Author Topic: Best Option for Home/Recording Amp  (Read 389 times)

Offline Wesley

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Best Option for Home/Recording Amp
« on: August 11, 2021, 09:51:05 AM »
Hi everyone,

I just got my first Rhodes about a month ago and have finished working on it. It plays nicely now and sounds decent but I’m looking for amp to improve the sound. Right now I’m playing it through a Studio V3 tube preamp and a Champion 100, both of which I already owned. I’m not in a position where it is logical to spend $1000 on a twin reverb (which I couldn’t push above 1-2 on volume in my house) so I’m wondering what I can do to get a better sound. The champion sounds muddy for my liking and I can’t EQ the low mids out while keeping a clean full sound. The effects are also terrible.

Here are the options I have compiled - I’m having a hard time deciding:

- Keeping the tube preamp and the Champion but adding an MXR 10 band EQ and maybe some effect pedals
- Upgrading to small fender tube amp such as the hot rod deluxe or blues junior (around $500)
- Vox Tonelab - I’ve heard good things about this but I can’t find the vintage keys edition
- An amp sim on my computer - I would prefer hardware but it’s still an option

I’m leaning towards the Tonelab but there is almost no info on it paired with a Rhodes. It’s small and affordable. It has a nice effects section too. Does anyone have experience with the Tonelab and is there a best model for the Rhodes?

Thanks for the help

Offline vortmaxx

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Re: Best Option for Home/Recording Amp
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2021, 06:31:24 PM »
Playing at "home" levels and recording are kind of two separate beasts. For example, everything I've recorded over the last 10 years I've gone direct from my Rhodes along with whatever pedals I'm incorporating through a mixer (Yamaha MG 8/2fx) to an audio interface. However, I have a Vintage Vibe Stereo preamp that goes a long way towards dialing in my desired tone, which is usually pretty clean.

Playing at home/at lower volumes can be a different situation, especially if you are incorporating pedals/effects which, presumably you might be. I've tried a lot of smaller tube amps over the last several years, including hot rods, a deluxe reverb, and blues jr's.  They all tend to get too dirty for me. I have a Concert 2x10 that I used to use when I was playing out more often. It is 60 watts and stays pretty clean for me. I had a Twin for a minute and would agree that it's really overkill for playing at home. I run all my boards through my mixer and usually use headphones, but when I need to I can run a line out of the mixer to a couple of powered speakers (QSC K10.2).

If you're looking for an all-in-one box-on-a-budget with effects and EQ, I might have suggested something like one of the Roland Cubes, or maybe the Boss Katana. But if you're not getting on with the tube pre-amp/Champion combo, perhaps you might be happier with a smaller tube amp and some pedals. I would just warn that if you decide to get a tube amp, ~50 watts seems to be my cutoff. Everything I've tried that's smaller than that just breaks up to quickly for me.

Offline Wesley

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Re: Best Option for Home/Recording Amp
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2021, 08:45:12 PM »
Thanks for the advice,

So I might be happiest with the vintage vibe stereo vibe preamp? Is this usually paired with an amp or just a speaker cabinet? The stereo headphone jack seems nice because I play a lot through headphones. It’s a little pricy for a preamp but it seems high quality.

Offline sean

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Re: Best Option for Home/Recording Amp
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2021, 02:14:46 AM »

I think you should not spend anything near $500 without hearing with your own ears and knowing for sure that you will love the product and the sounds you can get with it.  I think it is hard for us to guess exactly what would be perfect for you.  There are still brick and mortar music stores in most cities... put a mask on and go in and test the gear yourself.  If there is something that seems like it might be what you need, bring your Rhodes into the music store and hear it for real. 

Checking out the available gear and trying different setups will also help solidify your understanding of exactly what you want and why.
If you have musician buddies, offer them a pizza if they will bring their mixer or speakers or amp over to your house to test for an afternoon.

For the Rhodes, personally: I don't like a tube preamp - it doesn't give me anything I want, and I don't need what it does best.  I don't want the "Fender tonestack" as an EQ, and I don't need tube breakup or overdrive.  (That's just me.)

I don't love any tube amp at low volume - that is not what they are made for nowadays (or ever?).  I mean, yes they can be very nice, but I don't need to pay extra just to get tubes, the heavy transformers, the heat - for low volume that only needs five or ten watts or so? no.  You don't need to reach the back table of the beer hall, so you don't need a Twin or JC-120. 

