65amps Empire

February 7, 2012
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The latest in what we might call a “mini wave” of hand-wired boutique channel-switching amps, the Empire comes from a company known for the intensity of its R&D. Even so, 65amps’ Dan Boul and Peter Stroud say they put more thought into this one than most—a full four years of dedicated development—in their quest to nail three classic British tones in one amp. Via three independently selectable channels, each with its own Volume control, and a shared 3-knob tone stack plus Master Voltage and Presence controls, the Empire takes us from clean, to crunch, to hot lead tones at the stomp of the included two-button footswitch. The front panel also carries a mini-toggle for Bump mode (which applies a further presence boost when desired), a 3-way mini-toggle to select channels when the footswitch is disconnected, and indicator lights to declare which channel is engaged.

Construction is what we’ve come to expect from 65amps: robust Mercury Magnetics transformers, high-quality coupling and filter caps, and super tidy wiring runs throughout. Despite the name (as in “the British . . .”) and this amp’s overt tonal leanings toward the right-hand side of the pond, this 22-watter is based on a pair of 6V6 output tubes—a decidedly American bottle—with five 12AX7s in the preamp and phase inverter, and solid-state rectification. The speaker cab supplied for testing is 65amps’ open-backed 2x12 made from void-free Baltic birch ply with dovetail joints, and two 8Ω Celestions: a G12H-30 and an Alnico Blue.

I tested the Empire with a Fano Alt de Facto SP6 and a Gibson Custom Shop 1957 Les Paul reissue. With both guitars, the amp’s tonal virtuosity, clarity, and “play me, play me!” dynamics rang through immediately, whatever the twist of the knobs. It carries the three levels of gain jump that a gigging guitarist will find most useful, and having them footswitch accessible in an amp of this quality is a true joy. I’d like to see an added level control on the highgain channel 3, as it would enable searing mega-OD tones without the inherent volume jump that you get with Volume 3 cranked. But as it stands, it’s an impressive three-voice preamp.

Even with thick overdrive applied, notes retain excellent definition, and the wellvoiced tone controls make it easy to roll from scooped thump or twang to rich midrange grind. And, as we have discovered before, the Master Voltage circuit reins in the volume superbly with minimal changes in tone. There has been talk from 65amps about “getting 6V6s to sound like EL34s,” and the Empire goes a long way toward achieving that. It might be missing a little of the upper-midrange crackle of a smoking plexi Marshall, but it does nail the crispy highs and thumping lows of a raging EL34 amp, along with some of the juicy, slightly glassy saturation of pushed 6V6s. However you slice it, the Empire is a versatile and tonally virtuous amp that should make a lot of pro guitarist’s onstage duties that much easier and more fun to listen to.

 

 
 
 
 
Specifications

CONTACT 65amps, (818) 760-5089; 65amps.com

Empire

PRICE Head $2,900 street; 2x12 speaker cabinet $979 street

CHANNELS 3

CONTROLS Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3; shared Treble, Middle, Bass; Master (Master Voltage), Presence; switches for Bump and channel selection

POWER 22 watts

TUBES Five 12AX7 preamp tubes, two 6V6 output tubes, solid-state rectification

EXTRAS Series effects loop. Dual speaker outs with 8/16Ω switch. Footswitch included.

SPEAKERS Celestion G12H-30 and Alnico Blue, wired in series for a 16Ω load

WEIGHT Amp 35 lbs, cabinet 69 lbs

BUILT U.S.A.

KUDOS Great dynamics, definition, and tonal depth throughout three wellvoiced channels. Outstanding build quality

CONCERNS Bump mode not footswitchable.

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