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Post new topic What makes a Steel Amp a Steel Amp?
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Author Topic:  What makes a Steel Amp a Steel Amp?
Adam Traynor

 

From:
British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 19 May 2020 8:36 pm    
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I always wanted to ask this... exactly what is it about a dedicated pedal steel guitar amplifier that differentiates it from amplification designed for the standard six string guitar?
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Paul Sutherland

 

From:
Placerville, California
Post  Posted 19 May 2020 9:27 pm    
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Speaking only very generally: The emphasis is on smooth clean sweet tone with enough power to stay clean at usable stage volumes. You also want a firm bass response. So that is often achieved in tube amps by using 6L6 power tubes, somewhat lower gain preamp tubes, and a solid state rectifier. You don't want anything "high gain" and you don't want tube sag. And you don't need channel switching or drive channels. A tube driven spring reverb is desirable but not necessary, as many excellent reverb pedals are now available.

But I have no experience in amp designing or building, so "grain of salt", etc.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 20 May 2020 12:43 am    
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headroom , meaning minimal if any breakup and extended clean power.

The power is not for extreme volume but rather CLEAN gain (for sustain) as most players use near 50/60 % of the volume pedal in a typical playing environment.

With the extended power of the power amp ( backside) comes extended clean headroom as the front end ( preamp) in most cases cannot over drive the backside. This is what makes those PV Steel amps so popular.

A typical PV designed Steel amp is 200 watts or more, and that is clean power with no breakup. The front end is designed for clean gain, as in NO overdrive. A well designed Solid State amp will have extended clean headroom, and as mentioned above, NO overdrive, in fact, very hard to make it breakup. The power amp section can handle whatever the front end preamp can throw at it . Clean preamp and a rugged backside power amp. A good balance. Add a speaker that can handle the HI output power and all is well.


RE: Two iconic Fender tube amps ,. Twin reverb at 85 / 100 watts, has very clean power all the way up the knob, given the HI DC power supply ( +465) and 4 x 6L6 tubes running at optimum. Also a silicone state power supply rectifier. Wonderful Steel amp. Then the Deluxe reverb, 22 watts, 2 x 6V6 tubes and a lower DC supply, +435 and a TUBE rectifier, ( creates SAG) the amp does not respond the same as the front end will overdrive the backside power amp. ( on purpose) This doesn't mean you can't use one for Steel, many do, but they have headroom limitations. Whereas guitar players LOVE them as they add grit early on the V knob. Now add that these amps generally have lower wattage rated speakers as well , on purpose. Its the entire package .

Oh yeah, What is Tube SAG ? Its defined as a drop in Power Supply Voltage when the amp is pushed and causes the output tubes to react with a gentle "drive" or grit , not necessarily the same as distortion as it recovers when the amp is NOT being pushed . This is more prevalent with TUBE rectifiers as well which is why so many players love those tube amps with tube rectifiers.
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Last edited by Tony Prior on 21 May 2020 1:29 am; edited 1 time in total
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Tom Campbell

 

From:
Houston, Texas, USA
Post  Posted 20 May 2020 6:50 am    
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Two great,easy to comprehend explanations...bookmark them!
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Paul Sutherland

 

From:
Placerville, California
Post  Posted 20 May 2020 10:02 am    
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Adam: I just noticed your last name is Traynor. Are you connected in any way with the Traynor amp company, who I believe is also from Canada?
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Josh Yenne


From:
Sonoma California
Post  Posted 22 May 2020 11:10 pm    
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If it sounds good with your steel.


Very Happy
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Dave Zirbel


From:
Sebastopol, CA USA
Post  Posted 23 May 2020 12:47 pm    
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I think speaker choice is a huge part of the equation along with all the other stuff mentioned...
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Dave Zirbel-
Sierra S-10 (Built by Ross Shafer),ZB, Fender 400 guitars, various tube and SS amps
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Eddy Dunlap

 

From:
Nashville, Tn
Post  Posted 23 May 2020 7:11 pm    
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I've been wondering the same thing. I guess to me to there's a couple of different factors that are consistent and always come up with "tone" that people seem to respond to positively in a dedicated steel amp...

1) EQ "Voiced" for steel guitar: The transformer, Capacitors, and tone circuit of the best steel amps all have a certain Mid-Range where they lay. Around 600 to 800Hz I would presume. When we play peaveys(which still sound good today even. Specifically the Session 400's and Nashville 112) we always shift the Mid range 11' o clock to 2' o' clock usually. Steel feels comfortable and inspiring to play with that kind of snarl in the low mids. The best guitars built, in my opinion, all of an overpowering bit of that midrange. The amp should enhance that quality and pump wind through the speakers percussively. Then you don't have to pump the bass knob all the way up to get that nice pillow bottom. Bass can just muffle the whole sound up and muddy the tone to where you can't tell what the true sound of the instrument. Also getting the midrange voiced for steel can allow the treble to sound clearer(but not piercing)

