What happened to Blackheart amps?

Discussion in 'Amps & Cabs' started by Col Mustard, Feb 3, 2014.

  1. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    New Amp Day!

    uh oh... I haven't done any mods just yet, because I just found a good deal
    on another one! NAD!

    As was posted above... I soon developed a hankering for a Little Giant.
    And I found one! This one's a combo with a 12" speaker. I might have
    preferred to get just the head, and use what I have, but I saw this for $300
    and had to pounce.
    [​IMG]

    I've been playing my 70s Trib with the mini-hums through this and
    I like it a lot. All stock still, no mods, but this one too has lots of kits available for reasonable money.
    I'm still putting it through its paces and learning stuff about tubes and all from this thread.
    [​IMG]

    I guess I'm hooked. For the money I spent on these two amps, I could
    have had another SG... But I like the two that I have.
     

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    eS.G. and LeadFinger like this.
  2. LeadFinger

    LeadFinger Well-Known Member

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    Congratulations!

    There are a couple of head and cabinet versions available here, and they are mighty tempting.
     
  3. VanDerchuck

    VanDerchuck Active Member

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    I'm coming into this late. Here's my take.

    Chris at Ithaca Guitars is a great guy. Helped me get an amp warrantied that I didnt even buy at his store. Plus, the Moosewood is next door.

    The EHX 12AU7 sounds great in a Matsumin Valvecaster, a simple tube preamp/pedal circuit. Just as good as any 12AU7 available.

    Why not own two similar amps? They're gonna sound different anyway.
     
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  4. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    So I finally decided after playing some hours on my Killer Ant, that the sound was
    just a bit too furry for me. (some commentators have said this amp favors single coils)
    I've been playing my SG special '70s trib through it, with the mini-hums.

    So I opened it up and swapped out the tubes, just to follow one
    of the first mod suggestions. The sound seems cleaner now, and I'm going to play it
    some more before commenting in depth. Right now it sounds like a little less crunch,
    and so cleaner at higher volume, which is what I wanted.

    To answer Lead's question: No, I have no idea about how to check the bias or set it or
    calibrate it. All I did was remove the tubes that said 'China" and insert supposedly 'better' components,
    one jj 12AX7 that said 'Slovak Republic' on the box and one EH 12AU7 that said "Russia" on the box.

    Just kind of groping in the dark, but having fun doing it and not doing any harm or
    voiding my warranty so far. I've read all the stern warnings about how dangerous the
    DC voltage is, but I also have no clue about how I might shock myself. Can anyone
    give clear warnings? Don't do this, don't do that etc?

    I actually plan to have the mods installed by an amp guy I know, who has done some
    other work for me. I don't intend to attempt to do pro work... not qualified. I've
    modded one amp, my Vox VT-30, but the mod kit was so well designed that I was
    able to follow the instructions and successfully install the very useful new parts
    without screwing anything up. Hooray for me... *laughs
     
  5. AngusMadeMeDoIt

    AngusMadeMeDoIt Well-Known Member

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    Damn you got me curious! Now I want to hunt one down and try it!
     
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  6. LeadFinger

    LeadFinger Well-Known Member

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    I'm hoping someone answers this, since I'm eager to try the 12AU7 myself -- but that guy over on the LP site said this would for need to be biased.

    If the chassis isn't glowing red it's not a catastrophe, but those in the know say that improper bias leads to shortened tube life.

    I figured out the process on my Carvin, using the bias pot. But I'm not even sure the Ant has a bias pot.
     
  7. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    well, all I did was just opened up the amp, pulled the chinese tubes out and shoved in the
    ones I bought. put it back together, plugged in a guitar and began to smile.

    I like the sound better! Yay! it has more clean headroom, that's the way I'd express it.
    and the tone is really good, and the notes are well defined (if I do my part). The SG special with the mini hums sounds awesome through it, and I've played my Epi Wilshire with the Gibson 490s, and that sounds good too. I tried a small peddle board with a volume pedal, a TS-9 and an EQ pedal on it. The EQ pedal works great with the tone, and also as a clean boost. The TS-9 sounds like its creamy self, and the volume pedal does what it's supposed to. So this amp likes pedals, at least my moderately set f/x. I don't like the sound much past 2:00, too crunchy for me. But before I installed the 12AU7 power tube, I didn't like the sound much if I turned it up past 11:00. So this is a definite
    improvement. I think the sound when the amp is cranked sounds better too, and more useful. It's actually decent breakup without blowing my ears off.

    I also plugged in an acoustic with a Baggs Lyric mic inside, and the Killer And amplified that too with no trouble. (at low to middle volume). I was surprised at how decent that sounded, which I didn't expect. But the Baggs is good at picking up the actual sound of the guitar (from inside) and the simple Killer Ant just makes it loud. There is a virtue in
    that. Good tone in, good tone out, the way it s'posed to be.

