Some amplifiers try to be all things to all players, while others focus on doing one or two things really well. Based on the classic EL84-powered Vox AC30 and AC15 amps, the Artemus (named after the character Artemus Gordon from the old TV series The Wild Wild West) falls squarely into the latter category, though designer Steve Carr added enough personal touches to distinguish it from its 1960s-era British forebears. In addition to the standard Volume, Bass, and Treble controls, there are two toggle switches that greatly affect the amp’s sound: the Edge switch engages a circuit that acts similarly to Vox’s original Top Boost option, increasing treble and high-mid bite, and the Mid switch filters out some of the midrange frequencies resulting in more of a blackface Fender sound. A third toggle switch halves the power from 30 to 15 watts.
The Artemus 1x12 combo sports an open-backed pine cabinet with dovetailed joints, covered in attractive blue Tolex. The amp’s top-shelf components are all meticulously hand wired point-to-point using no circuit boards of any kind. Carr opted for fixed bias rather than the AC30’s cathode bias with no negative feedback, and a cascode circuit employing 12AX7s rather than the problematically microphonic EF86 circuitry of yore. (Detailed instructions on biasing the amp’s power tubes are included in the Owner’s Manual, a process that is required whenever the EL84s are replaced.)
If you are the sort of guitarist that likes to turn up a tube amp until it distorts and then adjust your guitar’s volume control to get cleaner sounds at lower levels, or if you prefer to push a tube amp to the threshold of breaking up and then use a boost or overdrive pedal to make it really sing, you and the Artemus will understand each other perfectly. With its Volume control positioned a little below halfway, the Mid switch set to flat, and the Edge circuit switched off, the Artemus dished up moderately fat clean tones combining plenty of warmth with tight, sparkly highs. Engaging the Edge switch boosted the gain a little and produced a bigger, brighter, and more aggressive sound. Engaging the Mid switch added punch and overall clarity by reducing the gain slightly and tightening up the mids. And, of course, all of these sounds changed appreciably when the well-voiced Bass and Treble controls were adjusted. By tweaking knob and switch positions in various ways I was able to get great clean and slightly ragged sounds with a variety of guitar and pickup types. Personally, I preferred the flat Mid setting with Edge on and the tone controls set a little past halfway, particularly with humbucker-equipped guitars such as my PRS Custom 24 Brazilian and a Gibson Custom Shop ’59 Les Paul Standard.
Cranking the Volume control up well past halfway resulted in a thick, nicely compressed overdrive that responded beautifully to playing dynamics, particularly with Edge activated. When I really pushed it, the sound was fat and ballsy, with enough grind to cover some hard rock tasks—but what the Artemus really excels at are blusier, rootsier classic rock and pop tones that rely more on vibe and nuanced dynamic response than in-yourface gain and distortion. This amp is an impressive offering from one of the best American builders around.
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