The Custom Shop AD5 combo

The AD5 was a much-lauded Custom Shop combo, which has since become sought after by collectors. Only 64 were ever made. In 2003, a PCB production version of the AD5 was launched and a third edition was introduced in 2008

AD5

Developing the Custom Shop AD 140 lead and bass amps

Ade Emsley – Technical Director

The AD140 started as a Custom Shop bass amp – the AD140B [Note that with the AD140B, the Orange logo reverted back to the original late 1960s design]. Cliff asked me to make a 120 watt bass amp because the Super Bass Reissues were no longer being made. We needed to get a bit more power out of the amp. It was a Class AB, using 6L6 valves, which give a cleaner sound. We also put these in the Super Bass Reissues. We later found a way of upgrading the amps to 200 watts by using 6550 tubes. That marked the start of the AD200B bass series.

AD140B

In 2001, we made a limited number of AD140 lead heads, which were completely hand wired. We also made an AD140HTC twin channel on a high quality PCB [printed circuit board], which became the production model. This was a very well received and popular model.

AD140 TC

AD140 Lead

The AD140B compared to the AD200B Mk1, 2 & 3

Damon Waller – Former Managing Director

“It was the massive demand for AD200B Mk1’s and Mk2’s that led us to move towards production models – we just couldn’t make enough by hand wiring.”

AD200 MKI

AD200 MKIII

Ade Emsley – Technical Director

The AD140B  was the forerunner of the AD200B Mk 1, except that it had different transformers and 6L6 valves. For the Mk 2, we changed the preamp circuit and gave it a bit of negative feedback. We also tightened up the sound and got more headroom out of it. The Mk 3 was the first production model that went onto PCB. Before then, all the AD bass amps were Custom Shop and hand wired.

The OTR

Denmark Street, London 1997:
Noel Gallagher suggests changes to the Overdrive, which are then incorporated in the OTR

Noel Gallagher

Ade Emsley – Technical Director

Noel Gallagher was using his Orange amp almost exclusively on the early Oasis albums and liked to run everything on 10.

We talked through what he would like in order to improve his sound. Oasis were on tour with U2 at the time and using Orange combos, and I remember Noel just said ‘I want more crunch out of them’.

As a result we made some changes to the Overdrive circuit which included modifications to the phase inverter and preamp. We also added a stand-by switch which replaced the output socket on the back. Sound modifications suggested by Noel Gallagher gave the Overdrive more sparkle, and they formed the basis of the new OTR amplifier (Oscillatory Transition Return).

OTR Head with 4×12 cab

OTR Combo

OR120 Reissued

Production ended at Bexleyheath in 1979 when OMI was forced to close. This was a direct consequence of two major overseas distributors going into liquidation within a short space of time. However, Cliff Cooper continued to build and sell Orange amplifiers in small quantities throughout the 1980s. Then in 1993, Gibson licensed the name to manufacture Orange Amplification. As the original Orange Bexleyheath factory had closed, Gibson decided to have their Orange amplifiers made by Matamp in Huddersfield again, as they wanted to keep the ‘Orange – Made in England’ identity.

Cliff Cooper and Matamp’s founder, Mat Mathias, had remained on friendly terms ever since their parting of ways in the 1970s. The friendship had continued up until Mat’s sad and sudden passing in 1989. After his death, Mat’s sons, Peter and Richard, continued the business for a couple of years. The Mathias dynasty at Matamp ended in 1992 when the company was sold to Jeff Lewis. Amplifier enthusiast, Jeff, had been a well-known local DJ in the 1960s and 1970s. The first Gibson era Orange reissues released were the Graphic 120 and Overdrive 120 launched in 1994, followed soon after by the Graphic 80 and Overdrive 80.

Orange Super Bass 120 Reissue

Sonically, there is in fact a marked difference between these reissues and the original 1970s Pics & Text heads, because the capacitors fitted in the EQ section of the reissues had Series Two Overdrive head values. A small number of Orange Super Bass 120 reissues were also made,  which were based on the circuit of the 1979 Series Two Super Bass.

