Hull Amplifiers’ Model H5
Price: $3,199 (list)
A beat-up ol’ blackface amp can be a thing of beauty, like an old muscle car showing its miles in patches of gray Bondo. But there’s something to be said for an amplifier that’s truly as beautiful to look at as it is to play, with a cabinet so gorgeous it could serve as fine furniture. Thomas Hull’s Model H5 is such an amp.
Made of solid, highly figured flame maple and expertly joined, the Model H5’s cabinet is finished in a deep, transparent maroon nitrocellulose lacquer polished to a high gloss. The front is woven wicker, bringing to mind the caned seats of a Michigan cedar-strip canoe, and the hand-formed chassis gleams in mirror-black, powder-coated elegance, with controls that exemplify a form-follows-function ethos. Imagine a cherry ’burst sitting next to this amp, plugged in and patiently waiting for you to come and play. They would embarrass each other with their matching tiger stripes.
Hull brings to amp building a history with electronics that dates back to his youth in the ’60s, beginning with a rewired Wurlitzer jukebox amp and experiments with a blackface Bandmaster and a Vox AC30. The idea for the H5 came from watching guitarist Kenny Vaughan on “The Marty Stuart Show.” Hull notes that Vaughan was playing a blond Tele through a small Fender Princeton, yet producing a tone so big and twangy that it could not be ignored. He describes the H5 as a “Princeton Reverb on steroids.” The wattage is ramped up using JJ Electronic 6L6 power tubes and big, custom-made transformers to handle the extra power. Hull folds and punches his own chassis, and all of the wiring is point-to-point, using only the best components, Sprague capacitors, and carbon comp resistors. You can generally judge an amp by the quality of its solders, and Hull’s are impeccable. The amp comes equipped with reverb (which is always on and controlled with a single knob) and tremolo (with only a speed knob and a single “door-stop” footswitch). The tone stack is completed with a simple Bass and Treble knob setup. It’s straightforward simplicity with no need for an owner’s manual. If you can’t figure out this amp, you’re probably having trouble plugging in your guitar.
Many boutique amplifiers are back-breaking heavy, owing to solid hardwood construction and big-time metal in the transformers. But the H5 is surprisingly light, due in part to the use of a single Jensen P12Q speaker. You could gig with this amp, but I’d be a bit of a Nervous Nelly about dinging that lovely finish or having the cane speaker cover kicked in by one of my band mates’ size 13s. The H5 comes with a heavy suede cover, but it’s mainly to keep the dust off the woodwork and electronics. There’s no doubt that the H5 is sturdily built, but it would be wise to invest in a road case if you’ve got the travelin’ bone.
Sonically, the H5 is every bit as beautiful as it looks. It’s dead quiet, even with the gain turned way up. And the tremolo adds nary a hum. The spring reverb is Dick Dale deep, and tremolo speed can be turned down to the point where it gives up a syrupy Magnatone-like vibrato tone. At higher gain, the amp breaks up nicely, particularly with humbuckers, but no one is going to confuse it with a shredding machine. Really good amps excel at playing cleanly, and the H5 gives great twang with a Telecaster and smooth, jazzy tones with a flat-wound-strung Country Gentleman. The punchy bass response is particularly noteworthy, even at low volumes. And speaking of volume, at about 25 watts, this little amp can easily keep up with much bigger, battle-hardened brethren. For most players, the H5 would likely satisfy every sonic need, especially with the addition of an overdrive pedal.
A Hull amplifier is for someone who appreciates fine, hand-made electronics, quality craftsmanship, and exquisite tone, enjoyed in the relative safety of one’s own den or living room. There’s no shame in that – most of us don’t gig regularly, and when we do, we leave the good stuff at home where it will continue to inspire us. And with the Hull Model H5, most of our spouses wouldn’t think twice about letting us keep it next to the living room breakfront.
This article originally appeared in VG January 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.