Monday, March 14

Upgrading my Musicmaster Amp: The Plan

I've discovered two things about making upgrades to an amp. Well, I've discovered a lot of things, but here are two points: 1) it's necessary, particularly with a vintage amp that has seen a lot of wear, and 2) it's not as much fun as buying a new pedal. I really like my Musicmaster Bass amp from the late 70's, and I've decided to take some good advice to, rather than buying new gear (since I'm happy with what I have), do some upgrades. So here's what's on the list. It is threefold.

1) A new speaker - While I really appreciate the sound of a well-broken in speaker, I feel like there's a lot that this amp is missing. With a 40+ year old speaker, it's not surprising that I'm probably not getting everything I can out of the amp, as speaker technology still revolves around a paper cone and a magnet, both of which can and do degrade over time, even with minimal or no use. The thing that sucks is that I'll have to take some time to break the speaker in, but it needs to happen, so better sooner rather than later.

2) New tubes - Or, perhaps more accurately, nicer tubes. The biggest problem here is that I have no idea what's going on with the current tubes. If they are in fact from the 70's (not likely, but possible. The guy I got the amp from said it spent most of it's time in his dad's closet), then they are probably better than the bargain tubes that Fender is putting in it's new amps today, and the fact that they've lasted this long means they've probably still got some life left in them. Or they could be new tubes that he put in right before he sold it to me. I need to research, but either way, this is one area I'll be really concentrating on. Some nice NOS tubes or something like that.

3) A good attenuator - I love this amp. I don't love that it has only one volume knob. Wait, let me rephrase. I love this amp. The sound guy, the bands I play with, and the little old ladies in the third row don't love that it has only one volume knob. My favorite way to play this thing is to turn it to 10 and use my volume pedal and playing dynamics to control the distortion, because that way, it doesn't get much louder or softer, just more or less distorted. But I can only do that in the privacy of my own home when no one's around. So to make this an amp I can actually enjoy playing out with, I need a good attenuator, one that will give me a Master Volume knob that doesn't suck.

The hidden fourth thing on the list, and the thing I should probably do before I do anything else, is take it to a good amp tech and have it serviced. It's got a lot of...peculiarities...that tend to come with a vintage amp. Lots of noise. Loose tube sockets. It's probably got leaking capacitors and all kinds of fun things like that. Just having it looked at and tuned up would put my mind at ease, and it would ensure that any other upgrades I do to it are actually necessary. But the key thing is to do them one at a time so I can actually appreciate what's happening and changing with each upgrade so I can decide what I like and what I don't. I definitely don't want a whole new amp; I like this one just fine!

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