Carr Vincent

Carr Amplifiers specializes in handcrafted boutique combos that combine traditional tones and aesthetics with modern touches. The Vincent’s retro look, class-A tube circuitry, and point-to-point wiring are bolstered by a unique Drive feature, a footswitchable EQ bypass/ boost function, and a solid-state rectifier that simulates the response of a tube rectifier.

Variable power options are becoming a Carr hallmark. The company’s previous offering, the Mercury (reviewed February 2006), ran at 10, 2, 1/2, or 1/10 watts. The Vincent offers a low-power option of 7 watts, and it tops out at 33 watts—making it the second-most powerful amp in Carr’s five-model line.

My first encounter with the Vincent was a New Stuff video shoot for GPTV. I was immediately struck by its rich tone, variable power, and compact size. I started snatching the Vincent from the GP offices for gigs at a variety of small to medium-sized venues, because I needed an amplifier that could produce a full vintage sound at lower volumes, and that would fit easily in my car’s trunk.

Understanding how to use the Vincent’s Drive function and variable power settings to get just the right balance of grit and headroom proved key in getting the most out of this amp. The Drive
control is unique because it’s not simply a preamp gain boost designed to take the amp from clean to scream. Instead, the Drive function uses residual energy from the reverb circuitry to elicit more gain and dynamic response. With the Drive control turned down, the Vincent has a balanced and even sound that is relatively flat compared to the lively harmonic enhancement you get with the Drive knob halfway up. Up the Drive setting, and the Vincent’s tone begins to break up beautifully. But even with the Drive turned all the way up, the effect seems subtle compared to a typical preamp gain stage powered by its own dedicated tube. I preferred to leave it about halfway up in order to enjoy the added oomph, while retaining some headroom for a pair of overdrive pedals—a T-Rex Michael Angelo Batio and a T-Rex Bass Juice—to work their own magic.

At a gig with roots singer Shana Morrison at the Palms Playhouse near Sacramento, I was surprised when the 7-watt setting turned out to be perfect for the first set. Seven watts is louder than one might think, and it allowed me to dig in for some power-tube grit that’s absolutely essential for an authentic blues voice. The tonal depth was also impressive. To my ears, the Vincent’s sound with the Drive and Volume controls set midway is akin to Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary” tone. It has plenty of brilliance and definition, but not at the expense of warmth. When pushed hard, the Vincent’s tone breaks up in a musical way. Played delicately, it presents each nuance with a glassy expressiveness.

By the end of the first set, the band was playing louder, and the 7-watt setting was no longer providing quite enough headroom—especially when I engaged an overdrive pedal. Switching to the 33-watt setting, the tone expanded with the extra volume and headroom, but did not change so significantly as to force me into making big dynamic adjustments to my playing, or adjusting the settings on my pedals. I simply brought the Vincent’s overall volume down a tad, and went about the business of blending with the band.

The Vincent features a gain boost that can be achieved remotely via footswitch, or by turning the Mid control fully counter-clockwise until it clicks off. This engages a partial tone-stack bypass that allows nearly the entire signal to pass through unaffected by the EQ circuitry. (It’s a common misconception that passive EQ controls are able to boost certain frequencies, but they are only capable of attenuating signal in their respective frequency bands.) Engaging the tone-stack bypass results in more grind and more volume—enough to launch a solo onstage. The resulting tone is significantly more aggressive, and using the Duncan JB Jr. humbucker in the bridge position of my ’89 Fender Strat Plus, I easily got a tone reminiscent of Randy Bachman’s sound on “American Woman”—though not quite as fuzzy.

That’s not a sound I regularly go for on gigs, however, so I tended to stick to stompboxes with this amp. I’ve used an Electro-Harmonix Sole Preacher compressor to make the Vincent sound everything from thin and funky to wide and full. The chimey Michael Angelo Batio overdrive makes the Vincent sound like a modestly overdriven Fender amp, and the Bass Juice pushes it more towards the British coast of the tonal ocean. The underlying point is that the Vincent has its own distinct sound, yet is very open to tonal exploration with effects pedals.

Players after a boutique medium club/ rehearsal/studio amp that delivers sultry vintage tones will appreciate all the Vincent has to offer—including its tube-driven reverb, which provides everything from reflective shimmers to deep, swimming effects. I’ve used it on at least a half dozen gigs at everything from restaurants to casinos and blues clubs, and the exceptional Vincent routinely draws compliments and inquiries from players and soundmen alike.