Jim Kelley amps?

narad

Well-known member
Kind of surprising given all the praise these amps get on TGP, and given their seeming popularity with Mark / Boogie guys that I don't see any discussion about them ever happening on Rig-Talk. For me, when I listen to clips they sound pretty nice, and I understand that in the 80s with the attenuator it was a kind of a unique way of achieving that tone, but nothing I would be chasing these days. Anyone have some experience and give some insight?
 

braintheory

Well-known member
I have a 1980 Jim Kelley. It’s among the very best amps ever made imo, but not at all a metal or hard rock amp, which is why it won’t really get talked about on here. It’s more for blues, classic rock or fusion type stuff. The best way I can describe it is imagine a mark iic+, but take away everything from it that makes it a metal amp and give a more bluesy, loose, melodic voicing and make it also more open and 3D, complex sounding. For playing soulful, melodic lead lines it’s one of the very best amps ever (not for shredding though). The overtones and vocal quality it gets on singles notes, especially in the lower register is something special that I couldn’t match in any other amp I’ve tried. It’s a non-master volume amp though and needs to be very loud to do its thing. Excellent clean and reverb on too. If it weren’t for my ‘64 Vibroverb I’d actually use the clean and reverb on it lol. Just not the amp for the guys on this forum

I’ve even AB’ed it with a real Dumble, and while the Dumble was of course the more impressive sounding amp (it will be compared to anything), my Jim Kelley actually sound more open, a little bigger and sweeter, but of course couldn’t do what the Dumble could do and not gonna pretend like it could. I’ve not tried any metal or hard rock amp that can rival the 3D complex tone of the Jim Kelley or Gjika, but I’ve not yet tried a Larry. In the meantime, the iic+ and Purpleface have been the 2 best high gainers I’ve heard in that regard and probably why they’re also my favorite high gain amps so far
 
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midnightlaundry

Well-known member
I've been curious about his amps but its out of my spending ability.. I've learned that less is more with guitar amps. Less gain stages, less everything brings out the actual sound of the instrument more..
 

PhilC

Active member
I also have a 1980 JK. It's a really unique sound, but like braintheory said, it's not for metal or hard rock. For cleans it's just beautiful and lush and very balanced. It's not scoopy blackface, it's not spikey Vox or Matchless (and I love BF, Vox and Matchless). It's broad and you have a lot of room to tilt it with the EQ and the pull knobs from deep and warm to bright. I tend to use the one I have for pushed cleans. Cleans with sustain. It's awesome for that.

I rarely use it for leads or anything very high gain. I have a iic+, SLO and an SL68 if I want higher gain. I let the Kelley be that pure, balanced 3D tone that is very unique to a Kelley.

FWIW, I don't hear many clips do it justice. I hear a lot of iPhone clips that sound like a dull BF fender or something. That's not at all what it's like being in the room with one. The Bonamassa clip is good, as is Thorns.
 

braintheory

Well-known member
I've been curious about his amps but its out of my spending ability.. I've learned that less is more with guitar amps. Less gain stages, less everything brings out the actual sound of the instrument more..
I agree. Only 3 knobs on it that are push-pull and a reverb knob on the back. It’s one of the exceptional amps, not just something “nice” or flavor of the month kinda thing
 

braintheory

Well-known member
I also have a 1980 JK. It's a really unique sound, but like braintheory said, it's not for metal or hard rock. For cleans it's just beautiful and lush and very balanced. It's not scoopy blackface, it's not spikey Vox or Matchless (and I love BF, Vox and Matchless). It's broad and you have a lot of room to tilt it with the EQ and the pull knobs from deep and warm to bright. I tend to use the one I have for pushed cleans. Cleans with sustain. It's awesome for that.

I rarely use it for leads or anything very high gain. I have a iic+, SLO and an SL68 if I want higher gain. I let the Kelley be that pure, balanced 3D tone that is very unique to a Kelley.

FWIW, I don't hear many clips do it justice. I hear a lot of iPhone clips that sound like a dull BF fender or something. That's not at all what it's like being in the room with one. The Bonamassa clip is good, as is Thorns.
Yes that Bonamassa clip is the only I’ve seen that really gives a taste of what the Kelley does. Like the iic+, I find its one of those amps that’s harder to capture in clips for some reason. I don’t get to do it often, but for me the real magic in the Kelley happen’s once the volume is past 3 O’ clock (3/4 of the way up). I guess our’s are from the same year

The cleans on it are excellent, but to me still not as good as my ‘64 Vibroverb or Hiwatt, so I don’t use it for that. I would choose the Kelley’s clean probably over any other blackface amp, but the Vibroverb is something else and smokes the other Blackface amps. Fender discontinued it because it was too expensive to keep making
 

Dino 939

Active member
Braintheory, I've love to get your imput with the Rivera Stage IV if you get a chance to play one.
That ones got me gassin'.
 

