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Knowing Louis Rosano’s reputation among boutique amp enthusiasts and the list of artists who’ve sought out both his amps and his skills as a repairman, it’s easy to expect a great-sounding amp with an old-school energy. Add in the fact that the design of the original KR-12 combo came out of his consultations with Keith Richards and Hubert Sumlin, and that Robben Ford and Jorma Kaukonen both went for the new KR-12 head and 2x12 cab configuration after hearing and playing one on tour, and it becomes easier to suspect that it’s not just great tone that makes this particular amplifier so highly regarded. In fact, it is sturdily built and has great tone, but it also possesses an uncommon versatility and real workhorse simplicity. That’s ideal for any kind of bona fide blues, jazz, or straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, of any era.
The head and cabinet version of the KR-12 is basically the same handwired amplifier as the combo; the pine cabinet and aluminum chassis construction are both top notch, and there are a number of thoughtful details that add to the amp’s appeal, such as the large, comfortable handles, and the extra tall legs on the head, so it sits sturdily on top of the speakers without wobbling. Both head and speaker cabinet are covered in black tolex with salt-and-pepper grille cloth, giving it a clean, classic look, and since the whole rig is only 33" tall, the control panel is on top of the head rather than on the front, saving you from having to crouch or bend over in front of it to make adjustments.
The 50-watt amplifier uses three 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL34 output tubes (it can also run 6L6s), and a 5AR4 rectifier, and has two inputs for the Normal channel and two for the Gain channel, in four increasing gain stages. The control panel includes large chickenhead knobs for Volume, Master Volume, Treble, Bass, Middle and Presence, as well as On/Off, Standby and ground switches, and an amber indicator lamp. The accompanying 8-ohm 2x12, open-backed pine cabinet uses dovetail joint construction and carries a pair of 12" Celestion G12H30 speakers.
One of Louis’s personal touches is the Damping control, which allows you to change the amount of negative feedback in the power section using a potentiometer on the rear of the chassis. From the tightest damping to the most open, the control changes bloom and volume of notes appreciably, along with the feel and response of the amp, offering additional versatility to shaping the amp’s tone and performance characteristics. There is no reverb, trem or effects loop here—but I wouldn’t argue with those who say they’re not necessary. The Master Volume control this KR-12 provides is updated from the original design; Louis began using it in more recent combos to better accommodate the different gain stages of the preamp. It is very useable, making it a simple task to get nicely saturated dirty tones at respectable levels—but this amp does have plenty of power, and it really shines with some volume.