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Retro Times

This seems to be the way of thinking for many of today's musicians.  Quite frankly, I've never been able to understand this whole “retro” attitude with guitar players in the first place.  In essence, it goes like this... “Yesterday's products were better than today's.” In most cases, I think this is utter “B.S.” Don't get me wrong, there are many fine early model guitars and amps out there, and some of them even do have a very unique sound of their own.  However, is it really better?, or is it more of a fact that it is different?   Much to my surprise, I've recently discovered that this “retro” line of thinking has also affected the steel guitarist almost as much as it has the six string guitarist!

There are so many companies today that are busily running around reintroducing this or that product because a lot of musicians have bought into this “retro” line of thinking. (i.e., the best has already been, and yesterday is better than tomorrow will ever be.) If we all thought that way, we would all go back to living in caves!  Quite frankly folks, if this “retro” stuff is really better, then what's the point in manufactures striving to make better strings, better pick up's, better potentiometers, or better anything?  No point in trying to re-invent the wheel, we could just keep our old scratchy sounding, low gain volume pedals, find someone to re-wind our old burned out pick up's, and keep using strings that go dead after two days of use!.  And what about the steel guitar itself?  Do we still want the old push pull's that go out of tune after and/or during every song?  And what about the many mechanical problems inherent in these things they had in the past as well?  Sorry guys, but if this “retro” line of thinking is better, then we better shut off the electric lights and go back to burning candles and shoveling coal!

To elaborate on this a bit further, Mr. Hartley Peavey once ask Mr. Leo Fender if he actually believed his early guitars were better than those being built today.  Mr. Fender said, “Absolutely no way” These early guitars were all over the place.  Granted, there were some very good ones, but there also were some very bad ones.  However, if anyone want's to think that all of my early stuff was that great, I'm sure not going to tell them any different.  As further example, a ‘59 Gibson Les Paul gold top will bring prices of $20,000.00 to $30,000.00, and a ‘62 Fender Stratocaster can get you upwards of $8,000.00 to $10,000.00! Are these guitars really worth that kind of money?, and furthermore... Are they better?  If that's the case and point, I should have gotten around ten

grand for my old 1970 Sho-Bud instead of the $700.00 I sold it for.  After all, this is a "vintage" guitar now, Right?

Guitars are not the only area affected by this “retro” line of thinking, amplifiers are another area, and in fact, even more so.  Just look at all the "Vintage" reissue style amps on the market today.  Although there are some advantages (if you want to call them that) to the tube style amplifiers being built today, there are many disadvantages as well.  Let's face it folks, tubes are made of glass and have all the durability of fine china.  Tubes, much like a light bulb, have filaments, and filaments... plain and simple, burn out after a while.  Tubes also create and extreme amount of heat, and heat and electronics, like automobiles and alcohol... don't mix!  Eventually, this may even spell disaster.

Here's something some of you may be able to relate to.  I remember in my earlier days when I use to use an old Fender Twin to play through.  Needless to say, about every two months or so, I would start losing power, head room, etc. as the tubes started burning out, and until I would go and replace them, this problem would continue to intensify.  Back then, 6L6 tubes could be purchased at your neighborhood Radio Shack for about $6.00 a piece, and 12AUX7's, maybe half that.  No big deal other than it cost you a nights wages to replace these things.  However, after time, even replacing the tubes wouldn't do.  Now here comes the heat factor.  It seems that the heat these tubes generated started to, slowly but surely, start playing havoc on the electronics, and eventually, you had no other choice than to send the amp out for repairs to the circuitry.  This may be different now, but not back then.

How many of you have had the bad experience of seeing a drink accidently spilled down the back of someone's amplifier while playing in the clubs?  I've seen this, and in fact, have had this happen to some of my amplifiers!  Fortunately, my amp was solid state, and in every case all I had to do was take it apart and dry it out and it was ready to go again, good as new.  However, I've also seen this unfortunate thing happen to some "tube fired" amplifiers as well, and all you could do was stand back and watch the smoke and fire belch out of that mine!  Needless to say, when something like this happens to a tube amp, you're all done playing right here and now.  Now this may be the exception more than the rule, nevertheless, if you've got a tube amp, you can bet your bottom you are eventually going to have to replace those tubes, and they're going to cost you a heluvalot more than $6.00 a piece!  If you can even find them, American made R C A or Sylvania tubes will cost you upwards of $125.00 just for two of them!  Even a set of the Russian made Sovtek tubes are expensive as matched sets.  If you've got a hundred watt amp, you'll probably be replacing four of these things at a minimum.

Don't get me wrong guy's, although it sounds like I'm knocking tube amps here, I'm not, and that's not the intention.  Without a doubt tube amps do have a sound that just cannot be matched with most solid state circuitry.  However, with today's technology, we have indeed came very close to it, as demonstrated by Peavey's "Trans Tube" amps.

