Evans Custom Amplifier review & history

In Amps, Gears on January 6, 2011 at 9:34 am

History By Danny Hullihen

It all started way back in the early fifties when a guy from Texarkana by the name of Jim Evans, who was a steel player as well as an electronics technician, decided to build himself an amplifier for his own personal use.  The reason Jim Evans decided to build his own amplifier was simply because he couldn’t find an amplifier that would provide him with the quality of tone he was trying to obtain for the steel guitar.  Ironically, one evening during a gig Jim was playing, and just a few weeks after building this amplifier, a gentleman approached Mr. Evans during an intermission and made him an offer for his amplifier that was far more than what he had in it. With an offer too good to refuse, Jim sold his custom built amplifier right off the bandstand after the show.  Much to his surprise, this scene was repeated time and time again!

Given the fact of this scenario, Mr. Evans finally got to the point where he started building several of his amplifiers at a time simply because it was much more efficient that way.  The Evans amplifiers continued to increase in power and capability, and in fact, you could find a 60 watt Evans amplifier being used as a P.A. amplifier at practically every rodeo going on in the area.  Mr. Evans amplifier building capabilities were so impressive, that other manufacturers started contracting him to build amplifiers for them as well.  In fact, Jim Evans built a hundred amplifier chassis for ShoBud, and there are many of these amps still in use yet today.  Before he knew it, Jim Evans was now a manufacturer in the amplifier building business!

During the early sixties, Jim corresponded with and visited Bob Crooks.  Crooks, was the highly talented designer at Standard Electric, who was the manufacturer of Standel Amplifiers, and who later designed the first Crate amps.

During this time, “Bridge-Tee” filter networks of every sort were swapped and compared, and Jim Evans is recognized as the inventor of the “recirculating reverb” wherein by connecting the output of the recovery amplifier stage to the input of the reverb driver stage.  Today, nearly all present-day applications of the spring reverb use his innovation.  Jim and Hartley Peavey swapped ideas in those early days as well, and there was even talk about adding Jim’s steel guitar amp to the Peavey line.  However, that fell through.

Schematics of the latest Fisher HiFi unit or Western Electric/Bell Labs audio amplifier were gleaned for any technique that could be applied to a guitar amplifier.  Crooks recognized early on that the TV horizontal sweep tubes, such as the 6BQ6, would make a highly linear final amplifier for audio work.  Jim Evans, however, went in other directions.

As time progressed, and power transistors started becoming generally available, Mr. Evans then started to build his amplifiers with tubes in the preamp, and used transistors for the power section.  The “Hybrid One Fifty” and the “Three Hundred” series amps were far more powerful than anything then available, and the side benefit of this was that this resulted in greatly decreasing the weight.

Research continued to progress, and the next technological advance utilized by Evans was the high-voltage “Junction Field-Effect Transistor” (JFET).  The unique thing about the JFET circuitry was that they had the same voltage and current characteristic as triode tubes, which gave it that warm “tube-type” sound that was lacking from regular transistors.  With the advent of JFET, the amplifier could now be made completely solid state.

The first few JFET type amplifiers had the JFET transistors wired directly to the tube sockets (with the tubes removed, of course.) However, the problem with these amps was that the hiss noise was very noticeable at high power levels.  To correct this problem, the amplifier was later improved using low voltage circuitry.

Right around this time, another steel player and electronics technician by the name of Derrell Stephens began working with Jim Evans in building and perfecting the famous Evans tone.  Later, when Derrell moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, Mr. Evans decided to get out of the amplifier building business, and turned the whole operation over to Derrell.

For another twelve years after this, Derrell Stephens and his wife, Brenda, continued to build amplifiers.  Derrell also worked a day job and he would come home each night from work, grab a bite to eat, and then work on building amplifiers way into the late hours of the night. Of course, Brenda would do her share (and then some) during the day while Derrell was at work.  However, the electronics and music side of this had to be done by Derrell. Although the business was flourishing, it soon became more of a burden as their children got older.

Due to the many complexities involved in trying to operate a business such as this, while at the same time trying to provide for a quality life for their children, Derrell and Brenda decided to start looking for some relief.
Eventually, they were introduced to Ed Buffington, who was a retired Electronics Engineer with over 25 years of circuit design background.  Ed decided to go to Shreveport to check things out, and bought the company.

