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Take 5: Cliff Smith Audio – Amp Repair Service includes Lawrence

Amp burnt up

Amp need a little repair?

Not long after saying goodbye to Tom Wagner, Mass Street Music’s former go-to for pro audio/amp repair, we were fortunate enough to find Cliff Smith Audio from Overland Park to service our customers. While we knew his work was top notch, we came to realize there was much more to Cliff than just amp repair. An electrical engineer by trade (in the medical field, as a matter of fact), a musician by choice, and an audio guru by virtue of both, Cliff is a venerable encyclopedia of vintage amp and electrical knowledge. To him, your audio gear isn’t simply “electronics” – it’s an extension of your tone, and therefore, an extension of yourself.”

Cliff graciously took the time to answer a few questions for us. You might happen to see him in the store on Tuesdays, when he picks up and returns repairs, so be sure to welcome him and say howdy.

Graphic for Cliff Smith Audio Repair

This is not really Cliff, but he is a madman with the tools.

MSM: What do you think plays the biggest part in the tone that comes from your amp? Tubes, transformers, speakers, guitar, the player, something else?

Cliff: Outside of the player and the guitar (not going there!) in order of importance:

Speakers: Your speakers make the most difference, in terms of bang for the buck. In certain situations you can even double your volume level, just by changing types. Experiment till you find the ones for you.

Tubes: Different types of tube do have different sounds. I encourage folks to experiment with what they can. No one can tell you what is the right for you or your amp.

Output Transformer: It seems like the cheap small ones made in China sound about 60% as good as the bigger US made ones.

A good finger-jointed non-particle board cab will sound maybe 15% better than a butt-jointed pressboard cabinet.

Changing/tweaking these components can improve the tone maybe 5-10%. You can modify things farther, but you will be vastly changing the usefulness and versatility of the amp.

Power Transformer:
Least bang for the buck. Usually reserved for those with a blown transformer.

MSM: New production vs. vintage gear: what’s your preference? Any new manufacturers you feel are doing a good job replicating the sought-after tone and build quality of yesteryear?

Cliff: Like everything else in this disposable world, most things that were built years ago were made to last for decades. Nowadays, you must pay a big premium for new production gear to be made that well. There are quite a few manufacturers that are building quality equipment, but it is amazing to me how many of them copy the errors/shortcomings in the classic circuits. There are many improvements that can be made on these circuits that will improve noise levels and reliability without sacrificing the quality of the tone.

MSM: Tubes: NOS vs. new. What’s your take?

Cliff: My take is that reliability is the main issue with tubes. The greatest tubes in the world don’t do you any good if the amp quits working correctly. I stick with new tubes that are under warranty for the vast majority of my repairs unless the customer specs something different. I have had many “NOS” tubes over the years and in my experience they can sound very good, but it seems that a large percentage of them have issues with microphonics, and noise. These aspects are not detected with normal tube testers, but must be weeded out by ear. It can be a crapshoot, especially when buying NOS tubes on the web.

MSM: You have a quote on your website – “Great tone is not a destination, it’s a journey.” What does that quote mean to you?

Cliff: No matter how good your tone may be, it seems that most of us lust for better sound. Getting just the right sound is a process of learning and growing – it can take years, maybe your whole life! Keep experimenting until you find what works for you.

MSM: What’s one of the toughest amp or audio repairs you’ve ever run into? 

Cliff: Whatever amp I have on the bench that I am struggling with at the moment – changes all the time!

Cliff picks up and returns repairs from Mass Street Music every Tuesday. He’s even Fender certified (as well as Ampeg, Crate, Visual Sound and many more).  There is a $45 bench fee, which is applicable to your repair. Those in a time crunch can call Cliff directly at 913-912-7065.



Mass Street Music Staff Gear Picks – July 2013!

Here’s this month’s roundup of what the Mass Street Music staff has been ogling the most…

John FlynnFulltone Plimsoul Pedal
Great thick overdrive, but still very articulate…perfect when you need a great drive tone at lower volumes too.

