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|11/3/1999 3:55 AM|
||East Coast Amp Shootout: Results (very, very long)|
Hi, Mook here. What follows are the results to the East Coast Shootout, which was conducted on Saturday, October 9th, in my basement in a sleepy suburb of Northern Virginia. It’s roughly 15-20 pages long (depending on font), so sit back and enjoy. We (seven of us) tested seven different amplifiers – everywhere from 5 watts to 60 watts. No amps were opened up during the review – this was a sonic exercise only.
I’d like to thank Smicz Amplification, Allen Amplification, and Carlson Amplification for sending their amps to be tested in the Shootout. In addition, I like to thank Scott Baker, Sean Curtin, Terry Glaze, Keith Menefee, Steve Snider, and George Waldnamm for their review skills and comments.
I’m sick of the bogus, non-informative reviews of “ordinary” gear in the usual guitar magazines. The best, In my opinion was Guitar Shop, but they have closed up shop. Guitar Player does have a few decent reviews, but nothing in depth, informative, or even useful to the prospective buyer. Usually, there are never more than a few sentences about their review equipment. In addition (and moreover), they don’t review high-quality, boutique amps (well sometimes they do, but very, very infrequently). This shoot-out will simply provide reviews and exposure to the public for the various boutique makers involved. Plus, this gives others and me a chance to listen to some damn good amps!
This is a very “true to heart” review – in that the reviewers said exactly what they felt.
Here is some background from the some of the manufacturers and people involved. It is meant to provide a “point of reference” when reading the individual reviews:
Smicz Amplifiers: The mission of Smicz Amplification is simply to build gear that we would want to play ourselves. There are gaping holes in the offerings of other manufacturers--gear that as players, we wanted to see produced. With the PORTABLuEs Series amps and subsequent offerings, we intend to fill some of those spaces. It's clear that the finest amps are the ones with the simplest circuitry and the best components. The whole idea of our PORTABLuEs Series amps was to design an affordable, high-end amp that would give a player access to powertube distortion at reasonable volumes for recording and practice. The goal was to build a great little amp that just happens to run on DC power, not the other way around. The fact that recording guitarists will not have to deal with AC hum (even when plugged into an AC outlet) is also a very big plus. The gain structure is set so that a Strat with standard pickups will begin to growl when the amp is turned up. This means that there is a fair amount of clean headroom and plenty of space for an overdrive pedal to push the tubes over the top. Our intention is to make this a very versatile amp. Our 110-H version is for the players who have less interest in headroom and love the tone of the old tweed Champs. Virtually every amp we build is being ordered with our tube-driven spring reverb. This sort of reverb is unheard of in a DC powered amp or small amps in general. At $75 (list) we believe that it is an amazing deal. Please be aware that it is not designed to be a huge "surf guitar" reverb. Obviously, there is no way to fit a large tank in a small amp. It's a relatively subtle effect that helps to make a little amp sound huge. Your test amp will come with the NOS power tube upgrade as well. Again, every amp is being ordered with that upgrade. In a simple circuit such as this, the different flavors of various power tubes can be very striking. I'm not sure which one we'll include in the amp. We have several "favorites." Shootout readers will probably want to know that the pricing for your test amp is:
PORTABLuEs 110 $595.00
Spring Reverb 75.00
NOS Output Tube Upgrade 35.00
After the review, Bob Smicz (President of Smicz Amplification) sent the following in response to some of our observations: “As you know, the choice of tubes has a HUGE effect on the tone of an amp, especially in a small amp with simple circuitry. The PORTABLuEs 110 circuit is based on tweed Champ design with a "blackface" tonedeck. It is hand wired, using only the finest components. The amp that was offered for the Shootout was shipped with a Ruby Silver Special preamp tube and Visseaux 6V6 power tube. This amp can offer a myriad of flavors, and one that we especially enjoy is a bright, edgy, lead tone that will turn into a crisp clean tone with the guitar volume backed off. The Silver Special is a bright preamp tube and the Visseaux, unlike most 6V6s does not lose its high-end characteristics when pushed. This tube compliment is one of our favorites for that reason. It is clear that the reviewers would have preferred a more classic setup.”
Allen Amplification: I'm an amateur blues player who does not play in a band or record. I only play at home for fun. I own 3 Strats, my favorite an early SRV. I like jumbo frets, heavy guage strings, single coils with the neck/middle out of phase position as my favorite setting. Love good tube reverb, strong chunky bottom and slightly overdriven leads. Don't like my sound to be too bright. I'm an Electrical Engineer who left my position as President after 18 years in the power resistor industry. I have a lot of manufacturing and product development skills and a couple of patents on grid type resistors. As my intension was to offer kits, I wanted a simple classic circuit that covered many musical types so the AB763 platform was ideal. My theory is a great clean amp can be mated up with any type of effect you want. A simple and proven circuit that is very stable would ensure the success of the first time kit builder. Vintage componentry (fiber eyelet board, cloth push back solid wire, carbon comp resistors, etc) was selected to give the kit builder a sense of the construction techniques of the era and ensure the original tone. As I repair many Fender vintage blackface amps, I tried to incorporate the most used features and address the most common complaints. I found most didn't use the normal channel, had disconnected the vibrato, didn't know how to turn the power swtiches on properly (when they could find them), didn't know how to set the tube bias or didn't worry about it and lacked the mid control of the higher priced models. I also wanted to put a little of me in the design so I added a good post driver master volume, enhanced the reverb controls and added the high gain RAW feature. The aluminum chassis came about due to my experience in the power resistor business and my association with my former company's sheet metal shop. It has excellent properties such as very low resistance to eliminate ground loops, is non ferous so it won't couple transformer hum, is light weight and won't rust. It is also easy to fabricate and looks nice. I went with a very heavy gage to offset its lower strength compared to steel.
Carlson Amplification: i like an amp to sound big & bold with harmonic content at any volume. i like bright, punchy & alive "amps" that cut through a band mix. I like the touch sensitivity of a marshall plexi & wanted that in a fender-ish tone. such is the pup...let's see if you guys agree!!
Scott Baker: I've had a BF Super Reverb for 30 years now which I just got recapped/biased. I find the sound of the BFSR to be luxurious, so that is the "tone benchmark" in my mind. The question for me in checking out amps is: Is this an amp that I would trade the BFSR for?
Terry Glaze: i play old fender tele's and strats thru old tube amps. my favorite rig is my ‘53 tele thru a tube echoplex into my '63 AC30TB.
