||Download Example 1
Epiphone Sheraton with Tom Holmes PAFs. Amp settings: Presence - noon, Bright Volume - full, Normal Volume - noon
||Download Example 2
Same Sheraton. Amp settings: Bright Volume - off, Normal Volume - full
||Download Example 3
2008 Fender Strat with Sheptone singlecoils. Amp settings: Presence - 2 o'clock, Bright Volume - noon, Normal Volume - noon
|All clips were recorded with Shure SM57 directly into a Chandler LTD mic pre with no EQ and recorded on a Pro Tools HD3 Accel rig.
So, one day a package arrives at my door and like most people I get excited and tear it open. The package reveals a somewhat disconcerting visual… an Army surplus .50 caliber ammunition box; I mean, this thing was straight out of the Army/Navy surplus store, not an imitation or look-alike. One would normally jump to conclusions that they’re either the target of the new Unabomber or other slightly off-kilter individual, but that’s not the case at all. Upon closer inspection this isn’t a bomb; it’s a tube guitar amp. How very novel! Excited to check it out, I decided to hold on a bit before plugging it in, and instead browsed through the eight-page, leaflet-like manual to get an idea of what this amp is all about. The manual reads like a mix of a howto guide and a comedy routine, which is fun and refreshing since manuals tend to bore me to death. After a few minutes of reading I was armed with all of the necessary information to rock and I plugged in … cue phonograph needle ripping across a record … hold on, let’s not get ahead of ourselves now. Let me tell you a bit about this crazy thing.
Amplifier No. 7 is the flagship model from BC Audio, built by designer and award-winning guitarist Bruce Clement. Rather than basing the design off an existing vintage amp, the No.7 is referred to as a “hand-made, all-tube, non-clone guitar amp.” The amp runs either a pair of 6V6s for 15 watts, or 5881s for 25 watts. The reviewed amp came with EH 6V6s. Rather than the typical 12AX7 preamp tubes, it uses a pair of 6SL7 Octal tubes. It’s also tube rectified with a NOS 5Y3 rectifier tube, which brings the total tube count on the amp to five. Since the amp is built inside the ammo box you need to open it up to access the controls, which is as easy as opening, well, an ammo box! Just lift up the side latch and it swings up to the left to reveal all of the controls, as well as inputs and outputs— everything is on the front panel. You can choose to keep the lid connected, or detach it by sliding it off the hinge, which is clever and handy. The layout couldn’t be much simpler. Starting on the left is a standard EIC power inlet followed by a red square power indicator. To the right of the power light is a 3-way, heavy-duty toggle switch where the down position is off, middle is standby and top is on. After the toggle is a standard 1/4" speaker jack, followed by the only three knobs on the amp: Presence, Bright Volume and Normal Volume. At the right end is the single guitar 1/4" input jack. That’s it.
Opening up the amp to check out the guts, I found something you don’t see very often these days: true point-to-point construction. No turret board, no PCB, no nothing. Just perfectly laid out components connected directly to each other at right angles and with ridiculous attention to detail. It all started making sense now: Army ammo box, Mil-spec wiring … hmm. It’s definitely a theme and a real testament to perfection and simplicity. This particular No.7 is actually serial number 1, the first one built, and it is signed and dated by Mr. Clement right there on the inside of the chassis. The chassis is solid as a rock and everything soldered or bolted to it is pure, high-quality stuff. All of this is beautiful and interesting to look at and certainly something to appreciate, but it all comes down to the tone. What about the tone?