Ed, his wife Carolyn, and the rest of the Buffington family are now involved in building amplifiers to the same tradition that Jim Evans began in the early sixties.  Another major player in the business is Ed’s son Scot, who is a graduate Electronics Engineer as well.  Scot quit his job and joined the family business along with his wife, Julia.  I don’t know how many of you have ever had the pleasure of speaking with Julia when calling there, but I can tell you this… a more pleasant and helpful person than Julia you will never find.  Julia is indeed a great asset to the corporation, and is deservedly… very much appreciated.  Ed has another son, Tim, who also works in the business, and has a degree in music and is a professional musician.

Due to the fact that the folks at Evans listened to their users, they soon recognized that the great tone of the Evans amplifier made it a natural for other musicians as well.  Hence, they began introducing the Evans sound to other stringed-instrument players such as fiddle players, and jazz or finger-style guitarists.

Because of the great response generated from these new areas, the company then introduced a 12 inch speaker model tailored to these artist needs.  Now finger-style and jazz guitar players are discovering what steel players have known for years… The great clean tone of the Evans amplifier.

As the years progressed, hundreds of small changes were being made to craft the Evans amplifier into the success it has become in today’s market.  The Evans amplifier is still being hand-made with the exacting skill, tradition, and attention to detail it has become known for.  Although costing more than some others, the Evans amplifier does appeal to many.

What’s new for Evans these days?  In addition to the 12 inch amplifier, Evans now builds several models of 19 inch “rack panel” units for the professional musician.  Bass and Keyboard amplifiers are now being offered based on the proven Evans chassis.  In addition to this, a smaller power version rated at 80 watts RMS will soon be introduced as well.  The Evans Eighty will be smaller in size and lighter in weight than it’s 200 watt cousin, at only 35 pounds.  This new amp will also be equipped with the Evans 15″ “Eclipse” speaker.  I’ll be sure to do a more detailed report on this new offering as soon as it becomes available.  On last report, however, this new amp should be available by the time you read this, and will definitely be available for purchase at Scotty’s Steel Guitar Convention this year in St. Louis.

Contrary to belief, Evans amplifiers do not come from the factory with a 15″ JBL speaker as standard equipment.  Evans steel guitar amplifiers come equipped with an Evans custom designed “Eclipse” speaker rated at 200 watts at 4 ohms, and is built to Evans exacting specifications by Eminence.  Of course, a 15″ JBL 150 watt speaker is available on special request, as the speaker mounting board has to be cut to different dimensions to accommodate the JBL speaker.

As many of you probably know, John Hughey is currently using Evans speaker cabinets with 15″ JBL’S.  Some players like the tone of the JBL, while others complain that the tones are too bright?  Of course, this is kind-of a “to each their own” area with regards to speakers.

Speaker design and capability is indeed very critical, and probably more so for the steel guitar than practically any other instrument out there.  Nevertheless, manufactures are always striving to come up with a better mouse trap in this area, and they have all dedicated a lot time and money in research and design in developing speakers specifically for the steel guitarist.  Quite frankly, I don’t think we have heard the last on this yet from any manufacture, as this is also an area of constant new development and research.

For my evaluation, the Buffington’s supplied me with their latest “combo style” amplifier which consisted of an Evans FET 500 steel guitar amp, and two Evans 15″ speaker cabinets. All were equipped with the Evans “Eclipse” 15″ speakers.  At first glance, the Eclipse speaker looks somewhat like a JBL however, that’s were all similarity ends as the Evans Eclipse speakers have a very distinctive sound of their own, and it does a better job of handling the 200 watts of power from this amp.  This is not to imply that the 15″ JBL doesn’t have a good tone, however, as Evans reports, the “steel guitar” version of the JBL speaker is only rated for 150 watts, and needless to say… this could eventually end up being a problem.., especially when being driven beyond it’s design and/or power capabilities.  Nevertheless, a 15″ JBL speaker is available for all Evans amps on special request.  However, this might be something you may want to consider before doing so. Here again, the only reason for the JBL being a “special request” speaker is because the cabinet needs to be cut differently to accommodate this speaker, as it is different in size than the factory equipped Evans Eclipse 15″ speaker.

During my evaluation, I used a recent model Evans FET 500-SE steel guitar amplifier on both small and large venues, and for the most part, the equipment performed flawlessly.  You may notice that the face plate on my equipment was not silk screened with the designation “FET 500-SE,” however, it is one and the same.

Many of you have already written and/or called me to ask if the Evans amp really does sound like a “tube amp?” Although I cannot specifically say that it definitely does sound like a “tube amp,” I can say that the Evans amp delivers a very clean and warm tone that is much different than any other combo style amp I have ever played through.  Some of you describe the Evans tone as a “tube” sound, however, I prefer to call it an “Evans” tone.  Everything considered, this is as close as I have come to getting a “tube” sounding combo amplifier (without the tubes) other than latest “Trans-Tube” offerings.

