New Jersey has a history as home of some iconic amplifiers, and Tyler Amp Works in Westfield is a father-son operation that uses local resources in producing some of the finest boutique amps around. Owner John Brinton has been building and designing circuits for twenty years and works closely with several Nashville session players.
Tyler’s latest creation is a compact powerhouse with a simple layout. At first glance, the HM-18 resembles a take on the classic 5E3 design, with two inputs and Master, Tone, and Volume knobs. But this is an EL84 output-tube design with a GZ34 rectifier. It’s best compared to the power section of a Vox or Matchless paired with the preamp from an 18-watt Marshall.
The HM-18 has an impressive feel. Its stain-lacquered tweed breathes timeless class and durability, and the cab is locally built of high-grade birch ply. Electronics are mounted in a thick steel chassis to eliminate vibration, and the transformers are built by Classic Tone in Chicago to Brinton’s specifications, with one of the power-transformer’s special features being an extra set of ground wires to make the amp virtually noise-free. It is also tapped for two 1/4″ speaker outputs, 4 and 8 ohms.
The HM-18 comes with a 150-watt Eminence speaker comparable to a Texas Heat but with slightly different specs. It translates all the nuances and intentions beautifully.
First impression when plugging in is balance – it feels like everything is represented fairly and the bottom is solid and doesn’t fall out when the amp is cranked to its limits. Input 1 lets you drive the preamp section a little harder, and it naturally has a bit more output than the cleaner Input 2. It also responds well to dynamics and cleans up nicely when the guitar volume is being rolled back.
The HM-18 handles pedals well, and playing with the balance between the Volume and Master knobs moves the breakup point to different levels.
Although inspired by classic circuits, the HM-18 does not have Fender chime or Vox compression, but it tastefully delivers both a clean and classy spectrum of driven settings. It’s a versatile-sounding amp that feels modern and delivers familiar sounds.
With the HM-18, John Brinton has added another classic to his already impressive line. It’s exciting to see imagine what Tyler Amp Works will bring forward in the future.
This article originally appeared in VG November 2017 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.