowerJet Firebird, American Tele, and sometimes a Strat. Of course it's definitely bright with the tele, and with the 6120 as well. I usually run the Treble around 4 and bass around 6-8 depending on the guitar and venue. I find if I go any higher on the Treble it can get ice picky on the bridge pickup. And this is all less noticeable with the volume cranked up but there have only been 2 times in the past year where I have been somewhere I could run that loud. (Vol on Rhythm channel up at 6 or 7)

    I'm not sure exactly what year mine is, I bought it second hand in 2011. My cab is one of the ones where the corners meet at 45 degrees, haven't seen many like that.

    I'm open to trying different things to thicken it up. A friend of mine has a Metropolitian and it is incredible sounding, nice and thick, rich sounding amp. Very balanced. That's more what I'd like, more balance. Thanks Mark.

    JayB
     
  3. chumley

    chumley Member

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    I like my Imperial just the way it is. I've used it in a few different rooms and find that I run the treble higher than I ever did with my Meteor II. Does not seem overly bright to me at all, and it is still fairly new. I did play a room last weekend that I could have used the extra wattage of the Meteor, large room, large crowd, vocals only mic'ed. Different tools for different jobs.
     
  4. GTRJohnny

    GTRJohnny Member

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    Hi Mark and thank you for doing this. :)

    I think the Imperial has a great design, amazing attention to detail, and great craftsmanship. But like a few others here, I find it a bit too bright when using single coils. So, I would be interested in ways that it might be warmed up a touch, without any massive changes on your part.

    I'm local to you, and we have spoken about this before. I asked you about putting pull-bright knobs on the volume controls - which this design did not allow space for.

    I would love to hear the Imperial sans bright caps, to see if that would solve the brightness issue for me, and still work okay with my Les Paul. If so, I would not need any switches and could be good to go.

    The amp is definitely a winner, and has a strong following here. And, I am not trying to say there is anything wrong with the amp as it sits. I would just love to mold it a bit to better fit my tone and playing style.

    Thanks again.
     
  5. bobbymack

    bobbymack Supporting Member

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    I have an old and a new Imperial, I love them both.

    The amps are bright by nature, certainly compared to alot of the amps out today. But at one point I had 2 BF Vibrolux Reverbs, 2 drip edge '68 Deluxe Reverbs, a '67 Princeton Reverb...and those amps were every bit as bright and in my opinion more in need of speaker swaps than the Imperials.

    My '94 Imperial is all stock except for NOS tubes (I'm fortunate to have a drawerful of NOS RCA 6V6s), and I have no desire to change the speaker. And the trem in that amp is jawdropping. My '11 Imperial was a bit bright and a bit stiff...so I put an alnico Tone Tubby in there, sounded great but almost too dark, now it has an ASW KTS-70 in it and the controls get set sort of naturally, like you'd expect them to be set -- not to compensate for brightness, darkness, etc.

    My Metropolitan just changed my amp life, to the extent that I no longer own any of the previously mentioned Fenders. Mark, there are some great speakers out there today that didn't exist when ou developed the 33...and if others feel your stock one can be improved upon, I'd recommend checking out the ASW ceramics and alnicos, and a few of the new Eminence including the Cannabis Rex...a wonderful speaker for the money, especially in brighter amps.

    My $.02

    btw if you are considering building an Imperial head I'll take #1 -- my 2011 Imperial gigged through an old A Brown pine 212 with 2 alnico TTs sounds sublime.
     
  6. FREELESSONSNOW

    FREELESSONSNOW Senior Member

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    Metropolitan owner here. Perhaps a separate thread could be started on this great amp. We can discuss any build variations, swapping tubes, speakers etc.... I started with a 2x12 Comet to a Meteor Head and 2x12 cabinet and now own the 1x12 Meteor.
     
  7. tonekingamps

    tonekingamps Member

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    Thanks so much for the feedback ! A few notes on some things mentioned here -

    The Imperial is voiced for a club situation, where you need a certain amount of top end to cut through, and where you don't usually hear the amp on axis, and where you have the benefit of being able to crank it up into its sweet spot. However, believe me, I understand that there are plenty of people out there (me included) who are rarely in that kind of playing situation. When I play an Imperial at home at 2am in a dead quiet small room with hardwood floors, it sounds completely different than it does when I hear one in a club, as does any amp.

    Now, the above wasn't meant as an excuse, but more as a statement of the problem. It's certainly not a problem unique to the Imperial - it's probably worse with other higher powered amps. I don't have a final solution to offer here and now, but perhaps we can chip away at the problem and move toward one.

