B-52 AT-100

As far as features go, the AT-100 (head $1,399 retail/$699 street; cabinet $799 retail/$399 street), leads the pack in this roundup. But options don’t mean a thing if the tones aren’t happening, right? So with Telecaster in hand, I fired up the Clean channel, and found it to be well balanced with just the right amount of high-end sparkle and low-end thump.
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They weren’t the weightiest tones I’ve ever heard, as the midrange character is fairly nondescript, but the amp’s Treble knob let me dial in the inherent sheen of my Tele quite nicely. The Bright switch proved extremely helpful when going for even glassier textures—excellent for slicing funk chords. The AT-100’s footswitchable reverb makes it possible to go from bone-dry, spankeriffic clean tones to more open-sounding lead textures—although the Belton tank-generated effect lacks the springy drip and “poing” to go completely surfy.

Going over to the Overdrive channel, you can choose between two modes—Gain 1 and Gain 2—via the included 4-button footswitch. Each of these “sub-channels” sports its own Gain and Volume controls, but shares a common set of Treble, Middle, and Bass knobs. There’s also a Contour control (assignable to Gain 1 or Gain 2) that changes the amp’s midrange voicing from classic mid punch to a more punishing scooped-mid tone. To explore these functions, I set up Gain 1 to provide some Keith Richards-style raunch with a pokey midrange, and then adjusted the Contour control on Gain 2 to deal a blow to my eardrums with some wicked metal tones. This setup gave me a broad array of tones, and the high-gain sounds were searing enough to hang in any modern metal environment. The AT-100’s raison d’etre, these tones boom with tight low-end authority and deliver power chords with maximum impact. Very impressive! I found Gain 1’s crunch tones to be a tad less inspiring, however, as they became somewhat smeared when the Gain control was about halfway up as I really dug into my guitar. Turning down my guitar’s volume helped bring back some of the stringy detail, but it would be nice if these tones could come through as clearly as the high-gain textures.

Overall, the AT-100 is a great choice for anyone who seeks an affordable high-powered half stack. With its incredible street price and bevy of footswitchable functions, it’s a tough act to beat.