Roundup: 11 Half-Stacks

THE VENERABLE HALF-STACK MAY BE AN ANACHRONISM IN TODAY’S world where seemingly everything is being downsized, but there’s still plenty of life left in a scrappy, head-plus-4x12 rig.
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THE VENERABLE HALF-STACK MAY BE AN ANACHRONISM IN TODAY’S world where seemingly everything is being downsized, but there’s still plenty of life left in a scrappy, head-plus-4x12 rig. The amps on deck for this roundup are tube pow- ered and predominantly in the 50- to 100-watt class. Most have channel-switching capability, and nearly all (exceptions being the Acoustic, Carvin and PRS heads) are still big lugs to carry around. Understood, there’s no easy way to make a lightweight tube head in this power range, but an amp that weighs around 50 lbs paired with a cab that clocks in at twice that amount does not make for a pleasant trip up the stairs or around the block.

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We’ve evaluated these amps purely on their sonic performance and features, seek- ing to find that righteous balance of form and function that yields the best tones with the least amount of effort. Tests were done using Fender Strats and Teles, Gibson Les Pauls and SGs, a PRS Quatro and Modern Eagle, and a smattering of guitars from custom builders. All the amps were auditioned with 4x12 cabinets supplied by the manufacturers. — ART THOMPSON

Acoustic GT50H

THE GT50H IS A TWO-CHANNEL amp with several nice twists, including a choice of Triode and Pentode output tube modes for two very different sounds, and a Half Power switch that interacts with the Triode/Pentode switch to provide between 12.5 and 50 watts, making the amp adapt- able to a variety of both rehearsal and per- formance situations. The Clean and Lead channels share a single input that is switch- able between Normal and Bright and a single set of tone controls, which potentially limits the amp’s tone-shaping capabilities, but in practice didn’t prove to be a major liabil- ity, thanks mostly to the way in which the Bass, Middle, and Treble controls are voiced.

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An included 4-button footswitch lets you toggle between channels, turn the Accutronics spring reverb on and off, and engage both the High Gain and variable Boost functions. The ability to switch to High Gain while using either the Clean or Lead channels effectively results in four distinct and directly accessible tones. The variable Boost theoretically gooses either channel’s signal by up to 15dB, but even when maxed the actual volume increase was relatively subtle. There’s also an effects loop with a handy dry/wet Mix control.

Acoustic recommends that the GT50H be paired with the matching G412AC speaker cabinet, which contains four Celes- tion G12P80s and sports dual inputs con- figurable for mono (4 Ω or 16Ω) or stereo (8Ω per side) operation. The cab sounded great in mono at16Ω, delivering a nicely bal- anced blend of clear highs, punchy mids, and firm lows—and its metal handles and casters added to an overall impression of sturdiness.

The GT50H sounded significantly dif- ferent when paired with a Stratocaster than it did with a Les Paul Standard. I generally preferred the former, as the tones were clearer, livelier, and had a warmer low end, though the ’59 reissue Paul also produced a range of very nice sounds, particularly when using the bridge pickup on higher- gain settings. Generally, there was a dra- matic difference between the two output modes. As might be expected, Triode Mode produced a smoother, rounder, and darker sound compared with the more aggressive edginess imparted by Pentode Mode. Per- sonally, the former appealed to me most, and while hard rock, punk, and metal gui- tarists may differ, I even found that palm- muted low-note riffs sounded tighter and punchier in Triode mode. Also, while the Lead channel dished up some tasty over- drive sounds, I got the best old-school British-style crunch by cranking the Clean Volume control, and punching things up another level by switching in High Gain when appropriate.

Considering its clean headroom, versa- tile overdrive and distortion capabilities, and useful features, the GT50H is a good general-purpose amp at a reasonable price. — BARRY CLEVELAND

Blackstar S1-1046L6

BLACKSTAR IS MAKING A NAME FOR itself with a series of amps that offer a lot of bang for the buck through the common dual-sourcing practice of being designed in the U.K. and manufactured offshore. Sev- eral smaller models have won respectable followings, but larger amps such as the S1-1046L6 seek to put that value and flexi- bility into a seriously powerful package for the big-stage rocker. The head is derived from the company’s premier Series One line, which also features an EL34-powered version voiced specifically for those tubes. The S1-1046L6 carries the more American- toned bottles, is voiced to appeal more to the modern high-gain metal player, and car- ries a dizzying array of features.

Four footswitchable channels offer Clean, Crunch, OD1, and OD2, with independent Gain and Volume for each, and two three-knob tone stacks shared between the first and second pairs of chan - nels, each of which also has a dedicated ISF control. This proprietary “Infinite Shape Feature,” takes you toward Amer- ican tube-amp voicings when rolled coun- ter-clockwise, and British voicings when turned clockwise, exponentially increas- ing the tweakability of each EQ section. Beyond the shared Presence, Resonance, and Master Volume controls, there’s also a Dynamic Power Reduction (DPR) control that governs overall output by reigning in the output and output driver tubes’ voltage levels, from ten to 100 percent. An added Bright/Warm switch on the Clean channel and Super Crunch on the Crunch ups the options there, while a plethora of back-panel connectivity—including level-switchable FX loop, Speaker Emulated Output with XLR and 1/4" outs, and MIDI switching capabilities—boost the S1-1046L6 right into the realm of high-concept amplifica - tion. It’s all extremely well thought-out, and feels robustly put together, although it can be difficult to see how the Clean/Warm and Super Crunch switches are set if you aren’t using MIDI switching. The Series One 412A is a rugged, closed-back, over- sized cab made from finger-jointed birch ply and enclosing four Celestion Vintage 30 speakers wired for 4Ω, or 16Ω when used in mono or dual 8Ω pairs.