The 1990s Orange reissues were not a huge success commercially and it was mutually agreed that the license would not be renewed. Gibson handed back the Orange name to Cliff Cooper in February 1997.

Extract from the 1994 Gibson catalogue

Mick Dines – Production Manager

In the late 1970s the music world had moved on from the psychedelic, hippy 1960s. It was my feeling that our amplifiers and cabinets looked a bit dated and were in need of a facelift. I changed all the classic Orange livery. The psychedelic logo was changed to a modern typeface. The height of the amp sleeve was lowered to make the head look sleeker. I also changed the black plastic corners and replaced the gold strap handle with a black one. The chromium rack and roll over bars were replaced with black ones. The light-brown Basketweave speaker cloth was changed to a black material with a different level of sound transparency, and a stand-by switch was added to the front panel.

Series Two also saw the launch of our first dedicated bass amp – the 120 watt Orange Super Bass, which had similar cosmetics to the Overdrive Series Two head.

Orange Super Bass 120

 

 

The Hustler combos were a big success. There was the 60 watt 1×12 master volume combo, and the 60 watt Hustler Bass 1×15 combo, which had a ported cabinet.  As part of the major image makeover back in 1978/79, Orange divided its product range into Orange Sound Reinforcement and Orange Instrument Amplification. Sound Reinforcement included PA, mixing desks and solid state power amps.

In the 1990s the Series Two range was superseded by the Pics & Text reissues and then the new Oscillatory Transition Return (OTR) model. The retro look was back, and at Cliff’s insistence, Orange reverted to the original livery.

A 1979 Orange Hustler advertisement

 

Born out of the advanced technology and design of the OMEC Digital Programmable Amplifier, OMEC introduced an entire range of 150 watt transistor instrument and public address amplifiers.

ORIGIN OF THE OMEC RANGE

John James – Designer

“In the mid-1970s solid state power amplifiers were beginning to overcome their reputation for unreliability and distortion which had been created by early examples. By then Orange had a proven and reliable 150 watt power stage and it was fitted to a revolutionary new programmable digital amplifier – the OMEC Digital.

In those pre-computer days the concept of programming a sound with buttons and having the sounds hidden away in mysterious internal electronic memories seemingly was a step too far for the equipment buying public, and the OMEC Digital was probably unleashed a decade too soon. However, although the concept of digitally controlling the analogue sound was ahead of its time, the new low-cost, high-quality integrated circuit chips used in the OMEC opened up a wealth of innovative signal processing technology for us. So, in possession of a proven power amplifier design and these new integrated circuits we set out to design a high spec high tech series of solid state amplifiers both for instruments and public address, but one that still featured the familiar “front panel with knobs” operation. A high-tech black and silver design and compact size was conceived and I proceeded to design the electronics, all based on the new “chips” from the original OMEC Digital.

There were two basic models designed, one for instruments and one for public address. These were each supplemented by the addition of a 5-band graphic equalisation section, which was becoming popular as PA systems advanced and greater control of equalisation was required to compensate for room acoustics. At this time there were very few separate effects pedals around, and those that were available were expensively priced. We thought that buyers’ interest in our instrument amplifier would be greatly enhanced by incorporating the sort of effects that were being heard on record and consequently demanded by musicians. So we fitted reverb, phasing and overdrive facilities to the basic instrument amplifier. This added yet another model to the top of the OMEC Solid State range.”

OMEC 150 watt 4-channel PA Amp with 5-band graphic EQ

OMEC 150 watt Guitar Amp with Reverb, Phaser, Boost & graphic EQ

OMEC 150 watt Instrument Amp with 5-band graphic EQ

We were looking to design matching speaker cabinets for each model. The brief was…. light weight, compact and affordable.

Mick Dines – Production Manager

“To complement this new range of budget amplifiers we were looking to design matching speaker cabinets for each model. The brief was…. light weight, compact and affordable. The amp sleeve would be mounted on a base plinth which bolted into a three-sided housing. Rather than metal or plastic corner protectors, we chose an aluminium moulding with a black PVC inlay to wrap around the ends of the cabinets. For the guitar amp, a simple sloped front design 2 x 12 cabinet, for the PA Amps straight 2 x 12’s and for the bass amp a 1 x 15 ported cabinet. Each of the speaker cabinets were sealed enclosures with front loaded speakers. An open-weave black nylon grille cloth was sourced from Germany.

