In Focus: Lee Custom Amp

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In Focus: Lee Custom Amp

lee custom amp
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Taking tried and true guitar technology and housing it in a convenient stompbox chassis for us to set and forget

Many pedals claim to be total solutions to our guitar sound, but we often find ourselves toggling tones on and off throughout our sets as not much works as an ‘always on’ style pedal. That’s where Lee Custom Amp pedals come in, their unassuming enclosures speaking to their focus on not only bringing out the best in your tone, but retaining and buffering what you’re putting in. Lee Custom Amp shifts their focus into bringing a tube-driven edge to your rig, or a transformer amplified boost if that’s more your style.

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The Lee Custom Amp Tube Driven Buffer & Clean Boost is available with either a 12AU7BB or 12AX7BB tube with a single knob design that’s both buffering your signal and boosting it the further clockwise you turn the knob. The different tubes – both JJs and no less, offer different character depending on your preference or application. The TX-1 on the other hand, is a transformer power clean boost that has a three-way switch to alter the output to ensure optimum gain is being sent down the chain (or to push your signal into distortion!)

The Lee Custom Amp TX-1 Transformer Amplified Clean Boost is a boost power by a high quality transformer that features a signal to noise ratio of 140dB thanks in part to the point to point wiring. In the biz, we call this negligible, and in most circles you’d be laughed at for being concerned about that level of noise, let alone claiming you can hear it. Commonly, pedals are wired via circuit boards that do introduce low levels of noise progressively at certain stages, whereas point to point wiring keeps this to a minimum.

The TX-1 is powered by an internal 9V battery or a power input, and has ¼” input jacks either side of the anodised aluminium machined chassis. The face of the pedal has a single on/off switch, a chickenhead style knob to boost gain, and a three-way switch to toggle between different output settings such as rack gear, tube amps, or other pedals that work best with different levels of input. The TX-1 provides shockingly clean gain, retaining headroom until the gain begins to max out, and even then it’s difficult to tell what’s clipping as you push your amp and pedals into gooey, tubey drive. If it’s tubey drive you’re after though, the Tube Driven Buffer & Clean Boost might very well be a go.

Tubes do something special to a guitar signal. Ironically, electrical engineers aimed to produce the cleanest power possible with the means they had at the time, but the amplifiers that’ve been built for about a century now begin to distort, clip, attenuate, and compress in a really pleasing way that’s also become the familiar sound of electric guitar. Lee Custom Amp and their boost pedals harness just that, using tubes that are traditionally found in some of the more famous tube amp designs to boost and buffer signal as it snakes throughout pedals and effects before our amp. It’s available with both a 12AX7, commonly found in more rock and metal, and high gain pre-amp circuits like Marshall’s famous Plexi design, Peavey’s stalwart 5150, and Mesa’s Dual Rectifiers, as the character of the tube begins to break up earlier and lends itself well to grit, bringing out pick attack for faster playing while filling out the bottom end.

The 12AU7 counterpart is by no means mellower, offering an equally present sound albeit with a more mid-focused push. The 12AU7 is lower gain on paper, allowing for more headroom and an overall cleaner sound. This makes it a great boost for cleaner sound that doesn’t need to break up to break through a mix. Think jazz, blues, country, or singer-songwriter style playing.

Playing and sonics aside, the specs of the Lee Custom Amp pedals are even more impressive. As mentioned earlier, the TX-1 features a signal to noise ratio of 140dB, meaning that the inevitable noise introduced by power is very low compared to the signal of your playing itself when the pedal is maxed out. 0dB would be a signal to noise ratio of 1:1, so you can see why 140dB is so impressive. The TX-1 is wired point to point, so there’s no signal degradation from excessive circuitry – it’s all tone. The single knob allows the pedal to act as a buffer when turned all the way to the left, i.e. ‘off’, but can push your signal to line level suitable for rack effects units or standard Hi-Z levels for guitar-focused stompboxes depending on your needs. This can be limited (or not) via the three-way toggle that moves between 30 volts peak-to-peak (30Vpp), no limit on output, and 9Vpp. The Buffer & Clean Boost Pedals are a simpler affair with a single knob to push the internal tube, ¼” input and output jacks and a 9V power input.

Lee Custom Amp has taken a lot of classic, tried, and true guitar technology and housed it in a convenient stompbox chassis for us to set, forget, and focus on whatever magical harmonic information they’re imparting across our signal. Tubes and transformers are an integral part of every classic piece of audio kit, for guitar or otherwise, so they’ll never go astray in your signal chain.

The TX-1 brings transformer-based gain to your board, providing cleaner gain than most of us are used to, opening us up to new sonic ground that needs to be covered. Their Buffer & Clean Boost pedals take two unique-sounding tubes, both famous for the way they distort, and tie them into our tone even before our real tube amps amplify the signal. They wouldn’t go astray in anyone’s rig, and will always be helping round out a sound. The only problem is realising what you’ve been missing.

Head to Lee Custom Amp for more information. For local enquiries, reach out to Gsus4.