Bob’s “Lil’ Buddy” amp returns to HQ for a complete overhaul

This is actually the very first amp I designed and built for Bob Spencer, a much loved and admired Aussie rock guitarist formerly of such bands as Finch, Skyhooks, The Angels, etc, and more recently RAW BRIT, as well as facilitator/coach on the Weekend Warriors programme in Melbourne. This amp was built back in 1997. We actually met in 1995, when Bob was recording the Temple Gods album, in a studio somewhere on the Hawkesbury River. He showed up at my house in Gosford at about 11 o’clock at night, to get a modification done to his AC30 clone amp (built by Ross Nichol in Melbourne, I think ?). This is how you meet guys like Bob !!

This was at the time when I was working from the kitchen/family room of our house in Wyoming (NSW) – there were amps waiting repair from one end of the house to the other, and amp parts stored in every room of the house – even under the kids’ beds, etc etc. Not the ideal way to live, and eventually I rented my current workshop space. Anyway, Bob made himself at home in the kitchen, my wife made us cups of tea, and I got on with the job. Bob obviously liked what he saw and heard, and kept making the trip up to the Central Coast whenever he needed something done to his amps and pedals.

Bob was living in Katoomba (NSW) at the time, in a charming house built 100 years ago or so. Once he discovered I built amps/pedals/power supplies, he started getting stuff custom-built. First up, he ordered  two rack-mounting preamps – the first enabled him to switch between a Hiwatt voiced preamp and an Ampeg voiced preamp. The second one enabled him to switch between two AC30 voiced preamps. Bob was the first customer to purchase my first two successful pedal designs in 1997 – the Rich Drive and the Rich Fuzz. We kind of agreed on what we were looking for in a pedal, as well as what was missing from commercial pedals, and a lot of collaboration went into those two pedal designs, especially the Rich Fuzz. I love that kind of stuff ! Both pedals are still available today (2011), and the designs have not been altered in any way, although the cosmetics continue to change.

Bob was building a home-studio in the house at Katoomba, and ordered a low powered amp (6V6 output valves) to drive a 1×10 cab housed in an isolation box. I originally built a switchable 8W/4W push-pull amp, based on the designs I was using at that time. This was well before the current craze for low powered amps. We soon realised, however, that a mere 8 watts wasn’t driving the chosen 10-inch speaker hard enough to achieve the optimal recording results when mic’d up ! There is definitely a lesson there for everyone. The power output was increased to 12 watts, and then 15 watts, substituting different transformers. The circuitry itself stayed the same. Why is the amp called the Lil’ Buddy amp ? It’s because at that time I was calling everybody my little buddy – regardless of how tall they were. Something to do with a 70’s TV situation comedy called Gilligan’s Island. Thankfully, I have stopped doing that.

This amp was used for recording of course, but also gigs, rehearsals and teaching. I recall seeing Bob’s blues band in a pub at Crow’s Nest (Sydney) years ago, using the Lil’ Buddy driving a Wasp 250 watt/4 x KT88 amp used as a slave, into a pair of 2×12 cabs, loaded with Etone speakers (from Peakhust/Sydney, no longer manufactured). What a sound ! Some noise complaints, though. How rude ! At the beginning of this millenium, Bob & missus relocated to Melbourne and also ordered firstly an 85 watt/4 x KT66 amp which is currently Bob’s stage amp, and secondly a 28 watt KT66 amp. Both amps were custom designs employing baxandall EQ, and other features unique to Bob. The Lil’ Buddy amp fell into disuse for many years.

So where do we stand right now ? Well, Bob and Paulene are in their new residence in Melbourne, and Bob is setting up a new home studio and is preparing to do some recording, so there is a valid reason to refurbish this amp and bring it into line with the current Richards amp range. Although this is still a custom amp, it will be somewhat similar to our Blue Mood models. As you can see from the photos, new component panels have been pre-wired to install in the chassis. The amp also has received a new output transformer (a critical component in any valve amplifier), new pots/jacks/capacitors, and so on, plus a bit more attention to electrical safety issues, in line with today’s compliance environment. The power transformer on the chassis was the third such unit, this one giving us slightly over 15 watts rms.

Some of you will have noticed a Headphones switch on the rear panel – unusual in a valve amp – this switches the ouput to a resistive load and attenuator, so the amp can be operated safely but at headphone levels. The Headphone jack can still be connected to a speaker in this mode of operation. So who is the guy playing the Craig Upfold custom Tele in the first photo ? This is Jonny Gardiner, creator of the Rock God Music School here in Wyoming, and also the singer/guitarist with successful Sydney-based band The Nevilles.

Jonny was kind enough to give us his review of this amp after the update was completed. These are his impressions:-

“this amp has the warmth of a Vox but with more clarity (and also more gain), ie the individual notes really ring through ! this amp’s forte is those delicious sounds inbetween clean and dirty, ie the crunch sounds ! a satisfying aspect of the amp’s performance is that you can control your dynamics with pick attack ! (ie the amp has great touch sensitivity)”

To finish off the blog, we have a photo of Bob playing with RAW BRIT in Melbourne with his Richards 85W/4 x KT66 amp head. Some great live videos of RAW BRIT in action have been uploaded to youtube.com, so you can check out these great players doing their thing.

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