    The first thing that comes to mind is a combination of using an attenuator to allow the amp to get closer to its sweet spot, and a treatment to address the focusing of the sound. For a club setting, you need the sound to have a certain amount of focus, or it'll be lost in the mix, but in a home environment, it can lead to the dreaded icepick effect. My guess is that, if you could diffuse the top end in that environment, the tonal balance would be fine. To hear what I'm talking about, you might try an experiment - turn the amp around backwards so the back is facing you when you play - this shows what could be done if the focus were reduced. There are a few different ways of doing this, but I haven't experimented enough to propose a solution.


    Speaker swaps were mentioned. I try new speakers all the time. The problem is, I need the Imperial to cover everything from blackface cleans to a nice crunchy early marshall kind of tone, which is tough for most speakers to do. So far, of all the speakers I've tried, some may have been better at cleans but worse distorted, or the other way around, but I haven't found one that can cover that range better than the custom Eminence we're using. I think the last one I tried in the Imperial was a high powered alnico, cost $300 or so (not sure if I'm supposed to name names here), and the stock speaker won.

    Mark Bartel.
    Premier Builders Guild / Tone King
     
  8. ch1naski

    ch1naski Member

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    Great to have you here, Mark.
    Tone King is the next amp on my list to buy, just trying to divide my funds between a wedding and a metropolitan. (so far, not much saved for the wedding).
    at first, I was interested in the imperial, but after hearing clips of the metro, I think it would fit my style better.
    I play mostly in the home, but pretty loud. I still need an attenuator on my 18watt amp, so I can get the power tubes to drive. From what I've heard of the metro, it's got more than one sweet spot on it, even without power tubes on meltdown...

    As for speakers, perhaps a mix (provided, of course, you opt to use a cabinet) would give the sound a more balanced tone, one speaker geared for blackface, one for a darker tone. I was thinking of ordering something along those lines from you, if you still do custom orders.
     
  9. Kitten Cannon

    Kitten Cannon Member

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    Mark, it's awesome you started this thread.

    My Imperial quest has been well-documented here, so I'll spare the gory details, but my finding was that for me, the amp was unnecessarily loud and had all this extra top end that I couldn't really dial out without pretty much destroying the tone. I nearly gave up, but I thought it might be prudent to try plugging the amp into a different speaker as that was an easy, cheap, and fast way to determine that the amp itself really was too bright.

    Much to my surprise, put through the same speaker from my DR, it sounded much much more even. So I set out to find a speaker that did 2 things - 1, lower the volume so I can hit the sweet spot quicker, and 2, back some of the high end off. I talked to Jim Seavall and he was very confident that I'd like the M75 65W Scumback. I had a hard time getting it into the cab when it arrived, but I got a little creative and it's in now. Initially, I was unimpressed (we're talking 30 seconds at home just making sure I didn't ruin anything), but I gave it a gig. HOLY WHOA THERE. That was what I was missing. I haven't gigged with anything else since then. My gigs these days are the Tele and a baritone Tele through a few pedals that only come on when I need them. I like a lot of headroom but I also like for there to be some edge when I really dig in, just like a good Deluxe. I'd say with the lower-efficiency speaker the threshold for breakup is about where the DR is with a Jensen Neo 100 as it felt like the Imperial had a higher threshold for breakup otherwise. The Scumback seems to be a little more pedal-friendly too. Both sides of the amp handle them well, not just the lead side now. I can run the amp with the tone about halfway or so, and if I need more (or more treble on the rhythm channel), I just need to twist the knob. NBD.

    The nice thing was that with this speaker, I feel like there's a better balance between channels. Not so much volume-wise, but how the speaker reacts. If I play the rhythm channel and set the Klon up as a slight boost, it sounds remarkably similar to flipping over to the tweed channel. Pretty f-ing cool. And we do a lot of songs that get a bit heavier in spots, so as the night goes on I'm finding I'm starting to push the mid-bite knob a bit up to about 12:00PM by the end of the show.

    As for how I'm using it, it's a Tele, a few pedals (Klon, Manifold Drive, a vibe, a Tremulator, and an El Capistan delay), and the amp. I only use the Tremulator because I know it well and have it dialed in, but for slower songs with a slower less choppy trem, it's a relief to have a great trem on the amp too. We just don't get to play that sort of stuff very often. I play all sorts of country mostly. Lots of country rock. Older country, lots of Red Dirt too. Mostly medium to big clubs, from a few hundred people to a few thousand people most nights. Normally when I play our biggest home venue, I use a big amp because the stage is carpeted and the room is huge and I can, but we were there Saturday and I used the TK. No complaints, none whatsoever.

