Friday, March 21, 2008

Current gear revisited - Egnater amp seminar JTM45 head

While I've been spending plenty of time talking about the guitars that have been around here for a while, thought today it would be interesting to talk about some amp gear, the focus being a hot-rodded Egnater/Mojo JTM45 clone I built at the first ever Egnater amp-building seminar back in October 2006. Having already owned several Egnater designed amps at the time (including the TOL100 and a considerable portion of the Randall MTS series), I was pretty fired up about the prospects of building my own amp under the guidance of Bruce, and I have no doubt that spending some time at the Amp Lounge was a key driver in my decision to buy an Egnater M4 last year.

Even though the seminar is now using a slightly different design (believe the new kit has an effects loop, solid state rectifier, and a "clean" input), the original design hasn't let me down yet... it's been very reliable, sounds killer, and over a year later I'm still taking pride in the fact that I built it. For those with the means, it is money and time well spent.

So here are a couple of pictures of the amp, first on top of my Randall RM50B (which often serves as a 1x12 speaker cabinet for the JTM45), and also part of a former amp switching rig with a Fender Deluxe Reverb re-issue head.

Also, below is a review I posted on Harmony Central about the amp just over a year ago... it provides a lot more details for those who are interested.


Product: Egnater JTM45 kit
Price Paid: USD 1175
Submitted 01/04/2007 at 12:29am by Brent
Email: wassupg at gmailcom

Features : 8
I also attended the amp-building seminar in October to build the hot-rodded JTM45 kit. It was described as a ... "JCM800 master volume model on steroids. You get more gain, smoother tone (no ice pick to the forehead high end) and more punch than any stock JCM800. If you are familiar with our Egnater amps, the sound is basically channel 3 of the TOL100 or IE4 or our current EG3 module", which (having owned a TOL100) is a very accurate description.

Anyway, the amp is a tweaked-out MOJO JTM45 kit. Features are relatively basic... 4 inputs (2 for each channel), presence/bass/mid/treble/gain/master volume controls, a couple speaker jacks and impedance selector around back--for anyone who's owned an Egnater TOL100, it's quite the low-tech departure. It will channel switch if you plug a guitar into INPUT 1 and a standard 1/4" footswitch into INPUT 2, which provides a fixed gain/volume boost.

So it's not the most feature-laden amp ever made, but hey... it's a JTM45 clone... I wasn't expecting a laundry list of features. If I wish for any features, it would be reverb and an FX loop. I've got the schematics and a soldering iron, so technically, there's nothing stopping me from adding those features on my own. Bruce provided us with a book of suggested mods, so I actually feel encouraged to try to add/change features on my own.

Sound Quality : 10
Thick. Warm. Aggressive. Smooth. Every guitar sounds unique through it. Every dynamic nuance of playing comes through. Technically the amp can produce clean tones if you roll back your guitar's volume, but let's face it... this amp was not meant to be played clean. We're talking about a crunchy rhythm tone that will take paint off the walls and a singing solo tone that sustains for days. Plenty of gain, heavy on the mids and low-end--sounds like it has a built-in Density/Depth circuit dialed up to '10'. It shakes my house better than any other amp I've owned.

So far I've used the amp in the context of two bands... one 60/70/80/90's cover band, one original "mainstream" rock. The amp works well in both contexts. I also recorded a few original progressive rock tunes and guitar-oriented instrumentals with the amp, and it's delivered stellar results. The simplicity, while it feels limiting at first, is a blessing... with only 6 knobs, it's a relatively quick effort to dial in the tone you're looking for. Try that with a Mesa Mark IV!

For what it's worth, I typically run the amp with presence on 5, bass/mid/treble tone controls on 8, and gain on 4--it's strangely reassuring to know that there's more gain on tap if needed.

Reliability : No Opinion
Well, this is hard to rate... I built the amp with guidance and assistance from Bruce & his crew. I followed the instructions in meticulous detail, Bruce checked over my work several times and burnt the amp in before I brought it home. 3 months later, no problems at all. If it blows up tomorrow, I'd blame myself and my shoddy soldering skills. Good news is that I feel like I have just enough knowledge to try to repair it myself first. But if I couldn't fix it, read on...

Customer Support : 10
The amp-building seminar was my first direct interaction with the Egnater crew (though I'd owned a few Egnater designed amps), and it was a great experience all the way around. Prior to the seminar, some components were swapped out and pre-assembled to save time during the seminar. Also, Bruce sent out a survey in advance to better understand attendees' experience with soldering & electronics. Certainly a lot of pre-work went into this.

The seminar was a day-long event that kicked off with breakfast (lunch was provided as well). Every attendee was loaned a complete set of tools to use for the day. Bruce, Frank, and several other folks were available to provide assistance and check work throughout the day. Nobody went home without a fully functioning amp (which was a bit challenging, since we had a few problematic JJ rectifier tubes). Bruce even provided a booklet of potential post-seminar mods for the amp.

While support was great the day of the event, I'm confident if any problems did pop up with the amp that I could call or e-mail Bruce and he would walk me through fixing it. I believe he even mentioned that we could ship the amps back to him for troubleshooting if necessary. That's the kind of guy Bruce is... Clearly knows his stuff, but takes care of people and stands behind his work.

Overall Rating : 10
I've been playing for about 15 years. I've got more gear than I know what to do with... close to two dozen PRS, G&L, and EBMM guitars, a Vox Tonelab for FX, several other amps (Rocktron Vendetta, Fender Deluxe Reverb, Hughes & Kettner Edition Tube 20), and Avatar cabinets (2x12 with V30's, 2x12 with G12T75's). I typically use the Fender DRRI (for cleans) and this amp (for rhythm/leads) together, which is a match made in heaven. While the multi-amp setup is more complex than a 3 or 4 channel head, it's worth it to have two stellar tones with no compromises. I've tried a lot of amps over the years (Egnater TOL100, Randall MTS, Marshall TSL, Mesa Triaxis/Nomad/Recto/Marks, H&K Triamp II, Rivera Knucklehead Reverb), and this one is a keeper. Partially because of the killer tone, but also because I can take a lot of pride in the fact that I built it. Interestingly, it's given me enough confidence in my amp-building skills that I'm planning on assembling a Super Reverb clone later this year.

Plus, what's it worth to spend a day with an amp guru like Bruce? Priceless. I mean, you could spend $900 on the stock MOJO JTM45 kit and end up with a decent amp. But for a couple hundred dollars more, you get the experience of working with Bruce for a day and the end result is an amp that smokes all the genuine Marshall JTM45/Plexi/JCM800 re-issues for several hundred dollars less. Totally worth it. If Bruce offered another seminar based on another amp model (e.g., a Fender design, something class A, etc), I'd be there in a heartbeat.

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