TONE! Glorious, fat, greasy, CHEAP TONE!
Let me preface this by saying clearly that I'm not compensated for any product comments made on this (or any other) site. I'm not a professional, neither am I an endorser of any product.
[Chromatonic's note]: I decided to compile my posts regarding the Valve Junior into one cohesive report. The updated version is as follows...
Jp and I have been discussing what we're doing to motivate ourselves for practice, and one important component - beyond having a plan - is to decide on a reward. This will be mine - an Epiphone Valve Junior. This little beauty is a 5-watt Class A amp just right to fire up for an impromptu living-room jam (assuming one's friends are similarly equipped). By the way, why is it that Guitar Players have so much trouble playing at 'reasonable' volume levels? Because the amps that give them the tone they want will only do so at high volumes!
HEY! Class A, 5-watt, tiny, cool, one knob. This is a modern-day Fender Champ for almost nothing!
I've been considering building a little amp for this purpose, but, gee, with this little gem selling for less than a good Chromatic, why not just get one and do a little tweaking, and be done with it? This way, I don't have to hunt the components, build the cabinet, etc.
There are plenty of websites dedicated to modding this little demon. Here are a few:
Dennis Cronin's Valve Junior page
Duh Voodoo Man's Epiphone Valve Junior Mods Page
Kluge Music's Forum
a nice schematic by Eric Miller
Eric's mod page
Hoffman Amplification's forum
So why a tiny amp, when the problem is usually one of being heard?
TONE, at reasonable volumes.
They're really cool looking.
Small and lightweight - easy to move around with.
One of these and the right microphone get's my sound into the PA for next to nothing.
They're really, really cool looking.
Did I mention low volume and TONE?
Little amps are outstanding for recording (if they're not too noisy).
I'm betting that the best way to make this amp work well with a Bullet mic will be to swap in a 12DW7 in place of the 12AX7 pre-amp tube. Here's the difference: a 12AX7 has a gain ratio of '100' in both sides of the tube - that's 100 + 100, right? Well, a 12DW7 has a gain ratio of '100' in 1 side, but only '20' on the other side. Confusing? Here's an article that explains it. Since the Valve Junior only has the one pre-amp tube and uses both sides, I'm guessing a 12DW7 might be just right to control the power of a Bullet mic. I hope I'm right!
I have a secret fantasy of putting together The Quietest Little Electric Blues Band in Town - this little amp (one for each guitar and 1 for harp) would certainly facilitate that...
So, I should "qualify" for my reward in time for The Holiday formerly known as Christmas. I'll let you know how it works out for Harp.
I just picked-up my reward - a new Epiphone Valve Junior head.
Five watts of Class-A tone, bay-bee!
I couldn't wait to plug-in to it, so I went out to the garage and drug a bunch of toys out there with me. I hooked it up first to a 4x10 bass cabinet I have - it was dreamy, and incredibly loud. How loud? I might consider gigging with it. Next, I plugged it in to the 10" speaker in my Fender Pro Jr. Man, that was tasty!
First impressions: It's bright, musical, and VERY cool. Unfortunately, it doesn't like my Crystal mic (too treble-y), and the 12AX7 pre-amp tube has to go. I'm swapping in a 12AT7 to try to get a little more play from the volume knob (it's a bit prone to feedback with harp mics).
[UPDATE] - The 12AT7 still seemed a bit hot - I'm going to a 12AU7 (I have an NOS Mullard in my stash).
So why did I get the head instead of the combo I posted originally? The head is a little quieter due to a slightly different circuit design. It's also a bit more versatile, 'cause it supports 4-, 8-, and 10-ohm speakers, so you can plug it into a number of different speakers to vary the sound. So the Combo is a cool little all-in-one that any hacker would love (see the links in my first Reward post), but the head is more versatile and (I think) recordable.
The little pup is so dang musical it's already inspiring me to play some new licks. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
[UPDATE] A 5th of Blues Guitarist Rick Trotter, just picked up his Epi V-J and he's as ecstatic about it as I am mine. It's gonna be a toneful new year in 2007, people!
One of my best buds is also a Harmonicist. I've been gushing all over him regarding my new Epiphone Valve Junior. I really dig this little thang; it's got such monster tone!
Every time I tell him about it, he asks me to send him some sound samples. Well, there aren't any samples online of Harmonica played through the Valve Jr, so I finally made a few using the meager resources I have at hand. If you're interested to hear 'The Wee Beastie' scroll down and click on the link.
[UPDATE] The 12AU7 was too cold. Probably a result of both halves of the tube being used as the entire pre-amp stage (rather than multiple tubes as most amps are), so I tried a 12AV7. Not a very common tube, the 12AV7 is just a little colder (41 gain vs 45) than the 12AT7. Seems to be just about right for my green bullet, volume around 33-38%. I have a little 'colder' mic that I just assembled that lets me use the volume in the range of 55-80%. I think it may become my dedicated mic for this rig. At 55-60%, the amp is smooth & creamy with just a bit of break-up; at 80% you get heavy, saturated, highly compressed distortion. In these upper volume settings, you get a little brighter sound until the high-compression range. My favorite tone comes from a volume setting around 65-70%.
[UPDATE: 12/23/06] The latest news is that I got a pair of (cheap surplus) 8" speakers and put them in a small 'suitcase cabinet' to use with this amp (nicknamed The 88). In my opinion, 8" speakers are THE BEST for this amp (& harmonica). Lots of 'cry' and 'bark' in the sound. Check back - I've posted some soundbites of several speakers, and a picture of The Wee Beastie Rig at this link.
In short: It's not really loud enough to gig with unless you prefer mic'ing your amp into the PA (no line-out available). But it's so dang toneful at reasonable volumes that I find myself wanting to play it all the time, and now I'm trying to think of ways to tweak my 'big' amps to get 'that' sound.
Let me clarify, however: this amp can be about 1/2 as loud as a 50-Watt guitar amp with the right pre-amp tube, input, and speakers. That can be very loud. Too loud, certainly, for an apartment. But at volumes less than WFO, it's a good bit quieter. I can play it in my house and not disturb the neighbors (in the daytime). And I'm hoping it will make our rehearsals less loud (if I can pull my bandmates' volume down to my level).