2.) Headroom/Gainstructure: This one seems to be the debatable thing in what a steel player wants. I think we all do agree though that we need headroom to remain clean and clear to handle the volume pedal pumps, turning the amp up louder to compete with a loud room/bandstand, and the pickups of our guitars. Not to mention, the range of octaves the instrument has. I've been wanting to transition all of my guitars to single coils around 14k or so to accommodate my tube amp inputs and pedalboard input with no clipping/distortion. Yet I think for my personal taste solid state amps are too clean with no overtones, sweetness, or gritty oscillation at all. I prefer tubes for that reason. But my favorite solid state sounds that are fun to play come from the old FET type of circuitry like the Session 400, Webb, Evans type of amps. They have more life and don't sound cold and compressed. The high end on tube and FET circuits are clear and velvety with some hair. The others are harsh and thin. I play and record with a Little Walter 89' to get the best of the FET kind of cushion and power with the tone of an old handwired tube amp. Phil Bradbury basically developed that amp to sound like the old Octal tube design that inspired his amps, but used 6l6s and a more complicated circuit to make it louder and hotter. The old, Octal style amps like his 50 watt Octal, Gibson GA, Tweed Princetons, etc are perfectly outstanding at a low volume, but cranked up live they dirty up too quickly for a steel with George L or Bill Lawerence Humbuckers. I like dirt, but contained in more of an overtoned sound. Like a hot bias on an old Fender. Accomplishing that warmth at low volume, but staying that clean when you turn the knob up is the key.

A dedicated steel amp would ideally be creamy yet clean, loud, punchy, and clear but smooth. A tad bit of that, "singe" is a must too. Yet, there are specific amps that fit all of the above that aren't, "dedicated" to steel. Late 60's silverface Twin, Brownface Bassman, Blackface Super Reverb, Tweed Bassman, 60's Princetons, Standel with 15" speaker, and 65 Deluxe are a few I can think of. Session 400 is one of the best steel amps made, yet it sounds great for clean guitar compared to the Nashville series or Evans/Webb. The latter sound great for steel though. Little Walter can do both as well. Whatever all of these amps have in common would hold the key to, "What makes an amplifier, 'Steel Friendly,'" I'd be curious at comparisons. So far I can only come up with 6L6's or 6v6's, 12ax7s(for tubes), heavy transformers, and speakers that can handle power. Like JBLs or influenced.(for solid state and tube.)
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Darren Mortillaro


From:
Nevada, USA
Post  Posted 24 May 2020 3:51 am    
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Dave Zirbel wrote:
I think speaker choice is a huge part of the equation along with all the other stuff mentioned...


Hi Dave, how much of the PSG sound is a 15" speaker? Is this an essential component?
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Larry Dering

 

From:
Missouri, USA
Post  Posted 24 May 2020 8:21 am    
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Eddy gave a great discription of what a pro likes in tone. I agree 100%. Im never fully satisfied with my tone every time as I suspect is common with most of us. Just look at the gear traded and sold on the forum, and all the discussions about tone. I often listen to others and think wow, what a tone. Then they swap rigs and get another spectacular tone. John Hughey had several rigs and the best tone period. I'm still looking for the silver bullet holy grail, but I have no shortage of good quality gear.
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Dave Zirbel


From:
Sebastopol, CA USA
Post  Posted 24 May 2020 12:41 pm    
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Quote:
Hi Dave, how much of the PSG sound is a 15" speaker? Is this an essential component?


In my humble opinion I think 12" speakers work just as good as 15". For me it's more about the efficiency of the speaker. A low powered speaker rated for 25 watts will sound mushy or flabby in the low end but a high powered speaker will stay tight. Then there's the argument of ceramic vs neo vs alnico...but that's all subjective.
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Dave Zirbel-
Sierra S-10 (Built by Ross Shafer),ZB, Fender 400 guitars, various tube and SS amps
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 26 May 2020 6:22 am    
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while we can all agree or disagree with regard to tone ,the question is "what makes a Steel amp a Steel amp". Like a PV Session 400 etc...compared to other amps. Tone, as anal as we all can be , is totally subjective. But an AMP with tons of headroom is not subjective, it either has tons of headroom with ample clean power output, or it doesn't . Very Happy
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<b>Steel Guitar music here >>> http://www.tprior.com/five.htm</b>

Emmons Steels, Fender Telecasters
Pro Tools 8 and Pro Tools 12
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Donny Hinson

 

From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 26 May 2020 4:23 pm    
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One other thing that makes a good steel amp that wasn't mentioned is a lot of what I call "tonal latitude". It's having things like a midrange control, a "shift" control, or even a graphic EQ. Many steel players need and want these additions because they don't have multiple pickups and tone controls like lead players have, so they need additional tone control in their amps.

Yes, I know there are famous and expensive "boutique" amps that a few steelers use that sport only a "tone" control, or only a bass and treble control. I wouldn't have one if they gave it to me. Confused

Yes, thank you...I want a lot of knobs for tone-shaping. Cool
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