Friday, January 8, 2010

1959 Ampeg Rocket R-12

Early 6V6 Holy Grails...
Early dual 6V6 power tube driven amplifiers are some of the most revered old school tones available to us. Think Fenders Tweed Deluxe and Deluxe Reverb. One New Jersey company, Ampeg, was designing 6V6 gems, at the same time, and stood as Fender's main competition.

That Ampeg Sound
Ampeg was a manufacturer that managed to craft its own unique voice. A voice that was extensively recorded and toured with by the likes of such relatively unknown classic rock acts as The Rolling Stones and The Faces. Their early guitar amps were rather sophisticated cathode bias circuits, tonally falling somewhere between Fenders Tweed and Blackface amplifiers, but again with a voice and look of their own. Ampeg also pioneered organically pleasing tremolo circuits, and some very drippy reverb designs. For more information about this New Jersey legend check out Ampeg: The story behind the sound.

The 1959 Rocket R-12
Tone Classics has been fortunate enough to discover this collector grade 1959 Ampeg Rocket R-12 Amplifier sporting the original "Jackson Pollock inspired" white swirl Grill Cloth. This pristine "closet classic" example features heavy duty plywood construction expertly covered in Ampegs Random Navy Flair Tolex, with leather handle and Ampegs' striking atomic age chrome logo.

The Tone
The preamp circuit consists of two 6sl7 octal preamp tubes, two 6v6 cathode biased power tubes, a 5y3 tube rectifier, tone control, and tremolo controlled via knobs or the wooden "cheese block" foot switch. The Rocket R-12 is conservatively rated at 12 watts per channel, but is more like 15 to 18 watts (especially with an efficient speaker), similar to Fenders tweed deluxe. And while sharing a similar tube layout, and having a deep, super warm honking "tweed" tone it most certainly has its own fabulous voice, distinctly Ampeg!

This model has great punchy, woody, jazzy cleans at low volumes, but when overdriven (which doesnt take much on the dial) compresses strongly into powerful blues and classic rock act.

The tremolo on this amp is a warm and buttery concoction that conveys the essence of analog to us. It is quiet too, (after our tech work), and the footswitch which has a dedicated jack can be used or the knobs turned all the way down to disable it with no adverse effect on the tone.

What's inside
The entire chassis has been gone through and recapped where needed, new resistors where needed, and most all of the solder joints have been reflowed, to give us another 50+ years of reliability.

The tube complement had original era tubes including two RCA 6sl7's, JA CHS sylvania 6v6's, and a Sylvania 5y3 rectifier. One of the 6sl7's sounded a little noisy, so I replaced both with two new production Tung-Sol 6sl7 which manage a surprisingly round, warm tone, and fared well against the old stock RCA's.

Like a lot of vintage Fender amps, the stock Jensen speakers are fine for collectors, and this closet classics is still in excellent condition, but really aren't worth using unless your a collector playing at low volumes. For a player, a speaker swap is pretty essential.

We tested a Weber Silver Bell that had seen light use from a Vox ac15HW. It's a 15 watt pre-rola design that fit in nicely. The Weber colors the tone with a slight British flavor and has that distinct vintage breakup--think Celestion Greenback. But Ampeg's unique voice still manages to shout through loud and clear, albeit a bit in the Marshall camp. In fact, we think it was Ace Freely of Kiss fame referring to the Rocket as a "mini Marshall plexi." That being said we think a high efficiency alnico speaker or one of Eminence Speakers Patriot series could yield sweet results and impart a bit more of a classic American tone.

We photographed a large very readable version for anyone who needs it. We shot this off the back of the inside back panel, it is perfectly preserved and in tact and has voltage information as well, clearly printed on it. We have made it free to the public for non-commercial use, click the title link above to download it.

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