Review: BitMo’s Triple Bypass & Reverb Mods for the Blackheart Little Giant BH5H

BitMo is a boutique modification company providing DIY kits for those adventurous enough to get under the hood of their gear and tinker towards improved tones and features. BitMo was started by Bruce Hutcheon (aka BitMo Bruce) who first converted a tube phonograph amp into a guitar amp at the spunky age of 15. Fast forward to adulthood when Bruce, frustrated with his stock Epiphone Valve Junior, formulated a tone control mod that not only functioned better, but improved the amp’s sound. Today, BitMo Bruce offers various mods for amps including Epiphone and Blackheart, two amp attenuators, and a pedal mod for the Behringer VT999 Tube Monster. He sent over his Triple Bypass and Reverb mods for the Blackheart Little Giant BH5H.

DO I NEED A DEGREE IN ELECTRONICS?

Not at all, though it helps to have soldering skills. I’ve soldered my share of pickups and cables but am by no means an artiste when it comes to what can be delicate work. I fall into the category of amateur which, according to Bruce, describes his typical customer.

The kits arrived with a small handful of electronic components and a few pages of instructions per mod. Eager as I was to dig in, I was equally anxious about breaking open my amp and taking to it with potentially damaging hardware and limited experience. But the small number of parts and straightforward guides offered relief and gave me confidence that this was a hurdle I’d be able to manage successfully.

HEAT UP THE IRON!

With my tools at the ready (outlined in the instructions), I unscrewed the chassis from the cabinet and got to work. The instructions explained what I could expect when finished. Warnings prepared me for the task at hand. I confirmed each component with the check lists. And then, hands shaking just a bit as I voided the warranty on the amp and risked irreperable damage, I went at it step-by-step. The time and difficulty estimates are provided on the website: ‘Easy 1-2 hours’ for the Reverb and ‘Moderate 2-3 hours’ for the Triple Bypass. This is fairly accurate depending on your level of experience. The Reverb mod took me longer and I found it to be more ‘Moderate’ than ‘Easy’, but perfectly doable nonetheless. The work is pretty straightforward, but a good portion requires careful attention to detail, as many parts are small and delicate, and the soldering iron can cause damage if not careful (despite a specific warning, I melted part of the switch for the Triple Bypass Mod and had to make a run to Radio Shack for a new one).

DOES IT WORK?

Double checking my connections, I put the amp back together. Crossing my fingers with protective goggles on and fire extinguisher at the ready, I powered up my newly modded amp. The light came on – good sign. My guitar strums slowly came to life as the tubes warmed up. I checked for smoke. All good. IT WORKED!

YEAH, BUT HOW DOES IT SOUND?

In a nutshell, the sound is great. The first position of the Triple Bypass switch (“Blackface”) engages an enhancement of the stock sound bringing greater definition and presence.

The first audio clip is the stock sound before the modification:

[audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/01_original.mp3|titles=01_original]

Next is a clip of the improved stock sound:

[audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/02_stock_upgrade.mp3|titles=02_stock_upgrade]

The middle position (“British”) offers a tweed-like boost, increasing headroom and gain (volume adjusted lower to compensate):

[audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/03_tweed.mp3|titles=03_tweed]

The final position (“Over the Top Boost”) injects a fat gain boost adding significant power to the output (volume adjusted lower to compensate):

[audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/04_fat_gain.mp3|titles=04_fat_gain]

I had some doubts about the digital reverb which has its brains contained in a plastic shell roughly the size of a flattened box of matches. But to quote the text in Bruce’s instructions, “It sounds so realistic, I defy you to tell the difference without kicking it!” This is a tremendously welcome mod as even though the Blackheart’s sound is full and warm and inviting, it’s bone dry without it.

The audio examples below represent a fully dry signal:

[audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/05_Rvrb_Dry.mp3|titles=05_Rvrb_Dry]

Next we have the reverb turned up halfway:

[audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/06_Rvrb_Half.mp3|titles=06_Rvrb_Half]

Lastly check out the reverb at full:

[audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/07__Rvrb_Full.mp3|titles=07__Rvrb_Full]

THE FINAL WRAP

These two kits are a great way to improve the features and sound of the Blackheart Little Giant BH5H and get into the guts to gain a better understanding of what’s behind the controls. Along those lines, I’d like to see a section in the instructions dedicated to explaining, in dummies terms, what the components actually do and how each step affects the final results. From the perspective of someone with average soldering and handyman skills, the mods are challenging and require patience and a steady hand, yet straightforward enough as not to be overwhelming. This project gave me the greatest satisfaction after powering up successfully. It’s not just about the end result – it’s about the journey that gets you there. Finally, though the instructions are easy to follow, I’d like to see a few more photos included to help confirm each step.

PROS: Perfect degree of difficulty for those with average soldering skills. Significant improvements to the amp. Great sense of accomplishment.

CONS: Instructions could use additional photos to accompany text. Explanation of what and how components and features are affected would be welcome. This doesn’t take away from the kit, but would give it added value.

MSRP:  Triple Bypass $39.95 / G-verb Reverb $59.95

  • Jesse

    what a differnce a day makes! sounds improved to my ears man, cool!!

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