Based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Ceriatone has been selling hand-wired tube amps to satisfied customers around the world for going on two decades now. Although the company, headed by Nik S. Azam, originally earned its reputation as a maker of amp kits and quality homages to several vintage and boutique amp models, Ceriatone has delved into original designs and concepts over the past several years, and appears to be earning an entirely new following as a result. Yes, the 2202 “lunchbox head” on review might be inspired by the legendary Marshall JCM800 2204 model of the early ’80s, but it boasts far more original and creative thinking than the Marshall-alikes of a good couple dozen boutique makers working today, including several features which coalesce to make this one of the handiest little rock machines I’ve plugged into in a long time.
Measuring just 16.5" x 9" x 9", the 2202 packs three 12AX7s and a duet of 6V6s to wring 20 watts from full-size transformers. It’s an easy-grab, club-sized rendition of the 50-watt 2204 and 100-watt 2203 models that is likely to appeal to many of us who stride the music scene’s lower-volume stages these days. Controls are traditional for the 2204 model, but to these Azam has added a Deep control to adjust lows at the output stage, and a PPIMV (Post-Phase-Inverter Master Volume) control for more sonically neutral control over the amp’s final output levels. Additionally, mini-toggles offer a 3-way Brite switch (bright, off, brighter), a tone-stack-bypass Boost, and Fat (tapping a larger-value treble cap in the tone stack). Around back, a knob labeled Pussy Trimmer controls the signal level at the output of the second gain stage, to further tame the sizzle as desired (Azam assures us this control’s name resulted from an inside joke regarding a previous Ceriatone model that struck fear into the hearts of many players, and is not intended to have salacious connotations).
One look inside the 2202’s wee chassis should lay to rest any concerns about offshore construction. It carries a rugged type of printed circuit board with high-quality traces on the underside only—as did all Marshall amps by the mid ’70s—but is still entirely hand-soldered and hand-wired to the remaining switches, potentiometers, and tube sockets (all of which are chassis mounted). Circuit components include carbon-film resistors, signal caps from Tube Amp Doctor, and Holy Grail filter caps. In short, it’s all put together with the same care and attention to detail you’d expect to find in entry-level boutique amps costing two or three times the price.
I tested the 2202 with a Les Paul and a Novo Serus S (a Strat-style bolt-neck guitar), into a 2x12 JDesign cab with Avatar-Fane speakers and a 1x12 StoneAge cab with a single Celestion G12-65. Fun? God almighty, I can’t honestly recall when an amp this small put a smile this big on my face. It’s not just that the 2202 does that classic-rock thing extremely well, but it also provides just enough thoughtful design tweaks to let you dial out any standing niggles and annoyances players have often had with the original inspiration of this circuit (and there were always plenty). From hairy, roaring mid-’80s lead tone to thick Les Paul rhythm chunk to a surprisingly crisp and lively SRV-ish Strat tone, this amp delivers time and again with heart and attitude, earning itself an Editors’ Pick Award in the process.
PRICE $625 direct, plus $92 shipping to USA
CONTROLS Gain, Master, Treble, Middle, Bass, Presence, Deep, PPIMV (Post-Phase-Inverter Master Volume); Brite, Boost, Fat switches
POWER 20 watts
TUBES Three 12AX7s, two 6V6GTs
EXTRAS Main and extension speaker outs with switch for 4/8/16Ω, bias check and adjustment points, passive effects loop (mod available for solid-state buffered loop), Pussy Trimmer (second-gain-stage adjustment)
WEIGHT 26 lbs
KUDOS Extremely useful and versatile take on classic late-’70s and ’80s Brit-rock tones. Excellent build-quality at an amazing price.