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Why Tubes?
First of all we would like to clear up exactly what a guitar amp is. If you using it in a traditional way and have additional knowledge in high end HiFi technics then an amp should:
  • Work in as neutral a way as possible
  • Distort the least amount possible
  • Be as over dimensional as possible
  • Work as fast as possible
It all works well says the HiFi developer and audiophile. But if you are building an amp like this and connect it to a guitar box, and try to play a bit, you realize very fast that this isn't an optimal situation. Even worse, it sounds horrible and your band mates cover their ears. And then? You thought you considered everything and have done a good job. Is it perhaps the speaker. No way!!

What works for HiFi does'nt necessarily work for the musician. Within the HiFi, technics try to reproduce the original sound as much as possible however the technics for musicians works on a base of creating, bending and designing.

In conclusion: Even the best high-end manufacture always ends up doing the complete opposite to the requirements of the musicians. We know manufacturers who developed very nice studio monitors and PA devices but are'nt able to build decent guitar amps.

In fact back in the 50's we had no decent and affordable semiconductors so a bunch manufacturers started to build guitar amps with tube technics. But even the speakers from that time period weren't the best in comparison to today's standards. Today we would say that these speakers were middle tone speakers. The tube was an industry standard and a simple technology: a couple of electronic parts around the tube, power supply, output transformer connected and you had a amp. A side effect of these devices was that it created unique distortions and sound colors, which came from the technical setup of the tube.

Based on the current vintage hype (more about this later) most people thought that this effect was created on purpose. But it is thought that it was a random effect mixed with a compromise for cost effectiveness.

Tube sound and semicontuctor sound
Because the tube has a nonlinear attitude, which is based on its physical construction, it has no element for a neutral sound. But the tube creates this specific sound that we call the warm sound. Why ?

The answer isn't so easy. At the perception point in the human hearing system there are the sound-formants (harmonies etc. - all described as sound color) as important as the basic tone itself. It is a known fact that a tube produces the second harmonic and it is this that will be felt as nice and warm instead of the third harmonic which will be created from the semiconductors. Even the nonlinear plays an important roll:

  • The tube doesn't start distorting from the beginning. It stays linear but then it compresses the signal a bit (signal peaks only) and then it starts slowly but surely to distort, but it doesn't produce as high over tones as the semiconductors.
  • Ideally the amp element (regardless of semiconductor or tube) should handle the whole frequency range equally. But the practical experience shows that the higher frequencys have less amplification. From the technical point of view this is bad, says the audiophile. The guitar player however starts to play around with that setup and wants nothing else.
The technician talks about nonlinear - and the musician about dynamic attitude. Both means the same. We don't want to be misunderstood. A tube in a construction doesn't mean automatically that you get a cool sound straight out of it. We had semiconductor based devices in hand which delivered an acceptable sound. Deciding, is the developer and his personal tastes which can be very different. I don't want to enforce my opinion to someone, but invite them into a healthy discussion and to get some interesting views and thoughts.

At the end of the 70's and during the 80's many manufacturers switched their production to semiconductors. It was obvious that this decision came from non-musicians. A business man wants to sell as many products as possible. And the easiest way to reach that aim is through lower prices. An amp based on semiconductor technics had some attractive advantages: its cheaper in production, weighs less, is compact, is service friendly etc.! Only you can't bypass the physics. The only thing you can do is to adapt the results. Probably some would disagree now saying they can emulate the tube sound (We are not talking about digital emulations at this point).

The answer is Yes and No !

Of course you can try to simulate the tube attitude through extra circuits. But when you take a closer look on the circuit layout of a tube amp you will see that the signal path is very short. This means that switching is very fast. Effectively the tone arrives immediate at the speaker. If you increase the circuits the signal needs to proceed over many stations and is much slower. Even worse, the signal loses its source and dynamic. Every element, regardless of it being a tube, transistor or IC influences the formants. If you form the signal with a tube from the very beginning and then use the semiconductor just for straight amplification, you get something interesting (apart from if you switch into "British mode" which sounds good only if everything is on full volume).

