A new musical toy


Warning: Mildly geeky.

You’re looking at a Traynor DarkHorse 15 head I recently purchased off of eBay. I’m going to pair it with a Egnater Tweaker 1×12 cabinet that also is an eBay purchase, and I hope to use this combo in all sorts of different rooms.

It also marks a significant change for me on the amp front. To finance this, I sold a 1959 Fender Bassman reissue that I had owned since the mid-1990s — an amp that put out the tone for dozens of fantastic gigs over the years, including a bunch of gigs at my beloved near-annual Paw Paw show. But time and circumstances have conspired against the Bassman, and I hadn’t taken it out for an actual gig in more than a year. That fact, along with the Bassman’s size and weight and the continued evolution of modern PA systems, all conspired to make me decide to get a new rig.

For the non-music-geeky, this amp is part of a recent trend of so-called “lunchbox heads,” so named because they are physically small guitar amplifiers that resemble lunchboxes and/or fit in carrying cases that look like modern lunchboxes/bags. The advantage of a head over a traditional guitar amplifier is that you can match it to a variety of different speaker combinations, depending on your needs for a given room.

This amp only puts out about 15 watts, but with the right speaker combination, that’s enough wattage to gig these days with Real Musicians unless you’re into metal or need a really clean jazz tone. The amp emulates three major “schools” of tube amps, depending on how it’s set up — you can ape a Fender Deluxe-ish, a Vox or even an 18-watt Marshall tone.

A lot of guitarists, who as a group tend not to be the sharpest tools in the shed, would reject a 15-watt amp out of hand — but they don’t understand how wattage works. A 15-watt amp with an efficient speaker rig can be as loud as a 150-watt (!) amp with a less efficient speaker rig. Here’s an introduction to that principle, which is widely misunderstood and would cause whole wings of the guitar amp industry to suffer if the customers ever caught on.

The head-and-cabinet rig is about the only way to play this math properly. Amp makers won’t put out a 4×10-inch speaker combo that runs on 15 watts because it kills their profits (and mulletheads would never buy it anyway, having been conditioned all of their lives to buy the high-watt stuff). My cheap Bugera V5 amp, which sounds wonderful and costs less than $200, will probably be usable in 80 percent of the bars I play once I match it to the Tweaker cabinet I have coming in. The only thing holding that amp back now is the 8-inch speaker, which doesn’t push out enough air or offer enough bottom end to be heard in a medium-size room.

I already have 15 gigs scheduled for next year — the kind of arrangement that suggests I’ll do 40-50 gigs next year by the time all is said and done, which is a lot for a hobbyist musician. This rig, along with Teresita and the V5, will make it easy to scale my amp needs for almost any room.


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