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Gibson amps are BACK, baybee!

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The Falcon Returns | Gibson Roars Back Into the Amp Game
As a “solo act,” Gibson began making amplifiers way back in 1935, summiting with the coveted yet cultish GA series amps of the early rock era, until ceasing production in 1967. Awesome amps, but unappreciated—even with cool names, such as Raider, Invader, Titan, Hawk and others. Gibson tried again in 2005, and made some wonderful-sounding amps, but through no fault of Gibson’s, the earth still did not move.

That all may change with the 2024 introduction of the Gibson Falcon 5 and Falcon 20 amps—a collaboration by Gibson and Northern California boutique-amp innovators, MESA/Boogie. Shazam!—peanut butter and jelly.

The future of the new Falcon amps is yet to be written, of course, but that future looks absolutely luminous.

Brought to the fore by Gibson’s acquisition of MESA/Boogie in 2021, the partnership was also nudged forward by a “Gibson Amp Club” within the company, the increasing values of their vintage amps and a somewhat overlooked sonic characteristic—when cranked to maximum volume, ’60s Gibson amps produce a uniquely riotous overdrive that is, in a word—ferocious.

The Falcon project was also championed by Gibson President and CEO Cesar Gueikian (who acquired a bunch of vintage examples for the company) and Vice President of Product Mat Koehler (a member of the Gibson Amp Club, a talented guitarist and an aficionado of the ’60s-era Gibson GA-19RVT amp).

“The MESA/Boogie acquisition basically added a layer where it was like, ‘Why would we not do the new amps with Boogie?’” explained Koehler.

Boogie’s contribution to the dynamic duo is two legends in the field of guitar amplification—Founder, President and Designer Randy Smith, and Director R&D Doug West. Here, West and Koehler—yes, another duo—share how the Falcon project kicked off, as well as its design strategy, tone challenges and breakthroughs.

Follows, an in-depth interview with the Koehler/West dynamic duo recounting the how’s, why’s, and wherefore’s of getting the Falcon project off the ground and soaring which is bound to be of interest to guitar amp aficionados. Certainly, the new Gibsons are serious eye-candy.

An attractive pair
Even the grab-handle is a work of art
Simple, elegant, NO master volume–now THIS is what a control panel ought to look like!

Years ago I owned one of the vintage Gibson amps, a  57 GA-6, I think it was called. Lemmesee if I can find a…hold on…damned stupid Innarnuts…AH, here’s one!

Yep, that’s like mine, or close enough for rock and roll anyway. The Gibson was a nice enough rig for twangin’ and bangin’ at the house, but not really suitable for actual gigs in a room of any size, being way underpowered for such usage. The sound was as muddy-brown as could be: strong on the lows and low-mids, but far too weak in the higher tonal ranges to appeal to my born-and-bred-on-a-Marshall self.

As described in the interview, there’s distortion aplenty when cranked up to 11, but no real punch or presence like I’d grown accustomed to from the 100 watt Marshall half-stack I had as a teenager. In terms of the several qualities a lead guitarist needs most in an amp, the Gibson didn’t have any. That being so, the poor little Gibson box was extremely vulnerable to being completely lost in the mix onstage, particularly if the drummer had any balls at all.

Even back in their modest (not to say lackluster) heyday the Gibson amps, while a fair few jazz cats swore by ‘em, just weren’t up to bringing the rock and roll thunder, thus were left in the dust of their Fender, Marshall, Vox, and Ampeg competition—soon to wind up discontinued, forgotten, and unmourned by all but a handful of amp-collector geeks bent towards the less-pricey oddballs, orphans, and exotics of the trade.

Can’t recall when I got rid of my old Gibson amp, nor what the specifics of the deal in which it was offloaded were. Most likely, I used it as trade-bait on a gutsier amp with the kind of ferocious OOOOMPH I required. It was in mint condition the day I bought it, and same-same the day I sold/traded/whatever the hell I did with it, having lived peacefully at the house all the years I had it. Hopefully, it ended up in a good, loving home.

With the MESA/Boogie brain-trust helming the design and build, I expect Gibson’s new amplifier line will be bigly improved over the old good-but-not-great models. If so, I wish them nothing but success.

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7 thoughts on “Gibson amps are BACK, baybee!

    1. Probably did, Kenny. Lots of big names jumped all over the MESAs when they first came out back in the 70s; they were unlike anything that had come before, truly innovative and highly versatile. They had a master volume, so of course I wasn’t interested in ’em at all. To me, the master volume is the absolute death of really good tone. That, and transistor circuitry.

