Gear Review: East Of The Wall Bassist Chris Alfano on His Ampeg Skunkworks SVT Head

- Aug 13, 2014 at 05:26PM
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Call them progressive rock, experimental metal, post-metal, it doesn't really matter. What does matter; however, is that regardless of how one classifies the Keyport, NJ-based quintet, Seth Rheam (drums), Matt Lupo (guitar, vox), Greg Kuter (guitar, vox), Chris Alfano (bass, vox), and Ray Suhy (guitar) all came together to form some killer music, as perfectly evidenced by their October 29, 2013 10-song release, Redaction Artifacts. The album is a stunning display of both musicianship and songwriting, and fortunately for us, so as to better appreciate the album, Chris Alfano (who is also in Argonauts, and runs took a moment to shed some light on his key gear and how it impacted the recording.

What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
Alfano: An Ampeg Skunkworks SVT head. It's a 1987 reissue of the '70s silver face heads that Ampeg made. For a while in the early '80s Ampeg was owned by a Japanese company called MTI, so when they came back to the U.S. Ampeg wanted to do it with aplomb. They took the remaining parts they had from the '70s heads, ordered what they didn't have from the same suppliers, and changed a couple minor things to (what was then) modern spec, like 12ax7 preamp tubes and a manual ohms selector. Ampeg made 500 of these "Skunkworks" SVTs and mine is #20.

What about it makes it so important to you?
Alfano: It's simply the best bass head I've ever head. Sure I haven't played all of them and I'm very curious to try a Verellen Meat Smoke or that new Mesa/Boogie Strategy head, but I've head a lot of tube bass heads (I need the head to be tube) and this is the best I've used, including all of Ampegs subsequent tube heads and reissues.

How was this gear used during the recording of your latest album?
Alfano: I used it for all of the tones on our last album, Redaction Artifacts, but I blended it with a guitar amp for more attack, a VHT Sig:X.

How do you recreate your album (guitar/vocal/bass) tones in your live set?
Alfano: Well I don't necessarily want a perfect recreation of a studio bass tone line because I like more low end in a live tone. You can only get away with so much bottom on a record, especially after mastering. A live mix has more room to breathe. That's why I blend in a guitar amp on recordings, for that extra cut.

What are the major pros and cons?
Alfano: Well it's an old amp, almost 30 years by now. Fortunately most of the components are the same as what's used in modern amps, but I get concerned about the reliability of an amp that's older than half of the audience. Also the fuse and tube types aren't exactly uncommon, but they're not easy to find in local stores on tour. Also, it's heavy as hell. On the plus side, it sounds really awesome.

Do you have a backup for this gear, if so, what?
Alfano: I have a Sunn Coliseum 300 bass head, one of the better solid-state heads that I've heard. It's busted right now though. I really need to fix it. I could use a backup right now.

How long have you had it, how do you use it, would you ever change it?
Alfano: I'm always curious to try new gear, and I certainly wouldn't mind playing through a new amp that has a warranty. The Verellen and Mesa amps I mentioned are on my radar, as is Orange's AD200B.

Check out the song "Obfuscator Dye"

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