The L.A. Amp Show took place at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, CA recently and I made the scene for both days to check out the amps, effects, demos, and even a few guitars. This is not a big show and can definitely be covered in a day. It’s set up differently than most conventions because, rather than taking place in a big hall where each manufacturer gets a booth, each exhibitor here has their own hotel room. If you think that would help with sound insulation and separation, you’d be wrong, however. Most manufacturers were free to blast their firebreathing half-stacks as loud as they wanted, which was refreshing at first—no power-tripping NAMM dB police—but quickly became fatiguing. (I actually saw guitar design guru Rich Lasner more in the outside courtyard than inside the show. “I need to give my head a rest,” he explained.)
But that doesn’t mean it’s not cool, because this is a cool show where you can test gear, see stuff up close, and get in-depth explanations from the designers themselves. Some of the high points for me included:
Reinhold Bogner was in the house showing his new pedals. He’s a fascinating guy who, in addition to making great-sounding amps (and now stompboxes), is always dressed to the nines. He unveiled two Ecstasy distortions, a blue one and the red one that is in the scary-looking ads in GP, as well as an Uberschall distortion box that has even more gain. James Santiago was testing the pedals when I came in and we both agreed that they felt and sounded very amp-like, which is kind of everything for a distortion pedal in my opinion.
Colby Amps Jim Weider and Mitch Colby
Ex-Marshall and ex-DV Mark amp mastermind Mitch Colby showed his new Colby amps—a 50-watt and a 100-watt. These are hand-wired and completely made in the USA, and the 50-watter was the best-sounding amp I tried at the show. It has a huge, blooming clean channel that goes smoothly into subtle, complex overdrive. The overdrive channel has a beautiful range of tones from big and clean to tough and crunchy to sweet and singing. Every tone was alive with harmonics and cleaned up like nobody’s business. Mitch had the great Jim Weider (who helped voice the amps) in his booth for added star power and mojo.
I’ve been a fan of Electroplex amps since I read Art Thompson’s review of them as a subscriber back in the ’90s. I got to hang with designer and president Don Morris and talk amps (he makes awesome 6V6- and EL34-powered models that sport bitchin’ spaceship logos), baseball (he saw Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris play when he was a kid), and cricket (we were befriended by a hulking, hammered, Jamaican cricket player named Speedy). To paraphrase Speedy: Mon, what the hell is wrong with you? You need to check out these amps, mon.
Kemper Profiling Amplifier
I reviewed this cool product last year in GP and I’m still really impressed with it. For the uninitiated, the KPA allows you to model, or “profile” any amp that you can stick a mic on. It really works, somehow capturing the tonal nuances and dynamic response of a huge variety of amps. Kemper had a great guitarist, John Huldt, doing demos, and he called up a number of amps and played them both through a 4x12 cab and through studio monitors. In all cases the sounds were rich, dynamic, and very believable. You’re starting to see more and more KPAs in studios and on tour and it’s easy to see why.
Fractal Axe-FX Carl Verheyen and Matt Blackett Outside the Fractal Booth
The Fractal is the most talked about piece of rack gear to come along in years and the company had a huge presence at the L.A. Amp Show. Demos and clinics by Dweezil Zappa, James Santiago, and Tosin Abasi raised the excitement level even further. With a mind-boggling number of amp, effect, cab, and mic models—plus the ability to model your own gear now—the Axe-FX the hottest piece of gear around right now.
This doesn’t scratch the surface of what was at the show, and other cool things were Dave Friedman’s new line of tube amps, the new Big Joe Stomp Box company, Falbo guitars, Pigtronix effects, EarthQuaker Devices (super-creative pedal effects), and much, much more. If you haven’t been and you’re near the Los Angeles area, this is definitely a show worth checking out.
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