Since my last article, I have received a lot of letters with questions and/or comments about some of Peavey's steel guitar amplifiers, and even more so... the Peavey Session 500.
Although there were many different opinions as to which of these amplifiers was "the best" steel guitar amp, the Session 500 was definitely getting the loudest applause. From what I've been reading and hearing from many of you, it appears that the Session 500 has now become a very much sought after amplifier, and in fact, has been commanding prices even well over what they use to sell for when they were new! Obviously this amp has now become one of those retro things, and of course there is usually a hefty price tag attached with it.
At any rate, I would like to offer a little information here that might help to clear the air somewhat with regards to Peavey's steel guitar amplifiers, and of what has transpired during many of the development stages.
As most of you know, Peavey did the original Session and Nashville amplifiers a long time ago. However, the steel players kept telling Peavey that they wanted more output, a bigger cabinet, more features, etc. Basically, the Session 500 was more or less an "outgrowth" of the previous Peavey Session amplifiers.
The original date of the Session 500 was 1979/80. When this amp came out, it had a huge power transformer on it, and of course this made the amp quite heavy. (Hence, renamed by many of us as the Hernia 500.) When Peavey first came out with the Session amplifier, this was done in conjunction with a lot of steel players in Nashville whos names many of you are quite familiar with. Guys like Curly Chalker, Buddy Emmons, John Hughey, Lloyd Green, and a number of others too numerous to mention here. At any rate, this is when Peavey came up with the Session 400, and for the most part, it seemed to do a very good job, (at least for a while.) However, a lot of steelers started telling Peavey that they needed more versatility, more power, etc., and that's when they came up with the idea of doing a 500"
On the way through this, Peavey came out with a smaller chassis of the Session which was called an LTD, meaning... "Limited." Actually, the only reason Peavey chose to use the LTD abbreviation instead of writing out the word "Limited" was the fact that they just didn't have enough room on the face plate to do so. This amp had essentially the same circuitry as the Session, only with a smaller cabinet, thus less bass. In any event, Peavey got so many requests from steel players for a more powerful amplifier with more features, that they then decided to do the Session 500 in an effort to satisfy our requests.
Unfortunately, no sooner than they got the 500 on the market, and everyone started complaining that it was too big and too heavy! Again, more evidence and reasons why manufactures have deemed us as the "insatiable" musicians. (Steel Players)
Nevertheless, and with Peavey being the kind of company they are... back to the drawing boards again. They then started trying to figure out what they could take out of the Session 500 to get it back down to the Session/LTD size, which is exactly what the steel players seemed to want. The answer to this, of course, was the Nashville. In an effort to more or less, preserve the electronics of the 500, the same circuitry was used in the Nashville 400. The preamp is exactly the same and identical to the preceding Session 500, with the only difference being a slightly larger transformer in the 500, and a larger cabinet thereby giving the 500 more of an apparent low end.
Finally... Mission accomplished! Now we've got the ideal steel guitar amplifier we've all been wanting. Right?... Wrong! Not in your wildest dreams! It was then decided that we didn't like the active mid-range in the Session 500 and the subsequent Nashville. So here they go again... back to the drawing boards. Peavey now has to try to maintain the same tonality of the 500, except change the middle control in the Nashville and 500 to the passive controls they used in previous Session/LTD's. I know all this sounds crazy and convoluted as hell, but it does represent the true picture of what has been going on in these developments.
As I'm sure most will agree, Peavey has a long history of trying to give us steel players what we want. However, the "what we want" still seems to be quite undetermined! Essentially, the Nashville 400 is the same amp as the Session 500, (other than the phaser and string effects) of course the Nashville 400 cabinet is significantly smaller than the Session 500, (actually a baffle with curved sides) which of course gives it less low end. True, the Session 500 had a slightly larger power transformer that gave slightly better regulation, but I believe the big difference is the fact that the 500 had a heluva lot bigger cabinet and subsequently, more low end.
