Mondo Amps

I run a type of ambient pad sound underneath my guitar when I play. Really opens up some space, especially when you’re out there playing an intro or a whole song all by yourself. I don’t want to bore everyone with the details of that, but basically I need a secondary amp to run it through. I’ve been through a couple….first I used a Seymour Duncan 84-40. This is an EL84 based tube amp from the ’80’s. Solid state recitifier. Sounded decent…I was always surpirsed how good it sounded plugging my guitar straight in. But…my main rig is EL84 based amps. And I wanted an amp (because money is always tight…our economy just rocks right now…..isn’t it great how we can blame everything right now on the economy?……yesterday I hit a wrong chord in worship and our bassist laughed at me……but when i explained to him that the wrong chord was due to the flailing economy, he nodded emphatically and totally agreed with me…..fantastic times right now) that was a little more American/bluesy sounding so that I could play small gigs and clubs with just that amp and a guitar….just a different sound than the modern rock, Voxy, effect-laden style. It’s nice to have some versatility. So I needed an amp that would sound nice and deep with my background pad, but could also double as a straight-up blues amp. 

So I sold the Duncan, and bought a Li’l Dawg. A guy named Jim Nickelson handmakes these up in Northern California. Basically a ’50’s Fender Champ clone, but with a 12″ speaker and a bigger cab. Sounded great!! But it was only 5 watts, and I needed a bit more clean headroom for both the pad and for playing straight into it. (If money was not an issue, I would have kept this little gem, though!)

So off that goes, and I’ve been looking for like a month for something that fit the bill, but was also somewhat within my budget (note that I always say ‘somewhat’). And I run across this handmade 2×10 Fender ’60’s bassman clone. 

(Please note that this picture is from the guy I bought the amp from. He owns a Ferrari. I do not. If I did, I would sell it. Then I would still not own a Ferrari. I would own lots more guitars, amps, pedals, and maybe an autographed photo of Val Kilmer in Tombstone. And probably also a Japanese-made hybrid car so that I could use the money I saved on gas to buy more guitars, amps, pedals, and autographed photos of celebrities whom I wish I was.)


Some random guy, so the story goes, who calls his company Mondo Amps, handwired and handmade this thing in 2004. Spring, tube-driven reverb, two Jensen speakers, killer vintage-vibe-looking stained pine cab, dual 6L6 output tubes, tube rectifier (tube preamp, of course). So I took a chance. 

And, ya, it sounds really good. Very warm and big with a ton of clean headroom for the pad. And plug a strat into it, and yikes, very very close to Jeff Buckley tone. Good, old-fashioned boomy cleans. Thick sound. Reverb is nice and washy, but not overly dense. As of now, I can’t stop playing out of it. Tons of fun.

I’m not exactly sure how to find this guy, but if I could, I might order another amp. A lot of fun to take chances on unkown builders. You win some, you lose some. Although, with this one, the previous owner sent me a gut shot of the wiring, so I was pretty sure it would sound at least decent. But, at least for me, it’s way more fun to try out stuff like this than to get the stock stuff. And when you find the good ones, the sound will be way more fun, too, if you know what I mean. And it wasn’t cheap, but way less than a Fender reissue Bassman that’s not built even close to ’60’s specs. (And then there’s the people that play through all stock Guitar Center stuff and still get fabulous tone out of it, and just crush all my lofty tone ideals. So take my ‘handmade rants’ with a grain of salt.) But nonetheless…….mmmm…..handwired.


4 thoughts on “Mondo Amps

  1. Hey Steven,

    I have some synthy delays and modulation pedals, that when coupled with a volume pedal and certain note formations, can sound a bit like a keyboard pad. So, for fullness, I’ve recorded them into a little Fostex recorder in all every key for about 7 minutes each. Then live, I just call up the song with the right key on the Fostex, recall the start and stopping points os it loops, and run it into a separate amp so that I can get pad holding behind everything. And then I put a volume pedal in the chain so that I can control the volume and on/off with my foot. So it’s basically a completely separate keyboard rig playing only pad in its most basic form.
    I keep it at a low level so that it doesn’t really call attention to itself, but you can totally tell when you take it away. Thus far, I’ve had about 90% good results with it. It works with most worship music, and modern stuff that stays around the key center. If we start to hit some accidentals and go out of the key, or play some jazz or Tommy Walker stuff, haha, I have to turn it off. And then of course, if we’ve got a couple keyboardists, I turn it off so as not to muddy up what they’re doing. And…every once in a while you get a sound guy who gets really, really excited about it and turns it up on the board louder than my main guitar rig. In which case, I also turn it off. 😉
    Hopefully that explains it a bit. It’s kind of a cool tool to have in the arsenal, but it needs to be used tastefully, and turned off when necessary.

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