Telonics TCA-500C Combo Amp Review

Here's some pictures, sound files and comments on my new Telonics TCA-500C amp. I ordered the combo version with a spare rack slot, a TC Electronic G Major 2 effects unit, a D2F cover, Telonics cable set for the G Major to amp interface, 15" Telonics speaker, and a colored front amp panel. My exact order invoice is listed as:
  1. TCA-500 combo amp with black metal baffle, color panel, T'BRO' bar, Pedal power cord WI008610-010 and WI-008610-004, Auxiliary cable 1/4" to 1/8" WI-008740-010, Tilt foot, CTN 693986
  2. Also includes TSNEO-15-4, CTN 693109
  3. TC Electronic G Major 2 effects unit, S/N 3447669
  4. 3 cables needed for G Major 2
  5. D2F cover for TCA-500 combo
  • The fit and finish on the TCA-500 is as good as you would expect on a premium piece of audio gear.
  • You can order the TCA-500 front panel with either colored graphics or a plain black background
  • I opted to order the Telonics cable set which provides audio and control connections between the TCA-500 and the Gmajor effects unit. This includes a TRS cable that allows G Major patches to turn the amp reverb and dobro sim (T'BRO') off and on within the patch. How cool is that? So you can for example turn off the amp's reverb within the G Major patch when using the G major's reverb. Or have a G Major patch select the dobro sim! You can of course make and use your own cables for this but I figured that the factory cables would be a bit more durable.
  • You can see pictures below where I placed this amp side by side with a Peavey Nashville 400 and a Fender Steel King for size reference.
  • I opted for the Telonics 15" speaker just because that's what I'm used to and I just love the looks of 15" speaker lurking behind the grill!
  • One of the features in this model C (TCA-500C) version is that the internal speaker is 4 ohms. Plugging in an external speaker using the speakON external speaker jack reconfigures the amp so that the two speakers are in series for a total of 8 ohms
  • The D2F cover is a nice touch!
  • A kick back foot is provided to allow the map to be tilted back
  • A 24 VDC jack on the back panel is useful for powering external effects. (The mini-combo version offers a 9 VDC jack)
  • The Handy Patch MIDI controller will allow you to control the TC Electronics G Major-2 effects unit from the leg of your steel. I did not opt for this as my amp sits in the studio for the most part. I would think it's a required accessory for anyone gigging out however.
  • Fedex managed to put a huge gash in the side of the amp shipping carton. The amp which is thoughtfully packed suspended on all 8 corners by thick foam survived without any shipping damage.

Some useful links:

Three full song recordings with real bass, rhythm guitar, EZKeys piano, EZDrummer drums. All pedal steel, guitar and fiddle parts are played through the Telonics TCA-500C.
Click here to listen to Release Me with my new Williams steel and the Telonics TCA-500 amp mic'd with a Shure SM-57!
Click here to listen to No one Will Ever Know recorded using the Telonics TCA-500 DI interface direct to console
Click here to listen to Rubicon Blues recorded using the Telonics TCA-500 DI interface direct to console

Review Summary

This amp is the most quiet amp I have ever owned. By that I mean there is almost undetectable hiss or white noise and absolutely no pop or click when it's powered on or off. The LED lighting is a nice touch and very useful both in a darkened or even in a fairly well lighted room. With light settings of Off/Low/High the amp's controls are easily viewed. The LED lamps are thoughtfully recessed into the top cabinet panel and hidden from direct view. Visually the colored control panel, the LED backlighting and the G Major displays make for quite a nice show. The drop down kickstand built into the bottom of the amp is easy to deploy and gives the amp a nice tilt while remaining in a totally stable position. The D2F covers fits perfect, provides excellent protection and is of top quality materials and construction. I set the amp input gain using the procedure in the user manual and arrived at setting of "6". Overall the amp has a ton of gain allowing for really nice volume pedal swells. The amp reverb is not as deep or as smooth as the average reverb stomp box but is usable and sits well in a mix. The G Major has a lot of effects but overall its reverbs and delays are no better than a good dedicated stomp box but there are many other effects to choose from and it has the advantage of being built into the amp. Although the G Major user presets from Telonics are setup mostly for parallel mode, one can easily turn the Dry/Wet control totally Wet and use any serial effects patch such as a compressor, modulation, octaver, envelope filter etc. I did find the serial mode G Major factory patches #31, 33, 46 , 68, 71, 74 (Plate), 76 (Hall) and 91 useful in full wet mode. With a touch of compression, the amp can be made to simulate the tube amp power supply sag when used with lead guitar. One should carefully decide about what configuration suits one's sound. Some will love the G Major and others may want to maintain their favorite reverb/delay stomp boxes and go for the Telonics mini combo with no effects rack slot. This amp is extremely light (37.4 pounds for my unit) yet the cabinet is very rigid and well protected in all areas. I did find that the open layout of the back was not compatible with my amp stand, a very minor annoyance (see pics below). A simple mod to extend the two vertical stand pillars 4" will fix this. While one can most definitely get a more spacious and wider variety of sounds using a DAW's toolset (think stereo reverb and offset tracks) and grabbing a dry steel tone along with the wet, my goal here was to document the sound coming out of the amp, not develop the best recording mix. The T'BRO' sound is excellent and the supplied T'BRO' bar did a better job of emulating the dobro sound than any of the glass, wood, plastic, hollow or other dobro bars I have on hand. The G Major patches have the ability to switch the T'BRO' or amp reverb on an off so you can combine all G major effects and amp effects into one patch. In fact a few of the Telonics supplied G Major patches do just that.

