Reviewer: Jeff Day
Source: Gibson Les Paul Standard Premium solid-body electric; 1959 Gibson Les Paul solid-body electric; Martin 000C-16RGTE acoustic/electric; Martin D-15 acoustic/electric; several custom Gibson L-5 archtop electrics; Gibson ES-135 hollow-body electric; Fender Stratocaster solid-body electric; several custom Gibson L-5 Signature small-body archtop electrics; custom Gibson Super 400 archtop electric; Gibson J100 acoustic with active transducer pickup; 1946 Gibson L-5 archtop acoustic modified with a Johnny Smith pickup; Gibson Herb Ellis edition archtop; Martin D-18 Golden Era with pickup; Epiphone Chet Atkins edition
Amp: Wavelength GAS Junior [on review]; Gibson GA-5 [on review]
Review component retail: $1,750

Did you ever notice that a lot of guys into audio are guitar players, too? Among the 6moons cadre, about one in four plays with guitars as well as stereos - and it's similar audio-wide: Art Dudley, Corey Greenberg, Stephæn Harrell, John Potis, Jules Coleman, Steven Stone, John Atkinson, Gordon Rankin and I all have this in common - we play guitar. Gordon Rankin, you say? That's right, Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio fame. In fact, Gordon not only has a degree in percussion but was coerced into fixing and eventually building guitar amplifiers for his friends so that, with now about 6 months of lessons under his belt, he is so deeply into guitars that he has applied the same design acumen which made him famous with SET aficionados to formal guitar amplification. Whoa, that's big news to us guitar playing audio buffs, especially to someone like me who's long since been sold on SET amps for home stereo!

Is that a 300B in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
Guitar players prefer tubes. My friend Santos stopped by my place with world traveler cum guitarist extraordinaire cum ethnomusicologist and wild-man Bob Brozman [who, by the way, gives lessons to Lenny Mayeux of Running Springs Audio - small world. Ed]. Bob had just flown into Washington State to do a concert for Santos and I, part of a music series of performances we had arranged with Bob to celebrate diversity in the musical arts.

When Bob makes a swing through a region, he ships performing clothes and CDs in advance to the different locations so he can travel lite [see above]. I was holding Bob's performing clothes and a big stash of his CDs to sell at the concert. In the living room, Bob took a close look at my big Avantgarde Duos and Wavelength custom 45 amps and started telling Santos and me about how he was into old hi-fi, mono actually, and how he loved to listen to the old 78s of Hawaiian guitar recordings through tubes. "There's just so much music in those old grooves", said Bob. I fired up the rig and played Bob a cut off the Tone Poems III album he did with pals David Grisman and Mike Auldridge on Grisman's Acoustic Disc label. "It sounds like when we were in the studio! Man, tubes just sound like music. But, ahem, you're a couple of dBs up at 200Hz." Dang, Bob was right. In about a millisecond, he'd picked out the transition point where the subs hand over to the midrange horns on the Duos. I made a quick adjustment. Later that night, Bob was telling the sound technician at the concert "Turn it down half a dB at 60Hz. Now turn it up a half dB at 100Hz. Ok, now turn it down a dB at 120". I got by easy in comparison. You can't fool musicians like Bob, not for a second or even a fraction thereof.

Guitar players prefer the way vacuum-tube guitar amplifiers sound over solid-state rigs – they sound more musical (grins and head nods from the tube audio camp). Guitarists also like the way they distort (giggles from the solid-state audio camp). Gordon Rankin recognized that the vacuum-tube guitar amplifier world could benefit from the same sort of innovative and ne plus ultra design approach that have made Wavelength Audio amplifiers so sought after in the HiFi world.

Rev me, baby!
Gordon Rankin calls his new guitar amplifier creations guitar engines. Gordon offers seven different models for different purposes and budgets: The Signature Head & Combo which are completely custom units with typically higher output power of 25 watts (in the Rob Fetters signature head for example mated to a 4 x12” slant custom Celestion Greenback cab); Studio; Solo; GAS; GAS Junior; and GAS Stereo. All of them are designed similarly but use topologies adjusted for the output tube (with pentode designs using the new reactance follower as well as VR-type tube regulators on the screens): They start with a tube rectifier and PI filter with Black Gate capacitors to keep things quiet; a single 12AX7A for the tone bank and gain stage; a driver for the directly-heated output triode; all powering a variety of choice speaker drivesr. Very classy! The Studio and Solo are premium models hand wired by the maestro himself, the GAS, GAS Junior and Stereo use high quality circuit boards instead to keep costs down. The Stereo is two Juniors in a single chassis to power two players at once but let each have their own amp. Cool.