For low volume, I prefer to plug the Rhodes into the line input on any channel on a cheap desktop mixer, or the input on an all-in-one-powered PA.  (Works fine on my Mackie desktop mixers (without power amp).  I think it worked on my old Crate PA-6.)  The Mackie's (and Yamahas, and probably Alesis or Behringer) have plenty of gain and headroom, so you can get the Rhodes as loud as you want it.  The signal path is clean, and the EQ is useful (friendly and helpful enough).  I run the mixer into whatever size power amp and speaker combination that is handy, and I can usually get the Rhodes to sound very good to my ears.  Audio systems that are designed to reproduce full-range sound accurately are great for low-volume Rhodes.  Start flat and clean, then add effects and EQ until happy.

For Rhodes in a small practice room or studio, I prefer two small full-range (two-way) speakers six feet away from my face, and a bit of EQ.  I turn it up loud enough that the piano sounds good, then I usually cut back on the treble until the tweeter doesn't sound so obviously in my face.  If there is too much rumble or mud, I cut back on the bass.  I like the speakers far away enough to sound like a coherent sound field (with a little bit of room reflections); far enough away that they are not two point sources pointed directly at my ears. 

The mixers make it very easy to add effects to your sound.  You can get as fancy as you want: 
     - you can plug in your effects boxes before the signal path even hits the mixer, or
     - you can use the channel insert and a Y-cable, or
     - you can send the Rhodes out a pre-fader or post-fader "effects send" and come back into the mixer via the "effects return," or
     - you can come back in to the mixer through another channel input, which lets you EQ the return signal, and control the wet-dry ratio of the original signal and the "effected" signal. 
     --- Or do it multiple of the above ways.  Bring the signal from your phase shifter back via the effects return, but bring the output from your reverb simulator back into a channel strip so you can EQ it and very carefully control how loud the reverb is.

Newer versions of the small desktop mixers have a high-impedance input that is switchable on the first one or two channels.  (See the Mackie 802VLZ4, or ProFX 8 or 12.)  That Hi-Z input probably works well with the Rhodes.

All of the desktop mixers have a good headphone output.  Sometimes I use the mixer just so I can get three-band EQ in my headphones.  Yes, you can plug the mixer outputs into your "home stereo" system, that works fine.  And of course, the mixer makes it super simple to record from any of the outputs.

I would love to hear from MXR 10-band EQ owners.  Has anybody used it with a Rhodes?  It is not exactly a precision device - the travel on the pots is really tiny.  I would love to test one out to find out how broad or peaky the filters are, how truthful the +3dB and +6dB markings are, and to find out if I can make meaningful SUBTLE adjustments to tone.  I always thought that we were supposed to use the 10-band EQ pedal before or after our fuzz box to provide an alternate guitar distortion texture.

Wesley - can you try an EQ plug-in on your computer?  This will allow you to play with a parametric EQ easily, and play with a graphic EQ as well.  This will let you find the exact amount of mid-scoop that you need or don't need.  Find out exactly what frequency you want to manipulate for your room, or for your recordings.

If you had a VV Stereo Vibe, you would want to have it plugged into two separate powered speakers to get the stereo vibeness.

But you will find that a Mackie 802VLZ4 mixer is cheaper and more versatile.  Of course, it doesn't have that magic ping-pong tremolo, but it saves you enough money to buy effects units and other toys.


« Last Edit: August 12, 2021, 02:25:44 AM by sean »

Offline The Real MC

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Re: Best Option for Home/Recording Amp
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2021, 08:59:19 PM »
I have a Vox Tonelab SE.  When I tried it with my Rhodes it distorted way too easily.

Tube amps are great with Rhodes as long as they don't distort easy.  That rules out most guitar amps.  Bass tube amps are specifically designed not to distort as quickly and are better for Rhodes pianos.  Usually anything with a 12AU7 or 12AT7 in the first tube stage of the preamp - 12AX7 tubes overdrive too easily.

Another good preamp for Rhodes is the Tubeworks Blue Tube.  It is a 1U rack mount preamp designed for bass.

If you're aiming for a bass combo amp, consider experimenting with different speakers.  I got a lot of mileage swapping different guitar speakers IE Celestion Weber.  If your combo amp has a 12" speaker that opens ups many options for different speakers.  If you don't want loud, my favorite speaker for Rhodes is the Celestion "alnico blue" that was popular in Vox amplifiers - only 15w but fine for low volume.