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    I recently had a problem with a Music Man HD130 amp (the one Mark Knopfler used in the early days of Dire Straits). One speaker was creating a scratchy, distorted sound, surprisingly only at very low volume while it was fine at medium or high volume. I managed to cure it with an easy trick, nothing too special or secret but nevertheless something I want to share in case someone runs into similar problems with his amp.

    When I removed the speaker to have a closer look at what might be wrong with it, I immediately noticed that infamous scratchiness when moving the cone carefull with two fingers. It was worse when pushing more on particular places while it disappeared when doing so at some other spots. I quickly came to the suspect that the problem came from “standing” upright for decades (it was a 1976 amp with original speakers). The voice coil is not really a heavy part but still it has some small weight, and after years this weight can deform the cone slightly so that the voice coil scratches on one side. For the same reason you should always store speakers horizontally but who stores a combo amp or a speaker cabinet this way?

    mm-amp-speakers

    The speakers after turning and swapping – the two ‘Music Men’ on those stickers with their heads down now – but the speakers feel happy again

    The solution was very easy and inexpensive, even without any costs at all: all I had to do was turning the speaker for 180 degrees, so that what pointed to the top became the bottom end. I did the same with the second speaker, not only to prevent similar problems with it in the future but also to make the connectors of both speakers look to the middle between the speakers again, which means I also swapped the left and the right speakers. Hopefully it will work fine for the next 41 years now :)

    Of course this easy fix does not always work, if the cone or the voice coil is damaged only a recone job will help. But before doing so you should give it a try.

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    On July 5, 1981, Dire Straits played on the Werchter festival in Belgium. The concert was broadcasted on the radio and on TV and is one of the very few soundboard recordings from the 1980/81 On Location tour.

    There is one thing that always strikes me about that recording: Mark’s guitar sound was what I’d call ‘strange’, and completely different from all other recordings of the same tour we have (and there are many…). It had a very different, harsh kind of treble. To my ears it sounds like a direct out of the amp, and not like the mic’ed guitar speaker you would expect here.

    You will probably know that a typical guitar speaker is a ‘woofer’, a loudspeaker aimed mainly at low and midrange frequencies. It has a pronounced treble roll off, which means it hardly produces high treble frequencies over maybe 6 kHz. For this reason it strongly colours the sound; it automatically filters out unwanted harsh, crisp frequencies. Without the guitar speaker especially a distorted guitar would not sound as we all expect it to sound. For this reason there are – unlike in a PA system – no tweeters (high frequency speakers) in a guitar cabinet.

    celestion-graph

    Typical frequency response of a guitar speaker

    What is strange about the Werchter guitar sound is that I feel to hear exactly these frequencies that should not be there. How is this possible, as we know that Mark of course used guitar speakers on this tour, Marshall 4 x 12″ cabinets to be precise? And on all other recordings from the tour the sound is not like on this one.

    It seems unlikely to me that they had a completely different setup for this day – especially as Mark’s live sound required a full effect rack that is not easy to substitute. And even if a guitar speaker suddenly fails, you can simply put the microphone in front of another one – there are four of them in each cabinet! The only theory that makes sense to me is that there was a second signal path involved, one without the guitar speakers. This ‘direct out’ was blended with the signal from the microphones/speakers. One possible reason to do so might be that this way you have more high end and low end to enrich the ‘normal’ sound of the speakers to a desired extend.

    I guess for the radio/TV broadcast the concert was mixed separatedly from the PA mix, most likely by engineers of the broadcasters . This is not unusual, you normally want to mix to a much wider stereo signal than you’d do for a PA system. And the sound guys responsible for this mix simply used the direct signal rather than the mic’ed speakers signal, they maybe did simply not know why there were two different sources and what to do with these.

    Interestingly the youtube video of this concert includes a few songs that were missing on the radio/TV broadcast. These came from an audience recording in bad quality (see video description), but you can clearly hear that on these songs the sound is very much as it is on all other recordings from the tour, not as thin and trebly as on the radio mix!

    Of course this is speculation but if I am right indeed it tells us something about the way Mark created his stage sound on this tour (or even on others, too ??) .

