The Wavelength is for the person who wants a hand-made guitar amplifier tailored exactly to their needs and hand-tweaked to perfection by Gordon Rankin. The Wavelength offers tone controls, a choice of power tubes that vary in tone and power output from 5-10 watts to suit your playing style, a choice of any available 8 or 10-inch speakers, optional reverb and headphone jack, a variety of finishes and an output jack whereby to drive an outboard speaker stack should you need a really big sound. All this flexibility in design and custom hand-crafting costs more: $1,500 - $2,000 for a Wavelength GAS or GAS Junior guitar amplifier. Alas, you get a custom single-ended guitar amplifier exactly the way you want it. How cool is that?

Up first was a Rock'n'Roll set with Dave and John putting a pair of Gibson Les Pauls through their paces, first on the Wavelength GAS Junior, then the Gibson GA-5. John played a Les Paul Standard Premium and Dave a vintage 1959 sunburst Les Paul from his collection. Stephæn volunteered as the amplifier tender to swap leads to the Wavelength and Gibson amps between Dave and John every couple of tunes. The GAS Junior with its direct-heated single-ended 5-watt 6B4G triode sounded warm and lush with a rounded tone. Both John and Dave boosted the bass frequencies on the Wavelength, first because they could, secondly because they thought that bass response with the 6B4G triode was down a bit compared to the Gibson's 5-watt EL84 pentode which has a bright and clear tone with subjectively more extended high frequencies and a more extended and punchier bottom end. The Gibson also seemed to play quite a bit louder than the Wavelength - you could hear the lead lines more distinctly through it. "The Wavelength's definitely not a Rock amp", volunteered Dave, "it's too smooth and warm, doesn't distort aggressively enough when pushed and it's not loud enough to cut through other instruments to be heard. With the Gibson, you could practice at home, then use it in a small garage rock band - but with the Wavelength, you'd be limited to home practice. You'd never be heard in a garage Rock band."

From our listening position, Stephæn and I were in heaven listening to these two pros jam on either amp. It inspired both of us to become better guitarists. Dave and John sounded so good and the music was so engaging that I had a hard time engaging my audio nerd side to analyze the sound of the amps. However, each single Rock guitarist wandering through the session preferred the brighter, punchier and more aggressively distorting sound of the EL-84 in the Gibson. Be warned then. If you like to rock, the 6B4G is probably not for you. You'd be better served with the optional EL84, EL34 or 6L6 and a bigger speaker like a 10' Alnico.

Next up was a set of acoustic Rock, Folk and Bluegrass tunes using electrified Martin acoustics. John played a Spruce top cutaway Martin 000C-16RGTE with Indian Rosewood back and sides, Dave a cutaway Martin D-15 series dreadnaught with an all-mahogany body. After a while they swapped guitars. With these acoustic guitars, amplifier results were more varied. It was more a matter of what tonal balance worked best with the music being played. For example, on Bluegrass tunes with John doing lead solos, the Martin 000C-16RGTE/Gibson combination had a pleasant brightness and bell-like purity which, along with a slightly percussive and punchy sound, made for an outstanding combination. However, with the Martin's generally brighter and leaner acoustic sound, I preferred the warmer and tonally richer sound of the Wavelength 6B4G. The reverse held true for the warm and big sound of the dreadnaught Martin D-15. The Gibson made it sound musically engaging and full of life and sparkle whereas the Wavelength made it sound a bit too warm, lush and mellow. With a leaner guitar and to add a little warmth to the sound, the 6B4G would be a good choice. To add more sparkle to an already warm-sounding guitar, you can't beat the EL84 pentode.

