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God's tone?

by vaughn skow December 20, 2010 6 min read

How exactly does one go about drinking from the Holy Grail?  This is our topic this week.  A couple of weeks back, I received an email from a WGS user asking for my advice on which WGS speakers to use with his amps which are "clones of the Liverpool and Express circuits of the late Ken Fischer of Trainwreck Amps".  Though I personally have never owned one, I’ve had the pleasure of playing through one actual Trainwreck, and a couple of more-or-less Trainwreck clones.  I can say that these amps are certainly wonderful, and that they really have a unique character.  If you care about tone, and you are not yet hip to Ken Fisher and Trainwreck ... then do yourself a favor and do a little research, and then come back and read the rest of this blog.  Warning:   we might just split a few hairs here!

First, I want to start with this quote, I happened upon on a forum:

"in 2002 i played a 50 watt Marshall jtm replica my brother built over a cell phone to ken. He said the amp sounded good, but I needed to get rid of the high wattage Celestion speaker. I had not told him prior anything about the speaker. He could hear it over the phone, was able to identify the approximate era it was made and what model it was. Blew my mind. I don't know much about the other stories, but this is what happened to me."

That’s the kind of Ken Fisher stories I’ve been hearing for years.  The guy really did have unusually good ears, and his brain knew just how to process that aural information and translate it into circuits, tubes, speakers, and the like.  Ken’s designs were really very straight-forward, I like to describe it as "a wire with gain".  His designs were kind of like a great blackface Fender amp (or early Marshall), with all the unnecessary crap removed.  His philosophy was that what you left out of a circuit was as important (maybe more) than what you put into a circuit.  He was, of course, also an absolute fanatic about perfection in the tolerances of his components and in his lead dress.

So what does a Trainwreck sound like?  To my ears they are the most open, honest amps you will ever play through.  Enough so that they will downright scare some un-indoctrinated players.  Let me put it like this, many of my old Fender amps are like granny’s fat-back ham, a Trainwreck is like filet mignon prepared by the world’s best chef.  Both are tasty, but oh-so different!  The Trainwrecks have one of the most open, airy top-ends you will ever hear in a guitar amp, almost more hi-fi than guitar amp.  For this reason, many a Trainwreck owner has turned to extreme measures to turn all that high-end into sweetness rather than harshness.  The most common solution is simply to use great vintage speakers.  The old (Pre-Rola) Greenbacks have long been the preferred solution.  Old Alnico Jensens also work well in some applications.  No company on earth, other than WGS still makes speakers with the sound and "magic" of those old vintage speakers.

I tell ya what, at this point, I’m going to let you see the original email I received, and then my reply.  I think you should find it interesting; especially since Trainwreck is (sorta) making amps again!

Hi Vaughn,

I quite enjoy your blog. It's a great resource while being fun and entertaining. I am going to keep checking it every week now. I have a question for you that you may or may not like to tackle on your blog.

I dabble in some DIY amp building and my favourate amps I have built are clones of the Liverpool and Express circuits of the late Ken Fischer of Trainwreck Amps. Tone snobs have gathered around these amps at places like where I frequent for tips on building and getting the most out of our versions of the best amps ever designed (in many of our opinions). Obviously, there are very few that can afford (or even find) a real Trainwreck, but we want to get the most out of our own versions. There have been many threads about good speakers for these amps, but as someone that has come to really appreciate the WGS speakers I have discovered, I am lead to wonder about the ultimate speaker pairings for Trainwrecks from the WGS arsenal. 

In 4x12s with the Express, Glen Kuykendall has sort of established that early pre-rola vintage greenbacks are great with the Express. However, he will still use about 40 feet of patch cable to attenuate the highs. The M75 Scumbacks  from Southbay Ampworks are also highly regarded by many on the forum. 

The Liverpool (my main amp used mostly with p90s) is known to be even a little bit brighter, and many of us now days, have no desire to drag 4x12s with us to gigs, so that opens up the world of smaller 1x12s and 2x12 and open backs, etc. I haven't tried many brands of greenback clones, but I find the ones I've tried too thin sounding in any less than large closed cabs. In my little 2/3 back 1x12, I've been quite impressed with the ET-65. I use a WGS Veteran 30 with a Celestion G12H in my closed back 2x12, but I often find it too bright and directional. I think I am more an open-backed type of guy, but I need something with a strong low end to push me through on these smaller type cabs. I've been thinking of mixing the Retro 30 with the Reaper 55 for a 2x12 that sounds big, strong, smooth, thick, and tight, but I'd love your opinion. 

I really appreciate WGS attacking the awesome vintage sounding speakers at a great reasonable price, so maybe they should weigh in on what they have to offer to the really picky Trainwreck crowd. 

I think the ET-65 is the simple and obvious answer to most of the Dumble crowd, so probably not much need to go there.

 Thanks, Matt

Good Stuff Matt!  Here is my reply:

Yes, the ET-65 is the speaker in the WGS lineup that stands out when people need to beef up the bottom end, or tame down the top end.  The only problem is that, by itself, the ET65 can be a bit sterile and overly tight sounding.  That’s why we often suggest pairing it with a Vet 30 (or maybe a retro 30)... which is an extremely responsive and touch-sensitive speaker ... so that’s the 2-12 combo I would most recommend.  The Retro 30 / Reaper 55 combo you suggest would be a little bit more of a middle-of-the-road choice; the Reaper would not be as beefy as the ET65, and the Retro 30 not quite as nimble as the Vet 30.  That may be exactly what you want ... maybe not. 

I know this may sound a little outta left-field, but ... Another interesting idea would be a single 15 open-back cab with the G15 in it -  Alnico version if you can swing it.  The WGS 15’s are really impressive in every way imaginable.  It would be a good fit with the Liverpool as it would sound very big and three-dimensional.  The G15 has a particularly pleasant top end, especially the Alnico version, that would work well with either the Liverpool or Express designs.  Food for thought.

And now ... drum roll please, how did things work out for Matt?  Well ...

Thanks Vaughn,

That is quite interesting because you suggested the two WGS speakers that I have right now, but have never tried together. I had a Celestion G12H in a closed back 2x12 with a Veteran 30. So, after your suggestion, I swapped the ET-65 that I had in a 1x12 for the G12H, and now I really like the sound of that 2x12 with my Liverpool. It added just enough thickness to the sound and slightly tamed the highs. So, ya, thanks.

If  had unlimited resources, I would love to try the Alnico G15 in my 1x15 cab, but right now I have a new Eminence Big Ben in it. Not liking the Ben too much (Seems the treble is much too harsh all the time, but maybe it needs breaking in).

Anyways, I just wanted to say thanks for the advice. If I get another 2x12 going, I'll be looking to WGS for the perfect speakers.


Okay gang, that’s all I got for now.  Matt, I sure hope you can get a chance to try the G15 in your 1-15 cab, I’m sure the Big Ben will still be fairly useful as a boat anchor.  Okay, I know that was a cheap shot, but those things sound awful!  I’m full of myself tonight; maybe I’d better wrap-up this blog.  Hope you all enjoyed, and ya all come back now.

Until next time,  -Vaughn-

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