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Fractal Audio AMP models: CA3+ (Custom Audio Amplifiers 3+ SE)

yek

Moderator
Moderator
* EDIT: Up-to-date information is available in Yek's Guide to the Fractal Audio Amplifier Models *


CA3+: based on Custom Audio Amplifiers 3+ SE preamp

Another tube preamp, one that has left a mark in history. It’s from the ‘90s when lots of guitar players used gigantic “refrigerator” racks, stuffed with preamps, mixers, effects devices etc., and the 3+ SE fitted right in there. You've probably heard it on lots of albums as it was a common studio device. It helped Bob Bradshaw (and John Suhr) establish Custom Audio Electronics (CAE) / Custom Audio Amplifiers (CAA). The number 3 denotes the number of channels on this preamp. It is famous for its clean tone (channel 1 sounds like a blackface Fender) as well as for its characteristic crunch and lead overdrive (channels 2 and 3). More background.

Steve Lukather played this preamp a lot. Others were/are Peter Frampton, Eddie Van Halen (on the F.U.C.K. album), Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

Custom Audio also builds the OD-100 amplifier, which is based on the 3+ SE preamp but also different in certain aspects. John Suhr, who worked at CAE/CAA and co-designed the 3+ SE and the OD-100 and who later started his own company, also sells the OD-100 under the CAA name.

Bob Bradshaw:

“From 1985 to 1990 I toured with Steve Lukather on all the Toto shows. We were taking a lot of equipment to Europe and it got to the point were we needed to scale down and change things a lot. I go well: here we are with this big rack full of amplifiers that we're basically using as preamps. It was a Mesa-Boogie for a clean sound, a Marshall for a crunch sound and a Soldano for a solo sound. We were just using the preamp section of those amps, so I thought, why can't we make a three channel preamp with clean, crunch and overdrive and we'll use power amps that were using anyway. So I went to Mike Soldano and explained him the situation that we needed to scale our rig down to take overseas. Hence the Soldano X-88 R. Which was my concept, Soldano came up with the circuitry and everything, but it was my thing. The amp came out and it was a big hit. $1800 a piece. Soldano sells em to me for $1700. I only make a $100 for each amp I sell myself, it's like, com'on you now. But I own the prototype. In the meantime I start working with John Suhr. John is building great guitars at the same time, he's interested in doing amp work. John was on the eastcoast. The Soldano preamp needed help, it always needed an extra EQ to breathe some life into it. It was a great basic thing, but it needed some top, some bottom. There were things about it that we wanted to change. Mike Soldano was kind of reluctant to make any of these big changes, he had something going and was happy the way things went. (…)”​

CAE:

“The Clean channel is extremely warm and punchy with tons of tight low end, smooth midrange and silky highs.​

The Crunch channel in itself is capable of a high gain solo sound and can also clean up to a classic slightly overdriven clean sound by rolling off the guitar volume or turning down its gain control while still retaining its warm, round tone.

“The Lead channel, the highest gain channel, is not only able to clean up as well as Channel 2, but is also able to provide a rich, fat, searing overdrive with a quick attack while maintaining sensitivity to picking technique.”​

The preamp has separate Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and Master controls and a Bright switch for each channel, plus shared post-EQ controls (Presence and Depth). The lower the Gain settings are, the more active the Bright switches will be.

I'm not sure which power amp model is used in the three CA3+ amp models. Mesa or Marshall?

Match the models with any cab you like.

TBH I ignored the CA3+ overdrive models for a long time. Didn't care for their fizzy sound with emphasis on the upper mids, lacking depth. When writing this article I tried them again, of course, and I like them better now. Maybe because of the Quantum improvements, I don't know.

A selection of YouTube videos:




And here's a demo of the Fractal Audio model, pre-Quantum:

 
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Smittefar

Fractal Fanatic
I gave this a spin today - It is very different from my normal sounds, but I do like it. Nice cleans and smooth saturated drive. Absolutely a capable beast.
 

Coby

Inspired
The famous preamp from the 80s.