With that as a given, I think it's important here to carefully weigh the pro’s and con’s here before you run right out and put some big bucks down for that so-called “retro” sound, and if you are considering doing this, please do take the time to find out just how a manufacturer is building his tube amps.  Believe it or not, there's more to this than what meets the eye.  Now this brings up another interesting look at the “retro” world trap we seemed to have fallen into.

Although there are many manufactures reintroducing the “vintage style” tube amplifiers.  You would be amazed to find out how many of them are doing it all wrong.  You can't simply throw a set of tubes in an amp and call it a "tube" amplifier, (although many do) there is much more to this.

Let's take a look at the manufactures out there that are building hybrid processors using tubes in the front end of their digital signal processing.  This is indeed a great idea, however there is a huge shortcoming to this as well.

First and foremost, solid-state electronics typically run off of fairly low voltages, some as little as five volts, but usually +/- 15 volts, or a total of 30 volts.  Vacuum tubes, on the other hand, operate off of significantly higher voltages, usually greater than two hundred volts.  Some engineers have realized that you can actually take a vacuum tube and run relatively small voltages on the plate of the tube and make it work, (although it really doesn't work as it should.) Because of the cost of designing multiple power supplies, nearly all manufactures (other than Peavey) who make tube/digital equipment tend to use a very low voltage on the tubes.  Essentially, what they do is make a voltage doubler or tripler putting about 60 to 75 volts on the plate of the tubes.  While a tube will work like this, the fact is, it doesn't work right, and it doesn't have the dynamic range or response most people expect from tubes.  This is why a lot of the processors you find out there with tubes in the front of them just don't sound like a tube amp.  The bottom line is, a tube is just not going to work like it should with less than a hundred volts on the plate.

A good example of doing this "the right way" would be Peavey's latest tube/digital processor called the Tube Fex.

The Peavey Tube Fex puts over two hundred volts on the plate which is exactly what you would expect to have in a decent tube amp.  As a matter of fact, any less than this and the tubes don't respond correctly.  The sound compresses with less dynamic range, which results in less punch and less of that so-called tube sound.

The Tube Fex is one such unit where there was obviously no compromise, and no doubt Peavey had to go to some ungodly lengths in order to properly match the huge voltage swings greater than a hundred volts to the solid state electronics that operated with a 30 volt (+/- 15 volt supply) In fact, just to obtain the proper interfacing, they even had to go to an internal, motorized potentiometer.

I've compared this to other brands available out there and have discovered that they are using a voltage divider to drop the voltage way down, and thus destroy a lot of the sound that the unit would otherwise be capable of.  Peavey's Tube Fex has not done this, and this is obviously why this unit sounds like a "real" tube amp should.

So remember guys, just putting a tube in the front end really doesn't mean much unless the tube is operated like it should be. If you really want to get the "true tube" sounds that some of you may be looking for, I strongly recommend that you first check the manufactures methodology to see what they are doing, and just how they are doing it.

Now here's something for some of you that may be like me, and like exploring the outer edges of steel guitar.  Peavey has recently come out with a new analog filter that uses networks very similar to what was used in the old Moog sysnthesizers.  With this thing, you can make a steel guitar sound like virtually anything.  I think this unit just might be one of the most exciting developments any steel player has ever tried yet.  In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I'll bet you'll be hearing some of this stuff being used on new recordings in the very near future as well.  Check it out.

For those of you that haven't yet, or are contemplating upgrading your current steel guitar equipment, by all means check out the Peavey Tube Fex and their new analog filter before you make any decisions on buying anything.  I think you'll find that this stuff is going to have everything you are looking for, and not only for now, but for quite sometime in the future as well.
Now for a sad note.  For the many of you that have been asking me about the "remote controller" that has been in the works at Peavey for the past few years, I hate to say it, and many of you even tried to tell me so, but it looks like you were right.  The current future of this thing being built looks pretty grim right now. (For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about here, this was basically a remote control device that would clip to the leg of your steel with an L C D readout and buttons similar to that on the ProFex.)

Although everyone seemed to love the idea of this thing, when it was announced that it would probably cost us $200 $250.00 for it, all of a sudden everyone seem to lose interest right away.  Quite frankly, this does puzzle me.  Actually, this wouldn't have cost anymore than what a six string guitar player pays for his foot operated controller.  Nevertheless, Peavey now tells me that if their customers don't think it's a good idea, (meaning, they wouldn't be willing to lay down the cash,) then Peavey has little interest in building this controller for us just to prove a point.

From a management and manufactures view, I can't say that I blame them either.  If it was my company, I'd be damned stupid to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on R & D and production set up costs, just to discover that it's potential end buyers were "only kidding" and just wanted me to build them something to prove to them that I could!  Needless to say, with those type of ethics, I wouldn't be in business long enough to build anybody anything!  Although there were many of us looking forward to getting this thing, it's now quite obvious we must not have been as serious about this as we perhaps pretended to be.  Needless to say, it now looks like they (Peavey) is not going to build this thing for us. However, we have no one to blame for this but our own self!  Three years of thought and planing... for nothing!!

