Traynor YRM-1 Reverb Master
As you may know by now, I love great-sounding vintage gear. I came to my love for this gear the honest way: by playing a lot of it back before people started calling it "vintage." Does that make me vintage? Whatever. I also love a bargain. But you know, when you can get "vintage" and "bargain" to come together I'm really happy. In this report we're going to look at a piece of gear that answers to both requirements. It's a wonderful sounding, well-built vintage amplifier that for some reason isn't all that well-known. But as a result, this amplifier doesn't command a premium price. In my eyes it qualifies as a genuine "bargain vintage tone monster."
Click pics below for large versions.
The Toronto Sound
1963 – Toronto’s Long & McQuade music store lost its repairman who left a seven-month backlog of repairs behind him when he exited. One of their customers, a young man named Pete Traynor (R.I.P. 2016), had often remarked that he could handle the store’s repairs. After being awarded the job, he quickly showed himself to be a repair and modification wizard, an innovator, and a frenetic worker who very quickly caught up the backlog. Within weeks he was asked to create P.A. speakers for a regional band and came up with what were probably the world's first “speaker columns.” After success with these speakers, he was asked to design a dual-purpose guitar/bass amp for the store's rental department. Within six months the repairman was in such demand as a designer that it was time to incorporate a new company. Pete and Jack Long of Long & McQuade pitched in and “Yorkville Sound, Ltd.” was created with Pete Traynor as the chief design engineer. Having started as a repairman, Pete was allergic to equipment failures in his own gear. As a result, he tended to use the heaviest components possible and engineer his amplifiers in the most conservative way possible so they were as reliable as they could be. In his designs, the tubes were biased cold and the transformers were overspec’d. Along the way, he came up with several innovations in amplifier design. For instance, Pete designed the YBA-1 “Bass Master" with an extra "output buffer transformer." This was a generic, inexpensive, easy to find transformer designed as a sacrificial component that would be easily and cheaply replaceable anywhere should a musician forgetfully turn on the amp with no speakers attached. Over the next decade Traynor worked to develop the line’s reputation of sound quality, innovation, and reliability. In the intervening years the Traynor designs from the first fifteen years have grown to become the hidden monsters of tone in an industry crowded by the bigger names.
The design for the YRM-1 Reverb Master guitar amplifier was begun by Traynor designer Dirk Vandersleen in the Spring of 1972, answering a call from guitarists for Yorkville to build an amp that sounded like Pete's popular YBA-1 “Bass Master,” but added reverb, tremolo, and a master volume control. The amp was built into a cabinet featuring the classic Traynor design elements: automobile door bump stripping around the end panels, a black control panel with white lettering and black and silver knobs, and white-with-silver-mesh grill cloth. The cabinet top unscrews with four large machine screws and reveals the open chassis sitting in a cradle, ready to service. The YRM-1 debuted in June 1973 and showed up in that year’s catalog. There were two cabinet versions. The initial case followed the standard squared-off Traynor aesthetic design and protected the controls under an overhanging top panel. The second cabinet, debuting in late 1976, sported a jaunty, slanted control deck intended to make the controls easier to see on a darkened stage. The YRM-1 was also probably the last of the “drop-tested” Traynor guitar amps: Once at a trade show Pete was dining with some of the top brass of Ampeg Corp. and they jokingly brought up a crazy rumor they’d heard that he drop tested his amps. Pete replied, “Sure we do that. Don’t you?” The original Yorkville facility was over the Long & McQuade shop and their second location was also on the second floor of a building. During that period Pete adopted the expediency of throwing any new amp prototype out the second floor window as a final test of its robustness. The amp was retrieved, the shattered tube glass was brushed out, and new tubes were fitted. If it worked, the design passed and went into production. The practice was replaced by testing on an industrial shaking table a few months after the company moved to a new single-floor factory building in June of 1973. And sure enough, most modern descriptions return to just how robust and dependable this amplifier is. After a successful six year run, the last of the Reverb Masters was produced in November 1979. *
'Yer Basic Facts
The YRM-1 is a 45 watt, master volume tube (valve) amp with reverb and tremolo. It offers one channel with two inputs at different input sensitivity levels. The front panel controls and indicators are: Treble Boost switch, "Volume" (input gain), Bass, Middle, Treble, Reverb, Tremolo Intensity, Tremolo Speed, "Master Gain" (master volume), Standby Switch, and Power Light. The back panel facilities include the Power Switch, the Ground Lift Switch, which in many cases has been bypassed when a three-prong cord has been fitted, the master circuit breaker, individual ¼” footswitch jacks for Reverb and Tremolo, a 200 watt AC mains jack, and the two speaker outputs marked “Ext.” and “Speaker.” You have to plug into the left (“Ext.”) speaker jack first. A small back cover plate features a cleat onto which the cord neatly wraps. A tube chart is glued to the inside-bottom deck of the amp's cabinet. Interestingly, you have to transpose the chart vertically because front is back and back is front: It actually represents the layout you’ll see if you pull out the chassis, flip it over, and look down on the tubes. The amp uses two EL-34s in push/pull A/B configuration in the power section, four 12AX7s in the preamp, and one 6BQ5 (EL-84) to drive the reverb. Traynor used Phillips-labeled Mullard tubes in these amps. The EQ stack is located before the main gain stages, making it possible to pre-load the gain stage with whatever frequency ranges you want to have distort first and thus shape the character of the distortion.
