By Paul Riario | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
There is no shortage of luthiers making beautifully handcrafted replica instruments, or boutique amp builders releasing hand-wired amplifiers that sound as good as or better than the vintage counterparts they are inspired by.
Musicvox, on the other hand, is one of the rare companies committed to creating offbeat guitars and basses that buck the trend of borrowing from the past. The company’s futuristic Spaceranger and Space Cadet series guitars wouldn’t look out of place if they originated during America’s Atomic Age, which is probably one of the reasons both collectors and players have gravitated toward the avant-garde brand.
Musicvox founder Matt Eichen has also quietly made custom amps for artists since 1998, and now he offers the hand-built MI-5 Custom Special, derived from an auspicious pedigree. Mike Post and Jeff Feola, who designed and build these limited editions from a custom shop in New Jersey, once worked under the tutelage of Ken Fischer of Trainwreck amplifiers fame, who shared his invaluable expertise in amp circuitry, components, and layout design. No two Trainwreck amplifiers were alike, and that unparalleled build ethos is a signature of the MI-5. Each amp leaves the shop individually tuned to the player’s preferences.
This particular MI-5 features four EL84 output tubes and three 12AX7 preamp tubes on an aluminum chassis and a U.S.-made Heyboer transformer based on the seven-layer Dynaco A 470, which is known for its translucent tone, low distortion, and compatibility with EL84 tubes. Everything is meticulously hand wired onto the Garolite circuit board with turret lugs.
Discrete choices in resistor types are employed throughout, including carbon film, carbon composition, and metal film. Controls include volume, treble, bass, and sting (an attenuated cut knob). A three-way bright switch accesses a selection of Mallory 150 tone caps (50pf, 120pf, or none), and a high/low power switch on the back of the head provides quick break up on low, while the high setting yields more headroom but retains a 30-watt power rating regardless of where you set it.
The birch-ply cabinet is hand made in California by noted craftsman Philip DeForest Ralph. Custom woods and finishes, as well as various speaker options, are available. We tested a small, open-back cabinet outfitted with Celestion Alnico Gold 10-inch speakers.
Fired up, the MI-5 is all about touch sensitivity and fast response. Humbucker-equipped guitars offer the widest range of dynamics and sustain once the amp’s volume is pushed past noon. I loved how the MI-5 performed with the rear switch set to high while I manipulated the volume knob on my guitar to control the amount of harmonically rich gain. Using single-coils changes the nature of the amp entirely, adding gorgeous sparkle to chords that ring out with plenty of chime and roundness. The MI-5 is an exceptional amp for the discerning well-heeled player in search of dialed-in tone.
LIST PRICE $10,000