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Dr. Z Amplification Stang Ray 2x12 Combo
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  • sat4nsat4n

    Dr. Z Amplification Stang Ray 2x12 ComboPublished on 08/30/08 at 15:05
    The Stang Ray is a liberal interpretation (neither a clone nor a radically original design) of the pre-top-boost Vox AC30 -- the one with the EF86 pentode preamp. In addition to the EF86 there is a 12AX7 phase inverter and a quartet of EL84s. The GZ34 tube rectifier rounds out the power section. There are three controls, Volume, Tone, and Cut, the last of which can either boost or cut high frequencies, like a presence control.

    I got this amp when I was playing lead guitar in a two-guitar band for the first time. I wanted my lead lines to sit on top of the other guy's chords in the mix, without drowning him out, and my Fender amp (great for chords) didn't really have enough crispness or chi…
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    The Stang Ray is a liberal interpretation (neither a clone nor a radically original design) of the pre-top-boost Vox AC30 -- the one with the EF86 pentode preamp. In addition to the EF86 there is a 12AX7 phase inverter and a quartet of EL84s. The GZ34 tube rectifier rounds out the power section. There are three controls, Volume, Tone, and Cut, the last of which can either boost or cut high frequencies, like a presence control.

    I got this amp when I was playing lead guitar in a two-guitar band for the first time. I wanted my lead lines to sit on top of the other guy's chords in the mix, without drowning him out, and my Fender amp (great for chords) didn't really have enough crispness or chime. I wanted something that was going to give me a frequency range that was not too shrill, but was still higher than the chords coming out of the other amp.

    I at first looked at a Mesa Lonestar Special, which had lots of knobs. It was fun to play with, but it didn't give me exactly the sound I was looking for. The guy at the place told me to try the Stang Ray and I was blown away! It's exactly the right match. The people who designed this amp managed to make it as treble-heavy as they could without crossing the line into unpleasant or shrill frequencies. Any less treble and it wouldn't cut through the way I wanted it to, but any more treble and it would start to get harsh sounding.

    UTILIZATION

    This amp is available in several configurations. Mine is the 2X12 combo with blues (just like the old Voxes!). I tried the 1X12 and was not impressed with it. It sounded fine, but the "warmth" of the more high-powered speaker, which some people really like, I felt muted what made this amp so special. This is not a tenor, it's a soprano; it doesn't sound solid-state-like or anything, but it's definitely a "crisp" amp more than it's a "warm" one.

    I did not try the head/cab combo. In fact, I bought mine from a guy who was getting rid of it to buy a head/cab combo, and I realized later that that must have been because the EF86 tube is INSANELY microphonic. There are ways to get around this. I've actually made it much better just by insuring that the tube is snugly in its socket each time I play. But if you can't put up with a little bit of ringing you should get the head/cab version. I'm actually thinking about making a wooden cabinet for the amp chassis and breaking them up because, when the two are in combo form, you can't turn up that loud without getting some ringing.

    Again, I don't notice it when I'm playing with a full band, but other people might be pickier than I.

    SOUNDS

    Except for the EF86 preamp tube, which generates some ringing most of the time even at moderate volume levels, this amp sounds PERFECT! I recently had a chance to try a "real" Vox AC30 from the early '60s (apologies to Dr. Z, I realize this amp is not actually a "copy" of any other amp but rather its own thing) and the Stang Ray blew it away.

    I should warn, though, too, that I like a clean sound, and that when I want real tube distortion I usually plug in to something else. Normally I get my distortion from pedals anyway (which this thing loves). The amp is loud. Seriously loud! I almost never get the volume up past 9:00, and while it gets a little crunchy at those levels, it's still basically a clean sound. The best clean sound I've ever heard, mind you, but a clean sound nonetheless. If you're one of those who feels that great tone can only come from output tube saturation you should get something less powerful (or an attenuator).

    But I should point out that even at lowest levels (well-below bedroom levels) the amp sounds magical. Its tone does not depend on being driven hard. Even with no noticeable clipping of any kind there is a kind of pure musicality and clarity that rivals solid state fidelity and yet has a kind of breath and life that you'd never get from a solid state amplifier.

    OVERALL OPINION

    I love this amp. It's heavy, it is prone to microphonics, it produces noticeable tube distortion only at volume levels that would get me evicted, and yet, like you would a person, I find a like even its quirks and faults. There's something so natural about the sound -- it doesn't even sound electric. If you're looking for the 4 X EL84 sound, this is the amp you want.
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