Let’s not just talk about one-knob gear — let’s design some! Any interest in conspiring to create a minimalist DIY amp?
Frankly, the intensity of the reaction to my recent One Knob Manifesto startled me. I had a general sense there was a growing interest in minimalist gear, but I was no idea the sentiment was so intense. (Though I’d hesitate to draw too many conclusions based on a focus group of the obsessive geeks who hang out here.)
The limited edition Love amp fascinates me. Not its ornate furnishings, but the minimal controls: no tone stack, not even a volume control. It’s pretty much exactly what I was talking about when I expressed an interest in an amp with nothing but an on/off switch. That desire became even more focused last week when I reviewed a fabulous amp from a new Colorado Springs company called Toneville. (I’ll link to the Premier Guitar review when it goes live in a couple of weeks.) The Toneville Beale Street model I reviewed features a full compliment of blackface-style controls, but the tone controls are voiced so that the tone stack can largely be removed from the circuit, and there’s also a pot to remove the negative feedback loop for a more tactile/primitive response. As with some other ultra-high-end amps I’ve written about recently (like the Little Walter 50/22 covered here), the tone controls sound great wide-open, and it matters surprisingly little where you set the volume — you just drive it hard enough to warm things up, and then shape the tone from the guitar. With a nicely voiced and biased amp, you need far fewer controls than you might think. And the more crap you omit, more livelier the reponse and the more immediate the tone
So why don’t we collectively create something in this vein? A simple but great-sounding tube amp with nothing but an on/off switch? I’ve never designed anything such thing and have little relevant expertise beyond the knowledge that, unlike 9v stompboxes, AC-powered amps can kill you. But I’ve built enough kit amps to know that a one-knob head can be easy, potentially inexpensive (though you could invest in ultra-premium tranformers, vintage tubes, NOS parts, and so on), and it should sound stunning. If we come up with a plan, we can source the parts, create step-by-step instructions, and probably get a vendor to put together a kit for us. (I’m thinking out loud here, so bear with me.)
I’m not firm on many details other than these:
- head-only design (at least initially)
- low-wattage for home/studio use — something you can crank without self-evicting
- should sound big and bad-ass (not a cheap, practice-amp sensibility)
Any interest, folks? And more important, any ideas? And more important, any ideas? What would make this fun, useful, and bitchin’?