YRM-1 Tube Chart
V1A   (12AX7)   Pre-volume control first input gain stage
V1B   (12AX7)   Post-EQ gain makeup
V2     (6BQ5)     Reverb drive
V3A   (12AX7)   Reverb recovery
V3B   (12AX7)   Gain stage three
V4     (12AX7)   Post-master gain final gain stages
V5     (12AX7)   Tremolo in and out
V6     (EL-34)     Power stage
V7     (EL-34)     Power stage
My Example, My Experience
My first go-round with this amp started in 1978. I had just finished a run with a band that was playing larger auditoriums where I had been able to simply push a non-master volume 50 watt Gibson tube amp until it gave me a gread lead sound. By 1978, PA systems were handling the amplification chores and I was beginning to take more studio dates, I needed something capable of playing a bit quieter. I came across a Reverb Master in a guitar shop and was impressed by how heavily built it was and how great it sounded. The Traynor head was sitting on top of an enormous Traynor YCV-212 2x12” reflex horn enclosure with really efficient speakers (Cerwin Vega ER123’s) and it could do either loud or soft really well. I traded in my non-master volume amp for this one. The amp was featured on some pretty cool recordings I did in the ‘80s. A couple of years later I traded the huge speaker box for a synthesizer and used a smaller 2x12” cab I had cut down from an old Hammond tone cabinet. Twenty years and lots of gigs and sessions after I bought the amp, my family found itself in a house that was just a little too small. My big black Traynor rig was occupying a corner of the living room. To help with the space and the looks, I traded in all the big stuff for a new, small, sleek combo amp. Though that was fifteen years ago, I always missed that Traynor amp. I owned it for twenty years and it never failed me once.
When the kids grew up and moved out I got my own little guitar room and began replacing some of the gear I had let go of earlier to save space. Recently, a Reverb Master head showed up in the online inventory of a dealer in a neighboring state. It had a stain on an end panel that looked uncannily like a stain on my original amp that I had spent hours unsuccessfully trying to remove. That was spooky. I called the dealer and had them work through the amp and verify to me that it was working well, with no failed components or scratchy pots. They described the top end of the gain range as “a little mushy, as if the tubes were old.” I knew that was something I could easily deal with so I decided to have them send it out to me.
When it arrived, I pulled it out of the box and got my first real look. As I unwrapped it from the bubble wrap, pieces of a shattered plastic grommet dropped out. Hmmm… I filed that away for later. Overall it looked solid and sound. Visually, it probably rated an 8.5, with a few nicks and bruises here and there that testified that it had been used and loved for forty years but with no bad damage to the case or coverings. Did it have the original tubes? Mostly, at least the preamp tubes, a compliment of Phillips-branded Mullard tubes, the type used by Traynor. The EL-34s are marked “National Electronics” and “Made in Germany,” which makes them post-1990 and German reunification. Was it my original amp? I dug out my old receipt from 1978 and found that the serial numbers didn’t match, so no. BUT, this new example and my old one were built the same month and year, September of 1973, three months after the amp design debuted. Still pretty spooky, huh?
I carried the forty-two pound beast into the guitar room, resettled the tubes and plugged it into the handiest available speaker, the Jensen speaker in my Deluxe Reverb Reissue. Incidentally, the Deluxe with its larger cabinet and speaker, and the Reverb Master head alone, weight about the same. When I first cranked up the amp the tubes still weren't seating well, causing crackles. I had to fiddle with them a bit to clean things up. By the end of the first session with it there was still some residual crackle telling me that I needed to clean the tube sockets, so I asked around to see what people were using. A forum member suggested I use Caig De-OxIt D5, saying I could either let it evaporate or blow some compressed air in them after spraying. I could use a pipe cleaner along with the spray if they were really dirty and I should work the tubes in and out a few times right after spraying to clean their pins as well.