OMEC now had a competitive range of low cost 150 watt solid state effects amps. The products and price structure was well received by our dealers and bridged the gap with our high-end Orange valve amps.”

2×12” Stage Cabinet with 150 watt Guitar Amp

1×15” Bass Reflex Horn Cabinet with 150 watt Instrument Amp

Pair of 2×12” PA Cabinets with 150 watt PA Amp

OMEC stand at the Russell Hotel, Holborn, 1978 From left: Peter Dowsett (UK Sales Manager) John James, Mick Dines, Virginia Sundin, Cliff Cooper

Grutle  I am Grutle Kjellson, singer and bass player of Norwegian heavy metal band Enslaved.

I spent some time finding the right amplification, I tried several brands but I was never satisfied with the way the sound of the bass just didn’t blend in the way I wanted it to blend in. It might sound good individually but it’s supposed to fit in with two guitarists, keyboards, drums and vocals.

When you have five members in a band all playing, it’s of course difficult to separate all of the instruments for a sound man, live and in the studio. It’s crucial to have the right amps, that blends well with one another. Orange is probably the easiest amps to blend with other things, the attack is still intact, the tone is intact, the thickness is intact. Even with loads of other sonic violence surrounding it , like the attack of two heavy metal guitars, or some massive organs and the pounding of heavy metal drums.

I think Orange is perfect for, not necessarily for blasting black metal or death metal but if you add a little dynamic and groove into the mix, then Orange is definitely the real deal. Everything from pop/rock and all the way up to extreme metal, as long as you are using the dynamics of the music and don’t just go full throttle, if you go full throttle then it doesn’t matter what you play.

My live set up at the moment is an AD200 B amp head and an OBC410 cabinet, which is more than enough. On this tour the hire company only had an 810, and i’m standing right infront of that! It’s pretty massive, it really works! I would prefer on the smaller stages a 410.

I’m really happy with the gear, I have done a few tours with Orange and they are real workhouses. There is never any problems with amps or cabinets, we always have two amp heads, one spare and never have I had to use the spare one. It’s really reliable and they sound the same and great every night.

It feels great to be on the Orange roster, I could never picture being on the same roster as Geddy Lee 15 years ago or any of the other great musicians. It is full of really great and cool musicians and it’s an honour to be onboard.

 

The world’s first digitally programmable amplifier.

A world first. The OMEC Digital

Peter Hamilton – OMEC Digital Designer

“I designed the OMEC amp in 1974/75. Before that, I spent a few months as a student fixing amps part-time in the Orange Shop’s basement, and then worked with them full-time for about one year – my first job. The brief was to “design a computerised amp”. With some computers costing upwards of a million pounds and needing their own building and air conditioning plant, a few compromises were necessary.

Some weird new-fangled things called microprocessors were beginning to appear in the early to mid-1970s, but they needed a lot of “support chips” to make a useful system. Smaller single-chip microcontrollers existed for things like calculators, but they were permanently mask-programmed … the tooling costs were huge, and they were only affordable if manufactured in big quantities – hundreds of thousands.

The only sane way to do this job was with SSI and MSI [small and medium scale integration] logic chips. The choice was between TTL [transistor-transistor logic] which was power-hungry but easy to get hold of and well proven, or a new technology from RCA called COS-MOS, which used hardly any power but also had a habit of self-destructing due to static damage.

COS-MOS was too risky at the time, but that technology led to today’s CMOS microcontrollers, with built-in static protection, low power consumption and millions of transistors on a chip – one of those could handle the whole job for a few dollars. So, the OMEC Digital amp was really a digitally controlled analogue amp. Real DSP was a couple of decades away. The left-hand digital half of the board allowed numbers for each parameter [volume, bass, mid, treble, reverb, compression, and distortion] to be stored in memory for each of four “channels”.