The S1-1046L6 delivers a helluva’ lot of oomph for the player seeking ultimate flexibility, and sounds extremely good wherever you point the dial. Given the bountiful features you can’t expect bou- tique-single-channel quality from every voice, and yet every setting I cooked up (with either a Grosh Set Neck or Fender Strat injected) proved so bold, dynamic, and satisfying that I was left wanting for nothing. Cleans are sweeter and chimier than the “rhythm” options on most old- school channel switchers, Crunch is meaty and bold, and the OD channels, between them (and their shared EQ options), take you from gut-busting brutal to über-satu- rated shred-wail with myriad nuances in between. To top it all off, the DPR works great to rein in output in smaller rooms or venues. The back-panel functions work just as they should, too, making this amp a real heavy hitter in the connectivity and switchability stakes. — DAVE HUNTER

Carvin Legacy 3

THE LATEST EVOLUTION OF THE Legacy Series amps designed in conjunc- tion with Steve Vai, the Legacy 3 features the same channels 1 and 2 of the original model, but has a reconfigured channel 3 with controls for Drive, Volume, and Pres- ence, plus a Gain switch. Channels 2 and 3 share a common set of tone controls, and are selected by buttons in the center of the front panel, with the optional FS44M foot- switch ($44), or by MIDI. Green, yellow, and red LEDs indicate the active channel, and the interior lights up in these colors as well. Slightly confusing is that channel 3 (which has the most gain potential) illu- minates in yellow while channel 2 is red, but you can re-program the LEDs in any combination you want via MIDI.

Getting around on the Legacy 3 is easy enough once you get used to how channel 3’s controls are arranged. This amp has one of the most headroom-minded clean channels in existence. Channel 1 has a nice balance of crispness and body, and sounds great for pristine chording and fingerpick - ing. But this preamp doesn’t distort, so you either have to turn the volume up high enough to encourage some clipping in the power stage—more practical when using the 15-watt setting due to how fiercely loud this amp gets in the 50- or 100-watt modes—or use an overdrive pedal. The DSP reverb adds welcome ambience and air to the clean tones, enhancing the sense of dimension with warm, spacious, and nat- ural-sounding reflections.

Engaging channel 2 brings on a rush of distortion even at the lowest Drive set- tings, so it’s kind of a straight shot to sus- tainville, rather than a more scenic journey between clean and overdriven sounds. The dynamic response of this channel is such that you can get milder overdrive by turning down your guitar (or by using a Volume setting of around 8 with the Drive set low), but the Legacy 3 is definitely best suited for players who want very thick ’n’ sustaining rhythm and lead sounds, and then be able to switch to a stratospheric level of distortion for solos. The variable boost function is very useful when using the high distortion this amp is capable of, as it lets you preset just enough level increase to ensure your tones will punch through clearly no matter how much sat- urated grind you’re pushing. The shared EQ posed no problems for dialing up tones on channels 2 and 3, though having a sep- arate Presence control on the third chan- nel makes it easier to get the definition where it needs to be with humbucker gui- tars—especially when the Gain switch is on and the preamp is pouring out a mon- soon of distortion.

Very adept at delivering extremely clean and viciously distorted tones, the Legacy 3 is a great choice for players who want a palette of super-sustaining tube sounds, but who also need a channel that is opti- mized for guitars, pedals, or anything else that warrants no distortion from the amp. — ART THOMPSON

Egnater Armageddon

BRUCE EGNATER’S AMPS HAVE always been a tone-shaper’s dream, and with its glut of mini-switches, knobs, and a dense, feature-laden rear panel—not to mention a 7-button floorboard that even sports mini toggles for the footswitches(!)— the Armageddon promises even more of the same for the tweaker crowd. Admittedly, I was a bit daunted at first by the Arma - geddon, an amp that is, after all, named after an end-of-the-world scenario. But I quickly discovered that it is super-easy to get around on, and every one of those func- tions served a useful purpose.

Running my Telecaster on the amp’s clean channel, I was greeted with some tasty multi-dimensional tones that offered great touch-sensitivity and musicality. The Gain control on the clean channel definitely helps dial in how much caloric content you want in your clean tone, which is always a welcome ability. Channel 2 conjured some magical hot-rodded tones in the classic modded-Marshall vein, with tight snarling mids, pummeling bass, and a searing top that begs for humbuckers. There’s a good range of frothy gain on tap, and you can voice this channel to be a Keef-on-steroids grinder or a modern metal machine. Best of all, no matter what you dial up, these tones react well to your touch, cleaning up wonderfully with a lighter attack. The amp’s digital reverb, which sports individual level controls for each channel, works wonders for adding air and ambience to clean tones and lead lines. And once you have tailored it to your style and guitar, it sounds consis- tent at whatever volume you’re playing at.