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    This blog post is not about a Mark Knopfler amp but still has a clear connection to Dire Straits: the Peavey Deuce VT was the amp that David Knopfler played on stage with the band between 1978 and 1979, and thus contributed to the band’s unique sound.

    Note the red light which shows that the effects channel is activated

     

    The Peavey Deuce VT was built from 1978 to the early eighties. Before, a similar model called Deuce (without the VT) was available that had – besides various other technical differences – a tremolo effect instead of the phaser.  As a combo with two 12″ speakers, it has similar dimensions as the Fender Twin Reverb or the Music Man HD 130 212 that Mark played at the same time. In fact David started to play the Peavey at the same time as the Music Man appeared for the first time, in late 1978. Before (mid 1978) both Mark and David were seen with Fender Twin Reverbs on stage. I assume both were bought together when they felt they needed to upgrade their equipment for the following tours.

    The Peavey Deuce is – just like the Music Man – a hybrid amp which means the pre-amp stage is solid state, while the power amp has four 6L6 tubes. Today solid-state is considered to be inferior because of the harsher distortion compared to a tube, but back then it was almost high-tech, considered to be more reliable than an all tube design – no crackling noises, no whistling pre-amp tubes, less danger for a failing tube in the middle of a performance. The amp is bulit like a tank, solid and heavy, suited for professional usage on big stages.

    While Mark’s Music Man is basically an upgraded Fender Twin Reverb, with the same controls, the Peavey Deuce VT has its own layout: two channels (Effects and Normal) , built in reverb (works on both channels) and the phaser effect (effects channel only). On the left we find four input  jacks, two for the effects channel, one for the normal channel, and one to use both channels (together or switchable with a foot switch).

    The Normal channel has a control for pre gain (gain before the EQ section), bass, treble,  and post gain (after the EQ section), the Effects channel has controls for pre gain,bass, middle, treble, post gain, and color and rate for the phaser. The phaser of the Deuce VT is said to be really good sounding. The phaser we hear live on the songs Down to the Waterline or Once Upon a Time in the West might be from the Deuce, but some sources also claim that a MXR stomp box was used for this matter. However, many pictures from this time seem to prove that David’s guitar cable went directly into the Peavey,  so live it should come from the Deuce.

    Finally we have  a Master section on the amp that has only one control for the reverb which affected both channels.

    The four 6L6 tubes creates an output power of 120 watts. Most amplifiers in the pre-amp section are ICs (TL 072 or 478).

    The amp was optionally available with heavy-duty speakers called Black Widow. These are much heavier, more solid and can handle more power  than the stock speakers. I know from David himself that his amp had  these.

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    This post is about two of Mark Knopfler’s Fender vintage amps, the brown Fender Vibrolux – the  Sultans of Swing amp that was covered in this blog article – and the similar-sized and similar-looking brown Fender Vibroverb.

    The Fender Vibrolux (model 6G11a) was one of Knopfler’s earliest guitar amps. Probably it belonged to Dire Straits’ bass player John Illsley and was used for the first demo recordings of Dire Straits, and also for the first record and for their live gigs of this time (late 1977 – early 1978). He still owns this amp and used it regularly on the last albums.

    The brown Vibroverb (model 6G16) was a much later addition to Knopfler’s amp arsenal. From what I heard he got it probably in the late 1990ies with some help of John Suhr, and used it e.g. on some Notting Hillbillies gigs of that time.

    Both amps were only produced for a very short time: the brown Vibrolux from 1961 – 62, and the brown Vibroverb in 1963  only. Consequently, both are ultra rare. The Vibroverb was reissued in the early 1990ies (1990 – 95).

    Both amps have a lot in common: two channels with a  similar pre-amp layout (same tone controls, same pre-amp circuit), about 30 watts from two 6L6 tubes,  tremolo, and of course the same design like as all amps from the brown tolex era (wheat cover grill, brown barrel knobs, brown tolex etc.). Note that both – like all brown face amps – don’t feature bright switches. Nevertheless, the little capacitor to boost treble that is normally added with the bright switch is still present on the right channel of both amps, so imagine these amps as bright switch off for the left channel and bright switch on for the right channel.