Kevin Miller: I started playing because of SRV. I was never really a player to learn a song front to back, rather, I just played my own stuff, but with a strong influence of Stevie. Later, I picked up two other main influences, namely Dickey Betts and Alex Lifeson. So, even thought I play my “own” stuff (I still don’t know too many song front-to-back) I “cop” (at least try to) stylistically from these three great players. I mostly play humbucker guitars, but still love to pick up a Strat from time to time. I have a slightly heavy touch, as I play with .012s and .013s on all my guitars. I also do a lot of bending. So, in all, I’d say my personal “style” is very eclectic, perhaps even unusual. In terms of amplifiers, I choose non-master volume amps, like those of the old days. I also love an amp that has lots of gain, sustain, and harmonic content. I don’t always use a lot of gain, but I like to know it’s there if I need it – sorta like driving a Corvette in the city (nobody is going to try and beat you when the light turns green). I like lots of midrange, upper mids, and high end (sweet, but not piercing) to my sound. I usually “dial” the bass out. I want extremely full harmonic content. I also like to control the gain and volume from my guitar. For instance, set your amp to a fairly high gain setting. When the volume on you guitar is all the way up, this is your “lead” tone. From here, you can switch pick ups to get a “different” flavor of lead tone (by the way, switching to the neck pickup should not make the amp get muddy). If you need to play rhythm, just roll of the volume a couple notches - at this point the gain and volume drop a bit. For clean playing, just roll the volume back a bit more.
George Waldmann: I'm a hodge-podge of various styles. Started out emulating John McLaughlin; good jazz-fusion (hard to find these days) is probably my strongest suit. Also a lifelong fan of Ralph Towner's classical and 12-string excursions. These days things are little quieter than in my psuedo-Return to Forever days, more in line with Scofield/Frisell things. Haven't been in band situation in many years (alas!). Now mostly a basement player due to family/job requirements, but I do get together with the other 40 year old boys in the 'hood for jamming when we can. This means mostly blues/roots stuff, always common ground. What I need in an amp these days is a mid-powered 1x12 combo with tonal versatility to cover a range of styles. Above all, the amp has to have a killer clean tone and a great reverb, and hold that together at a reasonable volume, or it won't make the cut. The jazz guitars I have demand it. I like a balanced sound -- neither scooped nor mid-heavy -- with highs that are sparkling without being shrill. I have a blackfaced Deluxe Reverb that set the standard for me for many years, but it breaks up too early. The Tone King is very much like a DR, only more powerful -- more clean headroom, great reverb. Next, I look for a second footswitchable channel with overdrive/distortion. I don't need metal-level distortion. I look for that elusive point of smooth edgy breakup, plus a bit more at times. Third, I look for light weight, since I don't feel like hauling 85 pound combos or 4x12 cabinets anymore. Before the Tone King I had a Mesa Blue Angel. Great amp, but not real versatile and heavy as lead.
Guitars: We probably used about 15 different guitars. Some of those were: PRS McCarty, Nickerson Jazz guitar (which is a cross between a Les Paul and a small bodied archtop), Grosh Strat (with Fralins), Callaham Strat (with Fralins), Parker NiteFly (with DiMarzios), Gibson Les Paul (stock), a real 1953 Telecaster (stock, but rewired control cavity), Hamer Archtop GT (Duncan P90s), Heritage 535 (Duncan Antiquities), Heritage Les Paul (Duncan Seth Lovers), KEM Telecaster (Duncan P90s), and an Anderson Telecaster. We used SpectraFlex cords and plugged directly into the amplifiers.
Cabinets and Speakers: We used two different cabinets on the amp heads. The first cabinet was a Jenkins 2x10 (openback) loaded with two Weber C10Qs. The second cabinet was a Jenkins 2x12 (closed) loaded with a Weber P12B and a Weber C12B. The Smicz was equipped with a Weber C10Q, the Tone King Continental had an Eminence 12”, and the Turbo Pup was equipped with two Weber California 10 inchers.
The amps are listed in order of their test sequence; we tested them in increasing order of wattage. The reviews for each amp are listed alphabetically by the reviewer’s last name. Review comments are exactly as sent to me by the reviews. That is, NO EDITING (even spelling and punctuation) WAS PERFORMED BY ME. I did, however, include a few “editorial” notes and commentary where necessary. This is indicated by the text (ed. note: xx yy zz) in parentheses. Web page links of each amp manufacturer are given if you (the reader) need additional details and specifications, option information, or price quotes. Each player had roughly 10 to 15 minutes to play and evaluate each amp, which included turning knobs and trying out different functionality. Other reviews sat back and listened, but also helped “twiddle” knobs while someone was playing.
Smicz PORTABLuES 110 (http://www.smicz-amplification.com/):
Scott Baker: This was the battery-powered amp. It sounded a bit thin, but it's a small amp. I heard a buzz in the cabinet. Humbuckers sounded like ice picks to me when the amp was cranked, P-90's were ice picks on steroids. The amp sounded best when it was not maxed. Humbuckers sounded better than single coils when the amp wasn't cranked. The reverb was okay for a small battery-powered amp. The tone controls worked okay (that is, you could tell that there was more or less treble/bass being dialed in). The amp needs better bass but, again, it's a small amp. I don't have a need for a battery-powered amp so this would not show up on my radar if I were to go amp shopping. Those folks who have a need should check it out. It's
certainly loud enough so that the cops will chase you away from any subway stop you may wish to play at.
Sean Curtin: I give the Portablues high marks for innovation. Who would have thunk that someone could design a battery-powered tube (6V6) amp that actually sounds good? If you have a need for a battery-powered amp, the Smicz is far and away in a different class than your Pignoses or Fender amp cans. Tone-wise, the amp sounded like it was inspired by blackface Fender tones. With its 10" speaker, the Portablues didn't have a deep low end, but what it did have was tight and useful at all volume levels. The mids seemed scooped unless the mid control was cranked. I found the high end to be somewhat harsh and thin, and it was hard to dial out that harshness without losing almost all of the top end. This surprised me on a 6V6-based amp, a tube normally known for a sweet, compressed high end. The best sounds were produced by putting the treble about 12 o'clock, and diming the mids, bass and volume. With a P90-loaded guitar strung with 12s on the neck pickup, the amp surprised me with its ability to sing, and showed a balanced tone that you'd be proud to have at any blues jam. It was nice, but not as impressive, with other guitars. The overdrive produced by the amp was also firmly within the Fender family. Even cranked, there was no Marshall-esque crunch on tap; think Super with the volume at 8. With the volume cranked, the amp cleaned up well just using the guitar's volume knob, a very useful design feature. The amp was also sensitive to pick attack, another hallmark of a well-designed amp. The amp did well with both humbuckers and single coil pickups, although, as noted above, a dark guitar/pickup seemed best suited to the amp. As a point of comparison, we A/Bed the Portablues with a blackface Champ. The Portablues was clearly not as harmonically complex as the Champ, and came across as less "real." However, in some ways it was more useful. Cranked, the Champ's bass was very loose and spongy, while the Portablues stayed tight and focused. And, of course, you can't run a Champ for 3 hours on batteries either. The Portablues is extremely light and portable, and I doff my cap to the makers for putting so much amp into so little a box. My real question is: what market segment is the amp aimed at? I don't know too many people who need a battery-powered amp. At 5-watts, the amp is too loud to be cranked in an apartment, but 5-watts is not enough to be able to hang at a blues jam. So, personally, I don't have a need for an amp like this, but if you do, I don't know of any amps that do what the Portablues does that sound as good.
Terry Glaze: (ed note: Terry arrived a bit late and missed the Smicz demonstration.).
