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Tech Talk: Phil Bradbury of Little Walter Tube Amps

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Jazz Guitar Today reached out to Phil Bradbury of Little Walter Tube Amps to discuss the origins of his new “Andy Reiss Signature Jazz 50” amplifier.

For those of you not familiar, Little Walter Tube Amps are the creation of Phil Bradbury and are used by many major artists today, Reggie Young, Vince Gill, Brent Mason, etc.  Phil’s key philosophy, “Build an amp true to the original 1940’ish architecture, as well as the assembly methods that would transparently reproduce the artists hands and his instrument”.

JGT:  Why create amplifiers to 1940’ish architecture?

Phil:  Being frustrated at the lack of “Instrument Level Amplification” available on the market, it started as an experiment to see if, by building true Point-To-Point circuits (no tag, turret, or PC board) and utilizing signal caps that were more on the line of top Audiophile products, a truly better amp could be created.

JGT:  What can you tell us about your first designs?

Phil:  My two first original designs were:  the 2 – 6L6 power tube model which was extremely clean and fat, and the 2 – 6V6 power tube model that was designed more for blues artists with it’s quick break up tone.  These amps were finding quite a bit of interest with several different genre’s in the Nashville recording industry.  Before long I had built amps for Reggie Young, Vince Gill, Kerry Marx, Paul Franklin, Brent Mason, and Brian Franklin.

JGT: And your introduction to Andy Reiss?

Phil:  I became familiar with guitarist Andy Reiss while working with Vince Gill and Paul Franklin in the famous Nashville band “Time Jumpers”.  Andy was the original guitar player for the band that has just celebrated it’s 20thyear.  I had built amps for Gill and Franklin and really developed a great friendship and respect for Andy.  He became a part of our remote family and my wife and I found ourselves at Andy’s house whenever we had the time while visiting Nashville.  Andy Reiss is a magical player who spent years touring with show bands that covered a variety of styles.  Andy has played with many artists such as Slim Pickens, the Jordanaires, Charlie McCoy, Pete Drake and numerous others.  He has also contributed to many recordings including “Does He Love You” by Reba McEntire and Linda Davis, and “Amazing Grace” by B.J. Thomas, both of who received a Grammy.

JGT:  What inspiration did you receive from working with Andy?

Phil:  Besides his musical prowess and magical hands, Andy has a very in-depth knowledge of the early American musical amplifier.  I learned quite a bit from Andy’s collection and re-collection of some of the earliest examples he had played.   Andy and I had a discussion where I pointed out I was hearing a bit of muddiness from his Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, and ES 335 style guitars.  I was from the Blues, and Rock world and had not really developed my ear in the Jazz genre at this time.  My goal was to build an amp for Andy that would reproduce these beautiful instruments properly.

JGT:  What were the origins of the “Andy Reiss Signature Jazz 50”?

Phil:  In our discussion Andy pointed out that I was using the 6L6 Power tube for my clean platform and wondered if I had ever used any 6550 power tubes.  I did know the rule “the larger the bottle – the cleaner the tone” but had never had a need for anything cleaner or with more headroom than my 6L6 chassis.  This discussion sparked my interest and after a bit of research I found a new power transformer that would give me the voltage I needed but increase the current to a point where I could power the 6550 tubes.  About this same time Vince Gill was after me to give him a bit more “Top End Sparkle” with his Telecasters (at that time my amps just had Volume and Tone controls).  So, I built a prototype chassis with the new Power Transformer, and added the new Tone Stack which had Volume, Bass Roll-Off, and Tone.  NOTE: The bass roll-off control works in the very low frequencies, so I did not consider it as a Bass control but more of a Roll-Off of the lowest frequencies.  This new chassis utilized an octal (8-pin) preamp section (6SC7 preamp tube and 6SL7 phase inverter). I used a GZ34 rectifier tube to give the larger tubes plenty of plate voltage rather than the standard 5U4 that I used for my 6L6 chassis.

JGT:  What were your impressions of this new approach?

Phil:  I could not believe the headroom that was now possible with this new amp.  It still had that unreal clean tone but now you could push the tubes and it had little to no break at the top of the volume spectrum.  The octal preamp and phase inverter tubes created that magical dynamic response that we lost when we went to the higher gain noval (9-pin) preamp tubes in the mid to late 50’s.   By paying close attention to the voltage this new transformer supplied I was able to get the power into the “Happy Zone” of the 6550 tubes yet still be within the range albeit the top of what the 6L6 tubes could operate with.  This allowed Andy to swap out the 6550 big-bottle tubes for the slightly smaller bottle 6L6 tubes.  This gave Andy the opportunity to basically have two amps in one based on his performing and recording needs.

 JGT:  Drumroll…what did Andy think?

Phil:  When I took the first of these amps down to Andy Reiss to test with his big box guitars, I could not have been more pleased with the outcome.  Andy loved it the minute he plugged in and is still using this model today.   I heard no muddy tone what so ever with any of these big box guitars that in my opinion need a special amp to allow them to produce what they have to offer.  I heard the instrument and Andy’s magic fingers when he played the amp.

With Andy’s permission, I was able to pay homage to my dear friend and one of my musical hero’s by naming this model – the “Andy Reiss Signature Jazz 50” or as we refer to it as the AR50.  Andy uses this chassis in most situations with a pair of 12” Ted Weber Speakers, The Big Dog and the Silver Bell.

For more information on Little Walter Tube Amps:

For more information on Andy Reiss.

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