Review: Schaffer Replica EX Tower

Plug into a Schaffer Replica EX Tower, and your foundational sound becomes almost viciously in your face.
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In my may 2015 preview story on the Schaffer Replica Pedal, I called it “Instant Angus.” Now, I’m done with that. I’m not talking about Angus Young anymore.

Sure, part of Young’s delicious tone recipe for Back in Black—as well as other AC/DC albums and live shows of the era—was his Schaffer-Vega Diversity System wireless, which not only allowed the guitarist to perform his school-boy pranks unbound by guitar cables, it also imparted some mysteriously wonderful preamp coloration to his sound. Some three decades later, Angus enthusiast Fil Olivieri cracked the tonal code, sought out Ken Schaffer (who manufactured just 1,000 SVDS systems before moving on to other pursuits), and developed the Schaffer Replica Pedal and Tower. If you want the full story—and it’s interesting and historical and pretty darn entertaining—you can read the May 2015 cover story on AC/DC, the June 2105 review of the Schaffer Replica Pedal, or visit the SoloDallas website.

But, you see, at this point the Schaffer Replica magic isn’t about Angus. It’s about you.

Plug into an EX Tower ($1,330 direct), and your foundational sound becomes almost viciously in your face. The midrange frequencies shift to battering ram, the highs tighten up like talons, and the low end diminishes somewhat, but becomes a bit stouter and more controlled, like a grenade exploding inside an isolation booth. It’s all immediately awesome, and all you did was plug in. My job here is done.

Well, except that there are subtleties in effect, and you should take some care to tailor them to your specific style and taste. Just like the Volume and Tone knobs on your guitar, there are a lot of timbral possibilities residing in the Tower’s Input (input and compander level) and Output (boost level) controls—especially with cleaner, less saturated tones. Moving to the rear panel, you can defeat the vintage optical compressor, and choose between Normal and “Monitor” (David Gilmour’s favorite option from the original SVDS) boost modes. With apologies to the fabulous Gilmour, I preferred normal mode because it was cleaner. Cleanliness, in fact, is another matter you should address. At full rumble, the Tower can produce audible hiss. For the most part, the noise will be unheard onstage, but it may bother some players in the studio. You can easily put a noise gate in your signal chain, or go back and tweak the Tower controls to deliver the sexiest attack with the least hiss. This may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, because the full-on feral assault is so powerful and mesmerizing that you’ll be tempted to roll with the noises intact.

The Schaffer voodoo really works in a jaw-dropping way—just ask Richard Fortus’ sound technicians on last year’s Guns N’ Roses tour—but I understand that $1,330 is a lot to consider for a guitar preamp (though that’s certainly a reasonable price for some studio preamps), and Solo-Dallas muddies its own waters by offering two affordable pedals based on the Schaffer-Vega tech—the pedalboard-friendly Storm ($335) and the Classic ($369). I’ve used them all, and each one is wonderful, but the Tower is slightly more articulate sounding, more sonically versatile, and it’s built with vintage-styled components. The pedals can sound slightly two-dimensional and a little flat when compared to the Tower’s more expansive “wallop spectrum,” but they are super values for the price, and they will rock your world. But if you can afford the EX Tower, you’ll be shaking entire galaxies. Heed your destiny!

KUDOS Clarifies signals. Awesome attack. Ideal midrange focus for guitar. Roars like sex, drugs, and rock and roll (without actually being naughty).
CONCERNS Pricey. Can produce audible hiss at high settings. A tad fragile.