It’s one of the great comeback stories in the history of boutique amps – short as that history may be.
In 2003, manufacturing engineer/entrepreneur/guitar buff Joe Valosay contacted the founders of the then-defunked Speedster Amplifiers. After hearing of the company’s demise, Valosay wanted to help resurrect the brand.
So, in late ’03, Speedster Amplifiers, LLC was born. With the help of former owner Cory Wilds, the new company refined the design of its flagship 25 Watt Deluxe, and refined its manufacturing process. A new production facility was built specifically to manufacture the amp.
Even more recently, Speedster hired up-and-coming amp designer Eric Collins, a man who lives for British tone, to design its new Class A 40 amp.
We recently got our hands on both. And what we found were two amps with similarities like top-shelf construction and components, but different aesthetics and purpose.
The 25 Watt Deluxe is a head-and-cab unit covered in black tolex with figured-maple fronts. It’s a striking look. Each has metal corners and the head’s back panel employs a metal grate to protect the well-ventilated components. Controls include high and low inputs, volume, tube bias, treble, midrange, bass, and reverb. There’s also an indicator lamp and switches for on/off and standby. The rear panel has a fuse holder, speaker jacks, and a tube bias adjuster.
The 25 Watt uses four 12AX7 tubes in the preamp and two 6V6 output tubes. Its semi-open-back cab contains a custom-voiced Eminence 12″ speaker and plexiglas back panels. The bias control (and meter) allows the user to set the amount of current sent to the output tubes; the more current the tubes see, the fuller the sound and higher the headroom. The meter also serves as a tube checker/tester.
The Class A 40 is designed for fans of classic British tone, and uses four EL84 output and two 12AX7 preamp tubes. The head’s front panel features low and high inputs, dual-voice preamp switch, active bass and treble controls, pilot lamp indicator, switches for standby and power, and a true-bypass master volume. The rear panel contains a fuse holder, 40-/20-watt output power selector, speaker outputs, and impedance selector. The cab’s backside uses plexiglas panels in a ported/semi-closed configuration housing two 12″ Eminence Redcoat speakers.
To check the tone offered by both amps, we used a 1972 Fender Stratocaster and a ’70s Ibanez Artist with humbuckers. We started with the 25 Watt’s sample Soft and Clean setting (from the “Quick Start” section of its owners’ manual) through the Ibanez. Immediately noticeable was how this amp hurls its 25 watts; low-end is full and solid, with sparkley sweet highs, and all with tremendous touch sensitivity! Notes leap from the amp regardless of pickup position, and break up ever so slightly if you dig in. With the Strat, we got a pure, sparkley tone – very warm and full. The bridge pickup produced one of the most responsive, pure clean tones we’ve heard in a long time.
Dialing in a snappier tone setting, our Ibanez sounded almost Strat-like, but with more of the midrange fullness you’d expect from humbuckers. Rolling off the treble produced a full, bluesy tone, especially with the neck and middle pickups. And the brightness never waned. Again, the amp was extremely responsive. We turned up, and as the volume increased, so did gain. Though not the heavy metal variety, it gave a nice rock sound, especially in the bridge position. With the Strat, we again backed off the treble and found a very nice example of British tone.
The 25 Watt’s sample settings produce some great tones, but a little time spent tweaking knobs also revealed some even better sweet spots.
To test the Class A 40, we started with its sample Ringing Chime setting, which is EQ’d for single-coil pickups. In the 20-watt mode, the tone was pure and balanced, again with great touch sensitivity. Backing off the treble, we got a nice bit of breakup, especially in the neck and middle positions. In the Crisp ‘N Clean setting, our Strat proffered a very smooth, almost compressed sound, with a little less snap.
Using the Ibanez, we set the amp to Vintage Crunch (EQ’d for humbuckers) and were greeted with nice, crunchy British tone. Dialing in more bass, we got a very mid-punchy tone that cut like a knife. In the Smooth Overdrive setting, we got much more body, gain, and volume.
Again, the 25 Watt Deluxe and Class A 40 are two very different amps. The 25 Watt is the more sophisticated of the two, boasting a full, balanced tone that’s punchy and sparkley, with touch-sensitivity and purity of tone. The Class A 40, on the other hand, is more simple and straightforward – the very model of pure, classic British class A.
Contact Speedster Amplifiiers, 915 26th Ave. NW #C4, Gig Harbor WA 98335; phone (253) 858-4826; www.speedsteramps.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Mar. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.