For comparison here are the weights of the amps pictured below:

Fender 68 Custom Deluxe Reverb 40.2 pounds
Fender Steel King with casters 64.4 pounds
Peavey Nashville 400 57.0 pounds
Telonics TCA-500C Combo 37.4 pounds

As far as overall sound goes this amp is spectacular. For starters the EQ is very powerful and easy to set. I was able to get sounds mimicking all the amps I like very quickly including the Steel King, Nashville 400, Webb 6-14-E and the Fender Deluxe and Princeton series. The tone is very clear and pleasing to the ear without a hint of harshness or one bit of typical transistor sterility. It has that really full beautiful tone that you hear in both the near and far fields of the Walker Stereo Steel and Webb amps for example. Somehow it does this without deep cuts in the midrange thus avoiding the extreme midrange honk that many dedicated steel amps have. I recorded samples below and songs above using a mic on the amp and the DI interface with the same full-bodied rich tone. If you listen closely to the sound samples, perhaps with headphones, you'll quickly notice that there's no intermodulation distortion when multiple notes are played at the same time whether they are close or far apart in frequency. This is easily produced in a modern recording studio with DI interfaces but very rare to achieve with a high powered amp feeding a speaker! In fact there is the same undistorted tone at very low bedroom levels up to loud stage volumes. Thus every note in a chord stands out clearly with no odd audio artifacts.
Updated 01/07/2017. I bought a 1/4" mono phone to SpeakON adapter and added a second speaker to the Telonics amp using one of my Walker Stereo Steel 4 ohm 200 watt 15" re-coned JBL speaker cabs. Spreads the sound out a bit more! See pics of adapter and added speaker cab below. There is a switch on the back of the Telonics amp to switch in the second speaker after you plug in (and rotate until it locks) the SpeakON connector.
Given the combination of outstanding tone, weight, features, ruggedness, appearance, workmanship and customer service I place the Telonics amp at the very top of any steel amp I have ever used, tube or transistor. There are a lot of very fine amps out there but in my opinion the TCA-500C combo is the best I've ever tried.

Sound Samples

Here's some sound samples from my first day of playing through this amp. All samples use the Goodrich volume pedal with a Dunlop Hotpotz, 12' of George L's cable between the amp and volume pedal to roll the highs off a bit, Telonics amp with either a Shure SM-57 or DI direct to console, onto a Zoom R24 then ported to Reaper to convert them to mp3 files at 320 kbps. The last sample (#18) is recorded in stereo with the DI input in the left channel and the Shure MS-57 mic in the right channel. You can pan right or left to compare the channels! Note that listening to this sample (#18) in stereo yields a lot of weird phase cancellations. Viewing the track and scope photos of track 18, it seems that my equipment at some point inverted the DI track! Listed to sample 19 with the DI phase of sample 18 corrected. Both channels are now in phase and can be mixed together as needed. My initial amp settings:
  • Input Gain = 6
  • Bass = +4
  • Mid Level = -5
  • Mid Freq = 700
  • Treble = +1
  • Blend = 0
  • Master = 4
  • Reverb = 7.5
  • Dry/Wet = -1.5

Recording Method
Shure SM57
Amp reverb only
Shure SM57
Amp reverb only
Shure SM57
Amp reverb only
Shure SM57
G Major preset #1, Steel Lloyd Verb
Shure SM57
G Major preset #2, Steel Hughey LgRv
Shure SM57
G Major preset #3, Steel Hughey ShRv
Shure SM57
G Major preset #4, Steel Frank 200
Shure SM57
G Major preset #5, Steel Just Verb
Shure SM57
G Major preset #6, Steel Short Verb
Shure SM57
G Major preset #7, Steel Big 4+RMod
Shure SM57
G Major preset #8, Steel Chalk Chorus
Shure SM57
G Major preset #9, Steel Buddy Verb
Shure SM57
G Major preset #11, Steel Hawaiian
Shure SM57
G Major preset #15, Steel General 350 (delay + reverb)
Shure SM57
G Major preset #20, Steel Mooney Short
Shure SM57
G Major preset #34, Tel T'BRO' & REV only
DI to console
G Major presets #15, #5 and #2
DI (left), Shure SM57 (right)
G Major presets #2, #1 and #9, (phase inverted on one channel)
DI (left), Shure SM57 (right)
G Major presets #2, #1 and #9, (same as #18 burt with phase corrected)

Sample 18 left (DI) and right (Sm57 mic) wav files.

I've programmed two presets into my G Major 2 that are real close to the TC Electronics Hall of Fame Hall (Church) and Plate reverbs. They also are very close to the RV-5 reverbs.

It's takes just a few minutes to manually program these in even without the editing software!

Level/Routing (same for both):

PresetOutlv 0 dB
Globl InLv 0 dB
GloblOutlv 0 dB
Rly1 (tip) Open
Rly2 (rng) Open
Routing Serial 2
RoutingLck Off

Reverb Settings, GregHallRVB

Subtype Hall
REV Decay 3.5 s
REV PreDly 13ms
REV Shape Curved
REV Size Large
REV HiCol Real
REV HiFact 0
REV LoCol Round
REV LoFact 9
REV RoomLv -14 dB
REV RevLev -3 dB
REV Diffus 14
REV Mix 100%
REV OutLev 0 dB

Reverb Settings, GregPlateRVB

Subtype Hall
REV Decay 3.7 s
REV PreDly 4ms
REV Shape Round
REV Size Large
REV HiCol Warm
REV HiFact -5
REV LoCol Real
REV LoFact 2
REV RoomLv 0 dB
REV RevLev -3 dB
REV Diffus 25
REV Mix 100%
REV OutLev 0 dB

I should mention that I use my reverbs and about 5 of the ones provided with the unit, some with delay. They are great for live sound.

There are quite a few pictures below. Click on them to see them full size or at least sized to a browser window. Click on the picture again if needed to zoom in even more!

Comments? email webmaster Greg