Creating an amplifier that could stand up to the rigorous performance schedule of the 13 Blue Man Groups operating worldwide was a challenge that Kendrick’s Gerald Weber took on when designing the El Hombre Azul. “I have done service work for the Blue Man Group for about 15 years,” says Weber. They originally favored vintage Orange 100-watt heads and blackface Fender Showmans, but because they are constantly performing—sometimes 14 shows per week per venue—they were routinely having amps go down.”
So Weber designed a stripped down 100-watt head for the BMG, which had minimal features and the kind of construction that could handle non-stop use without breakdowns. “When I finished the first prototype, I sent it to Las Vegas for a Blue Man test run,” Weber continues. “They ran it 14 shows a week for six months—that’s 364 shows—without a single glitch. Then they ordered some and sent me back the prototype, which I immediately shipped to Chicago for more Blue Man testing. They ran it for months, still without a glitch. Then it went to Orlando for a few months. The amp has never failed and we have never even changed the tubes in it.”
The El Hombre Azul is a single-channel design with a hefty power supply and a handwired circuit that features chassis-mounted pots, jacks, and tube sockets. About the only thing I didn’t appreciate about the build is the use of noncaptured nuts on the bolts that secure the chassis to the cabinet, which makes it more tedious to remove and replace it. The blue front panel corrals a set of Volume, Bass, Treble, and Presence controls, and around back we find a single output jack, biasing test points, and a pushbutton to activate the blue LED backlighting. There’s no impedance selector either. Our review model was configured to drive a 16Ω speaker load only, although you can order it in any impedance. For reference, Kendrick amps do not have impedance selectors, and Weber cites three reasons for this: 1) Tapped transformers always sound best when using the largest impedance (i.e. 100 percent of the secondary winding). 2) The transformer is connected directly to the output jack, so there’s no chance of impedance selector failure. 3) Having one output impedance simplifies setup—the crew can’t get it wrong, and you just plug and play.
El Hombre Azul’s “built for the Eastern Front” ethos will be appreciated mainly by those who need high-power amplification that can stand up to hard use, and that’s an admirable quality in this era of compact, low-wattage tube rigs and digital modelers. Thanks to the stout power section and relatively low-gain preamp, El Hombre’s headroom is outstanding, but the tones also have the kind of warmth and body at lower levels that could even make it suitable for jazz and other styles that require a clean delivery.
At just about any volume El Hombre has a muscular feel, responding to picking attack with a tightness and note delivery that certainly makes its case for pedal users and others who don’t necessarily want a lot of distortion from the amp itself. The 3-band tone stack made it easy to get good tones from the single-coil guitars we threw at it (a Buzz Feiten T-Pro, John Page Custom Ashbury, and an Xotic XSC 1), as well as a 1959 replica Gibson Les Paul and a new PRS McCarty 594. Tested though a Mesa/Boogie Slant Recto 1x12 and Bad Cat 4x12, the tones it produced were tough, dynamic, and great for aggressive blues and rock when goosed up a bit with distortion and boost pedals. El Hombre Azul is also quiet in operation, and kudos there to Kendrick’s attention to layout and lead dress, and ensuring that all of the grounds are put in the right place to minimize hum.
As well as being standard issue for the BMG, other high-profile users include Jimmie Vaughan and Joe Bonamassa. “When Joe was touring through Austin, I brought my personal El Hombre Azul to show him and he asked to borrow it for his following performance in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” says Weber. “A little after midnight the next day he texted me an order for one. His message read, ‘El Hombre Azul doth rock!’”
The El Hombre Azul has its place in the modern amp market, although its users aren’t likely to be musicians looking for something suited for the local club gig. It’s kind of a throwback to a time when guitar players needed powerhouse amplification to cut through on big stages, and for a lot of people that’s still a valid reason to give this big bruiser a close look.
EL HOMBRE AZUL
PRICE $3,500 direct
CONTROLS Volume, Bass, Treble, Presence
POWER 100 watts @ 16Ω (also available in 50 watts)
TUBES Three 12AX7s, four JJ EL34Ls
EXTRAS Switchable LED backlighting. Cooling fan. External biasing test points
SPEAKER Tested with Mesa/Boogie Slant Recto 1x12 and Bad Cat 4x12
WEIGHT 38.6 lbs
KUDOS Loud as hell. Tight response. Built for the long haul.
CONCERNS Designed to run at one impedance only (although you can order it in any impedance).