You might think that Channel 3 is where the Armageddon makes good on its moni- ker. Well, it can, but actually Channel 2 and 3 not only share EQ, they are identical in every way, so it’s up to you to set them up differently, and that’s where all of Egnater’s tweaking options shine. The Tight, Bright, and Gain switches on each channel are voiced wonderfully, allowing just the right touch of overall seasoning once you’re done dial- ing in the EQ. If you want to slim out your rhythm sound a touch or add that last bit of bite or midrange heft to your lead tones, the Armageddon can do it. The high-gain sounds are never hyped sounding, and the EQ is very natural with enough range to easily accommodate humbuckers or single- coils. The bypassable Midrange section with its Depth and Level controls is the bomb for scooped metal sounds, and coupled with the variable ISP Decimator noise gate, you can get ridiculously tight, chugging tones that track your picking like a bloodhound! Bottom line: If you are dedicated to micro- managing your tones, and also dedicated to delivering them in high-volume situa- tions, the Armageddon may be the end of the world for you. — DARRIN FOX

Fuchs Mantis 100

DELIVERING A STOUT 100 WATTS from four EL34s (6550s or KT88s optional), the Mantis 100 nails contemporary rock and metal tones in two distinct, footswitchable preamp channels. Channel 1 shoots for “hot-rodded American,” with a clear voice and an aggressive midrange, while Channel 2 is probably best described as “California grind,” with a scooped voice and thump- ing lows, something we might have called “modded British” in the past. Each channel has its own Gain and Master control and independent 3-band tone stack, and they share global Master, Thrust (low-end reso- nance), and Presence controls. Round back, there’s a half-power switch which cuts two EL34s, outputs for 4Ω, 8Ω, and 16Ω speaker cabs, and a series effects loop with a hard- wire bypass switch and a signal-level selector.

The Mantis’s circuit is hand-loaded onto a heavy duty PCB within an aircraft- grade T-6 aluminum chassis with stain- less steel hardware throughout, and uses careful grounding and DC-heated preamp tubes to keep noise at a minimum. Both the power and output transformers are custom-wound and over-spec, and the amp includes a cooling fan to extend tube life. In short, it appears built to get the job done, and its use by a growing list of tour- ing rock artists seems a testament to that impression. The Fuchs 412 cab is a tradi- tional heavy-duty closed-back design, made from strong North American-grown, low- emissions “Lite-Ply” plywood, with four Eminence Wizard speakers inside.

Played with a Grosh Set Neck and a Fender Strat, the Mantis delivered might- ily on its premise. This amp simply isn’t designed for “classic” tube-amp tones— blackface Fender-esque clean or vintage- Marshall crunch just aren’t its forte, and aren’t meant to be. It excels at taking you straight to that big chug and shred, with a minimum of fuss and fiddle at the control panel. In fact, just a few minutes with the Mantis reminded me what an integral part of the “inspiration chain” the right amp can be: however much I tried to throw roots, blues-rock, or indie-pop riffs its way, the Mantis spit me out the other side churning 21st century shred and death-metal licks, and having a blast with it.

Channel 1 accesses your best clean tones, but with the channel Master advanced it gets loud fast—exponentially more so than channel 2, even with the global Master reined in. I found channel 1 worked best, therefore, at clear-voiced semi-grind and moderate lead tones, where it proved sweet and dynamic, with bags of overtone-laden shimmer. Channel Two goes straight to scooped metal, and thumps like a beast in the process. This one is impressive in its easy path to gut-kicking power-chord rumble, and will get you head banging in no time flat. With more than enough gain on tap for most needs, the Mantis 100 is an extremely worthy package for today’s road rocker. — DAVE HUNTER

Hughes & Kettner TriAmp MKII

THE ALEX LIFESON SIGNATURE Edition Series TriAmp features three inde- pendent channels, each with a secondary mode that can be selected via front-panel switches (labeled Gain A, Gain B) or the included stageboard. This effectively makes the TriAmp a six-channel amp with each pair of channels sharing a common set of tone controls. Not surprisingly, the TriAmp covers a lot of sonic ground. The clean chan- nel (Amp 1) with Gain A selected offers crisp, Fender-voiced tones that exude bright top-end, warm mids, and a burly set of lows. This channel stays nice and clean even with the gain turned up, and as there’s no Master Volume, it’s a natural for big, ringing chords and twangy country picking. Switching to Gain B reconfigures the circuitry to evoke a Vox-style response with added sparkle in the highs and enhanced midrange complex- ity. The bottom-end can get a little tubby in this mode, but you can remedy that by pressing the Amp 1 Tight switch, which revoices the low frequencies in a manner that makes it easy to forget you’re playing a half-stack and not an AC30 combo! This channel sounds killer for rhythm playing when turned up, and the well-implemented Master Volume also makes it possible to crank the snot of it for heavier rhythm and lead tones while retaining an excellent sense of mass and tonal balance at lower levels.

