Tom Graefe was a 20
year MCI / Sony Pro Audio veteran – Manager of Console
Design, Co-Founder of Ft. Lauderdale's Musicians Exchange
Music Complex & Soundshine Productions Recording Studios.
Honestly there isn't enough room to list Tom's credentials,
accolades, patents and clients. He's an Ol' School (Top of
the Class that is) type of guy with incredible intelligence
and incredible ears.
His work literally changed
the standards by which most, if not all, software based plugins
emulating "Industry Standard Consoles" strive to
Engineering credits include Juvenile, Dizzy Gillespie, Mark
Radice, Randy Bernsen, Jaco Pastorius, Spirit, McCoy Tyner,
Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, Frank Cornelius, Carter
(Gideon) Cornelius, Elliott Randall, Rocco DeLuca, Tommy Byrnes,
Liberty DeVito, Mel Morely, David Hall, Rick Bauer, John Mayall,
Crystal Taliefero, Jason Sterling, Mikey Spice, Dennis Sindrey...
All great songs seem to have great producers and engineers
behind them. But when the producers, engineers and others
in the elite world of recording have questions... they call
Why, you ask?
It's simple, Tom is, hands down, one of the
most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to anything
and everything audio. We won't go into his non-musical related
studies, but lets just say, he could save the world.
he has chosen to raise the bar in guitar amplification
higher than it's ever been. The TRUTONE Guitar amp will
be the standard for where all amps should start. Highest
quality, STUDIO GRADE COMPONENTS, hand wired with LOVE!
We’ve all seen
photos of studios that own a wall of guitar tube heads.
Certainly having a dozen or more amps to choose from
might be ideal, but the total cost can be prohibitive
for a studio owner.
After all, when top-shelf
heads cost several thousand dollars each, you can buy
an amp farm or a lot of recording gear. With that in
mind I’ve been trying to collect very flexible
While discussing maintenance on our Sony Console
with Tom Graefe, I learned that he was about to market his
hand-built guitar amps. Graefe spent years working for MCI/Sony
in their Florida facility. In Electrical Engineering circles
he is known for his high-headroom / high signal-to-noise ratio
designs. While I am very familiar with tube amp designs and
features, I wanted to give the Graefe TruTone Head a deep
review. I enlisted Dave Cerminara. When he’s not touring
as the lead guitarist for Legs Like Tree Trunks, Dave does
a lot of engineering work. Having someone who plays and records
full time seemed to be the right call for a piece of gear
like this. – GH
The Graefe TruTone is an all tube 50-watt
unit available in a head or 1x12 Combo configuration. Powered
by a pair of EL34s, the TruTone offers the front end of two
classic guitar amplifiers – a Fender Twin Reverb and
a Marshall JCM800, labeled ‘USA’ or ‘British
Voice’. The Twin setting exhibits the same rich low
end and full-bodied response as the original, with plenty
of headroom before breakup and a clean top end. The Marshall
or ‘British’ side rolls off some of that low end
and instead presents a tighter, more defined midrange especially
in higher gain scenarios. This attenuated low-end is super
beneficial when pushing the amp into extreme distortion as
it sits nicely above my kick and bass without having to reach
for an EQ. It also sounds much more natural than simply turning
the bass knob down.
standard amp controls
The rest of the TruTone’s front panel is deceptively
simple with all the standard amp controls: gain, master, treble,
middle, bass, presence, and a Mo’ Bass feature which
I’ll get to in a second. Gain and master controls work
in tangent as is to be expected – gain down, master
up for clean and vice versa for overdrive. Unlike other amps,
however, the TruTone responds to pick control and heavy/light
handedness, meaning that even with gain at all 11 the amp
goes crystal clean when given softer plucks (you can see a
demonstration of this feature at the Graefe Designs website).
This not only makes the amp a pleasure to play but also makes
the lack of a footswitch or channel selector a complete nonissue.
Also worth noting here is the amp’s remarkable signal
to noise ratio even at these most extreme settings.
Somewhat hidden is the unlabeled push/pull feature on the
gain control for more drive. The added gain stage tastefully
boosts the amount of distortion without going into unusable
sizzle-crunch like certain hi-gain heads love to do. More
importantly, pulling the gain maintains the overall balance
and character of the selected amp voicing – it extends
the overdrive without adding a nasty midrange bump or rolling
off more lows. Between the two input voices and added gain
stage, the TruTone offers an incredible range of options,
not to mention the tone controls are some of the most responsive
Now back to the Mo’ bass control, which doesn’t
add some incredible low end but instead tightens the top end
and adds unreal articulation to even the most overdriven setting.
Initially I assumed this was some kind of built-in parallel
compressor as it accentuated pluck in a similar way to say
a Barber Tone Press, but Mr. Graefe clarified that the control
actually handles negative feedback at lower frequencies, thus
allowing for more controlled lows and tighter highs. This
is NOT an EQ but exactly the type of feature you’d expect
from a man with 40 years experience building recording consoles.
The amp runs at 4, 8, or 16 ohms. Effects
can be inserted via an all tube line level loop that can be
placed in series or parallel (cool!), perfect for using rack
effects processors. There is no built-in reverb tank, as doing
so would compromise the signal to noise performance.
The Graefe TruTone can cover a lot of sonic
ground. But unlike some flexible designs the Graefe does everything
well. If you want one or two amps that can cover your needs,
the Graefe is a first choice. The quality of the hand-made
construction puts it on par with the finest recording gear.
Buy one and you won’t have to worry about upgrading
down the road.