      Give me all tubes and nothing but tubes, both in the power and preamp section, and a straightforward volume-bass-mid-treble setup on the control panel. Fender-style “Bright” switch, Marshall-style “Presence” knob, sure, why not. No circuit boards, please; all hand-wired is the truth, the light, and the way. I’ll accept a solid-state rectifier over a tube one if I have to; they don’t seem to make a heck of a lot of difference in how an amp sounds anyway, or not so’s I could tell. Probably a result of being deaf as a damned post from all those years leaning down to put my head in close to a 4×12 Marshall half-stack cab…;)

      NOTE: I should probably add that I once owned a really stellar Fender Custom Shop Tonemaster amp, back in the halcyon days when they were a head/2×12 speaker cab piggyback setup, not the lesser combo amps of today. Bought it off my friend Jimmy King of the Aqualads, whose music I’ve embedded here more than once. The Tonemaster had a function allowing the player to choose between tube rectifier and solid-state, enabled by a toggle switch on the back panel of the head.

      I went back and forth between the two for a good while without ever being able to hear much difference before I finally settled on the solid-state option just to save money on tubes, which were sell-your-firstborn expensive and actually kinda hard to find in those days.

      ADDENDUM 2: Back in my NYC years, I went so far as to look into having my amp tech—the incredibly gifted and savvy Blackie Pagano of Tubesville Technologies down on Ludlow Street (soon to relocate to LA, apparently), a close friend of mine and an easygoing, totally fascinating guy—replace the printed circuit boards in my cherished Marshall Model 1987 Plexi-reissue head with all hard-wiring.

      It would’ve been a swap well worth making, provided I could afford it. Not only would the amp’s tone be much improved, but the notorious fragility which is the bane of all Marshall heads would be a thing of the past, shored up by the sturdy durability of the hard-wired setup. Also, it would enable me to do piffling repairs like replacing worn-out, crackly volume or tone pots, installing new input and/or speaker output jacks as needed, &c myself. Those components were soldered onto a board, therefore not easily replaceable by novice shadetree mechanics such as moi.

      Blackie grinned sorta slyly at the foolhardy naivete of my request, then told me sure, he could do it, and was willing, but the job would NOT be cheap. He quoted me a ballpark price (subject to increase according to actual developments), at which I blenched, nearly fell over in a dead faint, and mumbled “Uhh, umm, never mind” before staggering out the door in a daze.

      Needless to say, I never brought the idea up again, not with anybody.

      1. Tubes Vs chips reminds me of something else:

        When the automobile came along, horses were dirt cheap and cars were only for the very rich. Now horses are for the very rich and cars are cheap.

        Tubes are now very expensive and chips cheap as dirt. To be fair, the chips were cheaper in the beginning as well, but not the difference there is now.

        1. Funny, ain’t it? For my money, at least as far as the tube-transistor amp debate goes, you get what you pay for. I know my Uncle Murray, the man who taught me how to play, would never have even dreamed of having anything but a tube-driven amp to play his old jazz LPs through.

          Hell, he even had a tube TV down in his old shop/man cave in the backyard, and used it till the day he died. He kept the back cover off for easy access in case he needed to do any repairs or tinkering, sternly warning us kids to stay well the hell away from it lest we be ‘lectromacuted ta death from poking around in places we oughtn’t in a fit of childish curiosity–or, knowing me, my brother, and my cousin as he did, just out of sheer juvenile cussedness.

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          1. “Hell, he even had a tube TV…”

            That is what we call a diehard 🙂

            Tube TV’s were never equipped with high quality sound amplification as far as I know. The digital LCD/LED TV’s are far superior in every way with the exception of the black background and even that can be had if you pay the price (and still less than what the tube TV’s cost per sq inch of viewing area).

            There is no doubt that tubes, being analog amplifiers, are superior to the run of the mill digital derived amps. There is some high end digital stuff that I think most human hearing cannot discriminate between, I certainly can’t.
            But they don’t glow 🙂

            I started out in the world where there were mostly tubes and the transistor transition had begun. Having learned tube engineering from my Dad I made the transition to transistors and analog chip amplifiers. I worked with some of the people that made the first digital to analog output chips. Long time ago…

      2. Given my amateur status I never tended to spend a lot of time and money trying out combos. I certainly never had the money when I was young and futzed around on the guitar every day. But I do know one thing from reading a lot, especially back in the day. Professionals worth their salt care as much about tones as they do about licks.

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