Stoneham Amps – BBB custom 50/100R

Stoneham Amps – BBB custom 50/100R
I’m fortunate enough to know Bad Bob Bates of The Bandits and Oil City Connection, and have seen The Bandits play several times. I know that BBB is constantly searching for “Tone” to suit his style of playing, and to match the sound he hears in his head.

Bob & I (and lots of other local musicans) are members of a local musician’s forum, Big Ginger Git’s Gig Pit (BGGGP for short) and it was there that Bob started voicing his questions around his search for “The Sound”. After a few messages back and forth, a suitable solution has been found.

Here’s Bob’s introduction:

I’ve been playing live from the age of 14 (you’d think I’d be a bit better by now) and have used Carslboro, Orange, Fender and Marshall amps, mainly settling on Marshall’s in the early 90s. I like the breaking up crunch sound generally, and the ability to channel switch for lead breaks. I don’t use pedals for overdrive as I like to get the amp working on that side of things – more difficult to control but it does it for me.

Anyway, I have two bands at the moment. With The Bandits the rig stays in the band van – a Marshall head and Laney 4×12 cab, and it works great for the range of material we cover (ZZ Top to Dr Feelgood via George Thoroughgood, The Who and The B52s!). I need a separate rig for Oil City Connection (70s Wilko era Dr Feelgood through to Nine Below Zero and The Pirates), which I transport in my car. I’ve tried a few set ups, including a couple of Marshalls, my Orange Tiny Terror and a Kustom Defender, but I’ve not been satisfied.

What I really wanted was a Marshall-esque sound, but one which could provide me with the gritty Feelgood sound through to more raunchy Nine Below Zero grit incorporating the telecaster ring when I need it. Plus I wanted channel switching, not a boost, for lead.

In essence I wanted two crunch channels which would largely sound the same, with shared EQ, but separate volumes and middle controls. A dedicated clean channel is something I never use, but I do very occasionally like a little reverb too – rarely but sometimes. I was moaning on about this on the BGGGP forum as most channel switchers either go from crunch to screaming overdrive and general ‘waspiness’, or have a clean and gain channel. Martin got in touch telling me he wanted to set up in business building high quality point to point amps, and would I be interested in being his first commercial project. The potential price was right so I said yes – and promptly started selling gear to cover it! He brought his prototype around as a discussion point (and by god it sounded good), and he watched me play, saw how I set up the EQ and patiently listened to ranting on about “too much fecking drive, too much gain, the kids these days dunno how to work an amp!” and all that. In short, I think he developed a good understanding of what I was after, then he went away and started to create it.

The discussion went beyond sound and also covered functionality. He knows my “close to” eyesight isn’t great, and that I have shades welded to my face on stage, so suggested chicken head knobs for the controls (brilliant!!). We also dicussed the size of the head too, and the need for 100 and 50 watts.

Stoneham prototype
I never said much about the look. Basically, I love the way you can see the valves glowing from the front. I saw that once when Brian Setzer was playing on TFI Friday and though it was the height of cool. The BBB Custom does that too! One more thing. Martin asked how I would like the control decals to look. I said, oh hand write them on with a permanent marker and then just lacquer over them. He did! Great stuff!!!!

Here’s the story from Martin’s viewpoint:

It all started when “Bad Bob” posted on a local musician’s forum back in November, that he was looking for recommendations on what amp to buy.  He wanted a fairly simple but high quality valve amp with two similar sounding drive channels, to switch to a boosted facsimile of his main sound.
I saw the post and a lightbulb went off, I knew I could come up with a custom design that would meet Bob’s demands so I sent him a message offering my services.  I didn’t expect to get anything back (I had no website or company image, other than a lot of personal recommendations from people I’d worked for in the past on amp repairs)

Bob was, of course, very enthusiastic and flattered to be offered his own custom amp so we met up for a coffee and a long chat about amps, guitars, speakers…. and came up with an initial ‘wish list’ of specifications for me to go on.  I showed Bob my own handmade amplifier which I use in my own band ‘Last Minute’ and he was impressed enough to place a deposit for the new build.

For the design, I started off with copying my prototype circuit but minus one gain stage, aiming for a classic British crunch tone that was fat but also had plenty of edge to cut through the mix.  From there it was a quick process to design the channel switching Bob requested (seperate gain, volume and middle controls) and plan the construction layout.  Within a couple of weeks I had settled on the design and acquired all the parts needed and so got stuck in!
The basic shell came together quickly, a chassis fitted with all the transformers and hardware but production was impeded while myself and the rest of the family prepared for both christmas and the imminent arrival of my son Matthew (born 20th January 2011) and I have to say Bob was very understanding and patient. 
I recommenced production in February and was finished by the end of the month.  I had a few curveballs in terms of cosmetics but once the amp was nearing completion I took it back round BBBs for a demonstration.
Bob’s verdict: When he brought the near complete article around for me to try I was blown away. It sounded great – the two channels do just what I want, and the reverb is something else – valve driven too. I feel privileged to have a hand wired amp which interprets my needs and preferences, and very proud for it to be named the Stoneham BBB custom 50/100R with a serial number of 001 on the back! In short, great service, great product, great price and a great experience. I just can’t wait to get it on the road now! I’ll be playing it through Zilla cabs, but wish I’d had the patience to wait for Martin to get his cab building activities up and running too. It would have been good to have a full Stoneham rig!

Martin’s verdict:This was a nerve racking experience, I had no idea how well it would be received.  I knew it was working very well and I felt the tone was up to standard but highly subjective.  As it turned out there was no cause for concern, it was a big success and Bob was delighted with it.  Its really spurred me on and enabled me to build the website, hopefully forming the basis of a successful full time business.  I have a day job at present, a necessity of having a mortgage I guess, which means I’m working some anti-social hours but its what I truly love doing and will always be building guitar amps whether people buy them or not.

A bit about Stoneham Amps….

Stoneham is a family name (from my wife’s side) although at present its a one-man operation, and will most likely remain that way.  My designs are based on years of research and experimentation with my main prototype, an amplifier born from a blank chassis back from when I worked at Marshall Amps in 2002 (at the tender age of 22) but thats not to say I only have one circuit; what I have learnt is how certain components and traditional circuits affect the guitar tone in a positive way, which parts to change and which parts to leave well alone!  So these principles apply to both clean and dirty sounds, low power and high power designs.  All manufacturers borrow from classic tube amp designs, Stoneham is no different in that respect but definitely bring something new to the table.

I’m now ready to launch a range of products starting with some extension cabinets which I can offer with my custom build projects.  Long term I will have a range of combos and amp heads and aim to have most of these complete by the end of 2011. 
Stoneham amps will always have something special about them, apart from the fact they are all handwired here in UK and very competitively priced.  Theres still a lot of missed opportunity to produce a quality bespoke product in UK without being priced out of the market and this is a large factor in Stonehams ethos; never to hand over our name and reputation to a far eastern manufacturing plant, along with reliability and customer service, but to maintain a homegrown business that actually contributes to our own economy….. eat your heart out China!!


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