Guitar Aficionado

Review: Satellite Amplifiers Neutron

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Exhibiting a simplicity of design and presentation that few amp builders have the discipline or confidence to embrace, Satellite Amplifiers of San Diego provides just two controls on its range of heads and combos: volume and tone. And that’s more than enough for the professional guitarists who are discovering this brand, including members of Social Distortion and Supersuckers, and Willie Nelson guitarist Mickey Raphael.

As Satellite owner and designer Adam Grimm explains, “The minimal control setup is designed to maximize tone while minimizing issues like insertion loss."

Satellite offers burly, high-powered heads and combos as well, but we opted to test the more manageable 18-watt Neutron head with a 2x10 cabinet crafted from 100 percent voidless birch and loaded with Celestion Greenback speakers. The amp is covered in a handsome matte midnight-blue tolex (a wide array of standard and sparkle colors are available for the asking), and it sports sturdy and clean turret-board construction, Mercury Magnetics transformers, Sprague filters, Mallory decoupling caps, and other premium components.

Tested with a Nash S-57 Strat-style guitar loaded with Lollar pickups, the Neutron boasted a flattering and slightly spongy snap that was touch responsive and capable of great subtlety and nuance. Despite the fact that it runs on tubes that are generally associated with classic British designs, the amp retains a distinctly midcentury Californian flavor, especially in the upper and high midrange.

There’s some honk and quack to be had here, and licks take on the nostalgia-inducing tones of our favorite Seventies vinyl standbys with little or no difficulty. Plugging a 1968 Les Paul Custom into the front of the Satellite produces Hiwatt-like “on-the-verge” sounds and, when the amp is dimed, overdrive reminiscent of Ron Wood’s much celebrated Faces tone.

Knob twiddlers and dipswitch flippers should clearly look elsewhere, but if straight-up tone and a spartan user interface fall within the orbit of your taste, this boutique bruiser should not be overlooked.

Head, $1,450; 2x10 cabinet, $300

Satellite Amplifiers,