Then out came the archtops for a nice Jazz set. Dave played a beautiful tobacco sunburst Gibson L-5 archtop that radiated the traditional Jazz vibe while John first played a vibrant blue sunburst Gibson ES-135, then switched to a tobacco sunburst Gibson Herb Ellis archtop. Now there was no contest - the Wavelength provided an absolutely ravishing tonal Jazz palette while the Gibson sounded lean and bright by comparison. In fact, so blown away was I by the sound of the Gibson L-5 in combination with the Wavelength that I came back later and auditioned it for a possible purchase. Arch-top Jazz guitars tend to sound dryer and leaner than their flat-top acoustic cousins so an amp that's a little warmer and more rounded tends to be a better match. The Gibson ES-135 guitar/Gibson GA-5 amp combo sounded a bit too lean and bright for my tastes.

The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most popular electric guitars of all time. It's amazingly versatile and produces a huge variety of sounds. Dave and John made the American Stratocaster used during the review sound like a screaming Rock axe with the Gibson and its EL84, or like a smooth and mellow Jazz guitar with the Wavelength's 6B4G. Want to delight a wannabe Rock star next Christmas? Buy them a Stratocaster and a Gibson amp. They'll be smiling for years. Want to make a budding Jazz guitarist happy? Put a Wavelength GAS Junior with a 6B4G under the tree.

Summing Up
I've been considering buying an electric archtop Jazz guitar such as a Gibson L-5 or Super 400 to keep my Gibson Advanced Jumbo acoustic flat-top and 1948 Gibson Super 300 acoustic archtop company. For practicing at home on an archtop Jazz guitar, the Wavelength GAS Junior with a 6B4G would be my first choice due to its jazzy warm, mellow and tonally rich sound. Archtop guitars tend to be a little lean and dry compared to flat-tops. The GAS Junior is the perfect match to imbue that big wet and mellow sound that jazzsters love. Thanks to Dave and Rick at Music Machine, I had the pleasure of playing a half dozen stunning electric Gibson archtop Jazz guitars through the Wavelength. I played several custom L-5s, several custom L-5 Signatures and an $18,000 custom narrow body Gibson Super 400 that took my breath away. The Wavelength made every one of them sound unique and drop-dead gorgeous. This, my friends, is the absolute sound. Personally, I also really liked the way the American Stratocaster sounded through the Wavelength. Ditto for Stephæn's personal Gibson J100 acoustic/electric.

However, both Dave and John preferred the Gibson with its EL84 for playing Rock'n'Roll and its ability to play louder and distort more aggressively. For Rock and Blues guitarists, there are distortion factors at play here that are the complete reverse of what regular audiophiles look for. One of the traits that SET audio fans hold dear about their amplifiers is their ability to sound polite and mild if driven into distortion and clipping. Those same cherished distortion characteristics are a liability for guitarists who want an aggressive and bright sound for cutting through the other instruments in the band. Having said that, everyone was unanimous about the Wavelength's Jazz prowess - it's da shit!

Here's my personal take on the Wavelength GAS & GAS Junior: For playing at home, the GAS Junior with its 6B4G and 8-inch custom Alnico Weber has plenty of volume. When plugged into the 12-inch extension cabinet, I could pretty much blow the house down. However, when John La Chapelle played his beautiful 1946 Gibson L-5 with a Johnny Smith pickup through the Wavelength, he commented that a bigger speaker and a more powerful output tube would be a good choice if you were going to play gigs. If I were going to buy a Junior -- and I'm thinking about it -- I'd pick the larger 10-inch Celestion and stick with the 6B4G triode. Those of you used to stratospheric prices of hand-made audio exotica are likely to think that the Wavelength Junior is some kind of bargain. When considering what a pair of Gordon's audio amplifiers sell for, it is. Compared to the Gibson GA-5, it isn't.

