Posts Tagged ‘Bongo Amps’

I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation…… you’ve got the most killer sounding piece of gear you’ve ever owned, but it’s a money pit. It just keeps breaking down.

I used to fall absolutely and completely on the side of tone. I had vintage pedals whose metal housing were being held together by like, one single solder connection on the battery connector wires. Sounded great…… for the one song per gig they actually worked for before eating it. Then I’d come home and re-solder, or re-tape or re-glue more than likely…… and make sure I stepped on them much more lightly the next time. Well, after a few years of this, I came to the brilliant conclusion……. ‘Wait…… what good is good tone if there is no sound coming out of your amp?’ I mean, it’s like, ‘Hey this pedal is the best you’ve ever heard! Okay, now listen closely, because it only makes sound for about a half a second.’

So, I moved out of that. And even further than that, I’ve been on a ‘toneful, reliable, versatile, functional,playable, and toneful, toneful, toneful’ rig overhaul the last year. (More blog posts on that tomorrow.)

But, I still have some remnants of ‘Tone over Reliability.’ Like this one:

Bassman1small2.jpg picture by rypdal95

This is my Mondo Amps bassman clone. Amp sounds fabulous, for straight guitar–>amp playing and for ambient loops (which are basically the two things I use it for). And it has a cool, vintage ‘found it in my grandpappy’s basement’ thing going on looks-wise. But I’ve had it for four months, and it’s already broken down twice past what I can fix.

See, I should never have bought it…….. but I wanted an ‘American-blusey-6L6’ style amp, and I (for once in my life) actually stayed in budget by buying this. (Ya, the whole ‘staying in budget’ thing lasted for all of about two weeks…….. silly me…….. good gear means in debt……. that’s all there is to it.) And I should have sold another pedal or something or been more patient, but……hey. And the funny thing is I sold it to replace my ‘other amp’ (a little boutique company whose name I won’t say to protect the innocent) that broke down more than this one. Great sound……could never stay working. I think maybe I’m done with combos. The constant vibrations of the speakers just seem to be death for the amps.

So…..I’m curious…..doesn’t matter what instrument you play, but where do fall in the ‘tone versus reliability’ issue? Or are you on a journey like me trying to find the perfect balance? And anyone else have the same problem with combo amps?



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Mondo Amps

I run a type of ambient pad sound underneath my guitar when I play. Really opens up some space, especially when you’re out there playing an intro or a whole song all by yourself. I don’t want to bore everyone with the details of that, but basically I need a secondary amp to run it through. I’ve been through a couple….first I used a Seymour Duncan 84-40. This is an EL84 based tube amp from the ’80’s. Solid state recitifier. Sounded decent…I was always surpirsed how good it sounded plugging my guitar straight in. But…my main rig is EL84 based amps. And I wanted an amp (because money is always tight…our economy just rocks right now…..isn’t it great how we can blame everything right now on the economy?……yesterday I hit a wrong chord in worship and our bassist laughed at me……but when i explained to him that the wrong chord was due to the flailing economy, he nodded emphatically and totally agreed with me…..fantastic times right now) that was a little more American/bluesy sounding so that I could play small gigs and clubs with just that amp and a guitar….just a different sound than the modern rock, Voxy, effect-laden style. It’s nice to have some versatility. So I needed an amp that would sound nice and deep with my background pad, but could also double as a straight-up blues amp. 

So I sold the Duncan, and bought a Li’l Dawg. A guy named Jim Nickelson handmakes these up in Northern California. Basically a ’50’s Fender Champ clone, but with a 12″ speaker and a bigger cab. Sounded great!! But it was only 5 watts, and I needed a bit more clean headroom for both the pad and for playing straight into it. (If money was not an issue, I would have kept this little gem, though!)

So off that goes, and I’ve been looking for like a month for something that fit the bill, but was also somewhat within my budget (note that I always say ‘somewhat’). And I run across this handmade 2×10 Fender ’60’s bassman clone. 

(Please note that this picture is from the guy I bought the amp from. He owns a Ferrari. I do not. If I did, I would sell it. Then I would still not own a Ferrari. I would own lots more guitars, amps, pedals, and maybe an autographed photo of Val Kilmer in Tombstone. And probably also a Japanese-made hybrid car so that I could use the money I saved on gas to buy more guitars, amps, pedals, and autographed photos of celebrities whom I wish I was.)


Some random guy, so the story goes, who calls his company Mondo Amps, handwired and handmade this thing in 2004. Spring, tube-driven reverb, two Jensen speakers, killer vintage-vibe-looking stained pine cab, dual 6L6 output tubes, tube rectifier (tube preamp, of course). So I took a chance. 

And, ya, it sounds really good. Very warm and big with a ton of clean headroom for the pad. And plug a strat into it, and yikes, very very close to Jeff Buckley tone. Good, old-fashioned boomy cleans. Thick sound. Reverb is nice and washy, but not overly dense. As of now, I can’t stop playing out of it. Tons of fun.

I’m not exactly sure how to find this guy, but if I could, I might order another amp. A lot of fun to take chances on unkown builders. You win some, you lose some. Although, with this one, the previous owner sent me a gut shot of the wiring, so I was pretty sure it would sound at least decent. But, at least for me, it’s way more fun to try out stuff like this than to get the stock stuff. And when you find the good ones, the sound will be way more fun, too, if you know what I mean. And it wasn’t cheap, but way less than a Fender reissue Bassman that’s not built even close to ’60’s specs. (And then there’s the people that play through all stock Guitar Center stuff and still get fabulous tone out of it, and just crush all my lofty tone ideals. So take my ‘handmade rants’ with a grain of salt.) But nonetheless…….mmmm…..handwired.


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