Rick Gessner is a tweed amp enthusiast who has more than made a splash since entering the fray in 2005.
His versions of tweed-era Fender classics (with subtle refinements), along with his Spring Thing reverb unit, have been making waves with players from Pat Travers to Brad Paisley.
The ValveTrain 205 is Gessner’s interpretation of the venerable F52A tweed Princeton circuit from 1955. While the tweed Champ has gotten much more attention in the under-five-watt camp, the tweed Princeton has some desirable features that were worth revisiting. First, the F52A had a bigger output transformer than its little brother, helping to give the amp more low-end response. Also, the Princeton had a Tone control on its top-panel, which for most players certainly comes in handy.
The 205 uses a solid pine cabinet with a hand-wired chassis, lacquered tweed covering, a distressed tweed for you “relic” lovers, and two-tone tolex, for those who like a little more flair. The workmanship in the covering application is second to none – clean, clean, clean. The top panel hosts controls for Volume and Tone, along with an on/off switch and yellow pilot light. Looking under the back panel reveals a Groove Tubes 12AX7M in V1, followed by a cathode-biased 6V6 and a 5Y3 rectifier. The final piece of the five-watt amp’s tone puzzle is an alnico-magnet Weber Signature Series 8″ speaker. And because it weighs in at a very svelte 17 pounds, you could fit this amp in your backpack!
With a Crook Custom Guitars single-cut with Kinman Broadcaster pickups plugged in, and with the volume set low, the 205 offered that transparent, acoustic quality for which tweed-era amps are known. Very nice! With the Volume cranked up a few notches, it shifted to a chunky, compressed distortion, thanks in part to the Weber alnico-magnet speaker, but mostly you hear just good ol’ amp distortion.
With an early-’80s Ibanez semi-hollow thinline equipped with high-output humbuckers, the 205 was hard to keep clean – not surprising given that again, this is a five-watt amp. Substituting a 12AY7 in the preamp (position V1 on the tube chart) reduced the gain considerably, and with the amp’s Volume set at about 2 o’clock, the 205 synched right up with the Ibanez, while remaining quite nice to the Tele. A 5751 in V1 produced the richest tone, with more gain than the 12AY7.
Overall, the 205 performs very admirably. Its small, resonant cab and proximity of speakers to tubes makes for a very minor tube rattle when the amp is driven very hard, but it’s hardly troublesome.
So, what can one do with this, or other five-watt terrors on the market today? Well, you could sit in your underwear at home and get some very fine edgy tones at lower volumes. But wonderful as that can be, the 205’s real magic comes into play in the studio. No groundbreaking news, of course – we’ve all heard about our favorite guitar tones coming from tiny tweed terrors. But consider another recording situation; say you just laid down some robust guitar tracks on a song and decided to add an additional guitar part, but the engineer is telling you there’s no room in the mix. The answer, play the part through the 205, and listen as it cuts through without getting in the way of your other tracks! That single-ended 6V6 and 8″ speaker keeps your guitar heard, with its tighter, more focused sound, all while staying out of the way of your main guitar tracks.
The Valvetrain 502 is a well-built amp that makes some fine tones. It won’t do big clean tones, but it wasn’t designed to. And without some kind of 9-volt gain monster in front of it, the amp will also never produce shred tones. But if you’re looking for a great-sounding little amp that can produce Stonesy rhythm sounds, and gnarly, compressed lead tones, the Valvetrain 205 might just be your ticket.
Contact ValveTrain Amplification, LLC, 1119 Robie Ave, Mount Dora, FL 32757; phone: (407) 886-7656; www.valvetrainamps.com.
This article originally appeared in VG September 2007 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.