IN THE STUDIO
While working on Katie Garibaldi’s upcoming CD release, we decided that “Say the Word”— an uplifting, gospel-tinged tune—would best be served with a minimal, Duane Eddy-style verse guitar, and a chorale of overdriven guitars on the big vocal chorus. Recording this track illustrated the basic Fender/Marshall vibe of the Rebel-20’s armory. For the Eddy emulation, I plugged my Guild X-160 into the Rebel, and turned the Tube Mix knob to full 6V6. Okay—that’s a given. Duh. But the surprise was how the amp so effortless translated the X-160’s virile twang into an extremely dimensional tone with a bell-like attack (which really dug deep into the spring reverb model from a Line 6 M13) and a resonant low-midrange thud. It was like Duane had lunch with Ennio Morricone, and then met the Ventures for cocktails. At any listening volume, that cleanguitar tone commanded attention, and it did it without stealing focus from the song’s main event—the lead vocal.
The guitar part for the chorus is a series of alternating two-note figures, and a more Britrock sound seemed the obvious approach for kicking the section into the desired climax. For this, I doubled the figure—first with a Prestige Musician, and then with a PRS SE Paul Allender Model—cranked the Tube Mix knob to 100 percent EL84, set the Watts knob to around five watts, eased up on the Gain, and opened up the Master. Wow. The resulting overdrive possessed all the snotty, midrange grit of a classic Marshall on the warpath, but the note articulation was precise enough to sound the chorus part without any note blurring due to heavy distortion.
My silly little power-pop-punk band, the Trouble With Monkeys, is so not subtle that raging, oversaturated stack sounds typically get the job done. However, as we often layer guitar tones in the studio, I opted to play with the Tube Mix, rather than simply go with the obvious and pin the knob on the EL84 side. That was a good move, as I was able to dial in different levels of attack, warmth, gronk, and kerrang without even touching the EQ knobs (which, for the most part, remained at their flat settings throughout the 60-day trial). For example, if I was playing on a carpeted stage in front of curtains, setting the Tube Mix at noon provided enough American twang amidst the British roar to lift the guitar out of the band mix. If, however, I was on a wood stage surrounded by uncovered wood walls, twisting the Tube Mix more to three o’clock delivered a good balance of attack and saturation that did not sound shrill or overly bright amidst the hard surfaces. An added benefit was getting the illusion of layering different amps in the studio by tweaking the tube blend to deliver various tonal mixtures. And even though the Rebel-20 is rated at 20 watts, it filled small- and mid-sized clubs easily. I never had to tank headroom by maxing the Gain and Master knobs, and I never even placed the 1x12 cabinet on a chair—the amp/cab combo delivered plenty of volume, tone, and signal dispersion from the floor. At an outdoor gig with the Celtic punk-folk band Ol’ Cheeky Bastards, I ran pretty clean by leaning harder on the 6V6 tubes, and, once again, I had no problem getting a stout, ballsy tone that cut through the band. Admittedly, I did stand a bit closer to the amp (fresh air, a slight wind, and the wide open skies can do strange things to sound waves), but I had plenty of headroom available, and the patio bar crowd had no trouble hearing the guitar—even during solos (which were boosted using a Lovepedal Eternity Overdrive). The rockin’ Rebel is one hell of a screamer!
As we all know, gigging is hard on gear, and I didn’t baby the Rebel crew. I rudely tossed the head and cabinet in the trunk of my car (always late for the gig, you know), several people helped hump the amp on and off stages with varying degrees of care, and cables were roughly plugged in and un-plugged hundreds of times. While the solid-birch cabinet took a few cosmetic hits, it still looks almost new, and the amp never failed once. Would I take the Rebel duo on tour to hell and back? You bet! They’re Special Forces tough.
The Rebel-20 is, in a word, awesome. If you can hang with a single-channel amp, then you get a fabulously diverse tone machine with enough oomph to handle studio and small-club dates, and enough grit to survive the rigors of real-world gigging life. I’ve had the Rebels for two months, and I’m still discovering subtle variations of tone, and every sound I find kicks ass in one application or another. This is precisely the type of product that our Editors’ Pick Award was meant to honor.