    So the Killer Ant is going to be a really cool practice amp... the kind that makes practice seem like fun and not work. I might use it onstage at a small room gig, and/or I might use the more powerful Little Giant. So many choices, so little time. *grins
     
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  8. LeadFinger

    LeadFinger Well-Known Member

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    Sounds like the 12AU7 is the way to go. Even with my stock tubes I get a nice tone, right on the verge of breakup. Good clean tone volume for mellow practice, too.

    If I run through my Carvin 12", then I can get clean until about 3 on the dial. 3 to 5 it's a really nice, fun tone, if I mess with the settings for each guitar. Much beyond that and it gets a bit too discombobulated (<--- cork-sniffer term I learned on MLP lol).

    "I also plugged in an acoustic with a Baggs Lyric mic inside, and the Killer And amplified that too with no trouble. (at low to middle volume). I was surprised at how decent that sounded, which I didn't expect."

    That is a nice bonus.
     
  9. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    Okay, another report, for all ye lurking Blackheart wannabes...

    I've been playing another guitar through the Little Giant, my Fender Telecaster '72 Deluxe (replica) which has two Seth Lover designed Fender 'wide range' humbuckers.
    [​IMG]
    This guitar sounds awesome through the little giant. I'd been using a small pedal board with a volume pedal, an EQ pedal (set to a mid hump with a notch at the low mids) a TS-9 and a new TC Electronics 'HOF' reverb pedal. This Fender sounds really good tonight, the Little Giant is singing and moaning. The 5W can get really loud when the pedals come into play. I'm not sure how that works, but it works.

    This will be a fine gigging amp, miked. I know there's an art to miking amps,
    and I plan to study that because if I mike this amp and give the signal to the soundman, it will sound very large through the P.A.
    [​IMG]
    Anyway, after playing for a while using the pedals I mentioned, I turned off the EQ and listened to the Fender played direct into the Blackheart. The EQ pedal is great as a clean boost, and also it's great when you want to emphasize certain tones and de-emphasize others (tone shaping is the term... the graphic EQ pedal makes it very
    straightforward). The Fender sounds excellent with only its on-board volume and tone controls in play, and with the amp's tone stack set to pad the highs a little and boost the mids and lows.

    I've found that with these Blackheart amps, the guitar's controls really
    become important, and have a dramatic effect on the sound. (It also helps if you've installed good quality components in the guitar, ...which I have). So I'm really
    enjoying my Blackheart Little Giant this evening. The HOF (Hall of Fame) Reverb seems perfect for these
    simple amps. Fender guitars like reverb.

    Also, the Killer Ant has gone down to my workplace to be my "take a guitar break" amp.
    I've been playing my Epiphone Wilshire replica, which I've upgraded by installing good
    quality wiring harness, plus a pair of Gibson 490 p'ups out of one of Kevy's SGs. The Wilshire sounds great through the Blackheart, and at low enough volume to keep from disrupting the business on the floor below my Photo Shop. I've used the same small pedal board with this, and can report that the Killer Ant is very pedal friendly as well.
     

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  10. Dorian

    Dorian Active Member

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    Colonel -- I found the schematic for the Little Giant online
    blackheart5wlittlegianttensions partagé sur ZimageZ

    I suspect that the schematic is correct, but I don't know its origin. If it is correct, you have a peculiar pentode/triode switch for the output tube that might alter the power and tone. Does it make a difference?

    There are a few things to see without any math:
    First, it is a fixed bias amplifier, probably class A. There is nothing to adjust for the bias.
    Another point is that the tone stack probably reduces the gain a lot between the first two tube stages (the two halves of your 12AX7). I am not sure you can get full power out of the final tube if you replace the 12AX7 with a lower gain tube. This might be what you want, though.
    Finally, the circuit is very clean and simple. This is a good thing, in my opinion. Adding gimmicks can add buzzes and odd tonal qualities.

    I can't speak for the quality of the components in the amp. My suspicion is that with the simplicity, it wouldn't be a big problem to have decent quality. Still, bean counters can mess up good designs (look at the auto industry, for example). If it were my amp, the component I would first think of changing is the speaker. This is a matter of taste, of course. Second, I would look into the output transformer. It might be fine because this is a low power amp, and the transformer shouldn't be too expensive. Usually the biggest effects of the output transformer are at full volume, and if you are not running at the full 5 watts, which ought to be pretty loud, it may not matter.

    I like the design. It is clean and logical.
     
  11. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Dorian, that's good information to know. The tubes I swapped were in the Little Giant's little brother, the Killer Ant. The Killer Ant is a 1 Watt tube amp, and the lower gain tube in the power stage seems to clean up the signal (better for my ear). The Killer Ant is extremely simple... it's got one control: Volume. but the small pedal board
    shown above can get some great tones out of the cool little amp.