The guys in the shop at work loaned me a bottle of DeOxIt and I used it on the amp the next afternoon. I added the directions on the bottle to the mix. I first used the tubes to exercise the connection and then on the second application, used a pipe cleaner as the De-OxIt dried. While I was in the back I removed the cobwebs and spider nests that had accumulated. I also found the source of the “plastic” grommet fragments that had dropped out after shipping: The rubber grommets that the reverb tank was screwed down onto for isolation had grown hard and had fragmented in shipping. I’ll grab some on the next trip to the hardware store. When I fired the amp back up, all the fur and static was gone and the amp was as clean as a whistle! Thanks a bunch to Mike Hoffman on The Gear Page and the guys in the shop.
The Grommets - Right One is Missing
Once we got settled I had to learn to drive the silly thing again. You know what I mean - you have to figure out what the amp likes in order to make it sing. Firstly, the treble boost switch and input jacks are right next door to each other and up is boost on the switch. However, the higher gain input jack is the bottom jack. The orientation is opposite from the switch. Just remember that. Next, you have to remember that the tone stack is pre-gain, so with all the tone knobs down you get NO SOUND. That's how comprehensive the controls are and how the archtecture works. I started with a Les Paul. Right off, I realized that this thing can do the AC/DC Marshall JTM-45 rhythm sound without breaking a sweat. Volume at 12 o'clock, mids up, treble up. Uncanny. And it does it well at just about any Master Gain level. With humbuckers you might want to keep the bass down or the drive begins to saturate. That could be mushy old tubes for all I know but the Mesa Boogie amps I've played worked the same way. I'll have to experiment with some new tubes. With the Treble boost in and the Treble wound up, the effect of the bass control becomes nearly unnoticeable. The Treble Boost is really that powerful. With the Boost out the balance is restored enough for it to make a difference.
Next, mid-gain lead sounds. Here is where my memory really served - the front end of the amp loves to be pushed a little bit with an external clean boost. 'Back in the day' it was an MXR Micro Amp. With gain at 12 o'clock and a few db of boost, this amp really develops a nice brown zone. Add a little compression and the amp sings as a mellow lead amp. I had forgotten that this is amp has a solid state rectifier so a little compression comes in handy to simulate a saggy attack.
Clean sounds? The amp has the option of a Vox-like chime with the Treble Boost in or a nice round blackface/JTM-45 clean with it out. With a compressor in, the Treble Boost out, and the gain down low, you can easily get the classic jazz rhythm sound and a nice single-note jazz sound. It is really nice to dig into a big, muscular clean amp once again!
This is also one of those amps where the more you crank, the more the highs roll off, so there isn't a lot of ice pick in the sound. Nice. Despite the master volume it cleans up pretty well when you back off at the guitar. With the Fender guitars you get a really nice midrangey sound without much ice pick. The reverb is a really drippy wet one, lots of bright ring there, quite a bit different from the Fender units. The biggest difference is that the reverb time seems quite a bit longer. According to the schematic, the tank is a higher-impedance Accutronics 4L unit which is probably why they need the 6BQ5/EL-84 tube to drive it. That, in turn, could be why it is a bit more sparkly than the Fender. The tremolo is an optical unit that lives right before the power stage. It has the typical optical gentleness (rather than notchiness) that I love. It should be noted that the gain drops a little as you deepen the tremolo. That is, I suppose, to be expected.
So, I'm pretty jazzed. My good memories of the amp were accurate. The Reverb Master lives on its own terms but is able to serve up some really cool classic sounds. And because vintage Traynors aren't as well-known as some other brands, all this reliability and tone-goodness comes at a far lower price point than any of the more well-known vintage amps.
From the Traynor Schematic archive:
... about the YRM-1 circuit : the front end is basically a single channel black-face reverb circuit, same reverb recovery mixing strategy with a 1Meg/100k ratio in the Traynor instead of the 3.3Meg/220k ratio of the '63 Fender Blackface reverb channel ... the output stage has a black-face phase-driver circuit driving a duet of EL34's ... the amp is plate coupled front to back - no cathode followers; so, very much a Blackface amp running on EL34's ... the reverb is capacitor coupled while the tremolo circuit is optical (thanks to Matt Jacobsmeier for the correction) ... one way Traynor amps tried to distinguish themselves from being straight Fender/Marshall hybrid-knockoffs was by choosing bass-bleeding tone stack cap values that sometimes made these amps a little "woofy" sounding ... you can experiment with the tighter and more natural sounding "Tweed" mid-scoop version by changing the 0.047uF and 0.1uF caps to 0.022uF in the tone stack ... and maybe even trying out a 56k tone stack resistor (instead of 100k) ...
* Historic info from Yorkville Sound History, 1963 to 1991 by longtime Traynor employee Mike Holman.
Vintage Traynor information available from the Yorkville Sound Vintage Page or from the website,
... everything about Traynor tube amps