Those numbers could be recalled by selecting a channel either from the front panel or the footswitch. The memory controlled the audio circuitry on the right-hand half of the board via analogue switches.
But there was a slight snag: TTL is so power-hungry the memory took almost an amp at 5V, so all the settings were forgotten if the power was switched off! A back-up battery was added to protect against brief power cuts, but it only lasted for half an hour or so.

Here was an idea before its time, I’m afraid. It was innovative, but there wasn’t a knob that went up to 11. I doubt that it was financially viable without investing a large amount of money. Months later the Z80 and 6502 microprocessors appeared and spawned the personal computer industry. The rest, as they say, is history.”

1975 Trade Press Advertisement for the OMEC Digital

From an Artist Relations perspective, the AD200B bass amp is one of the best weapons in my arsenal. It’s an amp with extremely pure bass tone, lots of clarity no matter how you’ve set the knobs, and it’s overdrive is a perfect blend of classic and modern. I’ve had hundreds of artists make the switch from “the other standard bass amp company that which will remain unnamed” onto the AD200B.

Artists love it because it’s produced to the same standard as most vintage tube bass amps. They also tend to make the switch when their classic bass amps are ready to come off the road to become studio-only pieces.

Here’s the backstory on a handful of Orange Ambassadors that use the AD200B (which we commonly refer to as just the “AD200”):


Geddy Lee – Rush

This might be hard to believe, but Slipknot is actually responsible for Geddy Lee playing the AD200.

Rush and Slipknot were recording next to each other in a Nashville studio. On a whim, Geddy heard the bass tone coming out of Slipknot’s studio and peeked his head in to find out what was making that glorious sound. Martin, Jim Root’s tech at the time, told him it was the AD200.

It took us about NEGATIVE FIVE MINUTES to decide Geddy could make or break Orange bass amps. Once we got that now-iconic photo of him chilling on top of his AD200’s we started buying up a ton of full page ads in guitar magazines. It was basically an entire year of promoting Geddy. The result? A nearly 100% increase in bass sales (and they’ve been growing every year since then).

Geddy used the AD200 for ¼ of his onstage bass tone. He turned the gain and the treble all the way up and everything else down as far as it could go. So basically the AD200 was his overdrive tone. However, the bass tone on Rush’s 2012 album Clockwork Angels is FULL of AD200 (check it out).


Glenn Hughes – Deep Purple, Black Country Communion

I was at Winter NAMM in 2011 when suddenly I got pulled into our demo room by an extremely excited Cliff Cooper (Orange’s Founder and CEO). He told me Glenn Hughes had stopped by and asked to try the AD200. We stuffed ourselves into that demo room like sardines. Glenn plugged in, played for 10 seconds, and then stopped and looked at all of us. His face had an expression of disbelief.

“This is the tone I’ve been trying to find for decades…this is my sound.”

Since then Glenn has been using the AD200 at 99% of his shows without fail. When I can’t find backline for him in some random city in, say, Africa, he makes sure I know how sad it makes him. He recently switched from playing through a combination of OBC115 and OBC410 speakers, to a pyramid-looking set up featuring (3) OBC810 cabs turned sideways.


Tom Petersson – Cheap Trick

Everyone knows that Tom is constantly switching up his rig, but for the past 7 years Orange has become a staple of Tom’s tone. Tom plays 12 string bass guitars (which he’s famous for doing) and his rig is a mash-up of bass and guitar amps.

The first Orange amp he added to the mix was the AD200. Then he started throwing in Orange guitar amps, specifically the now-discontinued AD50 hand-wired, the AD30, and more recently the Custom Shop 50 hand-wired. For about a year his rig was entirely Orange, but in true Tom fashion he’s started to put some Fender back into it. Honestly, as long as Tom Petersson of motherfreaking Cheap Trick has Orange on his stage I’ll be OK with whatever it is!


