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Whack Job: DenTone Call Sender

June 27, 2014
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It just so happens that I not only collect whacky guitars, but old plastic radios, as well. So when I see anything that looks remotely like it’s made out of Bakelite, Styron, Catalin, or other vintage plastics, my attention is immediately engaged. This is how I met amp maker Dennis Menard. I discovered through his website (dentonepedals.com) that he makes some cool-looking stompboxes, but what really caught my attention is the little amp pictured here.

WEIRDO FACTOR

“Della, get Paul on the phone for me, Tragg is breathing down my neck …”

Playing guitar through something that resembles the intercom you’d find in the office of classic ’50s and ’60s television lawyer Perry Mason’s office is weird enough, wouldn’t you say? But the real mind blower is how great this little amp sounds—which is, well, even weirder.

PLAYABILITY & SOUND

First, a little background information. Vermont amp maker Menard seeks out old plastic radios and intercoms. He takes out whatever is inside, and puts in a one-half-watt, solid-state amp circuit of his own design. He usually uses the speaker that came with the original model. With just one knob, you don’t have a lot of tonal choices, but what you get are clean sounds from volume settings 1 to 3, overdriven sounds from 4 to 6, and, above 7, it’s full-on distortion.

For tonal variations beyond that, the circuitry is designed with a buffered input that takes pedals quite well. When the amp is turned up all the way, it gets about as loud as an acoustic guitar. But unlike other little one-knob amps, the Call Sender never gets screechy or barky when it’s dimed. In fact, the amp always sounds full and resonant. Want more dispersion and sound? An extension speaker output is provided that can power a 1x12 cab quite capably. The Call Sender runs on a 9-volt battery or an optional power adaptor.

VALUE

DenTone Boutique Bakelite series amps run around $295—when you can get them. Menard states on his website that Bakelite enclosures in good condition are hard to find, so sometimes only one amp is offered for sale at a time, and the rarity factor is pretty cool. In addition, when you take into consideration what antique stores are charging for radios from the ’40s and ’50s, then add in the Call Sender’s custom circuitry, three hundred simoleons is a sweet deal.

WHY IT RULES

It’s super small—just 5" high and 7" wide—it weighs practically nothing, and it sounds huge. I miked up the Call Sender in my studio, and it made my Strat sound like I was playing through a full-sized amp. And just imagine the anxiety and disbelief you’ll sow when you show up to an important session with this tiny blast from the past. Happily, once everyone hears what the Call Sender can do, everything will be a gas (that means “good”), and they’ll be talking about this amazing little amp for quite a while.

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