The only short comings I experienced with this amp was during larger outdoor venues where the amp seemed to lack sufficient head room at very high volume levels.  During these very high volume demands, the amp would occasionally distort due to what seemed to be a lack of sufficient head room. Of course this problem can be approached in several ways.  Two solutions we came up with would be to use either a, compressor/limiter on the amp, or with bi-amping.  However, Evans purposely does not use any type of compression in their circuitry, and explained that this is because they want to try to maintain that all frequencies would be heard throughout all volume ranges.  Although the use of compression in the circuitry does effectively dampen the frequencies that are causing the distortion, Evans explains that in doing this, you also will lose some of the tone.  With that in mind, I opted for bi-amping in these instances in order to preserve the Evans tone, and this did effectively cure the head room problems I was having while playing at very high volume levels.

The Buffington’s invited me to come down and spend some time with them at their place of business in McLeansville, N.C. which I very gratefully accepted.  I spent an entire day with the Buffington’s and they gave me “the grand tour” of all their operations.  I decided to bring my two sons, Blue and Jesse, with me for this excursion, and although not expected, we were greeted at the door by the entire Buffington family, and were invited to breakfast, (in which Ed Buffington cooked for us himself!) Ed is not only an electronics genius, but is an excellent cook as well!  A better host I’ve never experienced, and the Buffington hospitality was absolutely second to none.

Even though everyone was quite busy at Evans with meeting customer order schedules, all dedicated time to show us just exactly what is involved in building the Evans products, and every operation was discussed from design and implementation, to final assembly and packaging.  All units are thoroughly tested to ensure the strictest quality control standards are met and complete customer satisfaction.

I was most impressed with Ed’s son, Scot, as he consistently demonstrated his true dedication and concern of wanting to build the best amplifiers money can buy.  It seemed that no matter what problems we encountered, they were never anything thought of as being insurmountable to Scot, and no matter how big or small they may have been.  Scot is very open minded to suggestions and/or concerns of the steel players, and he repeatedly demonstrates what I would call a true “world class” attitude and genuine commitment to doing “what ever it takes.” In today’s fast paced times, and especially in the manufacturing sector, this is indeed a quality rarely found.

All Evans units come with a one year parts and labor warranty, and all repairs are done in house.  Evans realizes the importance of an amplifier to the serious musician, and “priority” is given to any repairs they receive.  In addition to this, Evans offers a limited time money back guarantee on every unit they sell, and no matter what the reason may be.  Here again, this is something else that is not normally found in today’s market, and is an added satisfaction guarantee.

*EVANS OPERATING FEATURES*

Input I and 2: Input 2 is the one normally used.  This input has an impedance of approximately 80 K ohms, with a 6db cut in amplitude.  This input should be used for most modern pickups, and especially if you have an effect unit installed between the instrument and the amplifier.  For amplifications where low level, high impedance is required, you would want to use input 1. This input has an impedance of approximately 1 Meg Ohm, and therefore you should use this input for piezo and/or condenser mike pickups such as those used on fiddle and acoustic guitar applications.  In the event where you might have two instruments plugged into the amp at the same time, the impedance is then 1 Meg Ohm.
Effects out and in (send and return): These jacks have been placed in the circuit just before the MASTER level control, and after all the reverb and frequency adjustments.  These connections are for inserting special electronic circuitry, and this is where most effects units should be connected.  However, some effect units may operate better when connected between the guitar and input I or 2. The input and output circuit impedances at the effects jacks are approximately 500 K Ohm.
Volume: This sets the input level to the pre-amp.  In the event distortion occurs in the reverb or effects sources, you will want to turn this down a notch or two.  This level is inversely proportional to the amount of Treble you use.  A good rule-of-thumb here is to set this control at 7 if the Treble is set at 2 or less, or if the “Expand” switch is in the off position (down).
Body: The Evans amplifier incorporates this as a multifunction control.  This provides shaping of the input signal in preparation for introduction into the actual Bass, Treble, Expand, and Depth circuits.  For instance, with the body control set at 5, the amplifier is approximately flat.  As you set this control to the 6 and 7 area, you will keep the mid-range you had and get more lows (warmth).  From the 7 to 10 area, you will keep the lower mids and roll off the highs, while at the same time, pull in more rich lows.  Of course this control works just the opposite for the other side.
Expand Switch: Up is on and down is off.  This boosts the overall mids and highs of the amplifier.
Depth Switch: Here again, up is on and down is off.  This switch boosts the lows and low mids, while cutting some of the highs.  When using this control, you might want to turn the “Body” control down to 4-6, and boost the treble.
Reverb: This control is used to simulate the size room and echo effect you desire.
Master: This control is used to set the output gain of the pre-amp.  Normally, this control doesn’t need to be set any higher than the volume as a rule.  This control can also be used for studio quieting.

