1961 Gib­son GA-79RVT

Vin­tage Amp Re­place­ment Chal­lenge

Guitarist - - Longtermers - With Rod Brakes

Writer Rod Brakes Gui­tarist & Jour­nal­ist

Hav­ing parted ways with a clas­sic amp – a 1961 Gib­son GA-79RVT – Rod is on the hunt for an al­ter­na­tive, as he dis­cov­ers that he may need to look be­yond the ob­vi­ous

Find­ing a re­place­ment for my 1961 Gib­son GA-79 RVT amp has been a chal­lenge. In fact, it brings to mind Cap­tain Lawrence Oates’ fa­mous last words be­fore he stepped out into an Antarc­tic bl­iz­zard, never to be seen again: “I may be some time”. I knew I’d be up against it, but the fur­ther I pushed on with putting dozens of re­verb/tremolo com­bos through their paces while prac­tis­ing, writ­ing, record­ing, re­hears­ing and gig­ging, the more I came to ac­cept that this im­pos­si­ble jour­ney was go­ing to leave me cold. The ’61 GA-79 is ab­so­lutely one of a kind. And you can­not re­place what is unique.

As much as we gui­tar play­ers in­dulge in an im­pulse buy, we are also prone to an im­pulse sell. At such mo­ments, we’re of­ten more fo­cused on fi­nances and jus­ti­fy­ing the trans­ac­tion rather than daily prac­ti­cal use. Usu­ally the full ex­tent of our im­pul­siv­ity be­comes clearer fur­ther down the line when we ask,‘How use­ful is this, re­ally?’

Mak­ing good de­ci­sions, by nav­i­gat­ing the grey area be­tween own­ing what you need and own­ing what you want, can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing fo­cused and pro­duc­tive, or spread­ing your­self too thinly and suf­fer­ing the gnaw­ing pangs of Gui­tar Ac­qui­si­tion Syn­drome.

As us gear­heads know, to some de­gree, spur-of-the-mo­ment buy­ing or sell­ing de­ci­sions are al­ways a bit of a gam­ble. If it does turn out to be a suc­cess­ful im­pulse buy/ sell, then con­grat­u­la­tions. On the other hand, deal­ing with the fall­out of an un­suc­cess­ful im­pulse buy can be as sim­ple as flog­ging it on eBay. So I be­lieve that it’s ac­tu­ally the suc­cess­ful im­pulse sell that tends to elicit the most en­dur­ing sense of re­gret.

When it came to lay­ing my an­guish about sell­ing the Gib­son to rest, the fol­low­ing op­tions were avail­able: wal­low in re­gret; find a dis­trac­tion; set­tle for sec­ond best; or, live in hope. I’m not com­fort­able with any of these, so I came up with an al­ter­na­tive ap­proach, which was… find an al­ter­na­tive ap­proach. Time for some ad­vice from an ex­pert in guid­ing play­ers through the maze of tone – That Pedal Show’s Dan Stein­hardt.

Af­ter en­light­en­ing me on the end­less cre­ative pos­si­bil­i­ties of­fered by The GigRig G2 sys­tem, which al­lows one-touch con­trol over whole ar­rays of ana­logue and dig­i­tal ped­als, my hori­zons were sud­denly broad­ened and ev­ery­thing quickly fell into place. In­stead of look­ing for an amp that could di­rectly re­place the rich tone of the Gib­son as my base­line sound, I de­cided to look to ped­als to pro­vide an ul­ti­mately flex­i­ble sys­tem ca­pa­ble of go­ing any­where, ton­ally speak­ing, as need dic­tated. Us­ing my ’79 Mar­shall 2203 along with my ’68 4x12 green­back Ce­lestion G12M cab (bought to­gether in ’96 for £350!) as a blank can­vas for high-qual­ity ef­fects ped­als, sud­denly my tonal op­tions felt lim­ited only by my imag­i­na­tion (rather than tied to a sin­gle piece of cher­ished vin­tage hard­ware).

With Dan’s pro-level ’board-build­ing skills on tap, I set about as­sem­bling an ar­ray of ped­als that could evoke my favourite sound­scapes, in­clud­ing some re­verbs and de­lays that might re­place the Gib­son’s at­mo­spheric sound. For any in­ter­ested pedal nerds, here’s the full lineup (as pic­tured above/left): 1977 Elec­tro-Har­monix Big Muff Pi; Elec­tro-Har­monix Mi­cro Syn­the­sizer (24V); 1970s fOXX Tone Ma­chine; 1974 MXR Phase 90; Free The Tone AS-1R Ambi Space; Chase Bliss Au­dio Grav­i­tas; Chase Bliss Au­dio Tonal Re­call RKM; Ana­log Man King of Tone; Ana­log Man Sun Lion (white dot NKT-275); The GigRig G2; The GigRig Quar­terMaster; The GigRig Bank Man­ager; Planet Waves Tru-Strobe; Roger Mayer Bel Air Wah; Mis­sion En­gi­neer­ing Aero EP-25-PRO (left of ’board); Ana­log Man Cho­rus (un­der top layer), Boss DD-5 Dig­i­tal De­lay with Di­nosaural ‘dry kill’ mod and fi­nally The GigRig Re­mote Loopy 2. Phew! That’s plenty to be get­ting on with...

Ul­ti­mately, the fren­zied af­ter­math of sell­ing my amp proved to be the much-needed cat­a­lyst for change. Hav­ing been shaken up with the loss of per­haps the finest amp I ever had the plea­sure of own­ing, tak­ing a new path with The GigRig G2 has en­hanced my mu­sic­mak­ing be­yond any pre­vi­ous ex­pec­ta­tions.

“As much as we gui­tar play­ers in­dulge in an im­pulse buy, we are also prone to an im­pulse sell”

Rod’s im­pres­sive ’board is built around TheGigRig G2 switch­ing sys­tem

Some­times only real spring re­verb will do

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