We first met the Genz Benz guitar-amp family in the form of the 100-watt El Diablo in the March 2004 issue of GP. It was clear that with its ingenious combination of tube and active EQ circuitry, El Diablo was innovative and flexible enough to give rise to any number of imps and lesser demons. Well, speak of the devil and what appears is the El Diablo 60-C, a smoking amp for those who want all of the hellfire—but less of the brimstone—of the 100-watt model.
At first glance, El Diablo exudes quality with its cleanly applied Tolex and cool knurled-aluminum knobs. The beefy leather handle and nice balance make it easy to heft its 62 lbs, and the rubber feet made me feel like I was floating when I set the amp down on my concrete driveway. Ahhh.
El Diablo seems straightforward enough when viewed from the front: a two-channel amp with independent 3-band EQ. But that barely scratches the surface of how flexible this little devil truly is, as it offers no fewer than ten distinct tones that range from cleanliness that’s next to godliness to unholy gain and sustain. I tested El Diablo 60-C with a Fender Strat, a Gibson Firebird, a custom Van Halen replica, and a Guild Brian May model.
While exploring El Diablo’s clean realm prior to descending into its high-gain netherworld, what immediately struck me was the incredible amount of headroom that the Warm channel provides. This channel is clean. In fact, I found it hard to elicit any grind without maxing the gain control and using the hottest pickups. It’s refreshing and rare to hear such loud clean tones coming from a 1x12 combo. Of course, loud doesn’t mean much unless it’s good loud, and El Diablo delivers on that score, too. With the active EQ set at the 12 o’clock position (no cut or boost) the tone is round, sparkly, and musical. The fun really begins when you start tweaking the EQ knobs, which, like all the controls on this amp, feel solid and allow for very precise adjustments—thanks to their cool detents. Genz Benz is quick to point out that this EQ is a powerful tone-shaping device and should not be used like a traditional passive EQ (meaning don’t just immediately crank the controls all the way up). By heeding their advice to turn the knobs just a few clicks at a time, I found I could optimize the clean response for all of the test guitars with some very subtle moves—a couple of extra clicks of treble for the humbucker guitars, a click or two of mids to bring out the growl of the Strat, and a slightly exaggerated bass and treble setting to overdub with an out-of-phase, Brian May-type tone. El Diablo served up all those sounds and many more. Although it’s easy to get into trouble with such a powerful EQ section, I found even extreme tones, such as bass and treble fully cut and mids fully boosted, to be intriguing and useful.
The Warm channel has another trick up its sleeve, which is its footswitchable, variable Global Attack function. Despite my peace-loving, pacifist ways, I am now a firm believer in Global Attack, which is essentially a variable upper-mid boost that can make harmonics simply jump out of the speakers. You could almost think of it as a throatier-sounding presence control. I loved what it did for all the test guitars, and I found myself leaving it on almost all the time.
Hot, Hot, Hot
Switching to the Hot channel accesses a host of fiery distortion tones, along with plenty of cool, not-so-distorted textures. This channel is a real workhorse, offering a huge range of colors when you start mixing and matching different gain settings with the super-sensitive EQ. Add any combination of three switchable functions (High or Classic Gain, Dynamic or Compressed Texture, and our friend Global Attack) and the tonal options go up logarithmically.
The footswitch buttons add different flavors of punch and grind. Switching from Classic to High Gain makes everything thicker, louder, and crunchier. Going back to Classic Gain and activating Compressed Texture provides an alternate form of distortion that, despite its name, is still very dynamic. Turning that switch off and launching a preemptive Global Attack makes the tone louder and punchier.
Combining these functions two at a time, and all three together, produces tons of gain and sustain, but with an articulate, clear voice that cleans up amazingly well when you roll off the guitar volume or ease up on your picking attack. Dense chords could still speak without the overtones clashing, and single notes sound big and full, with none of the thinning out that can accompany high-gain settings. And that was on the bridge pickup of a Strat!
That brings up another interesting thing about El Diablo. As with a lot of fire-breathing amps, it dishes out great tones across the board with humbucker guitars. But this little beast is one of the most single-coil-friendly high-gain amps I’ve heard in a long time. The Firebird sounded awesome, but I simply couldn’t put the Stratocaster down while playing through this amp. Bravo!
Devil in the Details
The story of El Diablo could be summed-up by saying it’s a great-sounding and flexible amp, but a couple of more goodies merit mentioning. First, the Tube Contour knob allows you to voice the Hot channel for an overall brighter or darker character. It sounds so musical that I tended to crank it in order to revel in the bright, present tone. The amp also sports a Pentode/ Triode switch that can cut the power to a more manageable (but still loud as hell) 30 watts, bringing with it a looser, slightly darker tone that is more easily nudged into power-tube distortion. It’s almost like having two amps in one. Personally, I like how El Diablo sounds in the 60-watt pentode mode, so that’s where I sold my soul.
Most of the tones described here were created with moderate gain and EQ settings. Turning the Gain all the way up on the Hot channel made every note sing with feedback (se habla Santana) while chords remained focused and defined. And if you need a slashing, jackhammering, scooped-mid metal tone, El Diablo’s EQ allows you to dial in the requisite insane lows and unreal highs. It’s worth noting that the fairly large, tall cabinet makes this amp sound bigger than a standard 1x12, and the 2" opening in the upper back of the closed cabinet acts as a port to keep the low end tight and full.
Genz Benz has done something pretty remarkable by creating a unique-sounding and affordably priced tube amp that offers an abundance of great tones and useful, real-world features. El Diablo would be a great choice for blues, country, rock, pop, or metal players looking for a compact, loud, and versatile amp (also available in a head version for $1,249 retail/$999 street). And when some bold sonic adventurer gets deep into this amp’s powerful EQ, look out! Let’s give the devil his due—earning high marks for innovation, tone, and quality, El Diablo 60-C wins an Editors’ Pick Award.