Cornford Harlequin

Paul Cornford is one of England’s best-known boutique amp designers, and he has been creating quite a stir on this side of the pond with his Hurricane, Hellcat, and MK50H models.

The Harlequin ($1,495 retail/street price N/A) is one of the smallest offerings in Cornford’s line (along with the new Carrera model, which retails for $1,999), but don’t let its mere 6 watts fool you—this amp is an ass kicker. The Harlequin makes no attempt to wow you with features, and its control complement of Volume, Bass, Treble, Master, and 2-position Voice switch is fairly pedestrian by today’s standards. True, the Volume pot is actually a tandem type that’s able to simultaneously control the first and second gain stages of the preamp, but what makes this amp so special are the ultra-sensitive tone controls, the in-house designed and hand-wound transformers, and the solid pine cabinet with permanently dadoed plywood baffle. It all adds up to a relatively simple amp that has been carefully groomed in all areas to deliver maximum sonic performance.

At lower Volume control settings the Harlequin provides warm clean tones with plenty of sparkle available via the well-voiced Treble control. Twist the Volume knob past ten o’clock, and the tones get juicier and stringier as front-end distortion starts making its case. The Master is very effective for lowering the levels without diminishing the vibe, but this amp is at its best when you turn up its wick and let it loose. In this mode, the Harlequin’s velvety richness and complexity is impressive, and at Volume settings of two o’clock and higher, the amp’s stellar ability to put a harmonically saturated mojo on anything you play is truly amazing. Terms like “gushing” and “frothy” come to mind, but you have to experience it in person to fully appreciate the coolness of it all.

The Harlequin sounds equally cool with humbuckers or single-coils, and part of its flexibility in this regard is due to the handy Voice switch, which, by lowering the frequency range of the tone controls, makes it easy to get the right balance of brightness and girth from even the most treblesome Strats and Teles. The Harlequin is an ideal recording/practice/small gig amp, and with its superb range of clean and overdriven tones it’s well endowed to deliver the goodies no matter what your style demands.