Bruce Egnater’s contributions to the
amplifier world are a big deal—just ask
any guitarist who’s used a master volume
and gain control. At the height of arena rock
in the ’70s, Egnater was at the forefront of
developing amp designs that provided highgain
tones at reasonable volumes. Word got
out about the incredible work he was doing
on tube amps from his shop on Detroit’s 8
Mile Road, and the rest is history.
Today, Egnater Amplification remains
revered by high-gain nuts. And the Tweaker
amplifiers were designed with the same mindset
that drove Egnater three decades ago—to
build an amp with immense amounts of gain,
crystal cleans, and great tone at a manageable
volume. His newest introduction to the series,
the Tweaker-88, is built to satisfy those who
need a little more kick, with enough volume
on tap to cover the biggest gigs.
Tweaked to Perfection
The Tweaker line has historically been about
big tone in a small, all-tube packages, which
makes the Tweaker-88 a noteworthy deviation
from the formula. The 88’s maximum power
of 88 watts (duh) dwarfs its more diminutive
brethren, the Tweaker (15 watts) and the
Tweaker 40 (40 watts). Most players in the
market for an amp that accomplishes what
the first Tweakers were designed to do might
not be in the market for such a high-powered
amp, but those who enjoy Egnater’s approach
to big volume will doubtlessly be intrigued.
At the heart of the Tweaker-88’s preamp
circuit, you’ll find four 12AX7 preamp tubes
(two for the preamp signal itself, one for the
serial effects loop signal, and the last as the
phase inverter) and a pair of KT88 power
tubes. KT88s are commonly used for bass
amplifiers and high-grade, home-audio equipment
because of their capacity for high, clean
headroom. They’re much harder to push into
overdriven territories than EL84s, EL34s,
or 6L6s, which make them a fine choice for
country and indie-alt guitarists who like to
keep their tone as punchy and grit free as possible.
But heavy rockers gravitate towards their expansiveness, which is perfect for crafting
huge, bassy tones that can fill a room more
easily than dirtier power tubes.
Even when I had the treble control cranked above the 4
o’clock position, the highs were still surprisingly sweet,
round, and non-abrasive. Flipping the voicing to Modern
kicked in a healthy dose of highs and lows, but not enough
to introduce clashing overtones.
The Tweaker line is, to a certain extent,
about a tweaker-friendly layout, and the 88 has
a pretty straightforward 2-channel layout for
lower- and higher-gain tones. Each has its own
Master Volume control, along with a switch
that flips the power amp’s response from flatter,
vintage voicing to a more modern response
with boosts in the highs and lows. Both channels
also share a simple 3-band EQ, which
includes a Tweaker amplifier trademark—a
3-way Tone control switch. It engages three,
completely different, passive tone-stacks which
range from powerful low-mids (BRIT), sparkly
highs and strong lows (USA), and warm,
British smoothness (AC). Each of the channels
can be switched from the amp’s faceplate, or
from the included footswitch.
One of the nicest features of the
Tweaker-88 is its ability to set separate boost
levels for each channel and change how the
boost affects tone and response. Each channel
has its own boost level knob and 3-way
switch that changes the characteristics of the
boost by making it a clean or gain boost,
or switching it out of the circuit altogether.
They can also be conveniently switched in
and out via the amp’s 4-button footswitch.
With a namesake like “Tweaker,” it’s no
surprise that the Tweaker-88’s features don’t
stop there. Located to the left of the input jack
are two sets of controls (one for each channel)
that allow you to mold, twist, and morph the
gain structures themselves. Each begins with a
single preamp Gain control, and moves to four
separate switches that give you the option of
tightening or deepening the lows, boosting the
gain into metal territory, cutting or flattening
the mids, or brightening the top end. With all
these options at your disposal, the 88 is certainly
the most versatile and powerful amp in
the Tweaker line, and possibly one of the most
impressive in the entire Egnater family.
Show Me The Money
The strongest aspect of the Tweaker-88’s character
is derived from melding the juicy, warm
nature of the Egnater preamp design with a
powerful, clean power amp. Since the Tweaker
and Tweaker-40 employ 6V6 and 6L6 power
sections (respectively) with such small wattage,
the preamp tone is colored when cranking
the power section to overdriven levels.
They sound great in their own right, but
the Tweaker-88’s output section lets one of
Egnater’s best-sounding preamps breathe and
stretch its legs more than ever before.
Arpeggiated notes from a Fender
Telecaster soared through the 88’s Rhythm
channel with great detail in the midrange,
and a pleasant, soft high-end that’s become
a defining characteristic of Egnater amps.
Even when I had the treble control cranked
above the 4 o’clock position, the highs were
still surprisingly sweet, round, and non-abrasive.
Flipping the voicing to Modern kicked
in a healthy dose of highs and lows, but not
enough to introduce clashing overtones.
Each channel’s four, tone-shaping switches
helped me carve the tone in greater detail—
some with more noticeable effects than
others. The most drastic of these is the Hot/
Clean switch, which kicks the pristine clean
tone into dirtier territory for blues leads. The
Bright/Normal switch, meanwhile, adds tight highs that brought out the twangy tendencies
of the Tele’s bridge pickup for country
fingerpicking. The Tight/Deep switch yielded
some of my favorite tones from the amp,
keeping me in a Chet Atkins-inspired thrall
of smooth, lead work with soft, but present,
moving basslines over the top.
Kicked In The Teeth Again
Egnater amps are known for their copious
amounts of overdrive, and the Tweaker-88
is no exception. The amp’s Lead channel has
loads of gain on hand. But because of the
open and clean nature of the KT88-fueled
power section, the overdrive tones rarely got
congested—which I found to be an issue
with the Tweaker and Tweaker-40 amps at
extremely high-gain settings.
With a Les Paul in the chain, the
Tweaker-88’s Lead channel stayed firm and
solid in the low end and maintained a crisp,
high end no matter how much I pummeled
the strings. And the fierce-sounding,
mid range grind I first heard in Egnater’s
Tourmaster and Renegade amps ripped
through a Marshall JCM800 4x12 without
harshness. Egnater could have voiced the
highs and mids to have more of a razorsharp,
modern bite, but in passing over that
temptation, Egnater gives the amp a very
balanced personality—even with the master
volume’s voicing switch set to Modern. As
a result, I was able to hear every note in a
fat, Malcom Young-esque open chord, while
individual notes sang with body and richness.
Egnater’s new multi-faceted powerhouse
is an anomaly in the Tweaker line. It certainly
doesn’t fall under the small wattage,
bedroom-amp category, nor was it built
with low-volume recording as a top priority.
Its super-clean power amp creates a more
honest representation of the preamp’s tone
and does a great job of preserving a guitar’s
character, rather than exuding the raunchy
and rude attitude of its little brothers.
If you love the tone of Egnater’s punchy,
small-watt workhorses and crave the power
needed to project that tone across a club or
barroom floor, you simply cannot pass up
trying this amp out.
you’ve loved the thick, smooth tones
of the Tweaker amps, but have
always wanted more power.
you need onboard effects like reverb.