Bill Jansen of Reeves Amplification

An Interview with Philip Snyder

Tom Petersson is known for having impeccable taste in gear. This comes from a solid knowledge of vintage guitars, basses and amplifiers. Looking behind Mr. Petersson onstage over the years is somewhat akin to looking back in time... Vox, Rickenbacker, Marshall and Hiwatt have all shared the stage with him.

But now Tom is powered by something new... or so it would seem. The new amps? Reeves... but "new" may not be an accurate description.

We recently spoke with Bill Jansen, president of Reeves Amplification, to find out more about these very curious and obviously special amps.


Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about your amps Bill. Can you give us a little history on how Reeves amps came into being?
I've always been a guitar / amp / Hi-Fi hobbyist. I've collected guitars, '60s - '70s Hi-Fi gear, and some Marshall amps. A couple of years ago I started to bring in some vintage gear from Musicground in England. Reeves Amps came to be after a few conversations with Justin Harrison of Musicground in Leeds, U.K. During the course of one of our conversations Justin mentioned that they own and manufacture Hiwatt. Justin clued me in that Fernandes owned the Hiwatt name and trademark in the U.S., thus preventing Hiwatt U.K. from selling amps in the United States. Well, my wheels started to turn and I came up with the idea of re-badging the Hiwatt U.K. with "Reeves" since Dave Reeves started Hiwatt back in the '60s. What better way to keep the lineage going?

What got you interested in building guitar amps?
I really don't build amps personally, but I know what tone and features I want so I go to people I respect in the industry for some design ideas and then I get together with my tech and start to lay out the design.

What differentiates Reeves amps from the old Hiwatts from the '60s and '70s?
There is nothing really different between the 50 and 100 watt amps. The circuit is true to the original. The transformers are built to the original specs. Outside of a few changes in voltage and impedance selectors the amps function and sound pretty much the same.

Tell us a little about the different models you offer and what circumstances you feel they are best suited for.
We are currently offering 5 different models with a few in prototype form.
The current models are:

Custom 6 - which is a single ended class A 6 watt combo amp with a single 12" speaker.

 

Studio / Stage - Available in both head and combo configuration. This amp is selectable between 40 and 20 watts. It has a master volume and gain control, treble, mid and bass. This is Tom Petersson's favorite amp.
 

Custom 50 & 100 - These are the tried and true replicas that people think of when the word Hiwatt is mentioned. From day one when Hiwatt was born these amps were known as "AP" or all purpose... guitar, bass, keyboard, etc.
 

CP103 - This amp was designed for Pete Townshend of The Who. It has four separate inputs each with its own volume control, master volume, bass and treble, 100 watts. This amp is also "AP". Tom Petersson also has used this amp on stage dialed down with a Dr. Z air brake.

Guitarists have used bass amps such as the Fender Bassman for years to get a "beefier" sound, but bassists incorporating guitar amps into their rigs is a relatively new concept. What challenges face an amp designer when a bassist wants to run through a guitar amp?
To be honest my experience with bassists is somewhat limited, but I'm trying to learn as much as possible. For instance, it seems to me that there are the "old school" and "new school" sounds that bassists go after. "Old school" is the sound that John Entwistle has going on The Who's "Live at Leeds". I think Tom Petersson would fall into this type of sound. Whereas the "new school" sound is, as my brother-in-law puts it, the "Jerry Seinfeld" sound...you know that back ground music on the Seinfeld episodes with the real "popping ring" to the bass.

So, if a bassist wants to do the "old school" sound where the amp is starting to break up from power tube distortion then yes, I can help you get to that point. To be honest we haven't done anything special... pretty much "here's our amps... give it a whirl and see it does it for 'ya".

Tom Petersson is currently using Reeves guitar amps exclusively as his live rig. How did you get involved with Tom and what were some of the things he was looking for in an amp?
First off let me say that Tom Petersson is a great guy! He has been nothing but supportive and very generous with his time. Nate at Willie's guitars in Minneapolis, Minnesota suggested to Tom that he give us a call. Tom has used Hiwatt amps since the '60s and wanted to team up with someone that would be there when he needed something or someone to talk to about and special requests. Well, during the course of our first few telephone conversations Tom wanted an amp that retained the tone that he has developed, but something that wouldn't kill everyone on stage with volume before that amp started to break up.

Based on what Tom was telling me we decided to send the Studio / Stage 20 watt / 40 watt and the CP-103 100 watt because both of these amps did have a gainier feel. Tom liked the Studio / Stage so well that he ordered another along with a couple of our 2x12 cabinets.

Since Tom is running only guitar amps, did you have to make special modifications to his amps to handle the massive signal of his 12-string basses?
No, the amps are bone stock.

Can you detail for us what amps and cabinets Tom is using? Do you know how he likes his amps controls set?
I'm not 100% what Tom is using on the road vs. what he uses in his home or in the Studio but what we have sent to Tom are stock Studio / Stage and CP-103 amps. 4x12 and 2x12 speaker cabinets. The amps and the cabinets are stock... nothing has be modded.

I do not know where Tom sets his controls.

What other artists are currently using Reeves amps? Do you have any other bassists using your guitar amps in their rigs?
Tom is the only major artist that I am aware of using our gear.

What specific elements do you consider to be essential in a good amp?
A good amp of any type should contain these elements in my opinion: Great sound, reliable, easy to use. If you can't get the first two elements right then nothing else matters.

One amp characteristic I've never heard any bassist ever talk about is Sag. Guitarists are usually familiar with this term, but bassists may not be. Can you briefly describe what sag is and give your opinion of it? Would sag affect bass the same way it does guitar?
Sag is the drop of power supply voltage in response to large transient signals which causes a some compression. While this is only felt in tube amps and not in solid-state, I would imagine that if a bassist is using tube amplification sag would be a experience that he/she is currently experiencing.

Do Reeves amps have much sag as a rule?
I'm not a tech but I would say that every tube amp has some amount of sag at one point or another. Our amps use solid-state rectification so sag is not as prominent.

Explain the advantages of point-to-point wiring and military spec components.
The two biggest advantages are tone and serviceability! If an amp goes down it is so much easier for a tech to evaluate the circuit to determine where the problem lies. If a tech has to spend half a day rooting through a rat's nest of wires then he isn't happy and the repair cost will go up if it is out of warranty.

Tell us a little about the importance of speaker cabinet construction and what you like about the speakers you load your cabinets with.
The more rigid a cabinet is the better the bass response will be in turn. This is why we use 13-ply Baltic birch, figure jointed cabinets.

The speaker options we currently offer are two: Fane speakers and our own designed "Vintage Purple" speakers. The VPs are voiced after the vintage Fanes circa early to mid 1970's. The old Fanes have a tone that just is not heard in the current production Fane models... the older Fanes had a bitier mid and top end.

Do you have any new amps coming out that you're excited about?
Yes, we are working on three new amps ranging in power from 20 to 50 watts... more to follow soon I hope!

Where does Reeves fit into the world of "boutique" amplifiers?
We are a bit different in that it seems a lot of other boutique builders are doing Marshall or Fender designs, whereas we are doing more of a Hiwatt theme. We are a small company but we are a patient company that wants to bring products to market that have a real value in respect to price and performance.

Where would you like to see Reeves Amplification in five years?
Ah yes, the five year question. I hope that we will be a much more recognized name in the industry with a strong following but still be that company that people can call up and talk to someone that cares.

Thanks again for allowing us the chance to talk with you, Bill!

Be sure to check out the Reeves Amplification website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Published April 3, 2005