Fulltone Plimsoul Effects Pedal

Flynn’s into Fulltone’s great Plimsoul overdrive this month – like he needs another pedal…

Jim Baggett
Sergio Tezanos Madrid Classical
You just don’t see this every day. It’s beautifully built with a wonderful sound.

Sergio Tezanos Madrid Classical Guitar

A rare classical has captured Jim’s attention this month.

Eric Mardis
Paul Cochrane Audio Timmy Pedal
I’ve always been an amp distortion guy, but lately I’ve been having fun with fuzz pedals. The Timmy is a low gain overdrive pedal, not a fuzz – but the magic that happens when you stack a fuzz (Skreddy Lunar Module) into the Timmy is addictive. It’s fantastic by itself (dial in Malcolm Young, J Page, Larry Carlton), but I truly love it in conjunction with the fuzz (Gilmour, all things awesome).  The “cut” EQ dials are super accurate… I’m not sure how I lived without a Timmy for so long.  It adds new colors to my board while playing well with others. A “no brainer”. TIMMY!

Cochrane Timmy Overdrive Pedal

I asked Mardis what his top pick was this month & he just shouted, “TIMMMMAAY!”

Eric Putnam
Dr. Z Antidote Amp
This amp sounds amazing! The vintage/modern switch is very useful – there is plenty of gain in the modern settings, and the vintage mode has plenty of headroom. Dr Z is always coming out with great products and this one is an instant classic.

Dr Z Antidote Amp Head

Eric P’s favorite is the latest from Dr Z – an amazing amp that begs to be play LOUD.

Ted Kritikos
PreSonus FaderPort USB DAW Controller
This little guy is a must have for anyone interested in making music with a computer.  The amount of time it has saved me by providing physical transport buttons is enormous.  Plus, the long-throw fader is motorized, so it jumps around all by itself as you switch from track to track – sure to impress/terrify/fascinate your cat.

Presonus Faderport USB DAW Controller for recording music on your computer

This PreSonus FaderPort is essential for home recording but, according to Ted, it can also double as a cat toy.

Mike Horan
Repair Shop Luthier & Manager –  Leo Posch JM
In the midst of Collings CJ-35 fury, I would like to insert the Posch J-M – yet another slope D in the tradition of the J-35/45. This guitar sports a gorgeous sunburst and a very thin lacquer finish. It’s interesting to hear it against the Collings CJ. While the Collings presents the modern twist on the tradition, the Posch has a deeper, wide open sound associated with older instruments.

Leo Posch JM Acoustic Guitar

Repair Shop Manager Mike H is taken with the beautiful, open sounding Leo Posch JM this month

Matt Harmon
Repair Shop Luthier –  Collings OM1A
This Collings sounds great, just the right amount of player wear on this one. No need to keep it cased up when not playing it and perfect to take places, hang out and play without fear of the first ding or scratch.

Collings OM1A Cutaway acoustic guitar

This used Collings OM1A acoustic caught luthier Matt H’s eye

Alek Nelson
Squier Affinity Tele
I really can not believe how good these new Squier Affinity guitars are! I have heard a lot of people say they wish they had had one of these when they first began playing.

Fender Squier new Affinity Telecaster Lake Placid Blue

Alek’s pick this month is the improved Fender/Squier Affinity Tele – nice improvements (including a smoother neck) on this classic affordable electric


Anne Tangeman1964 Mustang
This Mustang is just too cool. I’m sure there are more pristine ones around, but this one has that ‘somethin’ somethin” that just feels so right.

1964 Fender Mustang Dakota Red

This ’64 Fender Mustang shows a few scars of the years, but Anne thinks it’s the pick of the litter this month.

Casey Green
1982 Les Paul Standard
These Norlin-era Les Pauls are becoming some of my favorite ever. Especially when you can find them in good, mostly un-modded condition like this one. There’s really nothing that sounds quite like a great LP – thick, rich, and heavy. And so easy to play! Plus, this 1982 Les Paul Standard has the rare distinction of being built the year I was born. Someone get it before I do!

1982 Les Paul Standard Black

Casey’s been hankering for this sweet ’82 Les Paul Standard


Taylor Road Show April 22 Promises Surprises!