I didn’t have my old basketweave 4x12 available at the time, so instead I plugged the No. 7 into a Krank 1x12 loaded with an Eminence Governor. With two 6V6s it pushes out a loud 15 watts, as there is no master volume. As the manual says, in order to get this thing to distort you gotta crank it. ‘Nuff said. I plugged my Epiphone Sheraton loaded with Tom Holmes PAFs directly in and cranked the Bright Volume up all the way, Presence set at noon. Right there in front of me came a whollop and kerrang that I’ve never experienced from a little 6V6 amp. To me, 6V6s are a great tube but traditionally suffer from a flubby bottom end. In this amp’s case there was none of that, just a pure and gorgeous saturated tone that reminded me of a mix of a Superlead and an AC30. To say that the tone was sweet would be doing it a disservice. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s like the amp just blew the guitar up without adding anything but good stuff to it: superb, thick power tube gain with no artifacts or anything else getting in the way, and a pick attack that was downright explosive. It totally felt like a 100-watt amp with all the headroom you’d ever need, just by rolling back the guitar’s volume. The sustain was ridiculous, and along with the Sheraton it bloomed into a gorgeous feedback that was perfectly musical. It felt like a magic blend of muscle, tone and pure rock and roll.
The No. 7 is set up like a 4-input Marshall that’s been bridged internally in that you can blend both the Bright and Normal Volumes together to create a wide variety of tones. Since there is no tone stack, you’re left with a single Presence adjustment to vary it from “browner” tones to something with a good deal of teeth. Another thing is those Octal tubes. I’ve found that many lower-powered designs that use 12AX7s tend to be a bit buzzy. The 6SL7s add a girthy and thick element that sounds robust and less like a gnat stuck in your ear. Hey, I like 12AX7s just like the rest of us, but there is definitely a special quality to the 6SL7s.
Keeping the Epiphone plugged in, I pulled back the Bright volume all the way and cranked the Normal Volume. This tone is similar to the Normal channel on a Marshall Superlead … a bit darker and less aggressive. This isn’t a bad thing, just another tonal variety built in rather than a treble, middle, bass setup. I was treated to a thick, wailing tone on the neck pickup and a great, blooming sound. A little less edge at first, but I pushed the Presence up to nearly full and it brought out more AC30-like chime to the tone. Beautiful rock and roll. Moving on, I plugged in my ’08 Fender Strat and dimed every control. Rolling the Strat’s volume back while in the neck pickup setting conjured tones similar to Hendrix’s cleaner sounds, all the while threatening a serious sonic assault with a roll up of the guitar’s volume knob. I backed off both amp volumes to around noon and was able to pull up some fantastic clean and semi-clean/dirty tones. The thing that blew me away was that at every setting the amp had a presence about it that felt both familiar and new at the same time. It’s like having a handful of your favorite classic tube amps at your fingertips but still hearing something new and fresh. This is an amp that you can play for hours and never get bored with. I must have played straight for three hours before I took a break.
No doubt there are a lot of players that believe you need more bells and whistles to make an amp sound good, but the No. 7 proves you need nothing more than three knobs to make it work. Honestly, if the Presence were fixed at noon and there were no Normal Volume, this amp would still produce more nuance and tone than most amps I’ve played and I’d never miss not having more to twiddle with. It wakes up your guitars and exposes them for what they are, which was refreshing to my ears. I could really hear the qualities of my Les Pauls, Strats, Danelectros and Teles so clearly it made me wonder why I’d ever need anything else. Sure there’s no FX loop, channel switching or boost, but it never came up as an issue. And, if you’re a pedal freak, you’ve got nothing to worry about as this amp takes them like a schooled pro. I ran a variety of boxes ranging from a Mutron Octave Divider to a Hartman Octave Fuzz to an old Boss SD-1 with great results. The No. 7 handles pedals just like guitars— it lets their quality shine through. I ain’t Eric Johnson, but there was a minute there where I could almost tell what type of battery was in the pedals!
Reviewing amps is tough these days. With so many builders out there making new designs as well as updated or revised versions of classics, we truly are experiencing a renaissance. It takes a lot to stand out above the others and proclaim something is “better.” Better is also subjective, as we all know. That said, this reviewer places the No. 7 firmly in the “Better” category, if not the “Best.” It just does everything I would ever ask of an amp, and it does it with style, grace and total rock and roll abandon. Oh yeah, one final note before I go; if ammo boxes aren’t your style just contact BC Audio and they can get you hooked up with a rackmount kit so you can put it in your refrigerator rack. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!
you want an uncompromising pure rock and roll tone in an inventive package.
you gotta have bells and whistles to make you feel good about the purchase price.