Keith Menefee: (ed. note: Keith also arrived a bit too late for the Smicz demonstration).
Kevin Miller: This little guy is a bit larger (height-wise) than a Champ. When Sean first plugged into it, his first reaction was, “It’s not too loud”. So, for measurement purposes, we pulled out a Silverfaced Champ. Sean’s claim was quickly put to rest when we found both amps had the exact same volume potential. It definitely had a Fender Blackfaced voice, but I thought the frequency was shifted up a tad, because it didn’t seem to get as “deep” as the Champ. However, even though the Champ was a bit “bassier”, the Smicz amp was much, much tighter in the bottom end. Since the amp was “brighter” voiced, I thought it preferred neck pickups and especially humbuckers. Good “bluesy” tones were heard from a Callaham Strat and a Heritage 535. Of notable mention were a Gibson Les Paul and a PRS McCarty. Other guitars sounded a bit “thin”. Overall, I thought this amp was a bit “tight” and could have “expressed” a bit more harmonic content. Perhaps the speaker was not broken in? The treble was piercing when the treble knob was turned above 9:00; it just seemed better to keep the treble at about 12:00. The midrange knob was very subtle, as was the bass knob. The best settings for all the knobs were around the 12:00 mark. Personally, I prefer amps with a bit more gain; this amp, even when maxed out did not get that distorted. Sure it delivered that slightly bluesy, stingy sound, but there was no more gain on tap. The reverb was actually a welcome surprise – even when maxed out, it created a very nice, but not overbearing effect. That is, even though it was a subtle, it was still a “filling”. The best part about this amp is its portability - which is what it is marketed as. When I was playing archtop jazz at local coffeehouses and bookstores years ago, this would have been the PERFECT amp (being that portability was my main objective). With that in mind, I plugged in my Heritage Golden Eagle archtop to see what would happen (I did this a few days after the actual Shootout). Just as I thought, it provided a perfect background and volume increase for the archtop.
Steve Snider: This little 5 watt amp can run on batteries and has reverb, tubes and is kind of like a boutiqe version of the Pignose. It has a tight bottom but not very deep. In comparison to a Champ,I would take the Champ. It wasn't as tight (ed note: as the SF Champ), but sounded better to my ears. Seemed to prefer Humbuckers and sounded best when not fully cranked. When Kevin played it with his Heritage 335 strung with 12's it fattened up and sounded better, but overall did not impress me.
George Waldmann: This one really didn't belong in the same class with the others, not because of quality issues but because of its design specification: it’s a 5 watt practice/recording amp with a tiny speaker and a battery-run option, whereas the other amps were all at least 25 watts and designed for serious gigging. It also has a mini-coil spring reverb, unusual in an amp this size. With single coils, the PortaBlues was very thin sounding with a shrill top end; almost no mids or bass to speak of. With humbuckers, it sounded much better and the tone controls were much more usable. Still, nobody seemed especially taken with it. We A/B'ed it with an old Princeton (ed. note: actually, it was a late 70’s Silverfaced Champ) and most felt the Princeton (ed. note: Champ) won. If sidewalk gigs are your thing, the PortaBlues might fit the bill, but anything you run through it sounds like a Tele. The speaker and cabinet are just too small to develop much bass.
Tone King Continental (http://www.flynnguitars.com/toneking.html):
Scott Baker: This amp had nice tone at lower volumes. At higher volumes it got a little blurred to me; maxed it seemed to go "blat". It sounded better with the guitar's volume rolled off some if the amp was maxed. Humbuckers had a nice overdriven sound on the amp (even PRS humbuckers which often sound harsh to me). Single coils (Strat style guitars) got a nice ring at about 4 on the volume control. The amp has a "midbite" control which adds more gain. With the amp at about half up the midbite will gain it up a plenty. The tone controls work better at lower volumes. The amp has lead and rhythm channels but switching between the two didn't seem straightforward to me (i.e. "That's not a bug, that's a feature!") The tremolo didn't do it for me; it had a "thwipt" sound to it, especially as the speed was increased. All in all, a nice amp but I wouldn't trade my BF Super Reverb for it.
Sean Curtin: Although I didn't bring this amp to the shootout, I own a Tone King Continental and the matching 2x12 combo (you know, the one with the cool legs that looks like a 50's TV). The amp is not feature rich. 2 channels, the first channel having volume, treble and bass controls; the second having volume, tone and "mid-bite." The amp also has reverb and tremolo, both of which are foot switchable. The lead channel has a switchable 20 watt or 40 watt setting, very handy for getting overdrive at small club volume levels. As a 6V6 based amp, it is not surprising that the amp reminds you immediately of a Deluxe. However, unlike a Deluxe, you can get that rich, punchy clean sound at any volume in the first channel. The first channel stays loud and clean through most of its range. After that, it breaks up very evenly and naturally; it is very usable all the way up. The first channel does not have a mid-controls, and the mids seem to stay scooped regardless of the tone control settings. However, the mids are not so scooped that the sound is anemic in any way. Quite the contrary, the sound is rich and full in the bass and lower mids, and sparkly with out being raspy at the top. I can give the amp no higher compliment than that my favorite clean sound from any amp I've ever heard is the first channel of the Continental. The first channel also LOVES pedals, so it's very versatile. The second channel is also very versatile. With a low setting of the mid-bite control, and the volume about half-way up, the amp sounds like a tweed Fender breaking up. As you crank the "mid-bite," the amp progresses gradually into Marshall territory, although I'd saw it is not quite as raw as a Marshall. At all settings, the overdrive was very thick and rich in the lower-mids and punchy in the bass. I wish the second channel had a full complement of tone shaping controls rather than just a mid-bite and a "tone." While the tones from the lead channel were quite good, one got the feeling that it could be so much more if there were more tone-shaping options. The reverb in the Continental is first-rate; it was easy to dial in just the right amount, all the way up to surf city. I have never been a big fan of the tremolo on these amps. While it produces a very pleasing effect at the lowest settings of depth and speed, my feeling is that effect becomes too pronounced thereafter. There is no doubt that the Continental is the ticket for lovers of the Deluxe Reverb sound who want more, more, more. The amp has a lovely clean sound (at all volumes) and a nice range of sounds in the lead channel (mostly at medium and high volumes, however). I should also note that the amp looks cool -- major style points with its retro look. This is definitely a cool amp and one of my personal all-time faves.
Terry Glaze: nice fender blackface clean tone. great tremelo. coolest looking of the amps. would like to hear it thru a 4x10.
Keith Menefee: very nice Fender like clean sound, with nice over all tone. great sounding, deep, throbbing tremolo. Over driven the amp becomes almost Marshaly, but doesn't seem to really open up and breath. the two tone cabinet is very cool looking. would match your Danno guitar. will work well for those who use a stomp box for their leads.
