If you’ve always lusted for a hand-soldered guitar amp you were left with two options until quite recently:
You could either buy an expensive boutique/custom shop amplifier, or – if you’re handy with a soldering iron – opt for a DIY amp kit.
Now there’s a third choice for those of us neither well-heeled nor technically savvy:
British company Juketone offers a range of tasty Fender tweed inspired, hand-wired guitar amplifiers at very moderate prices, thanks to Chinese production and selling direct via the Internet.
The Juketone True Blood (250 £; introductory offer for a limited time only) is the company’s smallest combo.
The True Blood is based on Fender’s legendary 1950s Tweed Champ (specifically the 5F1 version), with a few small tweaks.
Tweed Champs have been built with several differently shaped cabinets over the Fifties, depending on their exact vintage. The True Blood comes in the all-straight cabinet seen on most mid-Fifties originals, while Fender’s current Custom Shop version features the later angled front.
The tweed covering on our review sample was very neat and crisp.
The combo’s cabinet is made of plywood, except for the back covers, which looked (and felt) like MDF-board.
The two most important differences between a vintage Champ and Juketone’s True Blood combo lie in the speaker-type and rectifier valve choices.
In addition to the two audio signal valves – a Ruby Tubes 12AX7 and a 6V6GT – Juketone has chosen a slightly less-known 6Z4 rectifier tube. The 6Z4 used in Juketone amps is a Chinese version (aka the Sino 6Z4) that is not compatible with the American rectifier valve of the same name.
Jensen has traditionally been the speaker brand of choice for vintage tweed amps, but their bass response very often sounds a bit flabby by modern standards. In my opinion, Juketone has made a very good decision in choosing a more British-voiced speaker for their True Blood combo. The eight-inch Celestion Super 8 could be described as an alnico-driven version of their popular Eight 15.
Inside the metal amp chassis you will be greeted by high quality components and clean workmanship. This is genuine hand-soldering using soldering lugs riveted to a fibreglass board.
You’d be foolish to expect the wiring to be on the same, insanely high level – in terms of its neatness – as generally seen on boutique-grade amps, but the True Blood is definitely in line with Juketone’s ”affordable boutique” ethos.
Maybe the most important part in the charm of a 5F1-type Champ (or Champ clone) is the directness of this small combo’s approach to tonal nirvana. There’s no master volume, no tone control, no effects – just a single volume control, and the straightest signal path from input jack to speaker known to mankind.
To some, this type of diminutive Fifties practice amp looks like it’s hopelessly ancient, but the Tweed Champ still has a lot of fans.
The Juketone True Blood’s secret to success lies in the combo’s interactive behaviour. The most traditional way to use the True Blood would be to dial in the maximum amount of volume (and distortion) needed, and then control the amp using the guitar’s own volume and tone controls. Thanks to the naturally rich compression this combo produces when pushed, turning down the guitar volume for cleaner sounds will result in less of a volume drop than expected. Here’s a short clip using a double humbucker guitar (Hamer USA Studio Custom):
If you need more clean headroom from your True Blood (Blues harpists, listen up) than what the factory 12AX7 has to offer, you could easily drop in one of a number of ”cooler” 12A_7-family replacements, such as a 12AU7 or a 12AT7.
Here are three clips of a Fender Telecaster, a Gibson Les Paul Junior and a Hamer Studio Custom, respectively, with their bridge pickups selected. Each clip has been recorded with the combo’s volume control set to ”6”, ”8”, ”10” and ”12”, using a Shure SM57:
The Juketone True Blood’s low volume and tasty compression make this combo an excellent choice for use in the (home-) studio. Just add a little EQ and compression, and season the result with a bit of reverb and/or delay during mixdown, and you’ll be surprised at how big this little chap really sounds:
I can only recommend Juketone’s True Blood warmly for use as a living room and recording amp.
Laying your hands on a hand-wired tweed-style combo has never been so easy or affordable. The warm, big bass response of the Celestion speaker is a definite improvement, at least in my book!
This Juketone combo is a serious alternative to your run-of-the-mill mass-produced practice. It sounds pure and sweet. A hand-soldered combo, such as this, is also far easier to repair (or modify) than a PCB-based design.
Juketone True Blood
250 £ (introductory offer)