In an era where tube amps and pedals are the norm among working musicians, to see some new rack gear come along is a back-to-the-future experience for those of us who used to haul rack rigs around for sessions and gigs. It was with that sense of déjà vu that I unpacked the new Rocktron Widowmaker and Velocity Power Amp. Rocktron has a long history of providing well built, reliable, and distinctive sounding gear, so I was interested to see how these pieces carried the torch of the Rocktron legacy. The set up process was a breeze due to the simple and no frills design of the front and back panels, and the fact that the only audio ports are 1/4" ins and outs. The footswitch jack will accept any single-function latching footswitch (not included), so I was able to use one of my generic boxes. After I got the two units hooked up, I put them through their paces with a PRS McCarty, a Mesa/Boogie Lonestar 2x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion 90- watt speakers, and a Marshall 1960B cabinet equipped with 75-watt Celestions.
Beginning on the Lone Star cabinet, I set the controls on the Widowmaker and Velocity all to noon. The pots had a sturdy-feeling glide to them that echo the solid build quality and roadworthy assembly of the rest of the components. I instantly appreciated how the bold red dots on the Widowmaker’s knobs made it very easy to see settings, even from a standing position. Starting with the clean side, I quickly found it maintained a bone clean tone all the way up to the 3 o’clock position on the Level knob. There was a slicey quality on the attack of notes on the clean channel, which is something that is commendable about solid-state gear if you’re chasing after pristine cleans. The Bass knob had a wide sweep and the Mid control seemed to affect mostly low-mid frequencies. From 3 o’clock up on the Level control, the preamp started to venture into clean-breakup territory. I also tried a variety of overdrive pedals to get a semi-overdriven tone for rock rhythm playing, and the preamp and power amp allowed the inherent character of the pedals to come through clearly.
Switching to the Widowmaker’s high-gain channel, the first qualities that struck me were the huge gain range and the vowel-like sweep of the Mid control, which, voiced differently than the clean side’s Mid knob, allowed me to use it to easily dial in overdriven tones to suit the situation. I didn’t even need the Treble knob to get brighter tones (although it can deliver very intense highs when turned up), although the Bass control proved very adept at tailoring the low frequencies and keeping it all sounding musical at high volumes. The Widowmaker provides more of an ’80s flavor of distortion rather than a modern-metal sound, which is probably wise considering the needs of most players. There’s a prominent upper midrange characteristic to the tone that was present through both of my cabinets, which is a big part of that throwback, “Sunset Strip” sound. Think Shout at the Devil era Motley Crüe to get an idea where the Widowmaker is coming from in high-gain mode. When needed, the Velocity’s Resonance and Presence controls helped add a little more beef to the tone, and shimmer to the overall sound. Great that you can make those adjustments in the power stage.
Both units have intuitive, stripped-down, interfaces that are easy to navigate and free of digital screens, tedious scroll menus, or MIDI. If you’re coming from a history of using standard amp and pedal setups, you’ll find the functionality of these units to be very much plug-andplay. It’s clear that Rocktron had the working musician in mind in terms of performance and reliability. A peek at the manual revealed that the Velocity incorporates thermal protection circuitry, as well as protection from over-voltage, under-voltage, and shorts to the power supply. It even holds a spare fuse for fumble-free troubleshooting, should it ever occur.
The Widowmaker and Velocity are ideal for someone who primarily uses rack gear and wants amp-like functionality for quick adjustments on the fly. If you’re looking for classic metal distortion paired with spotless cleans in a lightweight package, the Widowmaker Preamp and Velocity 100 LTD Power Amp could be just what Dr. Feelgood ordered.
WIDOWMAKER GUITAR PREAMP
PRICE $279 street
CONTROLS (Clean Channel) Level, Treble, Mid, Bass. (High Gain Channel) Level, Treble, Mid, Bass, Gain. Channel Select switch.
EXTRAS Single 1/4" input and output jacks.
WEIGHT 4.9 lbs
KUDOS Very user friendly. Great clean and classic metal tones.
CONCERNS No effects loop.
VELOCITY 100 LTD POWER AMP
PRICE $349 street
CONTROLS (Both channels) Level, Resonance, Presence.
POWER 55 watts per channel into 4Ω; 40 watts per channel into 8Ω.
EXTRAS Two outputs per side.
WEIGHT 10 lbs
KUDOS Light and powerful. Handy Presence and Resonance controls