10 YEAR FRENZEL AMP REVIEW
by Steve Rockstein
I have had the good fortune of playing through a Frenzel 5E3-DP3 amp for 10-years now. So, I know it well. And honestly, if you’re into jazz, country, classic rock or blues, this 25-watt gem will bring a smile to your face every time you crank it up.
SOME BACKGROUND: I have been playing guitar for 30+ years. My first amp was a solid-state Fender combo, followed by a Peavey Classic 50 4x10 combo and then a Marshall Jubilee 50-watt 1x12 combo. When my neighbors called the cops five-times during a weekend recording session in my Philadelphia row house and I knew Mister Marshall had to go. Just too loud. And though I was happy with the sound – with everything dimed, a wah in the front end and a Yamaha FX500 multi effects rack in the loop – it was a bit of a one-trick Rock & Roll pony. Sold it. Bought a 15-watt 1x12 Fender Blues Junior. Hated it. Sold it. Then, in DiPinto Guitar shop in Philly, I stumbled upon and bought my first hand made amp. The late-great John Martin made it from old-stock parts as a prototype for a line of boutique amps he was planning to produce. He was selling this 30-watt head at cost. I think I paid $125 for it. There was no cabinet on the chassis. Just a bunch of tubes sticking up. None of the knobs had labels. But it sounded like it was alive. The gain knob was powerful and I could dial in tones from sweet to growly. It loved OD pedals, all pedals really. And all guitars too. Those days I was playing a Gibson ES135 and a MIJ 1970 Strat reissue. Both could find their sweet spot on my ‘Martone.’ I moved from Philly to the Virgin Islands and set up a semi-open-air music room and all was well until, unbeknownst to me, insects started eating the point-to-point wiring inside. Seriously. It shorted out. I tried to reach John Martin back in Philly, only to discover he had died suddenly. He was in his 40s. Terrible loss, great guy.
Now I was in a bind. Having had a taste of playing through a boutique amp and loving it – but not having the cash to buy anything like it, I turned to Ebay. There I found out about Frenzel Amps. Jim was selling FM-1 preamps for 99 bucks. I needed something right away for gigs and decided to take a chance on it. I plugging it into a 250-watt solid 2x10 SWR state bass amp and was so impressed with the sound, I knew there would be more Frenzel in my future.
Within a month, I ordered a Frenzel 5E3-DP3 and held my breath. It arrived in perfect condition, which when shipping overseas is a big deal. I connected a Genz-Benz cabinet loaded with a 75-watt Celestion guitar speaker, plugged in my ES135 and jammed away for hours. My taste in tone is informed by players as diverse as Michael Bloomfield, Muddy Waters, Larry Coryell and (to a lesser extent) Jimi Hendrix. With a minimum of effects, I found every tone I could need right here in this amp. In fact, the sound of my Frenzel is so sweet and soulful, many of the effects I was happy with before, suddenly seemed to degrade my tone. So, one-by-one, pedals began flying off my board. With this amp, less is more.
Three years ago, when the Line6 M9 I was using for delay and reverb died (like they always do) I decided I was done with digital. I wanted an all-analog guitar rig and ordered a JG6-G15 tube reverb tank from Jim. Unfortunately, this time the international shipping didn’t go so well, and in spite of the well packed box, it arrived damaged. When notified, Jim immediately took care of everything. Covered all the shipping return shipping, made the repair and got it back to me in a very timely manner. This is truly great customer service.
I had never played through a real tube driven, spring reverb before and my ears were astonished. Lush, chewy, organic, responsive, absolutely alive – that’s the only way I can describe the sound, knowing full well that it is inadequate. You have to hear it for yourself. I opted for the 2-rack space version. Compared to a reverb pedal, its huge and probably not practical for many gigging players. But my bar band days are over and having this unit in my home studio/live room is just perfect for me. I could never go back to digital reverb again.
Placing it in front of the amp (the F input) gave me the drippy wet surf ‘boing,’ but running in the FX loop is where I found the sound, that West Coast, minor-key blues vibe, I was looking for. I have to keep the LEVEL on both the reverb input and the FX SEND low to keep the hum down. It’s not an issue playing live, but I do have to take steps to minimize when recording.
MY RIG NOW: I use my Frenzel to amplify my three main string instruments:
(1) 2010 Godin Summit – the original version with strings-through-body and real Duncan pickups with coil splitting.
(2) 1970 chrome-plated, bass body Dobro retro fitted with a spaghetti-logo Ibanez PAF style pickup
(3) 1999 Zeta solid body electric cello with proprietary active pickups.
My current speaker cab in a Mesa Boogie Fillmore wide body with a 1x12 Celestion 75-watt speaker.
The Godin is my go-to ax. I call it my Les Caster because it can sound like either a Les Paul or a Telecaster. I run it into a Radial ABY switcher. Channel A goes into MXR Carbon Copy analog delay and then to the F input. Channel B runs into an SIB Varidrive (rare 12AU7 tube driven preamp pedal) for overdrive or clean boost sounds and into the M input. The reverb tank is in the loop. And that’s it! Except sometimes, when I want to get my inner-Jimi on, I’ll run a Fulltone Clyde wah in from the ABY box.
To my ears, the F input is smoother with a big bottom and the M input has a treble bite, more focus in the mids and a tighter bottom. I use the channels both separately and together as needed. Pulling the PRESENSE knob to engage the EDGE circuit turns this amp into a fire-breathing monster. Hendrix, Page and Townsend tones live there.
I love this rig. Every sound I need is right here, with a few simple pedals, a channel switcher and one great amplifier. Gone are days of my mega-pedal boards. And I couldn’t be happier about that.
I plug the Dobro – tuned to Open D and set up for slide – directly into the F input. With the gain around 10 o’clock and add just a touch of reverb, I can conjure up some deep, swampy blues tones.
The Zeta Cello (a real hunk of solid oak) has its own pedals, an MXR 4-knob flanger and another Carbon Copy delay. I split the signal, with the effected sound running into the F input with a gain around noon and send a dry signal to the PA for some extra bottom end. This is my biggest surprise. Makes my hair stand up.
In 10-years I only had one minor repair, to the rotary power/standby switch. The repair guy at Glass Bottle Amplification in Gainesville, FL, gave my Frenzel perhaps the ultimate compliment when I picked it up. “That is some sweet amp you got there…that’s the way I would want to build ‘em...’
Would I buy it all over again? Yes! Absolutely! If I was buying one today, I’d get the reverb built in, probably tremolo too. Those were not options when I bought mine. I also wish I had a separate tone stack for each input. That said, I am 100% satisfied with this amp. It sounds amazing, is very well built and Jim Frenzel offers the best customer service I’ve ever experienced. This will be the last amp I ever buy.