EVANS FET 500 TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
Preamplifier sensitivity for full power is 20mv RMS or less.  The signal at the preamp output jack at full power is 500mv RMS.  Hum and noise is less than -70db down from maximum power.  Maximum power output is 200 watts RMS into a 4 ohm load (which is the supplied speaker) and 250 watts RMS for a 2 ohm load.  For instance, when an additional 4 ohm extension speaker is being used.

Evans currently offers two different sizes of the FET 500 steel guitar amplifier.  The “LE” is the large enclosure size and is available as either an extension speaker, (41 pounds) or is used to house the FET 500 chassis and a 15″ Eclipse speaker.  This unit weighs 55 pounds.  Dimensions are 20.5″H x 24.5″W x 12″D.

The “SE” version is the most popular size, and this cabinet is used as either an extension speaker, or as a complete amplifier using the 15″ Eclipse speaker.  The approximate weight for the SE extension speaker is 38 pounds.  As a complete amplifier, it weighs 52 pounds.  Dimensions are 20.5″H x 20″W x 12″D.

Evans also offers the FET 500 as a rack mount unit, and is designated as “FET 50ORM”.  This is the rack version of the amplifier chassis, and it has the same FET pre-amplifier and the same power (200 watts into 4 ohms) only it is housed in a 19″, 4 space rack cabinet, without the speaker, of course.  This rack unit can be used with the Evans speaker cabinets, or with another speaker system of your choice.

A dual preamplifier is also available from Evans and is designated as “DP2R”.  This unit contains two separate and independent preamplifiers of the same kind that is used in the FET 500 chassis.  These preamps are housed in a 2 rack space standard rack unit.  The Evans preamplifier may be used with almost any power amplifier and speaker arrangement.  Each amplifier section has an effects loop and connections for a mechanical reverb (supplied separately) which is accessible from the rear panel.

In addition to the above units, Evans also offers a rack mountable power amplifier, and is designated as the DM1000 Power amplifier.  Two independent power amplifier sections are mounted in a 4 space standard 19″ rack.  Each unit is identical to the power amplifier portion of the Evans FET 500 chassis.  Although there are no bridging capabilities, you may feed a common signal to both amplifiers.  In normal operation, the DP2R furnishes the inputs to be amplified and sent to two or more speakers.

There are currently ten (10) different amplifier/speaker cabinet covering’s available for all Evans units.  They are the Traditional Black, Vintage Tweed, Vintage Vanilla, Black Western, (this one looks like a hand tooled saddle) Purple Bronco, (which is the color my units were done in) Red, Yellow Palomar, Burgundy, Silver Bronco, and Teal Palomar.  Without a doubt, this is the most extensive line of color covering options I have ever seen being offered by any manufacturer.  If you write to Evans, they will be happy to send you an 8.5″ x 11″ card of their vinyl color selections.

Jim Evans still maintains contact with the company on a regular basis, and is proud that the company is continuing on in the tradition he established many years ago.  Jim concentrated on providing a first quality sound for the steel guitar, and is honored in knowing that the Evans sound is still be sought after and used by many.

Feel free to call or write the folks Evans with any questions, comments, and/or concerns you may have.  There is always someone available to answer your questions personally. and no matter who you may speak with or write to, the entire Buffington family is dedicated and committed to providing the professional musician with the utmost in quality and satisfaction.

You may contact the folks at Evans directly at,
Evans Custom Amplifiers
5900 Barbell Circle
McLeansville, N.C. 27301, Phone:    (910) 697-2347, E-Mail:    evans@nr.infi.net,Web address: http://www.infi.net/evans

A special thanks to those of you that have taken the time to write, both from here in the states, and from abroad.  Your letters are very much welcomed and appreciated, and they do play a very important part in helping to keep this industry going strong.

Also a special thanks to my good friend John Hughey and to Mr. Jim Evans for their contributions to this article. Danny Hullihen, 605 W. Arnold Lake Rd, Harrison, MI 48625

By Danny Hullihen

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