The term “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” has particular meaning in the music industry, where popular guitars and amplifiers have long been used as templates for the creation of “new” brands. This is particularly true in the boutique amplifier market, where probably 99 percent of currently available models are based on classic designs by Fender, Marshall, and Vox. Given that reality, it’s inevitable that some of the more recent amp builders who have managed to innovate and create truly original sounds will also see their designs cloned to one degree or another. The raison d’etre for copycat products is typically that demand for the real thing outstrips the supply, or that relatively few can afford to purchase the authentic product. Both are true of the amplifiers made by Howard Dumble, and the fact that the vast majority of guitar players will never get closer to one of his Overdrive Specials than the front row seats of a concert makes it no surprise that a small number of builders offer their own takes on that extremely rare and expensive amp (we’re talking around $30,000 these days). One of those is Fuchs Audio Technology, which with its Overdrive Supreme (a name that can also be conveniently abbreviated as ODS) makes no attempt to conceal where it draws its inspiration.
But Fuchs has packed plenty of cool things into this amp that any tube freak could appreciate. A peek inside the aluminum chassis reveals a mix of neat handwired and PCB circuitry, chassis-mounted pots, jacks, and switches (the mini toggles reside on one of the three PC boards), and chassis-mounted sockets for the four Svetlana 6L6GCs, two Ruby 12AX7As, and two Groove Tubes GT12AX7Ms. For low noise, the tube filaments are heated by regulated DC voltage, and regulated high-voltage supplies the preamp stages. The fan-cooled amp sports a high-quality Mercury Magnetics output transformer, and biasing adjustments are facilitated by the addition of bias trimpots and test points for each output tube.
Not that the Overdrive Supreme is overly complicated, but a few of its functions warrant explanation. In basic terms, this amp consists of Clean and Overdrive channels (or preamps), both of which feed a common set of tone controls, a reverb, and a Master volume. The Gain knob adjusts the amplification level in the Clean preamp, which in turn feeds the Overdrive preamp when you switch to distortion mode. Then there are three Overdrive controls: an internal (but user adjustable) trimmer that determines the amount of signal flowing from the clean preamp into the first stage of the Overdrive preamp, an Input knob that sets the amount of distortion (by adjusting the drive level between the two pairs of overdrive stages), and an Output control that’s essentially a lead master volume. This combination of controls gives you the ability to precisely tailor the amp’s gain stages to suit your guitars, pickups, and playing style.
The Overdrive Supreme also has a number of switchable functions that affect its tone. The Brite switch operates on the Gain control to provide a boost in treble (which diminishes in effect as the knob is turned beyond the halfway point), the Deep switch shifts the overall tonality of the amp to emphasize lower frequencies, and the Rock/Jazz switchalters the range and depth of the tone controls to provide for more gain and a more aggressive EQ in the Rock setting, or a smoother, more neutral response in the Jazz position. There’s also a Mid-Boost pull function on the High control that shifts the range of the circuit to emphasize midrange and a Gain-Boost pull function on the Mid control that bypasses the tone controls to increase gain on both channels. Lastly, turning up the Accent control reduces negative feedback at higher frequencies in the power section to increase edge and sustain.
Auditioned with several different speaker setups (including Marshall 2x12 and 4x12 cabs and a Celestion-loaded Dr. Z 2x12), the Overdrive Supreme never failed to impress. The closed-back Dr. Z cab worked particularly well with this amp (the cab’s width was a perfect fit too), and Fuchs also offers a matching 2x12 loaded with Fuchs FAT-1S speakers ($695 retail/street N/A). But even driving two 12s, the Overdrive Supreme is a loud amp that seems to find its “sweet” spot at levels that would be overkill in a small club. You can tame the blast with the Master Volume, but as this amp struts its stuff best when let off the leash, you might want to consider one of the lower-wattage Supremes if you don’t regularly gig on big stages (head and combo configurations are available in power ratings from 30 watts to 150 watts, and at prices starting at $2,395).
In its cleanest mode with the Rock/Jazz switch in the latter position, the Overdrive Supreme delivers crisp clean tones to the limit of its output stage. If you like to play clean at high volume, this amp does the trick. These tones sounded great with a Strat, though humbuckers also elicited a good degree of sparkle, as I discovered when playing it with a new PRS 12-string. The reverb is smooth and pleasing throughout most of its range, though the higher the setting, the more detached the effect seemed to become from the notes. I couldn’t obtain any sproingy surf textures either, even with the Reverb knob turned all the way up, but Fuchs probably intentionally voiced it for more “hall” and less “beach.” Interestingly, when the effects loop is set to Series mode with nothing connected to the Send and Return jacks, all you hear is output from the reverb tank. You either need to have a device in the loop for serial operation, or keep the switch in the Parallel position, which you’ll probably want to do anyway if you’re using a delay or a digital reverb.
Switching to the Overdrive mode, the Supreme delivers soaring lead tones that are ballsy and articulate. I had no trouble obtaining massive distortion from a Strat and a Tele, and even without kicking in the extra gain boost there was no shortage of creamy “forgiveness” in the dynamic response. Pegging the Gain knob is necessary for obtaining maximum grind from this amp, but the cool thing is, when you switch back to Clean mode the sound is dead clean. I didn’t notice any significant tonal difference between the Deep switch settings, but activating the Mid Boost fattens up the sound of single-coils quite effectively. The Overdrive Supreme has a strong midrange presence anyway, a quality that allows it to cut amazingly well in a loud band. (In fact, one tester reported being able to hear this amp clearly from the opposite side of a large stage, even when standing right in the blast zone of the other guitarist). The Overdrive Supreme is also louder and definitely more aggressive with the Rock/Jazz switch in the former position.
It’s very easy to get carried away with the sheer amount of distortion that’s available in Overdrive mode, however, by backing off on the Gain and Input knobs, it was possible to get killer medium-grind tones reminiscent of a cranked Fender Deluxe’s. This is a perfect mode for loud blues playing, especially with that output stage ready to leap into action like a cornered tiger when you dig in with your pick.
There’s enough to like about the Overdrive Supreme that one can almost forgive its four-button Artist footswitch (an essential item that costs an additional $395; a standard 2-button switcher is no extra charge), which has a rather generic housing, label-machine stickers to ID its functions, and uses a fairly stiff type of high-tech cable with a multi-pin connector on the amp end—don’t count on an easy replacement if this baby fails in the field. (Fuchs states that the footswitch is being revised, and will have an aluminum bezel to replace the stick-on lettering.) A hip thing, however, is that its large LEDs are so intensely bright that you’d likely have no trouble seeing their indications even when playing at noon on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The Overdrive Supremehas that rare quality of being able to draw you in immediately, yet continue to reward and inspire you the more you play it. Considering what it’s based on, it would be a surprise if the Overdrive Supreme wasn’t an impressive amp.