Even though guitar players on a shoestring budget with a good enough electronic DIY skills know that it works, but are there any limitations in using the AN214 IC as an electric guitar amp?
By: Vanessa Uy
It is probably the worst kept secret in the DIY hi-fi hobbyist’s world. The AN214 IC-based audio amplifier – especially when partnered with it’s famed transformer-coupled MJ2955 PNP transistor-based booster amp – does work beautifully as an electric guitar amplifier up to a point. But by being probably the cheapest electric guitar amplifier in the world that still has a “decent” tone doesn’t mean that it is set out to be every guitarist’s trusty amp. After all, Liz Phair had not yet endorsed one given her “lo-fi” credentials. But given a much improved access to vacuum tubes via the Internet, why should a typical electric guitar player with a sufficient knowledge of DIY electronics even bother with a 1970s solid-state relic like the AN214 audio amplifier IC?
What’s not going for it? Well, the AN214 IC audio amp when used as an electric guitar amp - even with the addition of the transformer-coupled MJ2955 PNP transistor-based booster amp - can never replicate an authentic sounding rendition – i.e. same guitar tone as that on the record. Especially of Can’t Get Enough by Bad Company or Red Light Fever by Liz Phair. You’ll probably need tubes for that like the venerable 1965 Fender Twin or a 1970s-era Quad-Verb - or a custom tweaked Fender Black Face Champ equipped with Mullard or the even rarer “Record By Mullard” EL84 tubes. But what you’ll get though is a very viable foundation for a guitar tone so unique and so uncontrived – yet still sounds like a tweaked overdriven Marshall-style set-up. If you’ll work at it skillfully enough, critical acclaim will be more than a dead certainty.
On my actual usage of an AN214 IC amp as an electric guitar amp with it’s famed MJ2955 transformer-coupled booster amp – which I built myself – it does have a way better tone than those extremely dry sounding Carlsbo solid-state electric guitar amps from the early to mid 1990s. Although some contemporary Physical Modeling-capable electric guitar amps equipped with audiophile-grade 24-bit 192-KHz digital signal processing offers much, much more tonal flexibility. Although they can be easily many times as expensive as the AN214-based electric guitar amp.
On getting as much a good electric guitar tone from your AN214 amp, I used a DIY discrete component based – i.e. using JFETS, transistors and op-amps – cassette tape hiss reducer with an older audio-buddy no longer uses. It provides a 3dB per octave roll-off above 1-KHz when set at its maximum hiss filtering setting. You can use a dedicated noise gate or a Wah pedal for the same effect. Filters like these should be placed after the distortion / fuzz pedal to make the AN214 sound as if it is a tube amp. I tried 12-inch, 15-inch whizzer-equipped Leslie-type organ speakers / musical instrument speakers with great results. But if you want an authentic Marshall-like tone, use an 18-inch whizzer-equipped musical instrument / organ speaker. Mine was a Japanese-made OEM replacement for a Leslie mounted on an open baffle.
When doing my own renditions of various epic and iconic electric guitar performances of the past, the AN214 IC audio amplifier-based electric guitar amp can actually be used with some skill on Iron Maiden’s 2 Minutes to Midnight. Thanks in part to the skillful super bit mapping technology mastering of Murray Harris and Simon Heyworth of West London CD mastering specialists Chop Em Out - Which (inadvertently?) revealed the germanium transistor and germanium clipping signal diode-equipped Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal being used in the intro of 2 Minutes to Midnight. Probably due to the “extreme” noise-shaping of the Super Bit Mapping / SBM process which inadvertently boosted the signature residual noise of the effects pedal being used on this particular Iron Maiden track. I wonder if it shows on the vinyl version of this track if Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab ever manages to press Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album.
The AN214 also works extremely well in replicating mid-1980s Bay Area Bangers-period Thrash and Death Metal style electric guitar tones. It is probably the cheapest way for an authentic sounding rendition of those old Metallica, Testament, and Death Angel guitar passages that you can have. By the way, I even managed to perform a very convincing rendition of the guitar passages found on the latest Tokio Hotel single titled Automatic from their Humanoid album on my AN214-based electric guitar rig.
In short, it is probably the most cost-effective electric guitar rig that you can find that will run on a 12-volt car / automotive battery. My own AN214 IC audio amplifier-based amplifier works so well that it was good enough to be used in my band’s own rendition of The Gathering’s Liberty Bell. Although this version is a 20-minute long Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan meets Central Asian Bardic Divas with a Gibson Les Paul and Marshall Amplifier full-tilt high decibel Heavy Metal fest - Which could be a nightmare scenario for Ann Coulter and the Bush Administration-era Homeland Security if a hard rock version of the Qawwali or Islamic Devotional Music ever becomes mainstream in the psyche of American teens. Maybe Junoon has been doing this for sometime now.
As an aside, I even played my tweaked Gibson Les Paul wearing a Soviet-era water-cooled partial-pressure suit similar to the one used by Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova on their extreme high-altitude cosmonaut training flights. And we played our version of Liberty Bell on the backdrop of a wooden one-to-one scale mock-up of an XB-70 Valkyrie. We might even upload the video on You Tube anytime soon.