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Egnater Tweaker-88

February 8, 2012
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Every tube-amp designer makes a series of crucial choices in the course of blueprinting a new circuit: Will the first gain stage be tight or loose, hot or clean, bright or normal? Will the tone stack be voiced toward Fender, Vox, or Marshall? Will the output stage be vintage-style or contemporary? With Egnater’s new Tweaker-88 head—the flagship of a series that also includes the 15-watt Tweaker and Tweaker-40—several of the most significant design choices are replaced by switches with either/or selections behind them, with the result that you essentially become the “designer” of the amp you play.

For vital statistics, the Tweaker-88 boasts 88 watts from a pair of mighty KT88 output tubes (the same type used in the 200-watt Marshall Major) in class AB, fixed bias, with four 12AX7 tubes for preamp, effects loop, and phase-inverter duties. The amp has Rhythm and Lead channels (selectable via frontpanel switch or by footswitch) and a shared threeknob EQ, but there’s also a footswitchable Boost mode for each channel that essentially gives you four different gain/volume/tone options. The buffered effects loop with line/instrument level switch can also be switched in and out from Egnater’s fourbutton footswitch.

For all this, though, the Tweaker-88’s front panel carries only nine controls in addition to the 13 Tweaker switches, presenting a relatively straightforward user interface for such a flexible amp. Each channel starts with its own Gain control, with four switches on each to select between Tight/Deep, Bright/Normal, Hot/Clean, and Mid Cut/Normal. The tone stack with Bass, Middle, and Treble controls has a 3-way switch for USA/AC/Brit (read “Fender/Vox/Marshall”), and each of the independent Master volume controls has a Vintage/Modern switch attached. Finally, each Boost section has its own Level control and a Clean/Gain switch. For all the tweakability, any great voice you locate here is easily repeatable with the flick of a few switches, and arguably less easily lost than those dialed in by the myriad controls that many other “all-in-one” amps often carry. On top of all this, Egnater has squeezed everything into an impressively compact package that measures 23e" x 8q" x 8q".

Under the hood, the Tweaker-88 presents a sturdy example of offshore tube-amp manufacturing. All circuitry is laid out on a series of printed circuit boards (PCBs), using consumer-grade components for the most part. The transformers are chunky affairs, the filter caps are large and of good quality, and the sockets for the KT88s are anchored to the chassis for greater dependability. A fan mounted to the inside of the back panel helps keep those large bottles cool, thereby extending their life.

The accompanying Egnater Tweaker 212X speaker cab carries two custom-designed Celestion Elite GH-50 12" speakers. Designed specifically to meet Egnater’s requirements, these units reportedly offer the tone of the popular G12H-30, but with a 50-watt power-handling capability. The cabinet itself is constructed of void-free birch plywood, with a partially open back.

Tested with a Gibson Les Paul and a Fano Alt de Facto SP6 with a T-style bridge pickup and a P-90 in the neck, I found the Tweaker-88 head and cab to be an impressive rig right off the bat. There are too many possible combinations of tones here, depending on Tweaker-switch settings, to detail them all, but each flick of a mini-toggle revealed a worthy and very usable tone. The outward impression might be that the Tweaker-88 is predisposed toward high-gain, modded-Marshall style lead tones, but I found the clean and clean-with-bite tones in its Rhythm channel to be among the most pleasing of any PCB-constructed channel-switching amp that I have played in recent memory, and usable for any conceivable genre and style of playing.

As for the high-gain tones themselves, though, there is sizzling wail and grind to die for here, with convincing impressions of everything from classic Brit-rock stacks to hot-rodded California shred machines available according to switch, gain, and EQ settings. The Tweaker-88’s core tonality remains strong and true throughout settings changes, with good clarity and dynamics, too, and the KT88s yield tasty EL34-like crunch when desired, as well as bolder, tighter voices when you need them. And while 88 watts sounds like overkill in many gig and studio settings these days, the master volumes on both channels are great at reining in levels without depleting the body of the tone—so much so that you could make a strong argument for choosing the Tweaker-88 for the strength of its bonus features and flexibility, even if your average playing situation is more suited to power in the range of the original 15-watt Tweaker.

When you need that power on the big stage, though, those fat KT88s can pump it out in grand style, and the 212X cab seems more than capable of handling it all, sounding great in the process. Add to all of this the performance flexibility of the boost modes, a transparent sounding footswitchable effects loop, and an extremely reasonable price, and this powerhouse tube amp earns an Editors’ Pick Award.

Specifications

CONTACT Egnater Amplification, 877-EGNATER; egnater.com

Tweaker-88

PRICE $1,299 retail/$899 street
CHANNELS Two
CONTROLS Lead Gain, Rhythm Gain; Bass, Middle, Treble; Lead Master, Rhythm Master; Rhythm Boost, Lead Boost; 13 mini-toggle Tweaker switches
POWER 88 watts
TUBES Four 12AX7 preamp tubes, two KT88 output tubes
EXTRAS Buffered effects loop. Dual speaker outs with 4/8/16Ω impedance switch. Cooling fan. Four-button footswitch included.
SPEAKERS Tested with an Egnater Tweaker 212X speaker cab with two Celestion Elite GH-50 speakers ($429 street).
WEIGHT Head 32 lbs, speaker cabinet 42 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Stunning flexibility. Great tones throughout its range. Very compact for its power.
CONCERNS None.

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