Most manufacturers started to realize this and built hybrid amps. It was advertised that a tube is included in the pre amp but through so many circuits you saw how little these developers understood about tube technics. It isn't enough to switch a tube somewhere in the signal way. The tube has to be placed in this way: pickup, guitar cable, tube and not somewhere between the first and third IC (imagine that in one IC there are more than 100 transistors)! Basically it isn't the right way and it is now too late anyway. No wonder those amps established themselves as absolute entry models only. It seems somehow sad as it could have be done better ...

Vintage - Well matured?
Of course you can overdo it in the other direction. Keyword: "Vintage Hype". We can remember getting many requests asking: "I got an amp. This model is a legend. But when I give full power so that the power amp distorts I don't have any influence on the sound design. Do you have any advice for me?" We always had to disappoint the people saying: "No, sorry we can't help you. It's the nature of this amp". We don't want to be misunderstood, if you like this kind of sound then it's the right choice. One assume that circumstance was also a side effect.

Countless speculations about which component delivers the best sound also irritates us a bit. One often read and hear about carbon resistors that sound more open and easier than the metal-oxide resistors. We think it's unfair with regards to the customer. Without publishing the basic knowledge this sounds like "Diesel engines are better then benzine engines!" If you restore an old amp with the aim to rebuild the old construction and sound then it's right to use the original components. At the end it all comes down to personal taste. So the question sounds better or not is unnecessary. We had customers with panic in their eyes asking me do i use original carbon resistors without knowing what they are saying "I read that they are the ultimate vintage components". Also this strange hype around NOS components is scary. These components lie around in a storage for 40-50 years and should still be functioning ?? Imagine you do that with a car. Do you believe you can start the motor after all these years without any problem? There are components included which have aged and never been used. NOS-Sellers are rising like mushrooms in a wood at the moment.

A special topic: Digital Amp Modeling
The typical bugs most manufacturers fixed and meanwhile all devices were doing the job well. But if you imagine how this principle works you think very fast where is the rub. The signal will be transformed from the guitar pickup into a digital one and will be forwarded to the Digital Sound Processor (DSP). From there the converted file will be transformed back into an analog signal. Even for very well written modeling algorithms (for the DSP) and a very nice sounding result the signal went a long way in general. Even the DSP needs time to calculate. The result of this whole process brings a delay, called latency. This latency is bad for the dynamic. Its nice if you dont play it by yourself but if you do it sounds very artificial. You like the sound effects (like Chorus, Delay etc.) more for digital amp modeling.

To stay as flexible as possible we still say the sound design control should happen completely in the pre amp. The power amp should only amplify linear and push the signal a bit. And that is our Philosophy. We admit that this idea is nothing new and this construction was for a long time not hip. In the late 60's and beginning of the 70's an English guitar manufacturer built devices with an ultra linear output transducer. This was loud as hell and very hard to distort. After a while they disappeared. In the late 80's two German manufacturers started with the same idea - with a lot of success. This encouraged us to develop a pre amp with 3 different channels.

About: GP-1
The signal way is completed on a tube basis apart from the speaker emulation and the outgoing buffer. Even the sound controllers are classic and passive to avoid sounding wishywashy. Everybody who thinks it isn't enough can connect a decent equalizer for specific encroachments. We also didn't renounce semiconductors because when the signal is already made its no problem to amp that a bit in the speaker emulator and outgoing buffer. We tried also to fulfill some of the wishes of the musicians. Its called the 2x12 open speaker which sounds good with a non distorted sound. The 4x12 closed mode is pushing the sound and delivers the best result at maximum distortion. The position of the microphone in front of a imaginary speaker is important so we built in two additional switches into the speaker emulation.

The question does the GP-1 sound great is unnecessary, you should ask: Does it feels good? The answer is definitive: Yes.

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