Kevin Miller: To my ears, the rhythm channel was no different than a regular Fender Deluxe, except the bottom end was not “mushy” when cranked. Therefore you could get more useful bass from this channel. This amp had a slight “acoustic” property, where a regular Deluxe Reverb does not. Nice jazzy tones with the Nicherson. The tremolo was a bit different than a regular DR; slightly more Voxey. The lead channel picks up where the rhythm channel left off. Suppossedly the “Cut” feature (only on the lead channel) can be used to go from Tweed to Marshall sounds. Twisting the “Cut” knob did allow the amp to get anywhere from a looser to tighter feel, but it did not exactly remind me of Tweed and Marshall (but it was somewhat close). When maxed, this channel got too fuzzy, muddy, and lost note separation (but that’s what sort of happens when you get way too much gain). Bottom line: A bit better than a DR, soundwise, plus it has a lead channel.
Steve Snider: This 20/40 watt amp with a single 12" Eminence sounded great to me. Rich tone on the clean stuff and when cranked had great crunch tones. The amp features two channels and a cool feature is when going to the lead mode the reverb drops in level. Very cool. The first channel breaks up really well when cranked and the lead channel gets downright nasty. The tones go from creamy to agressive and all are good. This was among my favorites and is a great amp.
George Waldmann: 40 watts, four 6V6, 1x12 combo, two channels. This is the one I brought to the party, so you can take what follows with a grain of salt, but I know this amp best. My idea of good tone starts with a blackface Deluxe Reverb (and a better speaker), the main limitation being the lack of power and clean headroom. The Tone King uses the BFDR circuitry as its starting point, but it actually has two separate 20 watt power sections running in parallel, so you get twice the clean headroom on the rhythm channel -- warm, clear and articulate and it holds together at volume. Extremely well balanced; sparkling highs without any harshness; level mids; plenty of bass without muddiness. This is a terrific jazz amp, by the way. Real good reverb, too. At higher volumes, you get smooth breakup without the fartiness that Deluxe Reverbs often have when dimed, and it cleans up beautifully when rolling off the guitar’s volume pot. The lead channel is lots of fun. There’s a half-power switch that only affects the lead channel (an advantage of the parallel power sections), so you can balance volumes between clean and distorted sounds very easily (they’re footswitchable). There’s only one tone control, plus a knob labeled “Mid-Bite.” At its lowest setting, the Mid-Bite is designed to emulate a tweed sound, with a bit of sponginess and sag. Great for blues/roots stuff. As you crank the knob further, the bass tightens up and the gain increases, ultimately getting you into a more Marshall zone. An amazing variety of sounds on tap with just the two knobs. This amp can get quite raucous, with terrific overdrive, but it’s all very controllable and retains great string definition and articulation for complex chords. It also has a footswitchable, spacey tremolo that sweeps the frequencies as it oscillates. Not a true pitch-shifting tremolo, but it adds a bit of extra depth. In sum, give the Tone King all the usual accolades, it’s just a great amp, it works. Plus it's light weight and the coolest looking by a mile.
Callaham EL84R (http://www.visuallink.com/callaham/):
Scott Baker: Mook said he got this amp because it was a gain machine...and that it is. Bill Callaham makes a very nice guitar; I have one that I used at the shootout. He makes three amp models, also. I tried the amps one time when I was at Bill's shop and preferred the not-so-high-gain model myself. Bill has a tape with all three models on it that he will send to you for $5. And on the tape all three have a very nice kick-in- the-kidneys punch when played in the cassette deck in the car. Check out his website at www.visuallink.com/callaham/. The amp is just volume and tone controls (presence, too??) (ed. note: yes, this amp has a presence control.). It's not a do-everything amp. If you want a versatile amp this is probably not what your are looking for. (Again, Mook said he got it specifically for its gain). BUT it probably had the most gain of any amp tested in the shootout. It was over-the-top gain with humbuckers. The amp didn't fart out. It sounded better with Mook's 2x12 cab than with his 2x10 cab, so I'd say that the amp has pretty good bass content. Volume at 12:00 should be enough for almost any application; this was one loud 20-25 watt amp. The EL84R does the high gain thang pretty well but that's its one trick. You'd need a second amp for variety. I'd keep the BFSR myself.
Sean Curtin: I found the Callaham EL84 to be a one-trick pony, but it was a trick it did well. To be fair, the owner of the amp, Mook, said he bought the amp with the intention of it being a dedicated "lead" amp. Perhaps, then, the design was tweaked by Callaham in that direction, since the amp started to mildly overdrive almost immediately. At lower volumes, the Callaham showed a clear Vox influence, with a boxy, midrange-heavy sound. As you continued to dial the volume up, the midrange softened and more high-end came out. This continued as the volume increased, though by the last third of the volumes travel, there was too much treble for my tastes; the sound was fizzy and brittle, and the bass became farty. On the plus side, the Callaham crunched like a mofo with the volume about 1/3rd of the way up. Crank the volume a little more, and the amp nailed that singing, slightly compressed, sweet EL84 tone. The tone controls were very effective in working the sound, though the amp did not seem capable of producing a Fenderish sound. However, it could easily be coaxed into a raw, early Marshall tone, as well as a panoply of overdriven AC30 tones. The amp seemed to favor guitars loaded with 'buckers, though I got some nice sounds from my Grosh Retro Classic loaded with Fralins, especially on the neck pickup. For a gigging musician, I would think this amp would not be versatile enough, giving that it was very difficult to get clean sounds from the amp that were not anemic. That seems to fall somewhere between a shame and a sin, given the EL84s produce some of world's richest clean sounds. However, that being said, the crunch rhythm sounds and the singing lead on this amp were hard to beat.
Terry Glaze: ferocious attitude. forgiving. this is the amp i would choose, if i could pick one of the shoot-out amps for myself.
Keith Menefee: the clean sound is just ok. Over driven the amp opens up and becomes Vox like. a very bright amp, sounding better through a 2x12 closed back cabinet than through a 2x10 open back. not overly tight, huge and raw sounding. this amp is very forgiving, didn't seem to favor any particular guitar or playing style. should sound great through a 4x12 cabinet. good choice for leads.
Kevin Miller: This is my personal amp. At the time, I was looking for a lead amp to replace my reissue “plexi” 50-watt. I settled on this amp because it could do the plexi-thing, but get even meaner. This amp has the highest gain of any non-master amp I’ve ever heard – that is if you max all the knobs. With all the knobs set at about 12:00 you can get the Marshall tone. This amp sounds great with humbucker type guitars such as my Heritage 535 and Heritage Les Paul. Overall, I’d say this amp is about 80% Marshall and 20% Vox. The knobs on this amp actually produce a wide range of tones (wide sweep) – For instance, if all the knobs are set at 12:00 and you increase the midrange knob, you’ll get a large increase in mids and gain. This amp excels at nice harmonic feedback – for instance, set the controls at 12:00 and “brush” a chord. The amp will produce the fundamental notes of the chord, but will also start a controlled feedback at different musical frequencies. At the higher gain settings, pick attack is sacrificed (I’ve found that thinner picks help in this category), but at “regular” plexi settings, the pick attack is no different than a Marshall. Bass is tight and plentiful – in fact I usually keep the bass control about 9:00. Also, another good thing about this amp is since it is only about 28 watts, it’s not as loud as a Marshall. I consider this a huge plus – Marshall-type sounds in a more usable “package”. So, you’ve heard about the killer distortion sounds, but what about the clean sounds. To be fair, this amp wasn’t designed for clean, but if you do some knob tweaking (remember, knob twisting on this amp has very profound effects) you’ll find some decent Voxey clean tones, especially with single coils. This amp suits my “style” best and I would take this amp as a top pick.
