Soothing the Savage Beast
To keep costs down, amps like the ubiquitous Fender Champ and its brethren usually sported a single output tube. Operating in true class-A mode, these low-powered amps offered early breakup and a tone rich
with creamy second-harmonic distortion. Unfortunately, they were also hampered by small 8" speakers that limited bass response, volume, and projection.
The Savage Macht 12 embraces the low-volume virtues of the small vintage classics while addressing their limitations and fortifying their weaknesses. For example, the amp is fitted with a husky, British-voiced 12" Mojotone BV-30V for a bolder, punchier, and more dynamic tone. And, unlike most small vintage amps, the Macht 12 can be plugged into your favorite extension cabinet for an even bigger sound.
While the Macht 12’s circuit topology borrows from some of the classic single-ended designs of the past, it combines these circuits in new ways and adds some hip improvements. For starters, Savage’s head honcho, Jeff Krumm, added a second 6V6 output tube for more volume, headroom, and dynamic range. But, instead of running the tubes in the usual push/pull, class-A/B configuration, the Macht 12 maintains true class-A characteristics by configuring its two output tubes in parallel single-ended mode. (The hard-to-find Gibson Gibsonette introduced a half-century ago also had a parallel single-ended output stage.)
The Macht 12 has two input jacks that function like those found on a typical blackface Fender, with the second jack simply providing a little more signal attenuation. It also features a simple-yet-effective, single-knob Tone control that adjusts the balance between the two capacitors. (Ultra-rare White amps of the ’50s bore a similar tone control circuit.) The Tone pot is tied to the Volume pot, so the two controls are highly interactive. Because of this interaction, the amp is brighter and more open sounding at lower volume settings, and conversely, it sounds thicker as you turn it up.
While the origins of most of the Macht 12’s signal-path circuitry can be traced back to the ’50s, its tremolo is remarkably similar to that of a ’60s-era Fender Vibro Champ. It’s a cool circuit, because it modulates the cathode of the second gain stage’s tube. This means it isn’t tied directly to the signal path, and therefore doesn’t load down the signal like opto coupler tremolo circuit used in the larger blackface Fenders. Krumm devised an improved footswitching circuit that uses a Vactrol optocoupler, which isolates the tremolo from the other circuitry when switched off, and also activates the tremolo with a slight delay to eliminate the pops and clicks caused by switching transients. I think it’s very cool how he has managed to bring all these disparate vintage influences together and up to contemporary standards via such innovative improvements. It’s a great example of the kind of fresh thinking that represents the evolving art and science of contemporary boutique amp design.
While testing the Macht 12 with a variety of guitars (with both humbucking and single-coil pickups), I found it provided the most lively and dynamic response with the Tone knob in its higher settings. The Mojotone BV-30V speaker provides impressive low-end depth for a 1x12, and the speaker’s mellow top keeps the amp from sounding harsh, even with the Tone knob wide-open and when driven with bright single-coil bridge pickups. In fact, I found the most tonal magic using this setting and a Tele’s bridge pickup. With the Macht 12’s Volume control at about two o’clock, the amp was extremely expressive, allowing me to effortlessly morph from crystal-clear chord work to super-charged Danny Gatton-style lead tones, simply by varying my picking intensity and attack. Few amps make the transition into distortion as smoothly as the Macht 12, which responds more like a musical instrument than an amplifier in that regard. Bottom line: If you dig snappy and dynamic tones that are conveyed at a reasonable volume level, you’re going to flip when you try the Macht 12. This savage can really sing.