Branzell ZellCat "50" Hand Wired 50 Watt Plexi Guitar Amp Head

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I always endeavor to bring something different to the table.  A twist of fate has allowed me to do it once again.

Announcing the arrival of Branzell hand-wired tube amps here at Mahar's Vintage Guitars, a line you won't see anywhere else.

Gary Branzell has a long history in luthiery in particular and the music business in general.  Hailing from northern Nevada, Gary started out as a player and a 10 plus year veteran of retail at Bizarre Guitar, a prominent stop on the hunt for vintage guitar enthusiasts in Reno, NV.  See his incredible guitar offering here.

I first found out about Branzell guitars about 20 years ago when I happened upon a gorgeous double-cutaway guitar that established a spot in the collection of a dear friend of mine.  What we thought was a one-off turned out to be the early work of a master guitar builder. 

We sold the Branzell guitar for my friend a while back.  Tim, my faithful employee, connected with Gary as we researched the instrument.  Gary mentioned his amps in the process and offered to bring them by.  We were so pleased with his work that we jumped on board.

That brings us to this build, Gary Branzell's ZellCat 50.

Hand wired hand crafted at a one man work bench, an updated take on a classic British 4 hole circuit that has been on countless records - The Marshall Model 1987 50 Watt JMP.  The circuit in this one is most akin to a 1968/69 plexi.

Original ones in good condition go for thousands!

Gary's post-phase-inverter master volume is included on the rear panel - an option that incurs no extra charge, and it also is better for your tone than the master volume mods you'll unfortunately find on original Plexis.  This model can be had without a master volume if desired.

A post-phase inverter master volume (AKA PPIMV) is placed between the plates of the phase inverter and the grids of the power tubes. There’s a few different kinds, but most use a stacked pot since there’s two signals (two power tubes, or pairs of).  Since the master is after the phase inverter, the grids of the P.I are slammed and results in more distortion.  The downside (or upside) is that it sounds best when used at medium range volumes. When the amp is pushed to its highest sweet spot this type of MV blinks out. 

The pre phase inverter or preamp Master Volume is the most common. It pushes preamp tubes into overdrive. It works better for bedroom level volumes, but has a buzzy quality 

The PPIMV is more brown sounding and is best for band use or pushing the power section of an amp while being able to tame the volume some.

Page, Beck, Lizzy, Hendrix, Moore, Bonamassa all dwelled or dwell here!  So big thick and badass.

Gary Branzell's commentary on his amp designs - Specs below:

What do I do that is different from the vintage style amps I build?

My voicing of my Branzell amps is rather complex but here are some basics…

Marshall and Pre CBS Fender needed to put product out the door quickly. Marshall used whatever transformers/parts were available good or bad. This has 60’s amps behaving all over the place. They got many of their transformers from a company called “Radio Spares”. Spares………….?

I use two brands, Heyboer and Hammond, depending on the amp and the tone chase. They are both top notch tone machines. Price is not a necessarily a consideration, but I do think that paying twice the price for a certain brand is unnecessary if the benefit for the player isn’t there!

The biggest amp makers had some of the worst lead dress in the industry and most had poor grounding schemes, creating unstable misbehaving amps.  Resistors and caps were pulled from bins without measuring/matching. This is important especially with phase inverters and matched tube sets.

The very best components for the circuit location, thoughtful build philosophy, and consistency are my goals. Every link in the chain matters.  I use reasonably short lead dress (wire) for quiet, stable, well-behaved rigs. 

Today’s factory amps in similar models to mine, if there are any, are equipped with printed circuit boards.  PCBs create unwanted capacitance that is basically an additional phantom circuit component that loads the signal down. Signal linearity is also a culprit, creating excessive parallel conductor paths.  Also, cheap electrolytic capacitors are common today, and they are very impactful. 

I offer no tripled, then squared rectifiers, effects loops, Gain on Gain-on-Gain channel switchers, tube switchers, on board back scratchers and such.

Think of it this way…   What is the full blast pressure of the water coming out of a 2-foot piece of hose hooked to your hose bib?  Now screw on a 50 ft. hose and tell me what happens at the end?

Electrons flow like water and react to hose resistance (/wire/components) from point A to point B in a circuit.  All those modern on-board gizmos choke natural, raw Guitar/Amp tone to a gasp.  It is no wonder we have this never-ending chase for our sound with modern amps.

Why did they change all this?  PCBs are quick and cheap, and new Gizmos at NAMM always put a twinkle in the buyer’s eye, not to mention dollars in the company’s pockets.  That simple black fishing lure catches more fish but, we buy the chartreuse triple-blade one because, it looks cool!?!  We lost our way….

My amps exit the bench with everything already tweaked.  Power and preamp tubes are swapped around and noted through the process to get the most from the rig. 

My obsession is Fat, rich, crisp, responsive, musical guitar tone!!


And don’t forget- you can arrange a custom build! 

Power tubes are biased ultimately by ear or to the buyers liking when applicable. 

I offer New Old Stock caps (not electrolytic though) Tubes and resistors in custom builds if desired and I can walk most anyone through “their bias goal” if desired.

  • Color: Cream
  • Dimensions: H10" x W24" x D8.5"
  • Weight: 33lb
  • Watts: 50w
  • Date: 
  • Where date is noted: 
  • Extension speaker out?: Yes
  • FX Loop?: No
  • Reverb or other effects?: No
  • Power tubes: 2 x EL34R
  • Preamp tubes: 3 x ECC83 (12AX7)
  • Pots: Original
  • Tolex: Original
  • Knobs: Original 
  • Handle: Original
  • Power cord: Yes
  • Notes:

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