Gibson returned to the ampli-fier business in the late ’90s with its Goldtone amps, de-rived from the ’50s-era Trace Elliot/Vellocette line. The original models – the GA-15, GA-15RV, and GA-30RVS – were all covered in brown tolex.
Then, taking things a step further, Gibson developed the Super Goldtone amps, which are a totally new design that expand on the original Goldtone circuitry. We recently visited Gibson’s New York City artist relations showroom to test drive one of the new Super Goldtone GA-30RV combos.
Features and Controls
The GA-30RV is a vintage-style two-speaker combo with a variety of useful features. And one of the first things you notice is its unusual speaker configuration – one 12″ Celestion Vintage 30, and one 10″ Celestion Vintage 10.
While this is certainly not a new concept (some of the originals were similarly configured), it isn’t really common; few mainstream manufacturers offer combos with this setup.
Retaining a vintage-style appearance that pays homage to the ’50s amps, the GA-30RV’s cabinet is covered with black tolex framed by gold piping and fitted with an attractive brass-plated steel speaker grill with matching ventilation grills. A thick leather handle is attached on top, in front of the control panel. A gold-plated Gibson logo finishes the front. And tying this design to the rest of the Gibson family are amber-colored tophat control knobs, just like on a reissue Les Paul!
The GA-30RV features Class A-style circuitry and uses four EL34 power tubes, as well as five ECC83 and two ECC81 preamp tubes. The GA-30RV includes a three-spring Accutronics reverb tank. The amp’s chassis is mounted sideways and attached to the back of the cabinet, so the tubes face forward, lying horizontally.
The chassis sits just below the main control panel and runs to the middle of the cabinet, so only a small section of the back is open. So the cab does breathe a bit, but sound is very much thrust forward.
The back panel features are located at the bottom of the chassis, which sits a bit low, so they aren’t easily visible. While it’s not terribly convenient, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, either, because it’s unlikely something could be accidentally unplugged or changed.
The top panel includes a single input jack and an on/off/standby switch for power. The controls are sectioned into separate preamp channels with reverb level controls for each, and a Master Volume. Preamp 1 includes controls for volume, treble, middle and bass, while the second preamp includes controls for gain, level, treble, middle and bass.
Each preamp also has switches to engage them and activate their boost circuits. LEDs indicate which is in use and when the boost has been activated. These features can be controlled from the top panel or via footswitch.
The back panel contains the power cable connector, fuse, the two 8-ohm speaker output jacks (for the internal speakers) and a 16-ohm speaker jack. Either speaker can be used by itself and plugged into the 16-ohm jack, or another extension cabinet(s) – just be sure to abide by the laws of impedance!
The benefit of having different-sized speakers is that you can achieve a wider range of sounds with two different tonal textures by blending together the sounds of the two speakers. This can be a great feature for recording, as well as for providing a more varied sound in a live situation when the two speakers are separately mic’ed and split to different channels on a console, and/or sent to separate tracks for recording. A single line out jack is also provided.
The back panel also includes jacks and controls for the built-in effects loop, and jacks for appropriate footswitches. In addition to the send and return jacks for the effects loop, there are separate level control knobs for each, as well as a series/parallel switch to select the placement of the effects loop within the amp’s circuit.
Two jacks are included for footswitching features: a 1/4″ stereo jack for the standard Preamp 1/2 Boost footswitch (included) and a DIN jack for an optional controller. A basic two-button footswitch is included, and lets you bounce between preamps and turn the reverb on and off. There’s also an optional five-button foot controller, with five buttons and LEDs indicating which section you’re using (Preamp 1, 2, or both), and activating Boost Select, Effects Loop, and Reverb.
First, we listened to each preamp individually. Preamp 1 delivers cleaner tones, while Preamp 2 delivers the dirty and nasty. However, a fuller-bodied tone is achieved when both preamps are combined. The tone, gain, and boost controls can be set for an assortment of sounds.
With two preamps (each with boost, and overdrive features) there are essentially six possible combinations. The tonal textures of the GA-30RV are very much characteristic of British amps like a Vox AC30 or an old Marshall Super Lead 20, due to the EL84 tubes and class A design. The amp delivers a range of sounds that work well for blues, classic rock, as well as for cleaner styles like jazz or country.
Overdriven tones range from slightly gritty to a fuzzier classic rock-type of dirt. The dirty sounds are not nearly as saturated as amps with more modern voicing, like the overdrive in a Boogie amp; think Chuck Berry or Yardbirds. If you’re prone to preamping, a Tube Screamer, Super Overdrive, Fuzzface, Gibson Maestro Fuzz, or any similar effect would provide favorable results.
The combo’s Vintage 30 provides a deep, warm tone with smooth low-end, while the Vintage 10 delivers brighter tones with accentuated highs and slightly punchier mids. The combination yields a pleasing mix.
The amp’s built-in reverb can be adjusted for an array of subtle to intense effects that nicely complement the amp’s inherent tones. The reverb produced by the three-spring Accutronics tank is not quite as splashy as typical Fender reverb, but it is a fairly long-trailed, ambient effect.
The GA-30RV is a nice-sounding amp with a range of tonal textures and an extensive assortment of cool and useful features. It’s excellent for recording or gigging varying styles (especially rock, blues or jazz) and it’s clean enough to use with an acoustic or piezo/electric guitar. The cabinet is super solid, which helps deliver the formidable tone, but does require some muscle to haul around, so eat your Wheaties beforehand!
Gibson Super Goldtone GA-30RV
Type Of Amp: 30-watt Class A tube combo.
Features: Four EL84 power tubes; five ECC83 and two ECC81 preamp tubes; single input jack; preamp select switches; boost select switches; preamp one controls for volume, treble, middle, bass; preamp two controls for gain, level, treble, middle, bass; separate reverb level controls; master volume; line out; loop select; series/parallel switch for loop; separate level controls for send and return; send and return jacks for loop; three-spring reverb tank; 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker, 10″ Celestion Vintage 10 speaker; footswitch jacks for preamp 1/2 Boost (two-button footswitch, included with amp).
Price: $2,395 w/ standard footswitch.
Contact: Gibson Musical Instruments, 309 Plus Park, Nashville, TN 37217, 800-444-2766, gibson.com.
CS1 electric 6-string courtesy of Citron.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.