I’ll be the first to admit that when Egnater’s Tourmaster 4212 combo arrived in our offices a while back, the entire staff was a bit fearful of the thing. We physically despaired at the sight of this amp; weighing a no-joke 95 pounds and rolling uneasily on four industrial casters – requiring the pusher to put a full and unyielding back into it – the 4212 feels monolithic and immutable. The manual was thick, and the two extended rows of knobs on the front panel, spanning four channels plus a master section, were daunting as hell.
Of course, it wasn’t just the looks or the weight of the Tourmaster that had us drawing straws – we’ve all seen and played our share of high-gain behemoths before. It was because it said “Egnater” on the front panel, and we knew exactly what we were dealing with. This wouldn’t just be another high-gain combo; this was courtesy of Bruce Egnater, a man who has spent the last 30 years of his life exploring the world of gain and tubes, the man who frequently brings fire back from the gods and puts it into the hands of guitarists. We were messing with powers that no one quite understood. I envisioned my face melting like Major Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark
upon strumming my first power chord. But alas, the review must go on, so I tracked down a PRS Modern Eagle II, a Les Paul, a Strat, a few cords and entered the Tourmaster’s world.
|We also reviewed Egnater's Rebel 20. Read it here.
While the Tourmaster 4212 (essentially the combo version of the Tourmaster 4100 head) packs in a ton of features, it’s probably easiest to envision this thing as four separate amps shoehorned into one massive, 100-watt package. With this image in mind, the amp’s imposing front panel, lined with big, chunky knobs, becomes a little easier to grasp; the 4212 features two clean channels and two overdrive channels, each of which feature Gain, Bass, Mids, Treble and Volume controls, plus a Modern/Classic switch and a switchable Contour control. The Tourmaster rounds out the front face with a set of high/low inputs and a Master section consisting of a Volume, Reverb, Presence and Density controls.
Moving to the back panel reveals even more possibilities. The Tourmaster features a fully-featured, tube-driven effects loop, including series and parallel modes, and the ability to assign it to specific channels; a Record Out that provides a solid simulation of a mic placed at the edge of the combo’s dual Celestion Elite 80 12" speakers; tube biasing ports; and Speaker Out jacks, with switchable impedances. But the true gem hidden on the back panel is Egnater’s revolutionary Power Grid. Comprised of five innocuous sliders and accomplished through a uniquely designed power transformer, this grid allows users to set the power output for each channel in the amp. A Full Power/Half Power switch sets up the options available: in Full Power mode, users can set their channels to 100, 50 or 20 watts; in Half Power mode, the range shifts to 50, 25 and 10 watts.
For those not accustomed to this level of control, it’s truly a revolution in how you adjust your amp. If you’d like to get a big, fat, clean tone, you can set the clean channels at, say, 50 watts; you can simultaneously set your overdrive channels on the 25-watt setting to get those power tubes cooking without overpowering the entire mix. Aside from the Power Grid’s tonal utility, it also proves to be an eardrum/relationship/neighborhood saver, as the Tourmaster in full 100-watt mode can quickly become an exercise in sonic punishment (although it should be noted that the Tourmaster remains boisterous even in the lowest power settings). And while an amp pushing 10 watts through two 12” speakers will obviously not sound the same as an amp pushing 100 watts through the same pair, the Tourmaster pulls it off, sounding great at all of the given power settings – none of the amp’s character is ever lost in translation.
It may sound like there’s a lot tweaking to be done here, but dialing in the Tourmaster proved to be much easier than any of us anticipated. From the sheer tactile experience of twisting the knobs – each control is easy to read and feels substantial in the hand – to hearing the wide variety of sounds emanating from the Tourmaster’s custom-voiced Celestion speakers, it seems that Bruce Egnater has perfected the balance between options and ease of use. Want to adjust the settings until your bandmates threaten to quit? Go right ahead. Want to just plug in and play? You can do that too. The Tourmaster 4212 combo is truly one of the most versatile, powerful combos I’ve ever used.
While the 4212 is packed with a bevy of cool and innovative features, but we haven’t forgotten that it has to sound good, too. Featuring no less than eight 12AX7s and four 5881s – a close relative to the ubiquitous 6L6 – this amp is packed with some serious glass and ready to serve.
Because most of us know Egnater for in-your-face gain, the first channel (Clean/Vintage 1) is perhaps the biggest surprise here. All of the sounds here were gorgeous and pristine, even with the humbucker-equipped PRS, all while remaining full-bodied; imagine a British amp doing its best vintage Fender impression and you’ll get the Tourmaster. With the Classic setting engaged, there’s a significant amount of midrange punch and an impressively tight low-end; flipping the voicing switch to Modern hollows things out a bit, removing some of that midrange emphasis and allowing the trebles to shine back through. Perhaps the most impressive part about this channel is the amount of headroom present; unless you have the Gain jacked to the right, this channel refuses to breakup. As a rather heavy-handed player myself, I can report that even my hardest attacks remained clean and clear.
If you’re the type of guitarist that prefers to park it on one channel and let your Volume knob do the talking, the second channel (Clean/Vintage 2) is for you. Arguably the most versatile channel out of the four, this channel packs in more gain than the first, but is capable of the same balanced, crystalline cleans. With the Classic setting engaged and a little help from the Gain knob, you’ll be reliving your vintage Marshall days in no time. This channel does an exemplary job of showcasing the Tourmaster’s sensitivity and response – with just a Volume knob and a set of attentive hands, you’ll be able to take this channel from clean rhythm strumming all the way into a Zeppelin solo.
Of course, clean channels are only so much fun; the third channel, Overdrive 1, finally introduces us to the crunch that Egnater has built a name upon. The position of the voicing switch will determine the sounds you’ll get out of this channel: with the switch in the Classic position, you’ll get a classic British crunch – pair it with an SG and you’ve got the perfect AC/DC cover band rig; with the switch in the Modern position, you’ll scoop out some of that midrange and hear more Mesa/Boogie than Marshall. The Contour control, available on all of the channels, really shines on the Overdrive channels, allowing you to completely shape the midrange content (or lack thereof) of your signal to your liking.
The fourth channel, Overdrive 2, is the deepest end of the pool and where the Tourmaster’s scariest tones hide. With the Classic setting engaged, the Tourmaster does its best souped-up Marshall impression, perfect for sustaining lead lines; with the Modern setting engaged, this becomes one of the heaviest, tightest combos on the block. Using a combination of the Contour control and a light touch on the Master Density knob (essentially a bass boost), you can sculpt impressively deep modern metal sounds. Better yet, even at the craziest of gain settings, the Tourmaster retains a crisp definition through the entire frequency spectrum – only when pushing the Bass or Density knobs far to the right did things become muddy or indistinct. While the single-coil Strat was tough to control at higher settings, the humbucker-equipped guitars loved this channel, begging me to keep playing long after my ears had had enough.
The Final Mojo
This amp’s absurd weight aside, the Tourmaster 4212 combo is truly a stroke of genius. Each channel sounds spectacular, and offers a wide swath of sounds with a friendly handful of controls. The tone-shaping capabilities are unparalleled in a combo, and the inclusion of features like a versatile effects loop and Record Out are great. The Power Grid is an even bigger bonus, meaning that you can have both saturated power tubes and a happy spouse in one package, all without losing gigging capabilities. If you’ve been on the market for a combo that gives you both classic and modern rock sounds, without neglecting the cleans, you cannot do better than the Tourmaster 4212 – especially when you begin comparing price tags. Oh, and my face is still in one piece, so there’s that.
you want one of the most versatile, powerful combos available.
you don't have a roadie or ranch-style house.