By Jude Gold
Your first reaction when you meet the Shenandoah Delux 200 may be, “Dang, that thing’s big.” And indeed it is—especially for a 2x10 combo. Rated at 200 watts, the Shenandoah 200 ($1,399 retail/$1,119 street) is one of the most ambitious acoustic amps on today’s market. Its mission is to free acoustic guitarists from ever being at the mercy of a venue’s monitor system, and there’s also enough horsepower to bust your acoustic parts out of any loud, crowded band mix.
The Shenandoah 200’s extra muscle can pump out a wide, undistorted frequency spectrum just like a compact sound system—which is not surprising, considering that Genz Benz got its start in the mid ’80s building P.A. cabinets in a garage. And if you want even more dispersion, you can augment the 200 with matching Genz Benz Shen-200-Ext-L/R extension speakers ($729 retail/$583 street per pair).
The Shenandoah 200 has a plethora of knobs, but Genz Benz has done a good job of keeping the front panel logical and intuitive. The white-type-on-metallic-background, however, doesn’t make for the best readability— particularly in the effects section, where the 16 program titles correspond to as many clicks on each multi-position program knob. To make matters worse, the knobs spin infinitely in either direction, making it difficult to ascertain which program you’ve selected. It would be easier if the program knobs started at 1 and stopped at 16, so that you could simply count the clicks to your favorite programs.
Also, because the titles are located under the knobs, it’s a bit tough to identify specific functions when you’re looking down at the amp. A tilt-back handle on the underside allows you to lean the Shenandoah 200 back about ten degrees, pointing its panel—and directing its sound—more toward your face. But while this kickstand is useful, it only works when you’ve pulled all four wheels off the amp. I found an identical amount of tilt can be achieved by simply removing just the rear casters.
The Shenandoah 200 is loaded with features, and among the hippest are the channel pan controls, which let you send signals through either or both of the speaker/tweeter pairs. Each tweeter is also controlled by a 3-way switch (0dB, -6dB, and off), which is useful if, say, you want a bright, full sound on one side for your pickup-equipped dreadnought, and a darker voicing on the other for your bandmate’s Dobro. The Shenandoah 200 also has a third auxiliary input with a level control for use with drum machines, CD players, or even additional instruments. (Theoretically, you could plug five instruments into this amp, as the 1/4" and XLR input jacks on each channel are not self-cancelling.)
Tested with three single-cutaway acoustic-electrics (a Dean Masters SE, a mic/piezo pickup-equipped Martin 000C-16GTE, and an aluminum-topped Martin ALternative II), the Shenandoah 200 produced huge, full-spectrum tones that delivered as much low-end mass as they did high-end chime. With all three guitars, the most stellar sounds were attained with the amp’s tone controls at their flat settings. At loud volumes, the dreadnought-sized Dean was more prone to feedback than the thinner-bodied Martins, but I could dial out most of the offending frequencies with the amp’s parametric EQ. Only small sacrifices in tonal quality were noted.
During a final test—which involved me singing loudly through a Shure SM58 plugged into channel 1, while strumming madly through channel 2—I was amazed by the sense of dimension in the sound. The mic and guitar signals sounded remarkable clear, and even at the height of my cacophony, there was no trace of power-amp sag or clipping.
Along with solid tones, Genz Benz also endowed the Shenandoah 200 with plenty of lush-sounding Alesis effects. My favorite patches were Classic Plate Reverb and, surprisingly, the Stereo Flange setting—albeit in small doses. The chorusing can sound a tad metallic when the 200’s tweeters are full up, but at least it’s sparkly and transparent (which is preferable to some of the warmer-but-muddier onboard choruses I’ve encountered). The effects are not editable—you can only adjust mix levels—but you can dial in one or both processors on either channel to combine patches (some of which include multiple effects).
Oh Shenandoah . . .
The Shenandoah 200 is a high-end, full-featured, and extremely flexible acoustic combo that acts as a personal sound system. Though not the most portable amp in Acousticville, the versatile Shenandoah 200 can take a performer from solo-acoustic outings to small combos to full-on band mania and ensure that every sparkling line is heard over stage mixes and crowd noise. This mammoth tone machine is a monster, but it’s definitely the kind of monster you want sitting in your corner.