Taylor Road Show 2013 square logo


Just a reminder that the great Taylor Road Show returns to Mass Street Music on Monday, April 22, at 7pm! This is a really fun (and free) event that lets you try out new Taylor guitar models and also play some exquisite, special one-off guitars brought in for this night only.  We’ll also have special one-night-only-deals on our current stock of Taylors in the store.

We just received word from our Taylor buddies Eric Sakimoto and Marc Seal that we’ll have several great surprises in store this time, including this very special Taylor Builder’s Reserve Series VII Mahogany guitar along with a  really lovely matching Builder’s Reserve Mahogany uke!

Taylor Guitars Builder's Reserve Series VII Mahogany GC guitar and uke

The Taylor Guitars Builder’s Reserve Series VII Mahogany GC guitar AND uke will be at Mass Street Music too!

In addition, Eric and Marc will be bringing along a truly spectacular $14,000 Master Grade Koa Grand Concert guitar that also features intricate Nouveau inlay.

Taylor Guitars Master Grade Koa Grand Concert guitar

You’ll have the opportunity to play this spectacular $14,000 Master Grade Koa Grand Concert Taylor with ‘Nouveau’ inlay.


back of Taylor Master Grade Koa guitar

The back of the Taylor Master Grade Koa Grand Concert guitar.  A beauty!

And those are just the tip of the iceberg. They’ll have plenty of great guitars for you to check out, including some of their brand new Grand Orchestra models. They’ll also be handing out some great freebies like Elixir Strings, Taylor shirts and other goodies, while supplies last. We hope you can join us for this special evening! Find out more on our Facebook page here or our Events page here.  Questions? Just give us a call at 785-843-3535. See you there!



We bid farewell to Matthew K

Matthew K with Victor Wooten at Mass Street Music

Matthew hanging out with Victor Wooten at the store a few years back

Our Mass Street Music compadre, talented co-worker, friend and buddy Matthew Khomsi is moving on to a job in Kansas City and will have his last day at Mass Street Music on Saturday, September 8.  Matthew has been an integral part of the Mass Street family for years now and most of you probably recognize him as our resident bass expert (as well as many other things), and as one of the folks you see when you first step in the door. We’re seriously sad to see him go, but know he’ll do very well in his new endeavors. Matthew, we will miss you, but have no doubt we’ll keep in touch. We’ll see you at your next Wrath and Ruin gig!

Matthew Khomsi of Wrath and Ruin

Matthew playing with his band Wrath & Ruin!



Pickup Test Drive: Fralin P90s

Pickup Test Drive for guitars graphic imageOur second Pickup Test Drive is up in the store now through Friday, September 14th (NOTE: extended through Friday, Sept. 21) and features Fralin Dogear P90s loaded into my own Gretsch Junior Jet II! If you’ve wanted to try out some Fralin P90 pickups, now is the time. My Junior Jet has a -5% underwound P90 in the  neck and a +5% overwound P90 in the bridge. Killer combination and just one reason we sell our pickups individually so you can get exactly the sound you’re after. On Sept. 14th we’ll  switch this one out for another staff member’s guitar so you can check out some different pickups.

Grestch Junior Jet II with Fralin P90 dogear pickups

Come check out what a set of Fralin P90 pickups can do for a Gretsch Junior Jet

Josh B. and Matt H. in our Repair Shop are serious pickup experts and came up with the great idea of the Pick Up Test Drive, giving everyone a chance to try out some different pickups in different guitar bodies. Matt H. replaced the Gretsch mini-hums in my used Junior Jet with Fralin P-90s (used dogear pickups as the routing/positioning required it- and heck it looks awesome), upgraded the capacitors, and made a super sweet LP Junior style pickguard for it – it’s exactly what I wanted, and cost a lot less than a brand new guitar. Check out all our Fralins here. We also have a great selection of Grosh pickups here. We’ll be adding more pickups down the road too.

Here’s what my Jr. Jet II looked like in process:

Grestch Junior Jet II getting new pickups

My used Gretsch Junior Jet II on the operating table awaiting a pickup transplant


Close up of Gretsch Junior Jet wit Fralin dogear P90 pickups

Now that is beautiful. Stop by and give it a spin.