Want an amplifier for practicing archtop Jazz in the living room? Go for the 5-watt 6B4G and 8-inch Weber for a tonally rich, warm, and jazzy sound. Are you going to play some solo Jazz gigs in small venues? Pick the 10-inch Celestion. Going to play a variety of guitars and styles in a small to medium-sized venue and want to take a small light amp with you? Grab a 10-watt Wavelength with an EL34 or 6L6 and the bigger Alnico. Want to rock the house? Add the 12-inch extension cabinet. If you want an ultimate little EL84 Champ-like amp, Gordon will build it for you. For once in your life, you really can have it your way!
Stephæn adds a juicy diminished 9th chord to the score:
I routinely have the opportunity to talk with clients about the arc of distortion. This is a model that describes aspects of interpersonal communication getting in the way of person A receiving the message intended by person B. Among numerous other factors, sources of distortion include environmental, physiological and emotional noise and encoding and decoding errors. As to the subject at hand, here's the deal: When playing back my acoustic Gibson J-100, I got the message. It sounded like a properly amplified J-100. Actually, it sounded like (say it with me) my J-100.

Other amps can stir up -- or in the case of certain electric models, support -- multiple personalities from the same guitar. Many guitarists like that. Heck, I like I it, too. And I'd be happy if you mistook me for Stevie Ray any day. Not that that's ever gonna happen. Still, in order to even get close to his sound, I'd need an amp that would give me the ability to either tweak, alter, modify -- in short, basically change -- the signal fed from my acoustic guitar or, fed forward, enhance the gestures of a Stratocaster, Stevie's axe of choice. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, mind you. I don't think the guitar can do it all on its own. And, I'll be the first to admit that reverb rocks. Its effect on my Fender Blues Jr. can make even me sound more respectable if still unrefined.

Now, some might describe the GAS Jr. as "sweet-sounding". They would, from my perspective, be wide of the mark. More properly, I believe this amp propels the purity of original tone. Sure, if you compare the Wavelength to other amps, it sounds sweet though never saccharine. But is that the responsibility of the former or the latter? And if of both, to what degree?

While I embrace the techno-laden influences of Moby, Air, Laurie Anderson, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Morcheeba and Charles Webster, at the end of the day I covet acoustic music and guitars. And so I proclaim my unabashed bias with respect to the Wavelength. One thing I asked myself is this: If I had to listen to the music I most care about through a guitar amp, which would I pick?

Take a wild guess. Whether Paolo Conte (delivering on the Italian avantgarde front by combining folk, cabaret, swing and jazz); Stefanovski and Tadic (the evocative Macedonian acoustic guitar duo playing melancholic Macedonian folk songs on M.A. Recordings); Michelle Shocked (weaving us through alternative- and anti-folk) or many others - the choice would be easy. And it would have nothing to do with the so-called "... traits that SET audio fans hold dear about their amplifiers ... their ability to sound polite and mild if driven into distortion and clipping". My flea-sized PX-25 reproduces recorded distortion just fine, thank you very much (see above or talk to my ever tolerant bride).

That said, the GAS Jr. wont' exaggerate distortion put into it. It does sound "politer and milder" than the other amps discussed in the review but again, who really knows what the unamplified -- albeit somewhat or grossly distorted -- tone of any electric guitar really sounds like?

With an 'ampable' acoustic guitar, it's easier to judge though not foolproof, depending on the pickup or miking in question. If your guitar is like Sade singing "Is It A Crime" or Jacintha keeping you up til "The Wee Small Hours of the Morning", or most anything by Eric Bibb on Opus recordings, you'll understand where I am coming from. This is an amp for you. But what if your guitar/amp combo is more like Chrissie Hynde? You do want Chrissie's guitar/amp combo to play a sympathetic role in expressing her bad-ass, grinding, shameless self when she describes "Tattooed Love Boys" or discloses just how "Precious" you are, no? Then it's time to move along.

Oh, yes, I am keen Chrissie's, erm, distortion when it's called for. Hell, I listen with pleasure to plenty of it. I've also learned to address it when it pops up inappropriately in the various processes I facilitate as a consultant. If people trying to solve problems would communicate as directly -- and arguably, as honestly -- as the amp under review, I'd be out of business. You see, having the right tools at your disposal always makes for a better end product. Finances willing, this amp belongs not only at the home of the right person developing their chops but would make for an astonishing co-conspirator in the arsenal of a working studio musician.
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