Amp 2 is the go-to channel for Marshall- style tones, which pack a punchy, aggres- sive, but not too overdriven response with Gain A selected. It’s close to a JCM 800 kind of tone, but the H&K version has a slightly harder edge when pushing lots of drive. The dynamic response is very good, and this mode could be a great match for smoother sounding overdrive pedals when combined with a lower gain setting on the amp. Selecting Gain B unlocks a broader range of overdrive, allowing for everything from juicy, early Clapton-style “Blues- breakers” tones to torrents of grind that can evoke super-sustaining Gary Moore lead sounds.

For pure aggression, Amp 3 fills the bill with a super-quick attack and a definition that brings out the stringiness in chords and allows speedy single-note runs to cut though a mix like a knife. There’s massive harmonic action going on here when Gain A is turned up halfway or higher, yet the dense distortion never leads to mushy or indistinct tones. The brutal response of this channel works particularly well with Gain B selected, which significantly ups ante for metal by virtue of a fuzzier, gnar- lier distortion tone and a tight bottom-end chunk. Despite having some excess hum (most likely a preamp tube issue), Amp 3’s insane gain and ability to extract equally punishing tones from humbuckers or sin- gle-coils makes it a great platform for mas- sive, modern-style overdrive tones.

One of the world’s most visually allur- ing amplifiers with its clear, illuminated front panel, chrome-plated chassis, and lighted pushbuttons, the TriAmp MKII is an impressive affair for rock and metal players who worship at the altar of gain. — ART THOMPSON

Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic

THE ROYAL ATLANTIC APPEARS to be a straightforward 100-watt amp with two channels and a footswitchable high- gain mode. However, a unique feature is its channel-assignable Multi-Soak attenua- tion system that offers three attenuator cir- cuits that can be used to varying degrees on all channels. Powered by four EL34s (a bias selector on the rear panel makes it easy to swap in 6L6s), this British-voiced amp is designed for players who appreciate how power tubes contribute to tone when pushed hard. As a standup 100-watter (50 watts in half-power mode), the Royal Atlan- tic delivers outstanding clean tones with tons of headroom, meaty crunch textures, and furious shred tones with gobs of touch- responsive sustain. When the gig demands less volume you can, of course, throttle things back using the Master Volume con- trol on the Clean channel or the indepen- dent Masters on the Lo/Hi channel. But the Royal also lets you reduce volume while keeping the tubes at a boil via its three Multi-Soak rotary switches on the back panel. Each 5-position Multi-Soak control has detents for Bypass, -4dB, -8dB, -12dB, and -16db of wattage reduction. The latter setting cuts the amp’s maximum power down to about 3 watts, which is a huge amount of attenuation to deploy when the rest of the amp is cooking at full bore in 100-watt mode. The potential downside is that running the power stage near full-tilt when using extreme attenuation settings (-12db, -16dB) causes the tubes to work much harder and generate more heat, thus reducing life expectancy. Very high attenu- ation settings can also cause the sound and feel to become somewhat less defined and squishy. I found the -4db and -8db posi- tion to be most useful on the Hi/Lo chan- nel for getting aggressive crunch rhythm and soaring lead tones that maintained the girthy feel of tubes flexing their muscles.

The Royal’s Clean channel transitions beautifully into distortion with detailed highs and lots of upper midrange com- plexity when Gain is turned up. The tube- driven spring reverb circuit delivers a lush and expansive sound. Reverb level is adjustable from the rear panel only, but this inconvenience is offset by a 3-position switch that (A) assigns the reverb equally to all the channels, or (B) defeats it when switching to Hi/Lo, or (C) defeats it just in Hi mode. Worth noting, too, is that the series effects loop is completely bypassed when nothing is plugged into the send or return jacks.

Well equipped for anything from fusion to country to hard rock and metal, the Royal Atlantic plays well with humbucker or single-coil guitars and has enough head- room, sustain, and volume control to make it workable for venues of virtually any size. If you’re looking for a high-power tube amp that can pretty much do it all, the Royal Atlantic is definitely an amp to audition. — ART THOMPSON

Orange OR50

ORANGE WAS FOUNDED IN ’60S-ERA swinging London by musician and wan- nabe producer Cliff Cooper as a veritable musical empire. The storefront on New Compton Street originally encompassed music publishing, a record label, a record- ing studio, and an agency, and when these proved slow to turn a profit, Cooper dis - covered a demand for loud amplifiers. The OR50H was inspired by Orange’s origi- nal flagship, the “Graphic Overdrive” line, which represented its control functions in picture form only. For the uninitiated, the legends on the amp’s front panel represent (left to right)—Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, HF Drive, and Master Volume. The penul- timate of these is a nifty little “two in one” control. Turning it clockwise increases power-amp presence, while also ramping up power-amp gain. Finally, there’s a front- panel jack for a single-button footswitch to hop between your preset Master Volume level, and full output.

