With its reputation as one of the most versatile modern amplifiers ever made, it seems only fitting that Bogner’s flagship amp, the Ecstasy, would receive the 20th Anniversary treatment. It’s an intimidating-looking beast for sure, with a total of fourteen control knobs and ten micro switches on the faceplate alone. Reinhold has a reputation for constantly revising and improving his designs even after the product is released, and the Ecstasy has been one of his most laborious endeavors to date. For the 20th Anniversary model, he went with a brand new preamp circuit that differs from the Classic model that most Bogner players are familiar with.
I tested the head with its matching 4x12 cabinet, loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s, a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom with Tom Anderson pickups, and a 2008 Fender American Stratocaster. After letting the amp warm up and plugging in the Gibson, I noticed a feature on the footswitch that a lot of amp manufacturers should take note of: a standby switch. This is a fantastic idea, especially for recording musicians with their amps in isolation rooms. Being able to put the amp in standby from the footswitch seems like a minor feature, but it really is convenient—I’m surprised that it hasn’t been implemented in more amps.
The clean channel has a simple three-band EQ, and an assortment of tone-shaping switches. A three-position Pre-EQ switch—designed to react like a Bright switch on an old Twin—works in tandem with the Gain control. The lower the gain, the more effect the Pre-EQ setting will have. Eventually, I found a really great blues clean with the switch at B1, and the Gain just barely on the edge of breakup. On this setting the Ecstasy becomes very sensitive to pick attack, and digging in harder to the strings yielded a killer, harmonically rich blues lead. Activating the Gain Boost on the footswitch only made it fatter and more pleasing, which was perfect for long, sustaining runs.
For more high-gain applications, channels 2 and 3 really brought the goods. Both channels share a three-band EQ and have their own exclusive Gain and Volume controls. Each also has its own Pre-EQ control, like channel 1—but these treat the tone very differently, offering more than just added brightness. Bogner designed these switches to voice the channels, offering very perceptible changes to the tone when activated. One of my favorite tones coaxed from the second channel was with the Pre-EQ at B1, EQ settings slightly off from high noon, and the Gain set at 1 o’clock. Using the Strat and the best Eric Johnson-copping licks that I could muster, the Ecstasy pumped out one of the best low-gain rock tones that I’ve heard in a long time, complete with great sensitivity and extraordinary attack.
The 20th Anniversary Ecstasy also has assignable Presence controls that really do go a long way in helping you dial in the tone that you’re after. Before heading to the gain monster that was channel 3, I gave the Plexi Mode a spin. Players can assign this mode to either channel 2 or 3; it drastically lowers the preamp gain to allow the amp to imitate those great British amps from the ‘60s. It was pretty startling to hear just how well the Ecstasy did this in comparison to my ’67 and ’73 Marshall Super Bass heads. While those amps have more inherent low end, a lot of the same qualities were present in the Bogner: smooth upper mids, warm highs and, like most old Plexis, an even better sound when cranked to high heaven. I played with this one channel for hours before I even thought about the next one. It would make a great amp all on its own.
Forging ahead, I switched over to channel 3 and plugged in the Les Paul. This is the sound that made Bogner famous. Imagine the best qualities of British high-gain amplifiers melded into one, monstrous sound. Channel 3 has massive preamp gain on tap. It’s almost completely saturated by the time the gain control hits 10 o’clock. With many high-gain amplifiers, a higher setting would result in congestion and flabby definition; while the Ecstasy can be susceptible to this, careful dialing with the Master Volume and a lower preamp gain setting can control it.
Just like the Shiva, the Ecstasy has Pre-EQ switches for each of its three channels. With the switch set at N (normal brightness) and the tone controls set so that the treble and bass were boosted slightly, a great high-gain rock tone materialized almost effortlessly. With the assignable Presence control added on, the amp achieved an amazing, tight hard rock sound, a’la Jerry Cantrell and Adam Jones. Channel 3 was without doubt capable of delivering some of the best heavy rock tones that I’ve ever heard. But even with its massive power and gain, this high-gain monster doesn’t hide any mistakes. The Ecstasy is a player’s amp, and has no time for sloppiness.
The front panel features of the Ecstasy are only half of the equation. Starting off on the far left side of the rear panel, the head includes an effects loop (switchable between series and parallel) with its own Mix and Master Volume controls. Using these together allows the player maximum control over the loop mix, preventing any unwanted clipping. The panel also houses three channel select buttons (in case you want to leave the footswitch at home) and a line out jack with level control. To the right of that is a more curious option, a switch labeled “Old/New.” This is a selector to switch between Pentode and Triode modes. When the amp is in “New” (pentode) mode, all four power tubes are working on full power; when it’s in “Old” (triode) mode, only three out of five elements in each tube are running. Its effect is to smooths out the frequencies, and it reminds me of a cathodebiased amp in terms of sound and playability. The downside is that reduces power output, so it limits headroom—watch your Volume and Gain controls when the head is in this state.
Finally, the Ecstasy also sports a half-power option with a switch that takes two of the power tubes out of the circuit and knocks it down to 60 watts. For anybody who’s ever run their 100-watt head with only two tubes and enjoyed the tone, this is for you—though you will have to change the impedance setting in this mode. Combined with the Old/New switch, this option lets the player tame the head to a respectable volume.
The Final Mojo
you love British-voiced tone, and you’re after an amp that can do it all with its own flavor.
you need a simpler rig. While the Ecstasy covers a lot of ground quite well, some might be more comfortable with a simple combo and a pedal.
Both the 20th Anniversary Shiva and Ecstasy amplifiers are visually and aurally stunning— fitting tributes to the two decades of incredible guitar tones that Reinhold Bogner has given the music world. The Shiva’s smooth and commanding gain channel coupled with one of the best clean channels in the business makes it a simple, highly usable and unique amplifier for gigging and recording. The reverb sounds phenomenal, and the Excursion knob is a great tool for tuning the amp to the cabinet of your choice. For those players who desire more options at their fingertips, the Ecstasy, with its three separate channels and myriad of usable customization choices, is an incredible choice with very few alternatives in its league. Each channel has its own character and feels like a separate amplifier altogether, and the assignable Presence controls are very effective in helping the player zero in on the tone in their head.
Each amp comes with an optional matching cabinet, 2x12” or 4x12”, finished in the same white tolex and salt-and-pepper grille cloth that adorns the heads. The circuitry and materials are essentially the same as the standard offerings, both are loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s, and both sound very impressive. I think ultimately that’s what impresses me the most about the both of these amps; while most pieces of gear with a lot of tonal options can intimidate a player, these just make me want to play even more. These are tools that will inspire players to create.