    The Little Giant has more features than the Killer Ant. But both amps seem to like pedals, and to my ear they may not need the mods that are available if I use pedals. I will likely end up modding at least one of these two Blackheart amps I've bought, just out of curiosity and a desire to play cleaner at higher volume. But for now I'm playing
    them stock just to get a good feel for what they can do as designed. To answer your question about the triode/pentode switch, yes it makes a difference. The full power mode sounds more aggressive, and the 3 Watt mode is cleaner and more mellow. There's a use for both IMHO, and having that switch is a nice feature. One of the mod kits replaces that switch with a standby switch, which both amps lack and which some
    writers say is an important feature. I guess ol' Leo Fender thought so. I dunno, so I'm learning as we speak.

    I've learned a few things about amps in the past six years. One thing is that a brand new amp may need some break-in time before its speaker(s) play at their best. So
    being in a hurry to mod a new amp is a mistake. Play it in, get a feel for what it can do
    and then make a good decision about whether to change anything. Leadfinger bought the head only, so he's running the signal through some seasoned speakers and can do as he pleases.

    But yeah, there are whole threads dedicated to modding Blackheart amps. I'm having fun with them right now. They are small and light and very good sounding, and I like both of mine.
     
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  12. LeadFinger

    LeadFinger Well-Known Member

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    There are some great deals on Little Giant stacks in my neck of it. Quite tempting, to say the least. Seems like most everyone who has one, loves it. Those that don't are selling them for $250 or so. Nice gear for little money.
     
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  13. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    all right... so I had my favorite amp tech guy install the two mod kits on my
    Little Giant. Now I've had a chance to play my SG through it, I have to say, this
    is really what I wanted.

    The Triple Bypass kit installs a switch near the on/off switch. You can use any of three
    modes. the first is like the un modded setup but including the tube swap, it has more
    lovely clean sound which is what I was hoping for. MY SG special with the '57 Classic and Classic + sounds great through this setting, the tone controls all have a lot of effect and i feel like I've only scratched the surface of the usability of this setting.

    The second position turns the amp into a more powerful critter, with a nice crunch to
    the tone. The mod inventor calls this a 'Tweedy' tone, whatever that means. But I like it. So I'm very happy with the mods.

    The third position is a higher gain (and crunchier) position which I may not use at this time... but I'm glad it's there as an option. I may explore it later.

    I also installed the Reverb unit in this Little Giant amp. It's a good addition. My favorite Reverb unit right now is the HOF (Hall of Fame) pedal from TC electronics. The installed Reverb unit isn't as cool as the HOF, but it does the job, making my tone more interesting. It's been fun to play this, and I'm glad my colleagues here told me I was
    destined to have this amp. Really liking the tones.
     
  14. frankd

    frankd Well-Known Member

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    Aww Man Colonel
    That's Awesome ya gotta post the after mods pic's!
    Here Is mine The 3 watt option Is gone replaced with MV so its 5 watt
    only now if you look close you will also see a mini toggle between the treb and mid it cuts out tone stack but adds a 9db boost And it has some internal amp tech voo doo to enhance clean overall no hiss no hum
    even with pedals! I Know your going to kill it Gigging with yor lil Giant miked Up! Heres some pics in the second my Bh 15 under my lil giant
    its destined to be modded also!
    thanks Frankd.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  15. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    Yes... the tones from my Little Giant are awesome. It was good before, the the mods have really pole vaulted this inexpensive small tube amp into a whole 'nother arena.

    I've already made a platform for it, to get it off the ground. It has tall rubber feet, so the designers had the same idea. But my platform is angled up, so that completes the concept. I bought an 'amp stand' for my PREVIOUS fave, the Vox VT-30... now it's a shoot-out to see which amp will get the stand onstage at the next gig. The Vox is great, but oh you kid...

    I'm still using the 3 Watt/5 Watt switch as designed. For me and for the kind of music I play and the kind of venues my group gets invited to, and for the stage setups we usually use... the 3 Watt setting with a mic in front of it may be the ticket. If I sat in with a band that had a drummer and other players using bigger amps, I'd select a bigger (30 Watt) amp or mic the Little Giant on one of its more aggressive settings.

    I love having all this to play with. Hats off to Blackheart, and to Bruce Hutcheon
    (aka Bitmo Bruce) who designed these great add-ons. And to this ETSG community for schooling me before I laid down my mastercard for all this. I ain't too ole to learn something... I try to do it ever' day.
     
  16. LeadFinger

    LeadFinger Well-Known Member

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    The little pre-amp in my Les Paul gives the Killer Ant a good measure of extra clean headroom. Makes sense, I guess. I'm thinking about getting some of those NOS tubes now, what with Tobacco Worm alluding to a Tube Cold War looming!
     

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