Starting at $5,000 in the 'regular' series, the Studio model is a no-holds-barred design with a Western Electric 300B as output valve (or any other tube the customer specifies) and the highest quality parts available. It is completely hand-made and hand-wired by Gordon - da works! You get your choice of hardwood front panel, transducer and outputs. The circuit uses a 12AX7A for the tone bank and gain and a single triode-strapped EF86 driver for the 300B. The equally handcrafted $3,500 Solo uses a parallel-feed transformer with a 6B4G output tube and a 103dB-efficient 12" Celestion New Century speaker.

The next two models are the GAS and GAS Junior, the only difference the 10" versus 8" speaker driver (versions include Celestion Super 8 & Tube 10, Celestion Truevox for Acoustics, Jensen Alnico & Ceramic as well as Weber standard and custom 8" & 10" models). You also have a choice of 5-watt 6B4G, 6-watt EL84 and 10-watt EL34 or 6L6 tubes depending on type of sound, amount of power and size of venue you're thinking about. These GAS models are billed as perfect match for practice, studio work and smaller-venue gigs where you don't need a big amp and speaker stack to rock down the house. If you're going to play a gig that requires lots of speakers for huge volumes, the guitar amplifier system or GAS output part of these amps allows you to expand the number of speakers to your needs for any given occasion – a very practical feature. An optional headphone jack is available for when you want to practice quietly. While the GAS and GAS Junior with their printed circuit boards use a carefully selected complement of high quality parts that aren't stratos-pherically priced, they are still full-on single-ended hotrods, just a touch more affordable than the Studio and Solo. (The newer GAS models will be all hand-wired. Quipped Gordon "Not really worth coming up with 6-8 different PCBs for all the options now available" - Ed.) The GAS with your choice of 5-watt 6B4G and 10-watt EL34 or 6L6 will set you back $2,000, the GAS Junior $1,750. Their respective EL84 versions are $1,750 and $1,500. Tube vibrato or reverb add $250; black, red or purple snakeskin, checkerboard, blonde, oxblood, black & silver, blue white & silver, check, cane and other finishes add $50 while the standard color options are tweed with oxblood and green lament with salt & pepper.

The subject of today's review is the 6B4G-equipped GAS Junior in a directly-heated SET circuit driving, in this case, a Weber custom heavy Alnico 8. The review sample was equipped with neither a headphone jack nor reverb so I can't comment on those features. However, Gordon included the extension cabinet with its 12-inch Celestion so I could get a feel for the extra oomph an expansion cabinet would add to the mix.

Take off your coat and stay for a while!
To review the GAS Junior, fellow moonie and TASmanian devil Stephæn Harrell and myself met Badger Mountain Dry Band guitarist John April at the Music Machine in Kennewick/Washington. Music Machine has the distinction of being the third-largest Gibson dealer in the USA, with more custom and exotic Gibsons in stock than you're likely to find in any city anywhere in the world. With its huge range of stock and custom Gibson acoustics, archtops and solid-body electrics, it's not unusual to have musical globetrotters stop by to play-test -- and buy -- guitars. I'd like to offer many thanks to Rick Van Heel and Dave Carpenter (manager and owner of Music Machine, respectively) for making their huge inventory of superb guitars available for this review. Dave is an avid collector of vintage guitars and tube amplifiers and extraordinarily knowledgeable about all things guitars. He is also a phenomenal player who, just like Larry Coryell before him, enjoys the distinction of being a past student of legendary 83 year-old Pacific Northwest Jazz guitarist legend John La Chapelle. We were very fortunate to have Dave sit in on the action. Stephaen and I were treated to a great guitar duel as Dave and John put Junior through its paces with a variety of flat-top, archtop and solid-body electric guitars.

During these duets, a Gibson Goldtone GA-5 guitar amplifier was pressed into service to serve as handy point of comparison for the Wavelength GAS Junior. The GA-5 uses a 5-watt EL84 in a singled ended pentode circuit with 12AX7A driver and solid state rectification versus Junior's tube rectification. The Gibson model uses an 8-inch custom Gibson Goldtone speaker and is very similar in size, power and concept to the Wavelength. In spite of common inspirations in a circa 1950's Fender Champ (the Gibson reminding me of a '55, the Wavelength of a '57 Champ), they target two very different markets.

The Gibson is a stripped down, no-nonsense vacuum-tube guitar amplifier for a budding rocker or bluesman to practice with, playing just loud enough to serve double duty in a small garage band. The Gibson has two inputs so two guitars can plug in to jam just like the Wavelength GAS Stereo - and both appear to source their chassis from Mojo. The Gibson GA-5 is a great little Rock and Blues amp and, at $599, a stone-cold (red-hot?) bargain .