Build quality of the OR50H is probably best described as “robust contemporary.” A sturdy PCB is loaded with many good-qual- ity, western-made components—if not the most high-end bits and pieces—and accom- panied by heavy British-made transform- ers. Tube sockets are all reinforced to the chassis itself for long wear and reliability. Orange speaker cabs are as distinctive as the company’s amp heads, and the PPC412 is no exception. The closed-back cab is rug- gedly constructed of heavy-duty plywood, with a woven-cane front grille protecting four Celestion Vintage 30 drivers.

Plugging into the OR50H is like hop- ping a time machine to the late-’60s and early-’70s, when the classic Brit-rock tone was segueing from crunch to, well, more crunch. With the gain just shy of half way, the amp will do plenty of Marshall-esque tricks, giving me Kossoff or Page with my Grosh’s humbuckers, or Hendrix with my Strat. To hit the Orange in its wheelhouse, though, wind it up to around one o’clock, where it dishes out a bombastic, chunky pre-metal thump with a delectable mid- range grind. Despite the master volume and the footswitching function (which is really only much good if you want a solo boost equitable to the master’s full-out set- ting), this is actually old-school rocking— find your desired lead tone, then do what you can to obtain a pseudo-clean from the guitar’s volume control, which, fortunately, works extremely well.

The deceptively simple preamp features three gain stages, so the OR50H gets juicy and sizzly fast, and chances are you’ll just want to solo all night. From noon to full- blast, the Gain control doesn’t add much more apparent volume (that’s easily gov- erned by the Master), but piles on the sat- uration, adding harmonic richness, sustain, and willing feedback to the brew. The HF Drive knob is a real hidden weapon, and while either end of the dial is rather muted or spikey, respectively, many great shades lurk in the eight o’clock to four o’clock range, taking you from woody and warm to crispy and biting. Given its simplic- ity, the OR50H is surprisingly versatile, and has a seductive, “play-all-day” feel that always leaves me yearning for more. — DAVE HUNTER

Peavey Triple XXX II

WHEN PEAVEY INTRODUCED THE 5150 amplifier (now known as the 6505) in 1992, the Mississippi-based company suddenly found itself the choice de rigueur amongst players and producers looking for the most savage, punishing metal tones on the planet. As the years wore on, Peavey has continued adding to its line of aggres- sive tone machines, and its latest, the Triple XXX II, keeps the hits coming. With a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender Telecaster, I put the Triple XXX through the paces, starting with the amp’s formidable Clean channel. This amp is easy to use, but it’s worth noting the 3-button footswitch is arranged so that the Clean channel has to be bypassed in order to activate the Lead or Rhythm channels. So, for example, if you want to go straight from pristine clean to shred scream, you need to make sure that the Lead channel is pre-selected.

With humbuckers, the Triple XXX’s clean tone is beefy—real beefy—with a thick midrange and huge bottom end response. Thankfully, there is enough treble sheen so that chords can ring with enough bril- liance to render chimey arppegiations or funk stabs authentic. With single-coils, the clean tones are very easy to dial up as there is a ton of detailed sparkle on tap—as well as a boatload of clean head- room—big and bold for sure. Switching to the Rhythm channel, my mild-mannered Telecaster was quickly elevated to a shred machine with the blessing of the channel’s aggressive, ultra-high-gain tones. Turn- ing the Gain way down gave some nice toothy definition to power chords and chugging, low-string riffs—always with a dash of agro attitude. It’s these types of tones that the Triple XXX does best: crunch like a punch to the face. The Lead channel gives you an opportunity to shoot for the stars with a seemingly unlimited supply of distortion. Even when pushed to the hilt, the Triple XXX’s bass response stays tight and focused while delivering a punishing amount of heft. In conjunction with the master Presence and Resonance controls, the Fat switch on the Lead and Rhythm channels is your ticket to either hot-rodded Marshall or Boogie Rectifier shades, especially with humbuckers. The amp’s EQ is extremely responsive, giving you everything you could need with the twist of a knob, and in all other regards, the Triple XXX is powerful sonic machine that delivers bone-rattling rock and metal tones that are as intense as they are prac- tical. — DARRIN FOX

PRS Core Series 2 Channel “H”

THIS LATEST VERSION OF THE 2 Channel amplifier that PRS introduced in 2010 is powered by a pair of 6L6s and fea- tures proprietary Heyboer transformers. It also wears the new charcoal maple fascia, which is now standard on all Core series amplifiers. The control layout remains unchanged, however, with two independent footswitchable channels, Clean and Lead Master Volumes, and a Reverb control that affects both channels. Fired up through a PRS 4x12 loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers, the 2 Channel chalked up some very sweet Fender- and Marshall-flavored tones—thanks to the abundant range of the well-voiced passive tone controls on each channel. The wide gain range of the Clean channel makes it possible to get everything from super clean tones to gutsy overdriven textures. The spring reverb sounds excel- lent, and through the closed-back 4x12, the amp’s tones are surprisingly open and spa- cious. As with any amplifier, the voicing of the tone controls is hugely important, and the cool thing here is that the 2 Channel’s tone stack has both the ability to provide useable sounds pretty much wherever the knobs are set, yet is also extremely effective for tone shaping. Need to shave off some low end (there’s a lot on this channel) and/ or get a little more crispy detail when using a humbucker guitar—or perhaps just beef up the sound of your Strat’s single-coils— these are easy tweaks with this amp.

