Why the rarest gear always sounds the best?

Over the last years guitarists have been able to enjoy many rare guitar tones in pedal form. Marshalls, Voxes, and the most common Fenders have been distilled several times over already, but the greatest hit must surely be a pedal released exactly three years ago – the Mad Professor Simble. The Simble managed to jump straight into the top echelons of Dumble-modelling stomp boxes. Now we’ve been told the same company has managed to transfer the DNA of another extremely rare guitar amplifier to a new effect pedal.

Mad Professor’s Big Tweedy Drive brings back the legendary tones of Fender’s High Power Tweed Twin-combo. According to a recent listing on Reverb.com, a genuine vintage Tweed Twin would set you back a dizzying 25,300 euros. The amp in question has already been sold…

So what’s the story on this combo? There are so many different Tweed-era Fenders, but is this specific amp more Neil Young or more Keith Richards? Let’s start by distinguishing the different Tweed amps from each other.

FENDER HIGH POWER TWEED TWIN should not be confused with the Fender Tweed Deluxe, which has been made famous for example by Neil Young. The Tweed Deluxe had been designed for the living-room player, and made from substandard components. Its output transformer is underpowered, which leads to hefty sagging under duress. The High Power Tweed Twin, on the other hand, was the company’s flagship model of the time.

This combo won’t give you the farty and flabby tones of Neil Young, but rather the chunky crunch of Keith Richards. He has been playing this amplifier on all Stones tours, for at least the last ten years. Listen to the delicious crunch in this live clip of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. This is the same sonic fingerprint you’ll get, when you feed a nice Fender Telecaster into the new Mad Professor Big Tweedy Drive pedal.

Listen to Marko Karhu’s version of the Rolling Stones classic in this next video, and compare the sound to the vintage combo.

Another famous user of the Fender High Power Tweed Twin is Joe Bonamassa, who has used this amp on all of his most recent records. When playing live, he uses his Tweed Twins alongside a pair of Fender Bassman-combos. Here’s a video where Bonamassa speaks about his touring rig.

Last, but not least, let us mention Eric Clapton, who has used a High Power Tweed Twin as the main amp on his album From The Cradle.

For his 2001 tour, Clapton had Fender’s John Suhr come up with exact copies of his own Tweed Twins, so he could leave his vintage combos at home.

IN CONTRAST to the rest of the original Tweed-series, the High Power Tweed Twins were top-quality amplifiers, made using well-chosen components.

Mad Professor’s Harri Koski owns Finland’s only High Power Tweed Twin, which was used as the reference for the upcoming new Big Tweedy Drive pedal. He has done plenty of research on this combo, and had many different guitarists try it. Jazz-guitarist Teemu Viinikainen, who’s currently working on his new solo album, sums it up nicely:

 – I have never played a nicer amp.

This is quite something out of the mouth of a man who owns several vintage Fender amps himself, and who must have played through many cool amplifiers during his career. I decided to give him a ring to find out more about this rarity that I personally do not know so much about.

– The Tweed Twin is one of the best amps I’ve had the honour to try. Even though this is a high-powered combo, rated at 80 watts, I was surprised at how good it already sounded at low volume. Actually, I was really puzzled that a big amp could sound this good, even though I wasn’t even near to cranking it. 

– I’ve watched J. D. Simo play at the Puistoblues-festival – he played the combo flat out and it had a fantastic crunch. I’ve learned that much about valve amps that I know it to be very rare for an amp to sound great at both extremes. Usually, amps tend to have their own specific comfort zone, inside of which they sound terrific. But take them to either extreme volume setting, and they tend to sound rather bad.”

Teemu also had a quick look inside the combo, and he found out that the capacitors in the signal path had been swapped for red Jupiters, which sound similar to the original Astron capacitors. According to Teemu the amp was correctly biased, and he found the 12-inch alnico Weber speakers to be a good match for the combo.

I bumped into Harri Koski at this year’s Frankfurt Musikmesse.  I asked him more details about High Power Tweed Twins and their speakers.

– Originally, the highest-powered speakers were low-wattage Jensens, two of which were used in this amp. Because everybody liked the sound of the 80-watt combo running at full tilt, many Jensens died a very early death. This is why Fender came out with a quick redesign – the Low Power Tweed Twin with two power amp tubes, and only half the output rating. The reason why the High Power Tweed Twin became so rare is that it was only produced for a bit over a year in 1959-60, Harri explained.

Teemu Viinikainen also told me that Harri’s combo had quite a low plate voltage on the combo’s tubes. While Blackface-amps can run up to 450 volts to their valves, High Power Tweed Twins run at plate voltages of “only” 380-390 volts.

– This is at the bottom end of the Twin’s original specs, but it is probably one of the reasons that this amp sound great played at low volumes. The lower headroom makes the combo sound warmer. This made it sound like a 20-watter running at slightly higher volume”, Teemu added.

KEITH RICHARDS’ has long been a hard-to-achieve kind of crunch to me. When the Stones came to Helsinki the last time around, I worked as a local stage hand. I had the opportunity to take a look at Keith’s sumptuous guitar and amp collection backstage, and I could watch the Rolling Stones’ technicians go through loads of drawers, filled with an unbelievable array of different valves and amp components. The backline was kept in fine fettle and sounded fantastic. Watch this video of Keith’s guitar tech Pierre de Beauport playing through his boss’ Fender High Power Tweed Twins:

The amps growled and snarled like heaven, even when played by Keith’s tech. I remember feeling the urge to remove the low-E from Custom Sounds’ Nash Telecaster and to tune it to open G (G, D, G, B, D). Playing Keith’s riffs surely must have a positive therapeutic effect, and they don’t seem very difficult to play. I probably should try them out.

21.4.2017 Kimmo Aroluoma
The author hasn’t played a single Stones-riff, yet, if you don’t count a short brush with Satisfaction.