Steve Snider: 28 watts. LOUD 28 watts. This little beast is not only a thing of beauty to look at, it kicks ass. 1 channel and the higher you turn it up, the nastier it gets. Lots of upper mids and is voiced primarily for lead. Notes sustained well for all guitars, single coils and humbuckers. When cranked above 12:00 this sucker is Loud, aggressive and Good. This guy makes great stuff and Scott had a great Callaham Strat to play with that was Top notch!!
George Waldmann: 25 watt head, four EL-34 (ed. note: actually, it’s four EL84s.), single channel, no reverb. Simplicity itself, this amp is purpose-built for one thing: rough and raw distortion at high volume. Very high gain, no clean sounds to speak of, it’s a great amp for high-energy lead work. Of all the amps here, this is the one that can get closest to a thrash metal sound if dialed in properly, but make no mistake, this is not a wall of mush and fizz, it’s high quality raw power. I would not want it for my only amp, but for filling a particular niche, it’s terrific. A real beast. Comes in a beautiful flamed maple cabinet -- looks like a Trainwreck. Callaham also makes a few tamer varieties.
Carlson Turbo Pup (http://www.carlsonamps.com/):
Scott Baker: This amp wasn't REAL LOUD like some of the others, but it had a nice overdriven sound. It cleaned up well on humbuckers as the guitar's volume was rolled off. In fact, it cleaned up well on all the guitars that we tried thru it. This was the amp that had "identifiable sounds" to me. With an LP with '57 Classic humbuckers, I heard the "Shakin' All Over" sound from the Who's "Live at Leeds". With a '53 Tele, I heard that "Funk 49" sound from the James Gang. The reverb sounded cool, too...surfing in New Jersey, whudda thunk it? I'd still keep the BFSR but, this sounded like a worthy amp to use for gigs in place of the BFSR.
Sean Curtin: While the Callaham was a one-trick pony, the Turbo Pup was the swiss-army knife of amps. It is one of the best combinations of price, quality, features, tone and portability I've encountered. For a gigging musician, it would be hard to go wrong with a Turbo Pup. Armed with my Grosh Retro Classic and a PRS McCarty, I had no trouble dialing in a veritable cornucopia of Fender and Marshall inspired sounds. The amp had the authoritative slam and projection of a Marshall, with the sparkle, presence and detail of a Fender. Well done! There are some amps where it is hard to find a bad sound, and the Turbo Pup is one of them. Perhaps this is because the designer, Mark Norwine, is a gigging musician -- he put together the amp to produce a wide variety of usable sounds. The amp could easily be dialed in the fatten single coils, or cut back on the bass excesses of humbuckers. I especially liked the wide variety of overdrives on tap. With the amp's volume knob cranked, you could get a nice, Fendery clean with the guitar's volume on 5. Cranking up the volume knob through the rest of its travel led you through an encyclopedia of overdriven tones, starting with a Stevie-approved Texas blues tone (the bass staying tight), up through early plexi territory, into a real nice, ragged-but-right "Keef" Marshall and finally into a driving, screaming overdrive that would make Angus smile. You wont get a "fusion" or metal level of overdrive (see the Callaham for that), but within the universe of blues to hard rock, its hard to think of a sound this amp couldn't get. Again, due to the amp's superb responsiveness, it was easy, almost intuitive to dial in these various sounds. To me, this makes the amp a wonderful gigging amp. At 33 watts, the amount of volume produced hits the sweet spot for small- to medium-sized clubs. The one negative I'd have with this amp as a gigging amp is that for a 2x10, it's a heavy sucker. I'm guessing 60 plus pounds. This is no doubt due in large measure to the huge Weber speaker. However, it sure beats dragging a Super Reverb and a Marshall head and cab to a gig … you can get those sounds in one package. In short, this is a sweet amp … great-sounding, versatile, controllable and usable for rock and blues. I like it because it's bone-simple to use. For a hand-built, point-to-point amp, the price is downright reasonable. I want one. Or better yet, two, so I can run them in stereo. In fact, you could get three of these for one of the Two Rock amps and a 2x12 cab … but that's another review.
Terry Glaze: best club gigging amp. small size. sounds really big. nice tone.
Keith Menefee: nice midrangy drive. has that Marshal crunch when pushed. also huge sounding, sounds much bigger than it is. the clean sound was a bit thin and lacked sparkle. Possibly this was due to the Weber C10-CA speakers. I beleive this won't be as noticible when playing with bass and drums. should cut through a mix nicely. this amp also doesn't favor any particular guitar or style. great choice for a real working amp.
Kevin Miller: Fender Blackface meets Marshall. Here’s an amp that worked equally as good with humbuckers as single coils (perhaps the only amp that did great at both type of pickups – most amps favored one type or another). The Pup had a nice tight bottom throughout its volume range. In fact, even at low volumes, the sounds were uncommonly thick and bass-rich. As far as the Fender reference goes, I thought the best comparison was to a Fender DR, but with a lot more bass. Especially at higher volumes, I got the sense of some upper-mid 6V6 crunch tones (even though this amp is equipped with EL34s). Even with a Tele at extreme setting, this amp was not piercing. Rather chimey with single coils and a good harmonic richness with any guitar. This amp stay rather clean for my tastes. Don’t get me wrong, this amp did crunch up and was ready for some Rock and Roll, but with those EL34s, I was expecting (and hoping) for a little more “plexi” crunch when dimed. The reverb was not quite Fendery sounding. It was nice to dime the reverb and not be overpowered with reverb “wash”, but there are no Surf settings on this reverb circuit. Another plus about this amp is it’s lower wattage, thus a lower volume.
Steve Snider: 33 watts, EL34 powered amp. Sounded excellent and was extremely quiet even when cranked. Nice low end and had a JCM 800 vibe when cranked. In fact the cleans were very fenderish and the Distortion very Marshall like. I liked this one too.
George Waldmann: Two EL34 2x10 combo, 35 watts, reverb. XLR output on front panel, nice touch. At lower, cleaner volume levels, I felt this one was somewhat unbalanced -- boxy and mid-heavy, as if you needed to get the wax out of your ears. Tried it with a jazz guitar and did not feel this one was in its element. Yet when cranked, the Turbo Pup really came alive and sounded great, with excellent crunch and sparkle. At max volume, distortion could be pretty heavy, but it held together without getting mushy, though max volume was a bit less than most of the other amps here. Worked equally well with either singles or humbuckers. Obviously a well built amp, and very heavy for its relatively small size.
