CELEBRATING AN ARTIST OF JOHN LENNON’S STATUS WITH an amplifier is something that took me by surprise, but lo and behold Ben Fargen’s John Lennon Artist Series Amplifier ($4,999 retail), which is available in a limited edition with five different drawings by Lennon on specially made UV-protected white grillcloth. Only 11 of each will be made for a total production run of 55 amps—all officially sanctioned by Yoko Ono/Bag One Arts.
The JL-15 Artist on review here is a beautiful piece of performance art that features a print of Lennon’s famous self portrait and his signature fronting a white Tolex-covered cabinet made from solid poplar with dovetail joints. The white-on-white theme carries over to the inside of the cabinet, where a gleaming white proprietary alnico 12" speaker (also with Lennon’s signature) resides below—you guessed it—a white enameled chassis.
The handwired circuit spreads out neatly on a Fargen-made tag board, where the parts population includes vintage carbon-comp resistors, “mustard” signal caps, and Belton sockets for the two EL84 power tubes and the two 12AX7s for the preamp and phase splitter. Under the chassis is also a 3-way switch that selects between full and half power with an “off” position in between. Topside there’s another 3-way that handles on, off, and standby. Two speaker jacks cover 8W and 16W loads.
While the JL-15 is far more likely to do “stage” time in someone’s oak paneled guitar den, it is a cool sounding amp that can ante up raucous early Beatles- style tones with the Decade switch in the “Liverpool ’60s” position, or, in “Plastic Ono ’70s” mode, hark to the sounds Lennon gravitated towards during the era of “Instant Karma,” “Imagine,” and the famous “Bed Ins.”
Pick your decade, and dial in the Volume, Tone, and Master to suit. The JL-15 can sound super clear and detailed or it can rage with oodles of touch sensitive grind when you wick up both Volume controls in Liverpool mode. Partly due to the cabinet design and the minimal parts count in the audio path, the JL-15 is louder and punchier than its gallery-approved look might suggest. You really could gig with this 41 pound amp, though it would be more sensible to go for the standard JL-15 in black Tolex, which has the same circuitry and tubes, but packs a ceramic speaker, for a retail price of $2,700.
For more information contact fargenamps.com.