Steve Lukather played this preamp a lot. Others were/are Peter Frampton, Eddie Van Halen (on the F.U.C.K. album),

Really?? :eek: Van Halen in the F.U.C.K. album played the 3+SE? I didn't know that, I thought he played an SLO...that comes new to me, but good to know! ;)
 

R.D.

Power User
Really?? :eek: Van Halen in the F.U.C.K. album played the 3+SE? I didn't know that, I thought he played an SLO...that comes new to me, but good to know! ;)
It wasn't the entire album though .... I think there were only a couple of tunes that Eddie used Steve's 3+SE .... The Dream is Over and I can't remember the other one .... It was run into the power amp section of a Suhr 'modded' Marshall ( also Lukather's ) ....
 

ETOLKIEN

Experienced
Countdown, Youthanasia...golden era!
I can post an image of the settings Mustaine used, if eyes don't lie to me there are roughly (from 0 to 10):

Channel1: Gain5, Bass2.5, Mid4, Treb6, Master3
Channel2: Gain10, Bass1.5, Mid10, Treb10, Master4
Channel3: Gain6.2, Bass5, Mid6, Treb7, Master3

VHTJackson001 (1).jpg

Dammit, I can't see the bright switchs!
I found the image here:
http://hugeracksinc.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=53255
 
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ETOLKIEN

Experienced
And don't forget to apply the Post EQ settings too: the far-right knobs.
Bright switches on.
And a V30 cab.
You're right, I forgot that, the far-right knobs:
Level6.2, Treb7, Bass6.2

Here you can see a Bogner Fish too, but the main tone is CAE3+ paired with VHT2150 (6550 powertubes):
IMG_1276.jpg
 
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Tone Seeker

Power User
This was really a John Suhr preamp, fyi. From an interview in "Tone Wizards" by Curtis Fornadley (an excellent book!) . . .

"It’s interesting that Bob focused on wanting a pre-amp as opposed to let’s do your amp head.

John: Well, back then, it was all about big racks and he was doing a lot of pre-amps. The most logical way to have your signal come out in stereo is to have a separate pre-amp. Even when people would use heads, they would slave them into a resistor and then they would go into their rig. So I made the prototype and shipped it to California. Bob let Van Halen hear it and he loved it so much he wound up using the original prototype on the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge record."

Terry.
 

vinnyburns

Experienced
I had a 3+SE for years. Wonderful preamp. Really fantastic sound. Always sounds a little bright in the top end when you first get one (real high end sheen) but once those sounds are in a mix, it's very nice.
I only got rid of mine as someone wanted me to swap it for their all original 1968 50w small box plexi that I had always wanted. Did a straight swap for the 3+SE and a mesa 2-90. The plexi is still amazing but I still miss having a 3+SE in the studio.
Sounds great with V30's. If you want to hear one in action, listen to Toto's Kingdom Of Desire.
 

Mark Day

FAS Artist-in-Residence
Fractal Audio Systems
I had a 3+SE for years. Wonderful preamp. Really fantastic sound. Always sounds a little bright in the top end when you first get one (real high end sheen) but once those sounds are in a mix, it's very nice.
I only got rid of mine as someone wanted me to swap it for their all original 1968 50w small box plexi that I had always wanted. Did a straight swap for the 3+SE and a mesa 2-90. The plexi is still amazing but I still miss having a 3+SE in the studio.
Sounds great with V30's. If you want to hear one in action, listen to Toto's Kingdom Of Desire.
Kingdom of Desire was the reason I bought mine. It is long gone, but damn that rig always made guitarists go OMG!. I get even more OMG's with the AxeFx :)

Mark
 

VegaBaby

Fractal Fanatic
anyone know which frequencies the Post Eq operates at / what type it is ?

edit:
I guess they directly translate to Presence and Depth...
 
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L

Lionheart

Guest
Are these "Post-EQ options" just the Presence & Depth parameters, or are we talking the EQ sliders that are post-preamp?
From the manual: "an additional active tube post EQ allowing up to 17
db of cut and boost in the punch and presence spectrums, as well as a level trim that can boost output level an
additional 8db."
 
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