Switching to the Lead channel brings on a ballsier overdrive response that’s a bit leaner in the lows but otherwise very consistent with what the Clean channel presents. This makes for seamless switching from clean into a blaze of distortion, and the Lead channel’s dynamic sensitivity also makes it possible to simply dial up a great tone for soloing and use your guitar’s volume knob to surf between rhythm and lead. Lower settings of the Volume knob yield tones that are reminiscent of Mar- shall’s “plexi” era, and with the Master turned up enough to let the power tubes trot into overdrive, it’s easy to catch a whiff of early Clapton. Inching toward the halfway on the Volume control provides sweet, sustaining tones that invite Duane Allman-style blues licks, while some further advancing on the Volume brings you to a scorching overdrive zone with the twanginess and stringy clarity heard in David Grissom’s fiery tones. The scope of the Lead channel can also accom- modate metal and shred. Dialing down the well-implemented Master lets you enjoy what this amp can do at more sensible volumes, and without destroying the balance or feel—a good thing, considering no power reduction feature is provided.

The 2 Channel “H” is a no frills amp that’s ideal for players who just want killer clean and overdrive tones. This compact head is nicely priced for a U.S.-made product, it’s ruggedly built, and it won’t bust your knuck- les to carry. — ART THOMPSON

Traynor YSC100H2

FOR YEARS PLAYERS HAVE BEEN snatching up vintage EL34-loaded Traynor Bass Master heads, noting that they weren’t a far cry from classics from across the pond, and modding them to Marshall specs. The YSC100H2 builds on Traynor’s EL34-fired roots and twists them into a contemporary- styled head that offers about as much as any modern player could ask from a rig. At the front end, the YSC100H2 has three fully independent channels with their own Gain, Volume, and EQ controls, and indi- vidual Reverb and Effects level controls (return-level mix) that remember their set- tings even as you switch between channels. Pushbutton switches for Modern/Vintage and Scooped (Bright on channel 3) increase the voicing options on each channel, while there are also individual footswitchable Boost settings on each to jump up the gain as desired, and a pre-settable Solo Boost control in the master section.

There’s a wealth of features ’round back, too. Among these are two efects loops— a parallel loop with Level control and Pre- Out/Amp-In jacks for series looping—and outs for speaker-compensated DI on XLR and headphones on a 1/4" stereo jack. An “Amplifier Mode” switch lets you select between 100 watts in A/B mode, or 30 watts in Class A (fixed bias, with two EL34s cut from the circuit) The power switch simply reduces the plate voltage from 500 volts to 250 volts and then re-biases.. The only hint of inflexibility in this rugged and well- thought-out amp is its relative paucity of speaker-out options: an impedance switch beside the dual outs allows a 4Ω or 8Ω load at 100 watts, or 2Ω or 4Ω at 30 watts, which might limit some speaker cab options. The accompanying YSC412A2 is a traditional angle-toped, closed-back cab made from rugged birch ply, with four Celestion Vin- tage 30 speakers wired for either 4Ω or 16Ω mono, or two 8Ω stereo pairs.

The YSC100H2 is a heavily feature-laden amp that seeks to do a little of everything for the contemporary rocker. The func- tionality and flexibility are impressive, and everything works as it should. Cleans are accessed in channel 3, which is woody and full with plenty of headroom, if not overly inspiring in its harmonic content. Channel 2 runs from balanced crunch to contemporary lead, and arguably offers the YSC100H2’s most versatile all-round voice. Channel 1 is heavily predisposed toward metal, with a hyped low-end thump that kicks hard in the gut, and remains in evidence at all EQ settings. Given the truly independent EQ on each channel, plus Boost, Modern, and Scoop buttons (Bright on channel 3), and the independent Reverb and Effects level controls, it’s easy to craft each voice to your requirements, and from girthy power-chord rhythm to singing lead, the YSC100H2 covers all the modern-rock bases confidently. If some of the amp’s tones feel a tad processed and pre-packaged, Traynor, at this price range, still gives good value in features and ver- satility. — DAVE HUNTER


CONTACT Acoustic,
PRICE $1,199 retail/$599 street (head)
CONTROLS Clean Volume, Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, lead Volume, Presence, Reverb, Master, Bright/Normal switch, High Gain/low Gain switch, lead/Clean switch, Half Power switch
POWER 12.5-50 watts
TUBES Two12aX7WB and two ECC83 preamp tubes, two 6l6GC output tubes
SPEAKERS Tested with G412aC cab, $799 retail/$399 street
EXTRAS 4-button footswitch. acc- utronics spring reverb. Effects loop. 4Ω, 8Ω, and 16Ω speaker outputs.
WEIGHT 35.6 lbs (head), 69.3 lbs (cab)
KUDOS Versatile. Solid sounds. Good value.
CONCERNS Shared tone controls. limited Boost function.


