Kustom ’72 Coupe Hardtop Head and 412 Speaker Cabs

The Kustom ’72 Coupe Hardtop head ($1,199 retail/$999 street) followed in the footsteps of the ’72 Coupe and ’36 Coupe combo amps—the latter of which received a very favorable review in the October 2005 issue of GP. Like those combos, the Hardtop blends elements from Kustom’s ’60s- and ’70s-era solid-state designs—such as the reverb’s Intensity and Tone controls, the tremolo and vibrato circuitry, and the voicing of the EQ—with new all-tube preamp and power-amp sections designed by tonemeister James Brown. And, as a further nod to its ’60s heritage, the Hardtop also sports a splash of tuck ‘n’ roll along its upper front.
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The two-channel ’72 Coupe Hardtop produces 72 watts via a quartet of Electro-Harmonix 6L6GC power tubes, with four EH 12AX7s handling preamp, effects loop, and phase inverter duties. The amp utilizes a clever “mixed-biasing” system that combines cathode- and fixed-bias designs, allowing you to swap output tubes without re-biasing.

The Lead and Rhythm channels each have Master volume and Volume controls with pull-on Bright switches. They share common Treble, Middle, and Bass controls, as well as a Boost function that provides up to 10dB of gain (adjustable with a pot on the rear panel) when engaged with the included footswitch. Inputs 1 (normal) and 2 (which has -6dB pad for added headroom) feed both channels.

The ’72 Coupe Hardtop boasts vintage tremolo and vibrato circuits that are both linked to a common Speed control, and may be combined. There’s also an Accutronics reverb with Tone and Intensity controls.

For some reason, Kustom decided that rather than providing a four-button footswitch, they would go with three buttons: Lead or channel switching, Boost on/off, and Effect—which may be assigned to either reverb or tremolo using a small switch on the rear panel. The Effects Send and Return jacks are also located on the rear panel, as is a speaker-emulating XLR Direct output with a Direct Volume control and a Ground Lift switch.

The matching ’72 Coupe 412A slanted-front and 412B straight-front speaker cabinets ($1,299 retail/$1,029 street, each) are constructed from Baltic birch and loaded with 12" Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. The cabinets are switchable between mono and stereo operation, and are rated at 240 watts mono, or 120 watts per side stereo. Each cabinet is fitted with vintage-style black weave grille cloth, heavy-duty handles, and removable casters.

I tested the ’72 Coupe Hardtop head and a ’72 Coupe 412A cab at ’Zilla Studios in San Bruno, CA, using a Gibson ’59 Les Paul reissue and a mid-’70s Fender Stratocaster (with additional tests back at the GP offices using various Gibson, PRS, and Fender guitars). The main room at ’Zilla is relatively large, allowing me to crank the amp way up without cramping the sound with too many room reflections.

The Rhythm channel proved to be very versatile, with tons of headroom before breakup, and a huge frequency range from massive lows to punchy mids to abundant highs—all nicely balanced and focused. By cranking up the Volume control, I was able to elicit several levels of crunch and distortion from the Rhythm channel, and then easily re-enter clean territory by rolling back the volume on the guitars. Anyone familiar with the solid-state clean tones produced by the old Kustom amps will immediately realize that it is not the sound emanating from the ’72 Coupe Hardtop (including John Fogerty, who has said he was the only guitarist to ever wrangle cool tones from the original Kustoms).

The sounds pouring forth from the Lead channel were very aggressive—much like those of other amps Brown has designed, such as the Peavey JSX and 5150 models—with decidedly American distortion characteristics. The lows were wonderfully tight and chunky, with considerably more oomph than those produced by the Coupe combos—primarily due, of course, to the Celestion Vintage 30 speakers and the closed-back 4x12 cab. The mids were generally smooth with just the right touch of edginess, and the highs cut through without being overly harsh. The Lead channel seemed particularly well matched to the Les Paul and other humbucker-equipped models, which really brought out the buttery texture of the low mids. Individual note clarity within chords was relatively good, and the distortion cleaned up remarkably well when rolling back the guitar volume—even on extreme distortion settings.

I absolutely loved the tremolo and vibrato sounds, and blending them together yielded an offbeat and super vibey effect that is unique to these amps. The reverb sounded good, too, though it was a tad too sproingy for my tastes at times, and unnecessarily bright—even after attempting to compensate with the Tone control. The only other funny business I encountered was an odd, almost synth-like harmonic that occurred when playing octave bends on ultra-high-gain settings, but it was fairly subtle, and by no means a deal breaker.

All told, the ’72 Coupe Hardtop head is an excellent value. The amp can easily cover rock, blues, metal, and even some country tones, and the ’72 Coupe 412A cab sounded excellent with both the Kustom and a 100-watt Hiwatt Hi-Gain head that was also on the session. Once again, James Brown proves himself to be a—ow!—tone machine.