braintheory

Well-known member
Braintheory, I've love to get your imput with the Rivera Stage IV if you get a chance to play one.
That ones got me gassin'.
I’ll have to look that one up. I’ve tried a lot of different versions of the Rivera K Tre’s and some old Fender amps he designed. None of them impressed me really, so I kinda gave up on Rivera, but maybe some are worth trying still
 

narad

Well-known member
Yes that Bonamassa clip is the only I’ve seen that really gives a taste of what the Kelley does. Like the iic+, I find its one of those amps that’s harder to capture in clips for some reason. I don’t get to do it often, but for me the real magic in the Kelley happen’s once the volume is past 3 O’ clock (3/4 of the way up). I guess our’s are from the same year

The cleans on it are excellent, but to me still not as good as my ‘64 Vibroverb or Hiwatt, so I don’t use it for that. I would choose the Kelley’s clean probably over any other blackface amp, but the Vibroverb is something else and smokes the other Blackface amps. Fender discontinued it because it was too expensive to keep making

Have you tried a Two Rock Classic Reverb Signature? I'm curious how it might compare to other modern high-end amps in the general "blackface on steroids" category.
 

braintheory

Well-known member
Have you tried a Two Rock Classic Reverb Signature? I'm curious how it might compare to other modern high-end amps in the general "blackface on steroids" category.
I have as well as lots of other Two Rocks (some were close to $10k) side by side and I’m sorry to say but it doesn’t. Not exactly the same flavor as a Jim Kelley, so maybe not the fairest comparison, but nowhere on that level of tonal complexity, 3D, vocal, organic tone, etc. Those Two Rock’s were highly overrated, overpriced and shouldn’t be in the same conversation as an amp like the Jim Kelley or Gjika. They are among those modern “boutique” amps that sound comparatively restrained, filtered, flat and inorganic/not lively when compared directly with a good vintage amp that really breathes life with their tone (or an exception like a Gjika). I’ll admit I was very impressed with those higher end Two Rock’s years ago, but that was way before I tried stuff like a vintage Jim Kelley, Gjika or Dumble. And speaking of which, those Two Rock’s don’t hold a candle to a real Dumble. The best I’ve tried was a Bludotone and even that was nowhere near as good as the real deal. It’s like comparing orange candies to a real orange (the fruits, not the amps lol). Ask Larry about Two Rock and Bludotone and he will tell you the same thing. There aren't really that many modern made amps that impress me though honestly. Gjika is one of the few and Wizard too. I’m sure a Larry amp will be awesome too when I finally get to hear one. Komet’s are also very good, but those are Train Wreck style amps

The Jim Kelley is not exactly a blackface on steroids though, at least not technically. It was based on an Ampeg B12, although it actually does sound much more like it’s a blackface derived amp and doesn’t actually sound much at all like a B12. I’ve not tried the recent made Kelley’s though, just ones from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Hopefully the recent ones are also good. Anyway, the old Jim Kelley’s are a special amp. That Two Rock is not and rather more on the generic side imo like many other modern “boutique” amps that I tend to forget about after a while. Now that I think about it, I cannot name you a single modern made black face on steroids amp that would be a great amp in my book. Only older ones like Jim Kelley or Dumble. Maybe the KT66 version Gjika would do it, but probably a different flavor still. Maybe one of the Alessandro’s, but haven’t tried any yet myself. Those good vintage amps can really spoil you. Another option is to find an actual modded vintage Blackface, literally a Blackface on steroids lol. Some of those can be quite good especially the Harry Kolbe modded ones I’ve tried, but I still much preferred my Kelley in AB comparisons and I’m sure Dumble would also be way better
 
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Dino 939

Active member
I have as well as lots of other Two Rocks (some were close to $10k) side by side and I’m sorry to say but it doesn’t. Not exactly the same flavor as a Jim Kelley, so maybe not the fairest comparison, but nowhere on that level of tonal complexity, 3D, vocal, organic tone, etc. Those Two Rock’s were highly overrated, overpriced and shouldn’t be in the same conversation as an amp like the Jim Kelley or Gjika. They are among those modern “boutique” amps that sound comparatively restrained, filtered, flat and inorganic/not lively when compared directly with a good vintage amp that really breathes life with their tone (or an exception like a Gjika). I’ll admit I was very impressed with those higher end Two Rock’s years ago, but that was way before I tried stuff like a vintage Jim Kelley, Gjika or Dumble. And speaking of which, those Two Rock’s don’t hold a candle to a real Dumble. The best I’ve tried was a Bludotone and even that was nowhere near as good as the real deal. It’s like comparing orange candies to a real orange (the fruits, not the amps lol). Ask Larry about Two Rock and Bludotone and he will tell you the same thing. There aren't really that many modern made amps that impress me though honestly. Gjika is one of the few and Wizard too. I’m sure a Larry amp will be awesome too when I finally get to hear one. Komet’s are also very good, but those are Train Wreck style amps

