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Jim Kelley is one of those legendary amp geniuses you read about, and whose amps you don't see that much. But, it turns out that you hear them a lot, you just might not know it. The work of amp builders like Alexander Dumble, Ken Fischer, and Jim Kelley are like hen's teeth to we mortals, but they grace the stages and studios of our favorite players. Here we have a special one, formerly owned and used by Lou Reed!
Here I lean on Wikipedia for some history:
Jim Kelley Amplifiers is the trademark for the vacuum tube guitar amplifiers designed by Jim Kelley and manufactured by his company Active Guitar Electronics of Tustin, California between the years of 1978 and 1985. Approximately 600 of these amps were built during that time. The single-channel version of the amplifier employed modest gain in the preamp stages, Baxandall type bass and treble controls, a split load phase inverter, and four 6V6GT output tubes. The amplifiers produce 60 watts RMS at full power, and include a half power (30/60) switch.
An improved version of the single-channel amp was released in 1980 which included reverb, an additional stage of gain, and optional foot switchable gain boost. These guitar amps were the first to employ a matched quartet of Sylvania 6V6GT output tubes. The amps were offered with hardwood cabinets, or in a variety of vinyl-covered birch plywood cabinets in a variety of colors. The amps were built as 1-12", or 1-10" combos, or as a head. JBL E-120 speakers were offered as an option.
Jim Kelley Amplifiers were also the first guitar amplifiers to be offered with an optional power attenuator. Jim developed these high-power continuously variable L-pad attenuators as a means of controlling the overall volume of his amplifiers so that the output section could be overdriven at more modest sound pressure levels. One unique feature of these power attenuators is the remote footswitch which would allow the attenuator to be bypassed.
Further amplifier innovations were incorporated into the FACS (foot-activated channel switching) model, which built upon the single-channel design by including two similar switchable preamps and tone stacks, independent reverb level controls for each channel, and internal relay switching for the external power attenuator. These models were available with optional transformer-coupled effects loops, and were configured for either a master effects loop, or for a separate effects loop for each channel. Owing to its longer (22-inch) chassis, the FACS model amplifiers were available additionally as a 2-10", or 4-10" combo. Another novel feature developed by Jim Kelley was the LED Bias Indicator as an aid in adjusting grid bias.
(The amp in this listing is of this era:) The final model to be developed and produced was the FACS Line Amp. It had all the features of a FACS amp, but the lead channel also employed a low-power push-pull output section. The miniature output transformer was followed by the Main Gain control, which functioned as a Master Volume. The lead channel also had a post distortion passive LC tone control which could cut or boost mid-range.
Lou Reed coveted the amps for some time. If you go searching about out there on the interwebz you'll see that a couple of Lou's Kelley amps have changed hands since he passed. Apparently, he'd still have them if he hadn't moved on...
"I have contemporary amps that work well for electric guitar for me. I’m a big fan of my Soldanos. And I have a few Jim Kelly amps I’d never part with."
"RK (Richard Kingsmill): With the guitar sounds that you use, is there a sound that you have in your head that you are trying to...
LR (Lou Reed): Very much.
RK: Where's that sound come from, do you know?
LR: From the very, very first time I overloaded an old Fender amp. And then I moved on to the Jim Kelly amp that had a power attenuator where he had power tube distortions from that."
ABC Australia 2013
If you'd like to hear some interesting facts about Kelley, the Line Amp, etc - check out the recent The Truth About Vintage Amps podcast that features a call in interview of Jim. It is really interesting!
This particular amp lives up to and perhaps exceeds the reputation of Kelley amps. I'd call it Hype in place of Reputation, but that word is loaded and conjures up the idea that the concept of a mind-blowing amplifier is hyperbole and not real.
I'm certain that I can't put the tone you get from this amp into words. I'll keep playing through it and will try, but in the end we're just going to have to make a video to show you. Suffice it to say that there is everything here - crazy, big, full clean tones to out of this world overdrive that nothing any of us own can produce.
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- Case/Cover?: No
- Color: Black
- Dimensions: 32.5"w x 11.5"h x 10.5"d
- Weight: 43lbs
- Watts: 30/60
- Where date is noted:
- Power Transformer brand and/or codes: PT2436
- Output Transformer brand and/or codes: OT6135
- Choke Transformer brand and/or codes: CT619
- Extension Speaker Out? Yes
- FX Loop?: Yes
- Reverb or other effects?: Reverb
- Rectifier Tube: SS
- Power tubes: (4) x 6V6GT
- Power Tube Brand: Phillips
- Preamp Tubes: 12AXY, 12AT7
- Preamp Tube Brand: Groove Tube, Sovtek
- Filter Caps: Original
- Pedal?: No
- Pots, codes: Original
- Tolex: Original
- Grille: Original
- Knobs: Original
- Handle: Original
- Power cord: Original