Based in Pittsboro, North Carolina, Carr Amplifiers has cut a resolutely original path through the crowded field of boutique tube-amp makers since Steve Carr founded it in 1998. While some of the company’s initial inspirations can be found in classic vintage amps, the products that wear the Carr badge inevitably land a long way from those springboards, and the new Telstar is an excellent case in point. The designer describes this new model’s preamp as being “tweed flavored,” and while its simple volume-and-tone interface certainly harks to the ’50s Fender Deluxe, the Telstar’s feature set diverges mightily from that template.
The uncommon pairing of one EL84 and one 6L6 output tube working in push-pull drive the 17-watt back end (you can sub a 6V6 or EL34 for the 6L6), while the phase-inverter is an octal-based 6SL7 preamp tube. Why the odd combination? “I originally had two EL84s in it,” Carr tells us, “and I just wanted a little more firmness in the low end while retaining that great EL84 transition from clean to overdrive.” The amp also has a tube-driven spring reverb and an onboard attenuator to take it from full power down to .1 watt. Voicing options are further expanded with a Lush/Lean (looser/tighter) preamp switch and a 53/58 voicing switch in the EQ stage to flip between early and late-era tweed tone responses.
Like other amps in the Carr stable, the Telstar’s chassis is populated with top-notch parts, all which are hand-wired point-to-point, with plenty of silicone goop between components for support and vibration dampening. Carr is one of very few guitar-amp makers to use big, expensive polypropylene Solen capacitors (commonly seen in Earth-orbiting satellites) for filtering positions, and everything from resistors to signal caps and transformers follows suit quality-wise. As for the artful wiring jobs, Steve Carr tells us, “The advantages of point-to-point are sonic and ease of repair, but it’s also kind of a fun, artisanal way to build something. We really enjoy the hand-tool work and the pride of achievement when we’ve completed one of these.”
The cabinet into which it’s all bolted shows equal consideration. Measuring 21 x 17 x 9 inches and weighing 39 pounds fully loaded, it features a shell made from 1/2-inch birch ply where you might expect to find solid pine, in order to tap the fast, tight articulate response of that layered wood. Our example was covered in tidy black crosshatched vinyl, with an elegant white acoustic cloth encasing the retro wrap-around front grille. Other coverings are available, with an upcharge for custom colors. The control panel is a faint mint green, with cream barrel knobs. Inside the semi-open-back cab we find a 12-inch U.S.-made Carr Valiant ceramic speaker connected by audiophile-grade Analysis Plus oval cable and a long-spring reverb pan.
I tested the Telstar with a Fender Telecaster and a Collings City Limits guitar with PAF-style humbuckers, and my initial impression was simply wow! This humble 1x12 is full of surprises, and impressively versatile, too. The experience is much like plugging into a prized and well-tuned vintage amp, but perhaps one that never existed. Call it a three-way admixture of Vox AC15, tweed Fender Pro and blackface Deluxe Reverb.
Among the first surprises is the amount of firm, chunky headroom available, even with humbuckers injected, which could allow the Telstar to ably cut anything from jazz to twang in a club setting with a reasonably loud drummer. Also surprising is the utterly gorgeous way this amp transitions from buoyant, biting semi-clean to stinging crunch to all-out rock-and-roll overdrive without the slightest bark, hiccup or complaint. There’s a total absence of sizzly or fizzy artifacts once you get it to full scream. The overall impression here is of an old-school crank-and-go tube combo, yet one that holds together unusually well, without farting or fuzzing out.
The voicing switches really enhance the Telstar’s range, the reverb is lush and beautiful without being obtrusive, and the amp reacted seamlessly with a variety of overdrive pedals (including an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, a Wampler Tumnus Deluxe and a JHS Angry Charlie) when foot-stomp-able breeds of lead tone were desired. All in all, Carr’s clever design and excellent build quality yield an extremely loveable combo that excels at everything from jazz to twang to gnarly rock and roll, and which is easily deserving of an Editors’ Pick Award!
Telstar 1x12 Combo
PRICE $2,390 street
CONTROLS Volume, tone, reverb, power (attenuator). Switches for lush or lean preamp response, 53 or 58 EQ/gain response
POWER 17 watts (down to .1 watt via onboard attenuator)
TUBES One 12AX7, one 12AT7, one 6SL7. One EL84 and one 6L6 for the power section
EXTRAS Tube-driven spring reverb, built-in L-pad attenuator
SPEAKER 12" Carr Valiant
WEIGHT 39 lbs
KUDOS Creative design. Excellent build quality and first-rate components yield a sweetly robust and original sonic package. Appealingly retro styling.
CONCERNS Slight reverb “tail” in evidence even with reverb knob at zero (though largely undetectable while playing).