Allen Old Flame (http://www.iguitar.com/allen/):
Scott Baker: As I understand it, this is a "blackface" style amp. However, its sound did not remind me of the BFSR. What I heard was some Black Sabbath-like tones on humbuckers and a lot of ice-pick-in-the-ear on the Tele style guitars. The amp had a "Raw" switch which sounded like a buzzy stomp box to me when it was engaged. The amp seemed to "mush out" when maxed, especially with the Raw button pushed. The amp definitely sounded better when it was not maxed; humbuckers sounded more defined at the lower volume. This amp just did not meet my expectations of "blackface" sound, so I'd definitely keep the BFSR.
Sean Curtin: This amp simply is a blackface Fender, with a twist of Marshall. I am not even sure I need to review this amp, since if you know what a blackface Super Reverb sounds like, you know what this amp sounds like. Detailed (maybe more detailed than a Fender), shimmery top-end, scooped mids, good, tight bass punch. Like a blackface Fender, the amp got fizzy at high volumes and the bass became loose and farty; if you are looking for ultra high gain, you will not find it here. The amp sounded superior with the 2x10 cab versus the 2x12 cab (perhaps no surprise, since the amp is based loosely on a Vibrolux Reverb). Where the amp really got interesting was the "raw" switch, which increases the gain and bypasses the tone control. Hitting the raw switch gets you into early, gnarly Marshall territory … think of Keef's guitar on the Stones "Midnight Rambler"; the amp nails that tone effortlessly with a humbucking guitar. I'm a lover of blackface amps, and I was impressed with this amp. However, it seemed a little stiff and formal. Perhaps after a breaking period, the amp would loosen up a little. As it was, it sounded darn good, especially given that it costs under $1,000.
Terry Glaze: a new fender blackface amp. kinda like a bandmaster.
Keith Menefee: very b/f Fender both clean and pushed. through the 2x12 closed back cabinet it sounded like a good b/f Bandmaster. engaging the raw switch which bypasses the tone circuit, adds grind and drive. sounded a bit Tube Screamerish. nice amp if you want the b/f sound.
Kevin Miller: Sonically, this amp head was very Blackface sounding and it was designed for just that. Even though it covered the Blackface thing, it also got a bit Marshally when maxed and the “raw” switch was engaged. However, this maxed setting lead to a bit of mud on the bottom end, but I must say it didn’t get as muddy as a “regular” Blackface. The reverb on this head was astounding! Just like a regular Blackface design, I felt that this amp favored single coils, although humbucker guitars did sound good, too. Of particular note, Terry’s Tele sounded very full. It’s a 3-knob reverb that was very deep and spacious. In short, this head captures the sound of the Blackface circuit with added features (such as a “usable” master volume, a “raw” switch with gives passable Marshally sounds, and killer reverb), while curing/curtailing some of the familiar Fender bass “mush”.
Steve Snider: Tight Punchy amp. 50 watts and again did the fender thing very well. Had a higher gain channel that wasn't footswitch accessable. Had reverb and the amp broke up nicely in the first channel with the volume cranked. The distortion was a bit raw sounding and I wasn't really impressed with the amp overall, but it was still a good amp.
George Waldmann: head, 2x6L6, 40 watts (ed. note: actually, with the GZ34 rectifier, it was about 45 watts.), reverb (with dwell, mix and tone knobs). This one was real nice. Seems to be based on a BF Fender sound but with a bit more gain, and pretty close to the Tone King for all around great sounds from clean to dirty. Good reverb and it passes the clean jazz test with flying colors. But it also cranks up beautifully, with surprisingly heavy but tight bottom-end grind. A one channel amp, but it had a button on the front panel that bypasses all tone controls to connect the guitar straight to the power section, giving it a jump in gain and distortion. It really kicked things up a notch, maybe two, almost like having a second channel. Unfortunately, it did not appear that this function was footswitchable, which would greatly enhance its usability. The master volume actually works as advertised -- the amp retains its singing qualities at lower levels without the muted squelch you often get with a master dialed down. Overall, a terrific amp. If I didn’t have the Tone King, I could live with this one very easily.
KEM (no web address as of yet):
Scott Baker: This is Keith Menefee's prototype (I think) of an amp line he is thinking about building (I think). It's based on Fender tweed circuits (I think). It has a 59 Concert design for vibrato (tremolo) and an Ampeg-style reverb. (I've heard that the older tremolo circuits are the preferred ones; Victoria used the 61 Concert tremolo circuit in their Reverberato, for example). And the tremolo on this amp certainly did sound better than the Tone King's tremolo. (I tried a bit of "Rumble" on this amp as someone turned up the tremolo, way cool that!) I liked the way it handled humbuckers and P-90s. Single coils got nice clean Hendrixy sounds. The lead channel didn't sound like a buzzy stomp box. I liked the sound best when it was just getting into overdrive with humbuckers; when the amp was fully cranked, it sounded more muddy to me. And there is something about 4x10's that just appeals to me. Id like to hear this thing again after Keith has tweaked the design some more. Right now, I'd keep the BFSR but I'd have an open mind in anticipation of the next time I hear Keith's amp.
Sean Curtin: Here was the sleeping dog of the shootout. The KEM amp is the brainchild of Keith Menefee, an amp tech and budding amp builder in Maryland. Although Keith himself doesn't play guitar (he's a bassist), he's come up with a real winner here. The amp design is loosely based on a brownface concert, an amp is which is sadly overlooked by all but the true Fender afficianados. The KEM amp was a 2-channel, 4x10 amp, loaded with Naylors (which were a revelation to me), with reverb. The reverb is supposedly based on an Ampeg design. I found the control layout a bit confusing, but the amp is a prototype, and the final version may be laid out more intuitively. The amp had line out and speaker outs, but the most unique feature was a bias control pot and a place to put multi-meter leads in the back of the amp … instant bias without taking the amp apart. Nice! The amp struck me instantly as having a very hi fi quality -- it made my Grosh Retro Classic sound like an acoustic. Turning up the volume, the tone started thickening up nicely almost immediately. There was very little clean in this amp. The overdrive was very tweed Fender in quality; rich and dark with great sustain and punch. However, even at medium cranked levels, the amp retained note detail and definition. It was one of the few amps to pass my "House is Rockin'" test at that level … that is, playing the intro riff to that song on the low E and A string, 10th position, without the bass farting out. I was seriously impressed. I thought the mid-range on this amp just nailed the right frequencies … a very thick, brown sound, without sounding nasal or boxy. Even with the amp fully cranked, it still sounded under control, where a real Fender would sound ready to explode at the same settings. Some like the "she's ready to blow captain" element to the old Fenders, but I appreciated that the KEM was very usable and controllable even at its highest volume level, on both the rhythm and lead channels. The amp seemed to love single-coils and humbuckers equally, but with a P90, the sounds were so fat and greasy, the amp should come with a free angioplasty. The one feature of the amp I didn’t care for was the reverb. It seemed to be separate from the note, like there was almost a delay between the note and when the reverb sounded. It gave it a strange, artifical quality. However, the tone of the reverb was great and it was very adjustable. Given the tightness of the bass in this amp, a blues-funk player would go wild for it. Chris Duarte, call Keith Menefee. If you like the SRV Texas blues sound, check out this amp. It won't do high gain, but if you are looking for a Super Super Reverb, the Uber-Fender, definitely check this amp out. I would give the KEM amp my "first runner up" vote in the shootout.