    Anyway, I'm lucky - I do get to really wind up the amp when I play it... that's worth mentioning it. I'm not sure how one even goes about evaluating an amp without playing it live, but I guess that's why there are so many people here. Lots of opinions to share.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2012
  10. MadFrank

    MadFrank Supporting Member

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    Hi Mark, great idea for a thread. I have a brand new Imperial, purchased at Christmas. I'm still getting used to the amp and breaking it in, which i know can make such a difference. One point I really agree with you on is the volume issue. I run my NMV amps with an Aracom attenuator at home, and once the volume on the rythem channel is wound up to at least halfway, the treble does even out and provide a nice balance. Without the attenuator, at very low volumes, things are much less useable, but that would be the same for many amps I guess. I still may look into speaker-swapping, just for kicks, but I do find the lead channel perfectly balanced at any point on the volume dial - it's just too loud to use at home without attenuation anyway!

    As your here Mark, may I ask you a slightly off-topic question about the Imperial? I have noticed in your Imperial instructions book that you say that the rhythm channel is not so suited to drive or boost pedals, but for some time now, PGS has been using the Imperial to demo effects with superb results. What is it about the rhythm channel you do not think takes to pedals? Is it because it's designed to have very little pre-amp gain? I don't think the channel takes OD pedals well at low, unattenuated volume, imo, but sound great when the volume is wound up. Is this because of the bright-cap at work, as has been mentioned previously?

    Cheers!
     
  11. jayb6120

    jayb6120 Member

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    If I get some time next week I'm going to try using a beam blocker, maybe just make a quick temporary one with some duct tape over the grill cloth. I'll see how that goes and report my findings. Could be an easy fix for low volume situations.

    If I can, I turn the amp towards a wall and crank it up, that helps break the direct volume and it sounds great, even though it looks a little warped..haha. Some situations you just can't do that.
     
  12. riffmeister

    riffmeister Gold Supporting Member

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    What's worked for me is a beam blocker........I need that top end shimmer on some songs with the band, but beamy-ness is a killer. The beam blocker, unlike a dark speaker, maintains a nice shimmer but disperses the top end better so the laser beam is greatly diminished. I haven't tried any of the removable beam blockers but instead, my speaker cabs have an integral cross beam in the speaker cut out in the baffle.

    Mark, I wonder if you've ever experimented with beam blockers of any sort?
     
  13. tonekingamps

    tonekingamps Member

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    Thanks for all the responses. Mr. Cannon, in particular - thanks for the detailed description of your speaker trials. Sounds like you have gone through quite an odyssey. I haven't tried any of the Scumback speakers, but it sound like I should give them a try. I had assumed that their focus was on producing a close copy of the original greenback, and I know what that sounds like, so I didn't see a reason to go there.

    One speaker I did try that was quite good was (believe it or not) the Jensen Neo. I installed one in an old Continental 1x12 for a friend here (that amp uses essentially the same speaker as the Imperial, and has the same cabinet construction), and it retained much of the character of the original speaker, but softened the top end a bit, and added beef to the bottom end.

    I haven't done much with beam blockers so far, because I usually prefer to stick an sm57 right on the grill cloth, straight down the throat of the speaker, and then use eq to pull back the top end (to reduce the comb filtering you can get by angling the mic or placing it off axis), but I'm starting to see the value in this. I'm starting to think about the idea of a detachable beam blocker that would attach to the front of the amp, and be designed to complement the design of the baffle trim. The new ones probably don't need it as much, but it might be a nice retrofit for some of the older ones.

    I do have one additional idea. I first experimented with this back in 1997 with the Comet, but then went back to it again last month with the Falcon. You can diffuse the focus and soften the top end a bit by simply removing 4 of the screws holding the speaker to the baffle. This doesn't work with every amp, but does make a difference with the type of wood used for the Imperial's baffle. You want to make sure you leave 4 screws in an X pattern, and remove the others. This won't make a huge difference, but will help a bit.