The Jim Kelley is not exactly a blackface on steroids though, at least not technically. It was based on an Ampeg B12, although it actually does sound much more like it’s a blackface derived amp and doesn’t actually sound much at all like a B12. I’ve not tried the recent made Kelley’s though, just ones from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Hopefully the recent ones are also good. Anyway, the old Jim Kelley’s are a special amp. That Two Rock is not and rather more on the generic side imo like many other modern “boutique” amps that I tend to forget about after a while. Now that I think about it, I cannot name you a single modern made black face on steroids amp that would be a great amp in my book. Only older ones like Jim Kelley or Dumble. Maybe the KT66 version Gjika would do it, but probably a different flavor still. Maybe one of the Alessandro’s, but haven’t tried any yet myself. Those good vintage amps can really spoil you. Another option is to find an actual modded vintage Blackface, literally a Blackface on steroids lol. Some of those can be quite good especially the Harry Kolbe modded ones I’ve tried, but I still much preferred my Kelley in AB comparisons and I’m sure Dumble would also be way better
I totally get what you mean with TR'S.
Been thru the herds back in the day.
The Type3 was killler and the old Classic Reverb.
Those machines need to be played loud as hell to get the magic happening.
Which is great if you have a big band with a lot going on. Insane bass bonk which is killer for Strat's/Tele's.
Honestly, I could never get a legit overdriven sound out of them. Just too "polite" like you almost sound like a fancy commercial.
One of those amps where dude's who don't know what they are prefer a Deluxe Reverb etc.
That's the moment when reality hits your pocketbook.
 

Dino 939

Active member
I totally get what you mean with TR'S.
Been thru the herds back in the day.
The Type3 was killler and the old Classic Reverb.
Those machines need to be played loud as hell to get the magic happening.
Which is great if you have a big band with a lot going on. Insane bass bonk which is killer for Strat's/Tele's.
Honestly, I could never get a legit overdriven sound out of them. Just too "polite" like you almost sound like a fancy commercial.
One of those amps where dude's who don't know what they are prefer a Deluxe Reverb etc.
That's the moment when reality hits your pocketbook.
And the TR cabinets are great firewood and 65's suck with those amps.
I said "f*** you dude's and put V30'S in there".
Which really helped but still was too friendly in the end.
 

braintheory

Well-known member
I totally get what you mean with TR'S.
Been thru the herds back in the day.
The Type3 was killler and the old Classic Reverb.
Those machines need to be played loud as hell to get the magic happening.
Which is great if you have a big band with a lot going on. Insane bass bonk which is killer for Strat's/Tele's.
Honestly, I could never get a legit overdriven sound out of them. Just too "polite" like you almost sound like a fancy commercial.
One of those amps where dude's who don't know what they are prefer a Deluxe Reverb etc.
That's the moment when reality hits your pocketbook.
I like the fancy commercial analogy haha. I think I do remember Type3 being one of the better sounding models by them, but I don’t remember as well anymore the names of all their models
 

braintheory

Well-known member
Also literally had the same experience with Carr amps.
Yes Carr’s are like that too. There are so many flat, uninspiring recent made “boutique” amps. Others for me like that were Bruno, Dr Z, Divided By 13, Top Hat, Morgan, Victoria, Sommatone, and Tone King. Gjika is so far the only one of these kinda amps that really sounded great to me. Others though that I still thought were very good, but not quite keepers, were Savage (had a Blitz, Glas and Schatten), Homestead HS100, Tex EF86, and Lazy J 20. Nice surprises with those ones. Still haven’t tried Alessandro, Xits or Schroeder, but have a Reason SM50 coming soon
 

Dino 939

Active member
Crazy, I agree with everyone of those amps you mention!
Most of those for me have that annoying loud boldness and feel like a witches tit!
 

braintheory

Well-known member
Crazy, I agree with everyone of those amps you mention!
Most of those for me have that annoying loud boldness and feel like a witches tit!
Yeah a lot of them had not great feel either and just lack life to the sound. I went through a phase a while ago where I tried all these current boutique amps thinking they must be better than the “outdated” older amps. Not being impressed with any, I thought either my ears were no good or I need more experience, but then later I revisited vintage amps and got to compare many of those same amps with some vintage amps like the old black faces, jcm800’s, boogies, and vox’s and I realized how much time and money I was wasting with all those sterile current amps and how much better and more lively those vintage ones sounded and at the time and a bunch were actually cheaper too. Because I didn’t have the experience yet I fell for the marketing hype that those boutique amps will make those best vintage amps like a Plexi obsolete lol. All those “boutique” amps I mentioned seemed to get nothing but high praise on the gearpage, but I rarely go on there anymore

I remember also destroy all guitars heavily hyping up those stupid Milkman amps. I heard one next to a real pre-cbs Blackface Deluxe reverb and oh boy did it school that milkman. It was like hearing a lifeless recording of the Blackface vs the real deal and yet the Milkman was more expensive. Even the guy who worked there, in the most polite way he could, basically agreed with me lol
 
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Dino 939

Active member
Great words here.
I been thru the dag road!
Honestly dude and this might seem lunical,
I'll put the Blackstar Studio 10 up against
any TR, Bruno, Dr Z., Carr, etc
It has a loop and a line out for multiple cab configurations.
I'm talking totally stock.
I imagine with creamback 75 and tung sol pre's
it would flatline the others 10-12 times it's price range.
The issue is the quality of the top end.
But thru other cabs, boom.
And just roll guitar volume to 9.25
The G3 pedal turns it into nice cruncher.
I never thought I'd type something like this.
 
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