Terry Glaze: sounded the most like a vintage amp. brown concert with reverb. very organic and woody tone. really nice.
Keith Menefee: (ed. note: Keith was the maker of this amp, so he is not allowed to comment on it.).
Kevin Miller: This amp was perhaps the biggest surprise of the Shootout. Why? Because nobody expected it to sound like it did. I expected something totally different, perhaps Blackfaced Bassman. But what I heard was a excellent mix of Tweed and Blackface Super; the voice was “notched” up a bit in the midrange from the typical Blackface. This yielded a very “vintage” and “woody” upper-mid crunch. This amp sounded and “felt” vintage. In addition, it had good harmonic content and controlled musical feedback. If SRV were attending the Shootout, he would have picked this amp – no question about it! When maxed, it entered into Marshall territory. The amp hit and early “sweet spot” and had a strong bottom end. Equally good with both humbuckers and single coils. The reverb on this amp was more Ampeg-like – “boxy” and depthy but not lush like Fender. But to be honest, I’m more partial to the Fender 3-knob reverb. All in all, a very vintage, woody, spanky, tight and articulate Blues machine.
Steve Snider: This amp sounded great. I thought it would be an amp for any occasion and was capable of getting lots of great tones. When Cranked it retained a very focused tone with string clarity and plenty of nice gain. Loud amp 60 watts, reverb, tremolo, 4X10 with Naylor speakers. This amp did nothing but impress me and It would be my second favorite of the group.
George Waldmann: Two 6L6 4x10 combo, two channels, reverb. This one is built by Keith Menefee, a local guy who’s made a few of these and hasn't even named it yet. It’s 60 watts and when turned up sounds very much like a real good but higher-gain Fender Concert. With 6L6GBs and 12AX7s as installed, there isn’t much clean headroom on this one, it breaks up too quickly for a jazz sound. But Keith pointed out that swapping in 7581s and 12AT7s will keep it clean up to pretty high volumes. Your choice. In its current configuration, at medium-to-high volumes it transitions very smoothly from edgy breakup to fairly heavy distortion, all very controllable from the guitar. Big, full sound on this one, big bottom end, but still clear. Lots of knobs on the amp, it requires some fiddling to find your sound. But when you do, it’s great, very tubey, especially with single coils. Like SRV? Look no further.
Two-Rock (K&M) Emerald 50 (http://www.two-rock.com/):
Scott Baker: Hum?? Well, yeah, I'd swap the BFSR for this one, but I don't think they'd take me up on that. MSRP on the head was $3.5K. This was the best sounding amp in the shootout, IMHO. I really liked the way that it would start feeding back, very smooth and very controllable. The amp was quiet - not hissing - even when turned up. It had a very nice overdriven sound. I heard a bit of the Eric Johnson violin tone myself. PRS humbuckers sounded quite good with this amp in both humbucking and coil tapped modes on the McCarty at the shootout. This amp handled the humbuckers (Les Paul, PRS), P-90s, Strat single coils, and Teles with aplomb. I don't recall anyone getting bad sounds out of this amp. This amp had plenty of bass content. We tried it with both the 2x12 and the 2x10 cabs that Mook had and it shined on both. The bass coming out of the 2x10 cab was really great. My quibbles with amp are PRICE! and the number of controls/switches; it should come with an instruction book!
Sean Curtin: Let me preface the review by stating for the record that I bought one of these amps less than a month ago, so I am still in that happy honeymoon phase with the amp. What a honeymoon it's been! I am a self-confessed amp slut; in fact, proud of that fact that I can enjoy and appreciate both the rawness of a tweed Bassman and the refined power of a Bogner Ecstacy. I have owned a lot of amps, but none of them has cured me of my prodigal amp lust like the Two Rock. For specs, you can check out their website at http://www.two-rock.com. The amp is 6L6 based, and has two channels, which share one set of EQ controls. The EQ controls don't have the widest range I've ever heard, but they do allow you to dial in precisely the mix you’re looking for within a generous sounding sweep. The EQ section has a bright switch and a deep switch. The bright switch adds sparkle, without harshness; the deep switch adds bass, but doesn't cause the tone to become flatulent. In both cases, they hit the exact right area. The two channels share gain structure; that is, the gain on channel "A" affects the gain on channel "B." The advantage is a more "organic" sound, and I've found that it's not hard to dial in the right amount of gain on both channels. You simply need to remember to compensate for a lower gain on channel "A" with a higher gain on channel "B." While having two independent channels would be preferable from a "tweaking" perspective, I understand from the designers that it would compromise the tone. That's one area where they have not compromised; but more on that later. Both channels have very usable master volumes. The amp sounds surprisingly good at lower volumes, though it really finds it voice at higher volumes. It produces a VERY LOUD 50 watts. I use mine with a THD Hotplate, which works great. The amp has a very lush reverb; the only criticism I have of it is that it gets very wet very quickly. The amp has an effects loop (return volume only … the send volume is controlled by the masters). The final two switches on the front panel are the "bypass" and "dwell" switches. The bypass switch defeats the tone controls, causing an increase in the volume, especially in the midrange. The sound becomes very raw, perfect for aggressive power chording. The "dwell" switch should be renamed the "mojo" switch. With the mojo switch off, the amp is a very nice and more versatile take on a blackface Fender; with the dwell switch on, the amp rockets into the rich high gain territory of Dumbles and Boogies. Technically, I understand that engaging the dwell switch eliminates negative feedback in the amp. Whatever it does, it fattens the sound considerable and adds sparkle in the upper mids. It is really hard to describe the tone of the lead channel without just resorting to superlatives. I have not personally played through a Dumble; however, I have heard Robben Ford and Larry Carlton play through their Dumbles. That sound is in this amp in spades. A round, dark, endlessly sustaining tone, more aggressive in the upper mids than the Boogie. If you have Robben Ford's "Handful of Blues" album, you can cop almost all of those sounds. The tone just seems to leap out of the amp; I expect this is what people mean by three-dimensionality. I heard it in the Alessandro English I had, but this amp does it better. Where the Alessandro was somewhat stiff (many say the Dumbles are too), this amp has just the right amount of sag to make it bluesy without losing definition. The amp just blows away any other amp I've played in terms of touch sensitivity. On the same settings you can get a totally clean, breathy sound by lightly touching the strings and an aggressive roar by digging in. I've never encountered an amp that had that kind of dynamic range before. The amp cleans up well from the guitar's volume knob too; again, as good or better as any amp I've ever encountered. The amp sounded great with either 2x12 or 2x10. I liked the 2x12 for a slightly lusher, fuller sound, but with the 2x10, the amp showed even more punch. Pretty close to a toss-up. What can I say? I love this amp. With the dwell switch off, you've got the entire palette of blackface (and much of tweed) Fender at your control in the rhythm channel, with the lead channel taking you into Marshall territory. With the "dwell" switch on, you get a piano-like attack, with a perfect note bloom and endless sustain on tap, even at reasonable volume levels. At $3,500 for the head alone, the amp is not for the faint of heart. But if I had to have just one amp, there's no doubt in my mind that it would be this one. If you name an amp, I've probably tried it or owned it. And I'll give the caveat again that I'm still in the honeymoon period with this amp. But I can assure you, it is something special. If I had to vote for a winner of the shootout, the Two-Rock would be it … and I voted with my money.