I've heard that there is some guy in Nashville that offers one of the so-called "Miracle Mods" for the Session amplifiers, and he charges $250 for this "modification." Basically, what he is doing here is changing the value of a few resistors and capacitors to essentially give the unit more low end. Not a bad idea perhaps, but keep in mind, Peavey has intentionally tried not to give the amps too much low end because when you do this, the power amp has a tendency to run out of headroom much quicker.
The Black Widow (or any other speaker for that matter) in an open back cabinet represents a very poor acoustic match for the loudspeaker, and extended bass will cause a loudspeaker to literally jump out of the "gap" wherein the voice coil actually jumps outside of the gap, and will often "crash" on it's way back in. This is why trying to get too much bass with this design is not good. Plain and simple, if you want more bass, you'd be much further ahead by going to a closed back cabinet.
Of course this brings up the next question... "Why can't you just close the backs of the Session amplifiers and be done with it?" The answer to this is a fairly simple one. If you use a closed back enclosure that is too small, the air inside gets so "stiff" that it actually creates a vacuum when the speaker moves forward, and this destroys the sound. Once this vacuum is created, the speaker essentially becomes "trapped" and can't move. This not only sounds bad, but it eventually tears itself up trying to move as more and more power is applied.
As you can see, there have been a number of changes going on over the years at Peavey with regards to steel guitar amplifiers. However, there are basically only two variations. The preamp, which is exemplified in the current Session LTD, and the Nashville/Session 500 which shares a common preamp, with the exception that the Nashville doesn't have the built in effects like the 500 did. The Session 500 also had little things like transformer-coupled balanced outputs and a few other much welcomed refinements. However, these things did nothing for tone.
Everything considered, I would have to agree with you in saying that the Peavey Session 500 amplifier probably was the best steel guitar amplifier ever built. Unfortunately, it appears that most decided that it was too big and too heavy, and therefore it didn't sell... and that is indeed a shame. I was indeed surprised in discovering how many of you liked the Session 500, and even more so, how many still think this amplifier is the best thing since sliced bread. However, it's too bad as many didn't support it back then as does now. Let's face it guys, if we would have, it would still be available now at the dealers, and we wouldn't be needing to pay "vintage prices" to get one.
There were some guys that wrote and said they didn't like the Session 500 at all? ... while there were many others to the contrary. Nevertheless, and at the insistence of the steel players, Peavey went back to the passive middle and a lighter package like the original Session 400. Now some fifteen odd years latter, we are saying that the 500 is the greatest!
If all of this sounds confusing, just imagine how all of this now sounds to Peavey after chasing around all of these years trying to do what us steel players were telling them to do! Peavey does something one way we tell them to, but as soon as they do it, we seem to change our minds shortly there after? Many times what Peavey has done before we said we didn't like, but now we tell them that we did? Hmmm...
As far as which amp is the "best," obviously we all seem to have different ideas and opinions on that. However, from a manufacturers standing, I think most of us can appreciate just how frustrating all of this must be for them as well.
Everything considered, and regardless of what we may consider to be the "best" amp built, I think more importantly is what we do to show our appreciation for what the manufacturers have done. Although we may not want to admit it, I think most of you will have to agree that the problem obviously isn't with the manufacturer in being "unable" or "unwilling" to build us what we want, I think the real problem here is perhaps our own failure to "focus" on what we really want to begin with, and as record shows, we have developed quite a track record over the years that will support this remark.
Some of this of course is more or less one of those "if the shoe fits" type of things. Nevertheless, it is a true picture of what has been happening over the years, and I think a lot of you can relate to it.
To the many that have inquired about the Session 500, and/or if I knew where you could get one... Unfortunately I can't help you much there, but I will keep you posted if I hear of any that are for sale.
I guess if you look at the big picture here... Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker, and a myriad of others all have some kind of "gold mine" vintage equipment that folks are dying to get their hands on these days, so why shouldn't Peavey have a few of these "vintage" things themselves. Right? Who knows, maybe someday Peavey might even consider doing a reissue of the old Session 500? Stranger things have happened...
In the meantime, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many of You that took the time from your busy schedules to write me, as it was sincerely appreciated and very much welcomed. As always, feel free to write anytime, as your comments and suggestions are very important to this industry, and we do care about what you think.
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