CONTACT Blackstar,
MODEL S1-1046L6
PRICE $1,999 street (head)
CONTROLS Gain and Volume for each channel (added Bright/ Warm switch on Clean and Super Crunch switch on Crunch); two tone sec- tions with Bass, Middle, treble, and ISF shared between Clean/Crunch and OD1/OD2 channels respectively; master sec- tion with Presence, Resonance, Volume, and DPR (output power) controls
POWER 100 watts (govern- able from 10% to 100% via DPR control)
TUBES Four 12aX7 and one 12at7 (a.k.a. ECC83 and ECC82) preamp tubes, four 6L6 output tubes
SPEAKERS tested with Series One 412a cab, $999 street
EXTRAS Footswitchable chan- nels (4-button footswitch included). Series effects loop with +4/–10 dB level switch. two speaker outs with 4/8/16Ω switch. MIDI in and thru jacks. Speaker Emulated Output with XLR and 1/4" outs.
WEIGHT 61 lbs (head), 112 lbs (cab)
KUDOS E Extremely versatile with four well-judged foot- switchable channels and myriad features for voice shaping and switchability.
CONCERNS tricky to discern Clean/ Warm and Super Crunch switch settings at a glance.


MODEL Legacy 3
PRICE $899 direct (head)
CONTROLS (Channel 1) Volume, Bass, Mid, treble, presence switch. (Channels 2 and 3) Volume, Drive, presence, Bass, Mid, treble. (Channel 3 only) Volume, Drive, presence, Gain switch. Global Master, Boost, Reverb. Channel select switches
POWER 100/50/15 watts
TUBES Four 12AX7 preamp tubes, four EL34 output tubes
SPEAKERS tested with Carvin C412t 4x12 cabinet
EXTRAS MIDI In and thru jacks (for channel select and boost/ reverb on/off). Variable footswitchable Boost. Effects loop. two speaker outs with 4/8/16Ω switch. Line out. Master out and power Amp in jacks. RMs switch (100/50/15 watts) Bias switch (EL34/6L6)
WEIGHT 29 lbs (head), 92 lbs (cab)
KUDOS Great versatility. Light and compact. Excels at extremely clean and extremely over- driven tones.
CONCERNS Gain comes on quickly on channels 2 and 3; could use more mid- level overdrive range.


CONTACT Egnater,
MODEL armageddon
PRICE $1,699 street (head)
CONTROLS (Channel 1) Gain, Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Tight, Bright, and Gain mini-switches. (Chan- nels 2 and 3) Gain 2, Gain 3, Volume 2, Volume 3, shared Bass, Mid, and Treble controls; 2-posi- tion mini switches for Tight, Bright, and Gain; iSP Decimator Threshold. (Master section) Density, Presence, Midrange on/ off with Depth and Level controls, Main Volume.
TUBES Six 12ax7 preamp tubes, four 6L6 power tubes
POWER 120/60 watts
EXTRAS Built-in iSP Decimator. G-String noise gate. Half power switch. Effects loop with send and return level controls. MiDi. 7-button footswitch included.
SPEAKERS Tested with Egnater aR-412 4x12 loaded with two Custom Voiced Egnater Celes- tion Elite 100 speak- ers and two Celestion G12T75 speakers
WEIGHT 46 lbs (head), 79.8 lbs (cab)
KUDOS Uber-tweakable. Excel- lent range of clean and overdriven tones that can be personal- ized to your tastes.
CONCERNS Rear panel reverb con- trols are hard to reach.


MODEL Mantis 100
PRICE $3,185 street (head)
CONTROLS (Both channels) Gain, Master, High, Mid, Low. (Output) Presence, thrust, Master Volume.
POWER 100/50 watts
TUBES Six 12aX7 preamp tubes, four EL34 output tubes
SPEAKERS tested with Fuchs 4x12 cab, $1,395 street
EXTRAS Half-power switch. Effects loop with switch- ing for hardwire bypass and +4/–10 dB level. 4/8/16Ω speaker outs, footswitch input (single- button channel-switch- ing footswitch included)
WEIGHT 48 lbs (head), 108 lbs (cab)
KUDOS Extremely well built. Pow- erful and dynamic. Dials in two distinct flavors of con- temporary rock with ease.
CONCERNS Limited clean tonal options.


CONTACT hughes & Kettner,
PRICE $3,199 (head)
CHANNELS 3 (each with two modes)
CONTROLS (Amp 1) Gain A, Gain B (w/corresponding on-off switches), treble, Mid, Bass, Master, Amp 1 tight switch. (Amp 2) Gain A, Gain B (w/correspond- ing on-off switches), treble, Mid, Bass, Master. (Amp 3) Gain A, Gain B (w/corresponding on-off switches), treble, Mid, Bass, Master. Global pres- ence and Master, FX on/ off and Learn buttons.
POWER 100 watts/50 watts.
TUBES 8 12AX7 preamp tubes, one 12AX7 phase inverter, four EL34 power tubes
SPEAKERS tested with h&K CC412 A3 4x12 cabinet w/Celes- tion Vintage 30 speakers
EXTRAS MIDI In and thru jacks. Effects loop w/ Level con- trol and series/parallel switch. half-power switch. Red Box DI out. Four speaker jacks. 7-button footswitch included
WEIGHT 48.5 lbs (head), 98.8 lbs (cab)
BUILT Germany
KUDOS stunning look. power- ful tones. MIDI capa- ble for channel selection and effects loop on-off/ series-parallel switching.
CONCERNS Difficult to read the foot- switch labels on the pol- ished metal stageboard. Excessive hum on Amp 3