Terry Glaze: Dumble type amp. not forgiving. likes a light touch. blooming type tones. magnifies your abilities and your shortcomings. not for the beginner.
Keith Menefee: nice tight bottom, stays tight when pushed, Fendery with a bit more mids. the dwell (?) switch disconnects the negitive feed back adding a bit of early grind. the bypass bypasses the tone circuit and adds very nice mid boost and sustain the deep switch enhances the lower mids and makes the amp really breath. expands the sound. great lead tone and huge sounding. responds very well for a player with a light touch. this is a professional amp, very unforgiving, definatly not for the average player. players with the ability Robin Ford, Eric Johnson, Larry Carlton etc. could realy make this amp sing.
Kevin Miller: This amp just seemed to be in a different category. Two-Rock (formerly K&M) proudly boast their amp as being based upon Dumble amplifiers. In short, does it sound like a Dumble? I can’t answer that, because I’ve never played a Dumble in person, but I can attest that this amp is very…..different. Voice-wise, it’s definitely based around a Blackface Fender. But, it differs in that the bottom end is incredibly huge and tight - not overbearing mind you, but very “natural” feeling. Then we engaged the “Deep” switch, which seemed to lower the bottom frequency a great deal. I can’t even begin to describe the depth of the bass! Again, the bass was not overbearing, but “natural” sounding and feeling. In other words, there was more bottom than Nell Carter, and it was tighter than Cindy Crawford! While the bottom end was particularly amazing, I thought it robbed from the traditional Blackface voice. The rhythm channel of this head amplifier was not impressive to me, but to be honest, we didn’t spend too much time on this channel. I felt the rhythm channel to be tight and not too harmonically rich (I thought the Allen Old Flame provided a “better” Blackface sound). Although the rhythm channel had nothing over a good pre-CBS Fender, the lead channel was indescribable…… Perhaps the best way to describe the lead channel is this: “What if Mesa/Boogie put out a brand new Super-Duper, Ultra High quality amp line, without the traditional signature Mesa/Boogie “honk” voicing, but more Blackfaced in nature?”. Smokin’ Santana and Clapton lead tones! The lead channel was very tight and focused. I felt however, that all the knobs had to be cranked on the lead channel (including the master volume) in order to get to the “sweet spot”. But suprisingly, this amp was not as loud as I expected (again, I consider this a plus). Like some of the other amps in the Shootout, if you “brush” a chord, you get a wonderful, harmonic, and musical feedback. The best part of this amp was the very usable (in a slight solo-boost sort of way) “raw” switch (not too much unlike the raw switch in the Allen Old Flame). The sustain was killer – hit a note, bend up, and hold it - then you can stomp on the “raw” switch (it’s on a pedal footswitch). The note sustains, and sustains, and sustains, and sustains, and sustains, and sustains, and sustains, and sustains until you stop the ringing string with your palm. I’ve never heard an amp do it like this before! I must say that the “raw” switch provided the perfect boost function. The second amazing thing about this amp was that it was the quietest amp in the entire showdown – even with the amp at a fairly high setting, I was standing right next to it with guitar in hand (muted strings, of course) and there was DEAD silence! The reverb was rather plain – a little less “wet” than the usual Blackface sound – perhaps even uninspiring. This amp is purely a Fender-voiced lead amp.
Steve Snider: I brought this amp and ended up buying this amp. It was the best overall for my type of stuff and my review is biased since I have two. I love this amp and although we didn't mess with the clean that much, it has great clean tones which sounded huge even through a 2X10 cab. It has a dwell switch which lifts the feedback loop, a tone bypass which defeats the passive tone controls giving it more mid range, gain and volume. The lead channel sound is perfect for playing blues rock or fusion and can sustain forever. Very touch sensitive and Hi Fi. I won't go on about it but I thought it was the best sound overall.
George Waldmann: Two 6L6 head, two channels with reverb. K&M are two California guys who have decided to build their vision of an ultimate cost-no-object amp that is neither Fender, nor Marshall, nor Boogie. In fact, their literature references Dumbles, not in terms of cloning their tone, but to praise their relentless pursuit of perfection, etc., but what it really seems to mean is: "Want a Dumble? Here's the closest you'll come, pal. $3500 and you won't have to wait five years.” Whatever, this was in fact an absolutely killer head. Excellent clean tones and plenty of headroom. Warm and clear, fine as a jazzer at lower volumes. At higher volumes, this one really lit up, with lots of sustain for leads and great crunch for rhythm, all tailorable to the nth degree through a very flexible preamp. I tended to dial this one in a bit darker than the others we tested. No shrillness, just tight, well-defined distortion from top to bottom. The result was a sound that you could live with a long time without fatiguing your ears. Complex chords are rendered beautifully, so while you could certainly use it for gutbucket rock and roll, you could also use it for more fusion-oriented stuff and it would hold together. Like the Allen Old Flame, this one also had a tone bypass switch, this time footswitchable. It seemed to have a little less dramatic effect -- a bit of boost, not a jump to a different level. Another excellent master volume. (For those of us who started playing in the ‘70s when all master volumes were crap, finding ones that work properly is a revelation.) This is one of those amps you can't get a bad sound out of. Is it worth $3500? I suppose whether any amp is worth that much depends as much on the financial status of the customer as on anything intrinsic to the amp itself. There are damn fine amps around for a lot less money. But if you’ve got the bucks, or you’re a gigging professional, you can’t go wrong with this one. It has greatness written all over it.
|11/3/1999 4:47 AM|
Mook, you are to be congratulated, yet again, on another fine shootout. I don't know about everybody else, but I just plain enjoy reading the damned things!
|Book Of The Day||
The Ultimate Tone, Volume III by Kevin O'Connor
Note: The Ampage Archive is an Amazon Associate site. A small commission is paid to the site owner on any qualified purchase made after clicking an associate link such as the one above.
|11/3/1999 4:55 AM|
||Download it here if your browser locks up!|
I took the liberty of copying your post and uploading it to my site as:
--Thanks for all of the time and effort that went into your tests!
|11/3/1999 2:08 PM|
MOOK..what became of the stinger/blues pearl
that was to be part of the test?
|11/3/1999 3:59 PM|
The Stinger never "survived" the 1st cut.
Perhaps it will be in the next shootout.....
|11/4/1999 1:00 AM|
Can't reply to Mook's origional post so here is my reply- Thanks Mook for your efforts, you did a tremendous job.
Thank you Steve A for putting it up at your site!!
|11/3/1999 7:27 AM|
||Re: East Coast Amp Shootout: Results (very, very long)|
Wow Mook, very nice job! Thanks to you and all the others involved in the review.
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