Jason Narducy – Bob Mould, Superchunk, Split Single

I’m putting Jason Narducy, one of my favorite people in the world, right below Tom Petersson because Tom is the reason Jason picked up a bass. I’ll just let Jason tell you what he thinks about the AD200:

“The first time I played an AD200 was in a rehearsal space in LA in 2006. It was the first practice with Bob Pollard’s new band and we had to learn 357 songs or something like that. We also taught our livers what 357 beers felt like. Despite the beer and avalanche of songs, I knew right away that the Orange AD200 was special.

I noticed the amp was orange just like the manufacturer’s name. They nailed that. But more importantly, it had the best tone for my P-bass. There were no hollowed out frequencies that you get with the common rented bass rig. The AD200 has presence and muscle. It is my favorite thing besides beer. And my family, I guess.”

 


Ben Lemelin – Your Favorite Enemies

If you’ve been following Orange closely over the past decade you know that there’s a super insane French-Canadian dude named SEF from the band Your Favorite Enemies who has done product reviews for us. SEF is like the human version of candy-flipping. However, we also have been working with the band’s bassist, Ben Lemelin, for the same period of time, and he’s just as good at doing killer demos.

Ben loves the AD200 for its super pure bass tone and for its ability to get wildly overdriven when necessary.

 

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE ORANGE AD200B PAGE

Mick Dines – Production Manager

Jimmy Bean was Cliff’s idea – to create a guitar stack in denim and leather…

“At the time, everyone was wearing jeans, so we thought the Jimmy Bean idea might start a new trend in amplifier styling. I recall that trying to source the denim jean material and leather for the cabinets wasn’t so straightforward. We wanted the name-plate to look like the brown leather label on the back of a pair of jeans. But in the end we opted for engraved brass and real leather end panels.”

Jimmy Bean front panel

Cliff Cooper – Founder and CEO

“I’ll never understand why Jimmy Bean didn’t do well. The stack looked great and the amp was portable and very versatile. It was a twin channel model which featured a tremolo and switchable sustain circuits. I always had a gut feeling that we should have made it a valve amplifier.”

Jimmy Bean Head & 4×12 Cabinet

“The Jimmy Bean Voice Box was a big success, however; nearly everybody used them – Stevie Wonder, Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton all used voice boxes. John Miles used the Jimmy Bean Voice Box on ‘Slow Down’ which went to Number Two in the Billboard charts. The Voice Box was connected between the instrument amplifier and loudspeakers. When the footswitch was pressed down, the sound output was diverted from the speakers to a high-powered transducer inside the unit that projected the sound up a clear flexible tube. The tube was attached to the microphone stand and inserted into the performer’s mouth. The guitar sound merges with the performer’s vocals and is then picked up by the microphone and amplified by the PA system.”

Jimmy Bean Voice Box

Cliff Cooper – Founder and CEO

“OMEC stands for Orange Music Electronic Company. We chose the word ‘electronic’ to suggest digital and transistorised amplifiers, as opposed to the valve amps that had established the Orange brand in the early 1970s. OMEC’s main products in the mid-1970s were the programmable digital amp, the Jimmy Bean solid state amp, and – most successful of all – the Jimmy Bean Voice Box. We sold thousands of those.

The OMEC Digital was the world’s first digitally programmable amplifier, which enabled musicians to key in four different, pre-set, instantly recallable sounds. There were seven sound controls that could be programmed into each of the four presets: volume, bass, treble, reverb, sustain, and two specified effects chosen from fuzz and tremolo. The amp’s power rating was 150 watts into 4 ohms. We spent a lot of time and money developing this revolutionary digital amp, and it still really upsets me to recall how we never really got the chance to market it properly. The reason for this was that the bank wouldn’t lend me the capital needed to develop this product in order to make it cost-effective.

Back then, bank managers were very Victorian in attitude and usually wore stiff white collars and dark ties. If you had long hair there was little or no chance of being able to borrow money, and if you looked young you were unlikely to get past your bank manager’s secretary. Before I went to ask my bank for a loan to develop the Digital amplifier’s chip I had a haircut and grew a sort of a beard in order to look older. Needless to say, it proved to be a total waste of time and my application was turned down. Had I been living in America I’m sure things would have been very different. There they judged you on the merits of your business plan – not your appearance.”