CONTACT Mesa/Boogie,
MODEL Royal Atlantic
PRICE $1,999 (head)
CONTROLS (Channel 1) Gain, treble, Middle, Bass, Master. (Channel 2) Gain, treble, Middle, Bass. (Master) Lo, Master hi. Channel select (Lo/Clean/hi) and Multi-soak switches.
POWER 100/50 watts.
TUBES six 12AX7 and one 12At7 preamp tubes, four EL34 power tubes (can also use 6L6 tubes)
SPEAKERS tested with 4x12 Mesa/ Boogie Rectifier 4x12 cabinet, $999 street
EXTRAS Channel assignable Multi- soak. series effects loop. Reverb w/hard bypass and 3-position channel assign switch. slave out w/level control. Dual speaker outs with 8/4Ω switch. Bias select switch (EL34/6L6). Cooling fan (2 speed)
WEIGHT 52.6 lbs (head), 104 lbs (cab)
KUDOS superb clean and over- driven tones. Multi- soak power attenuation. Easily switchable for EL34 or 6L6 power tubes. Excellent reverb.
CONCERNS Rear-mounted reverb con- trol is hard to reach.


PRICE $1,699 street (head)
CONTROLS Gain, Bass, Middle, treble, HF drive, Master
POWER 50 watts
TUBES three 12aX7 preamp tubes, two EL34 output tubes (solid- state rectification)
SPEAKERS tested with PPC412 cab, $1,099 street
EXTRAS Footswitchable master volume, two 8Ω and one 16Ω speaker outs
WEIGHT 40.6 lbs (head), 110 lbs (cab)
BUILT England
KUDOS Classic look and design. a fast track to juicy Brit- rock tones, yet sur- prisingly versatile.
CONCERNS the footswitchable Master function’s use is rather limited.


MODEL Triple xxx ii
PRICE $1,199 street (head)
CONTROLS (Clean channel) Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble. (Rhythm channel) Gain, Volume Bass, Mid, Treble, Fat switch. (Lead channel) Gain, Bass, Treble, Mid, Fat switch. (Master section) Volume, Global Presence, and Resonance controls.
POWER 120 watts
TUBES Four 12ax7 preamp tubes, four EL34 power tubes (can also use 6L6GC tubes),
SPEAKERS Tested with Peavey 430B 4x12 slant cabinet with Stephens Tru-Sonic V30 speakers, $799 street
EXTRAS Fully adjustable noise gate. Footswitchable effects loop. Line out with level control. Bias test termi- nals. 3-button Footswitch included. active EQ on Lead and Rhythm channels.
WEIGHT 52.7 lbs (head), 98.7 lbs (cab)
KUDOS Three channels of intense, loud, earth-shaking tones.
CONCERNS Footswitch takes some getting used to.


MODEL Core series 2 Channel “h”
PRICE $1,499 street (head)
CONTROLS (Both channels) Volume, Bass, Mid, treble, Bright switch. (Clean chan- nel) Master. (Lead chan- nel) Master, Reverb
POWER 50 watts
TUBES three 12AX7, two 12At7, and one 12DW7 preamp tubes. two 6L6 power tubes
SPEAKERS tested with pRs 4x12 cab, $899 street
EXTRAS Effects loop w/send and return controls. 2-button footswitch included (channel select, reverb). Dual speaker jacks with 4/8/16Ω selector. Rear- panel biasing test points.
WEIGHT 30.5 lbs (head), 92.8 lbs (cab)
KUDOS Great range of clean to highly overdriven tones. Light and com- pact. spring reverb.


CONTACT traynor,
PRICE $1,159 street (head)
CONTROLS (Both channels) Gain, Volume, treble, Middle, Bass, Reverb, Effects, plus Boost, Vintage/ Modern, and Scoop or Bright switches. (Shared Master Section) Pres- ence, Resonance, Master Volume, and Solo Level (second Master) controls
POWER 100 watts Class a/B, 30 watts Class A
TUBES Four 12aX7 preamp tubes, four EL34 output tubes
SPEAKERS tested with YCS412a2 cab, $799 street
EXTRAS accutronics spring reverb. Footswitchable channels, reverb, and effects (chan- nel footswitch included). XLR DI out and Phones out with shared Level control. Pre-Out/amp-In jacks for series FX loop, plus paral- lel FX loop with Send Level control. tuner Out with front-panel tuner Mute switch. Parallel speaker outs with 4/8Ω switch (2/4Ω in Class a mode)
WEIGHT 52 lbs (head), 101 lbs (cab)
BUILT Canada
KUDOS Good sonic versatil- ity and an impressive bundle of features at this price range, particu- larly for an amp manufac- tured in North america.
CONCERNS Given the amp’s flexi- bility, the speaker-out impedance selections are somewhat limited.