I hate saying this folks, but if we continue with this kind of attitude and thinking, we'll soon find that NO ONE is going to build anything for us steel pickers!  If we haven't learned anything over the years as steel guitarists, we should have at least learned that “we” are the minority in the music industry, and I think we all need to be a bit more DEDICATED to those that have and still are, building things for us.  We ask one manufacturer to build something for us, and then when he does, we go buy something else like it from his competitors!!!  Forgive me guys, but there is definitely something wrong with this picture!

Speaking of new product developments, here's another area that I think will prove to be a big welcome for many of us steel pickers.

Recently, Peavey has been in the process of developing a new Neodymium magnet program where they can get another 3 dB out of the speaker while significantly reducing it's weight.  Of course, there is a "catch" to this, and that is the speaker will cost almost twice as much!  But here again, us steel players are one of the first to scream when we want that big, heavy sound, but want a smaller speaker to produce it.  Nevertheless, Neodymium is one of the only ways available today that can do this, and of course, there is a price for that (as usual).  Nevertheless, I think this is something that most people will be willing to pay for.  I'd like to hear your comments on this as well.  Peavey hopes to be able to show this sometime in the early part of next year.

Let me back up a little here for a minute on this "retro" thing again if you will.  As most of you probably know, Peavey has been doing steel guitar amplifiers for nearly twenty years now, and have designed four amplifiers specifically for steel guitar.  The first Session 400, the 400 LIMITED, the Session 500, the Nashville, and now the Session 400 Limited.  Hartley recently confided in me that he has been receiving numerous requests from us steel players wanting him to reintroduce the Session 500, since many steel players today are seemingly hung up on this “retro” line of thinking.  Having a couple of these old Session 500's myself buried somewhere around here, I can relate to this thought somewhat.  Personally, I still think it's the best sounding steel guitar amplifier Peavey has built yet.  Not to imply that this amplifier is in anyway "better" than the new things they have developed, it just has a certain sound that many of us really liked, and it was a feature packed unit as compared to some of today’s offerings.  That's obviously the reason those of us that have these old Session 500's have hung on to them.

However, is this really what we want Peavey to do?  Granted, this is indeed one fantastic sounding amplifier, but with most of us wanting to try to reproduce the sounds we are hearing on today’s recordings, you sure as hell aren't going to get anywhere close to that using one of these.  What's worse, this is the same amplifier that many of us has redubbed... "The Hernia 500" A truer statement couldn't be made about this amp.  I know, I have a hernia that I obtained from many years back, and I also remember just what it was that helped me to get it! 1 don't really know how much one of these amps weigh, but they make a great traction assistant device for us to carry around in our cars for us northern folks during the winter months!

Everything considered folks, I do agree with you that the Session 500 was indeed a champion.  However, for those of you that are hung up on this “retro” thing, and really think that the Session 500 is the sound you want, don't bother Peavey about reintroducing this amp, simply place a "Wanted" ad in this publication, and I think you'll find these old amps coming out of the closets from everywhere around the country.

For those of you that want a real "tube" style combo amp for steel guitar, try Fender's so-called new steel guitar amp.  This is nothing more than a “retro” fitted Fender Twin amp, and about the only "concession" to steel players here is the 15" speaker they put in it.  The Sound?  To me it sounds a lot like the formaldehyde impregnated boxes they were probably stored in.  But this might be just the ticket for some of you “retro” guys out there.

For those of you that have, or are looking into getting into the latest and greatest in rack-mount digital technology, look no further than Peavey's new Tube Fex.  With this unit, you can get the best of both worlds in tube and digital/ solid-state technology.  For those of you who already may have the Peavey Tube Fex, and you want to do even more with this than the owners manual explains, write to Peavey and ask for a copy of "How To Demo The Tube Fex" by Rick Bos.  You'll be amazed at the many things this unit is capable of doing that you probably weren't aware of.

I realize that there are many of you that just don't want to get into the "rack mount" things that are currently being offered, and would much rather have (if possible) the best of both worlds in a single combo style amplifier, just for steel guitar.  Well guy's, although I'm not at liberty to elaborate much on this at this time, let me suggest this... I wouldn't run right out to my favorite music dealer just yet and buy anything.  Trust me, you haven't been forgotten, and when you see what's about to happen in this area... Well, all I can tell you is that your going to be very happy you waited.  Stay tuned for more on this in the near future...

Remember folks, the best way to stay current on what's going on in the steel guitar world is to keep your subscriptions current.  This might be a good time to check your address labels.

As always, I welcome your comments.  Feel free to write anytime.  Your input is not only welcomed, it's necessary!

Danny Hullihen
605 W. Arnold Lake Rd
Harrison, MI 48625