Electro-Harmonix MA-4B 75W Symphonic Instrument Amplifier Reviews 4

I found this little gem last year at an Antique sale at Assiniboia Downs (just outside of Winnipeg,MB, CND), stuck underneath a table. When I first saw it I thought it was an old suitcase style record player but, I had one of those flashes of intuition that grab you from time to time and decided to take a well rewarded closer look. I always have my eye open for old musical instruments and such at Antique stores and regional sales. I had been hoping to find an old tube amp somewhere and low and behold here it was. The price tag on it was CND$135, but it was the last hour of the sale and the ladies seliing it didn't want to haul it home so I settled with them for CND$100. BUT, when we plugged it in we couldn't get it to work, so I decided to think about it for awhile. I guess they really didn't want to take it home because 20 mins later they approached me and said I could have it for CND$50! Needless to say I jumped at it. Funny thing about this is I took the Amp over to the famed Gar Gilles of Garnet Amplifiers for repair. He said about half a dozen capacitors had lost all their juice. He only charged me for 3, but with labour costs in, the bill came to $85! So the amp in working order ended up costing me CND$135 anyway!

I'm a big Ry Cooder fan and this amp has brought me close to the sound Ry created on the Crossroads soundtrack. I tune my guitar (1996 Squire Vista series Jagmaster) to open D, turn the tremolo up on the Symphonic and play the sweetest slide blues with this thing. Believe me this amp is far from perfect, but it's got a gorgeous tremolo sound, and it has just the right amount of distorted crunch when you turn it up loud. In the words of an old friend of mine from BC, "This thing's tha bomb, man!"

I'm not fond of the fact that it gets so damn hot! I can't believe people used to play these old tube amps all night long, they must've burned down more than one old club back in the day. On the bright side I'm guessing you could toast a sandwich quite nicely while you play! The amp is also a bit on the small side, for 75 watts it could use a little more room to breathe.

The cabinet is 20"h X 19"w X 13"d, made of wood( not sure what kind) with what appears to be a faux leather or vinyl cover over the wood( pretty dinged up too). Could actually be leather? 2 inches from the top there is a gold coloured plastic band that runs across the front of the cabinet. From there down the front speaker cover is a light coloured, tweedy looking material that is unbroken but for an inch by inch square in the top left (facing) corner that contains a single Red and Blue "S"; the symbol of the Symphonic Amplifier. One sturdy, centred leather and brass handle on top. From the front you can see why it could be easily mistaken for a record player or even a suitcase. Controls and input jacks are accessed from the back underneath the 7 tubes and 2 amps. Starting at the left of the control panel; (facing) 4 INSTRUMENT jacks, clumped together one on top of the other (eg, ::) marked as such and with a 1 and 2 between the top and bottom ones. Next a control marked MIXER, with a "1" beneath. Next is the VOLUME, with a "2" beneath. (I still haven't really figured this setup out but it works) Next is TONE, with curved arrows pointing to BASS on the left & TREBLE on the right. Next is the TREMOLO set up with a foot switch jack between the controls SPEED & STRENGHT. (eg, o.o) Lastly the power switch, fuse cap, indicator light and power cord. The back also carries a CSA stamp of approval and the ratings 117-120V, 50-60 CY, 75 WATTS marked beneath that. The words, "ELECRTONIC ENTERPRISES LTD. MONTREAL, CANADA. MODEL MA 4B" are labelled beneath the controls. The speaker is an unknown make that is 12 inches across, the #'s 8 and 1212 are marked on the back of the speaker. On the left inside the cabinet is a wiring schematic dated Aug. 17, 1962, drawn by EK. Well as for quality, it's hard to say as it could be up to 42 years old. It still works but the cabinet has taken more than a few dings, the front has been touched up (by me), with a sharpie in places where the leatheresque cover has chipped off. You can't say, "It doesn't look old!"

I read another report on this amp online that claimed Electronic Enterprises Ltd. used radio amplifiers when making the Symphonic Amplifiers. If this amp is 42 years old, I've got to say I'm just stunned that it works. I probably wouldn't play this amp in a live situation, without an alternative as with the age comes unreliability (It's worked fine every time I turn it on, but it didn't work when I bought it and that sticks with me). Bottom line is if you're looking for an old bluesy amp that you can crank up and scare the cat with, this is for you. Me? I'm happy with it and I'll be sad when it has to go.

Steed rated this unit 4 on 2004-11-30.

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