    Mark Bartel.
    Premier Builders Guild / Tone King
     
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  14. Kitten Cannon

    Kitten Cannon Member

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    No problem, Mark. I've always liked the blackface cleans as far as you can take them idea. For the first few years with my Deluxe I used it with a JBL D120F. I eventually got sick of the weight though. That's why I tried the Neo in that amp - I just wanted something light after lugging around an amp with a JBL all those years. Much to my surprise, I really liked the Neo in that amp because it wasn't quite as harsh in the high end as the JBL could be, and it softened up the mids a touch. As a Tele player, this is kind of a must. Humbuckers all the time would be a different story - a good friend of mine puts D120s into every Fender amp he can get his hands on, and his core tone is basically an L5-CES into a cranked Deluxe Reverb. He doesn't need to back his treble down at all, obviously.

    In any case, I have friends who've extolled the virtues of the Greenback/Blackface thing forever. I have a Vibrolux that was driving me nuts with its current speakers so I finally decided to try something in the British vein on that amp, going with a Greenback and a Gold (10" versions of course). As it turned out, I really dug it, so I thought it might be worthwhile to try having one DR type amp with a British speaker and one with a more American speaker. The Brit made more sense for the Imperial since it has the second channel which would definitely play well with something in that vein (not to mention, probably better than a really bright Jensen type speaker, especially with the MidBite pushed). I agree with your assessment on the Neo, though - it's a very neutral speaker, but it doesn't do the vintage Jensen thing as much as it seems to get out of the way and let the amps do their thing. You probably don't want a Neo in an Imperial though - the amp might float away! Actually, the one thing I heard about Neodymium speakers is that China controls the supply of the magnet or or something, and that they're getting a bit stingy with it, and prices have been going up. C'est bummer.

    The M75 65W is a 97dB speaker, which is sort of nice, because it does let you wind up the amp and get the power tubes cooking a little quicker. It's still got plenty of headroom as it can handle a lot more power than a standard Greenback. It has a nice full low end, and a warm midrange. Not tons of high end, but I find that the amp supplies enough of that with the bright cap and such. Like I said, I still have about 5 notches on my treble and tone controls available if I want to keep turning them clockwise. The Scumback handles overdrive really well too, obviously. The clean tone is amazingly rich though. It might not be quite as pristine as what you're going for, but I think it's definitely worth a listen.

    I did a little side-by-side with the Deluxe and the Imperial. You may or may not have heard this, but I'll repost it here just in case, because I think it does a good job of showing what the differences are in a living room setting (and not pushed to break up at all). Sorry - the playing is a little sloppy; I was just shooting from the hip really. The Tone King is amp #1 and the DR is amp #2. I was moving in front of the mic at the beginning of the first few notes with the DR, which makes the first impression weird, but try to ignore that.

    [soundcloud]http://soundcloud.com/kittencannon/tone-king-imperial-vs-deluxe[/soundcloud]
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2012
  15. GTRJohnny

    GTRJohnny Member

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    That would put the Imperial in the mid to high 20's for weight. Wow, that would be crazy light for a combo. :) Mark, if you ever audition one of those in a n Imperial, I would be very interested in hearing it.
     
  16. jayb6120

    jayb6120 Member

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    I tried removing 4 of the speaker screws and it may have made a slight difference at low volume. It made a slightly bigger difference at higher volumes, makes it just a little fatter all around, gets rid of some of that annoying part of the high end.

    I was using it at a rehearsal tonight and it's a great sounding amp, no question. Really what it needs is some power scaling. Turn the volume up and bring the power scaling down to taste. But then I suppose one should go after the Metropolitan...maybe someday.
     
  17. Kitten Cannon

    Kitten Cannon Member

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    I dunno, I've found that a less efficient speaker really cures all ills.

    Honestly, I can't remember the last time I was this happy with an amp. And to think that before the swap, I was debating letting go of it. Holy hell. Glad I didn't do THAT.
     
  18. stellablue

    stellablue Member

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    The manual says, because of the extended detail and clarity on the rhythm channel, you can pick up artifacts from the signal path. (paraphrasing). I use the lead side almost exclusively.
     
  19. Guitarguru_1960

    Guitarguru_1960 Member

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    Okay I went through some more drastic changes. I clipped both bright caps, and put a Beam Blocker in it. This dramatically changed the tone of the amp. It's much warmer now. I leave the treble and tone knobs around noon now, with my Tele, where I used to keep them almost completely off.
    Works great with pedals now too.


    Regards, Paul
    Netherlands, Europe.
     
  20. GTRJohnny

    GTRJohnny Member

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    Cool! I think I can guess how the clean channel will sound, but how did it affect the drive channel? Any difference in the Mid-bite control?
     

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