    Differences

    The major differences are the speaker configuration – one 12″ Oxford speaker in the Vibrolux but two 10″ Oxford speakers in the Vibroverb – and the reverb which was only  featured in the Vibroverb. In fact, the Vibroverb was the first Fender amp with reverb, and the only one of the brown tolex era. The Fender spring reverb was available with the brown tolex reverb unit and was later – to be concrete with the introduction of the black face design – added to most of the Fender guitar amplifiers. This combination of features – two 10″ speakers with reverb and tremolo in a middle -sized tube amp – turned the Vibroverb to one of the all-time favourites for many players.

    Normally it is easy to distinguish both amps on pictures because only the Vibroverb had the grill-mounted Fender logo, while the Vibrolux and other small Fender amps had no grill logo. However, Knopfler’s Vibrolux has a non-original Fender logo that was apparently added later (the logo itself looks like the ones from the black or silver face era).  Normally there is a special piece of wood for the logo screws, but not so on the Vibrolux. For this reason, the logo on Knopfler’s amp had to be moved extremely into the upper left corner of the grill so that the  logo screws hit the wooden frame of the grill front. Other optical differences: only the Vibroverb has those tilt legs on the sides, and the Vibroverb has one additional control – the reverb control on the second channel – so that is has a total of 9 controls (vol, treble, bass / vol, treble, bass, reverb / speed, intensity). This and the two 10″ speakers are the reasonwhy the Vibroverb is a bit wider than the Vibrolux.

    The Fender Vibrolux in the studio in the mid 90ies. This picture shows why the (non-original) Fender logo has to be located in the extreme upper left corner of the front grill which makes it easy to identify this amp even on low quality pictures.

     

    Both Mark Knopfler and Steve Phillips play a brown Vibroverb on stage on this charity gig in 2002.

    A brown 1961 Fender Vibrolux

    A brown Fender Vibroverb. This amp was produced in 1963 only.


    The amp in the background on this video clip from is the brown Vibrolux, as the position of the logo tells.

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    Everyone who has seen Mark Knopfler live on one of his recent tours might have notived that cool-looking turquoise combo amp next to Knopfler’s Marshall cabinets. Knopfler’s second guitarist Richard Bennet also plays one. It is the Tone King Imperial.

    Tone King amps are built from selected quality parts by Mark Bartel in Baltimore. Mark does all the woodworking, upholstery, and electronics assembly himself to have total control about the sound and quality of his products.

    The Imperial is a two-channel combo with reverb and tremolo. The output power is about 20 watts, coming from two 6V6 tubes. The two channel make use of 12AX7 pre-amp tube, and one 12AT7 driving the reverb, just like Fender amps from the sixties or seventies. In fact it reminds me a lot of a black-face Fender Deluxe amp, which also has a similar layout and one 12″ speaker. In fact you can read on the Tone King website that the rhythm channel aims for that Fender black-face sound. A volume, treble and bass control is all that is required here. Of course the spring reverb – a fundamental ingredient of the Fender sound – works for both channels (note that on Fender amps it only affects the second channel). It will not surprise you that the reverb circuit uses the same two-spring reverb tank  (acutronics) and the same tubes like Fender.

    The second channel also features just three controls: volume, tone and mid-bite – so no bass and treble control here, just on a small Fender tweed amp from the 50ies. The mid-bite adds a midrange peak and tightens the low end, controling the overdrive tone character that can be blended from Fender tweed to Marshall style.

    The speaker is custom designed and labelled with ‘Tone King 33′ – manufactured by Eminence (who also built the speakers in most silver-face Fender amps in the 70ies and 80ies).

    The recommended retail price for the Tone King Imperial is 1995 USD. More infos on toneking.com.

    On the last (2008) tour Mark Knopfler played his red Schecter Telecaster on the song Cannibals through the Tone King Imperial, his ’54 Stratocaster  on the song Our Shangri-La, and his signature MK Strat on Postcards from Paraguay and  True love will never fade. I guess it is the ‘king of clean’ for him and that he hardly ever uses the second channel. Another song to feature this fine amp is Hard Shoulder from Get Lucky (played on a Gretch 6120).

    The Tone King Imperial on the 2008 tour. The red Marshall cabinets were driven by two Reinhard amps.

    Technician Colin Barton working on Mark Knopfler's Tone King Imperial. Pictures courtesy Guy Fletcher.

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