Clips recorded with a 2009 Fender American Tele
Reinhold Bogner has a reputation as
a master builder of great-sounding,
amps such as the Ecstasy, Shiva, and
Überschall—each of which is a legend
in the hard-rock and metal worlds. But
Bogner says he’s always had an ear for the
magic of a little amp, and that has made
him well positioned to leverage the en
vogue status of smaller rigs. Bogner and the
company that bears his name entered this
game a couple of years ago with the 18-watt
Mojado (which has since been replaced
by the Palermo), but he’s since gone on to
introduce even more diminutive amps in
the new International Series—a line of big-toned,
low-wattage amp s that includes the
Barcelona combo reviewed here.
The International Series is inspired more
by a “compact is good” ethos than a single
approach to design, circuitry, or tube type.
Its models vary in voice and character, with
something for just about any player not
seeking high-gain tones. With 40 watts of
6CA7 power, the Barcelona speaks with
a ’60s British accent, loads of clean headroom,
and a defined punch that’s less typical of Anglo amps.
A League of Its Own
At its core, the Class AB Barcelona is a very
simple amplifier. It’s among the most powerful
amps in the International line in terms of
wattage, though the 40 watts can be throttled
back to 20 watts via the amp’s standby
switch. This portion of the circuit works in
tandem with a power transformer that’s custom-
wound exclusively for an 8 Ω speaker
load (in this case, a Celestion Vintage 30).
A trio of JJ 12AX7 tubes is the core of the
amp’s single preamp channel. Instead of a traditional
three-band EQ section, the preamp
employs Treble and Bass knobs and a 3-way
Mid EQ switch that flips between scooped,
flat, and boosted midrange voicings. And
while the Barcelona is built principally for a crystal-clean headroom, Bogner also threw in a Gain control for added versatility. Pulling that control out kicks in the amp's Fat mode, which boosts the gain and bass.
When you boil it down, the Barcelona is
geared for ’60s British jangle and punch.
There’s a percussive snap in the attack,
combined with Bogner’s signature muscularity
and smooth midrange voicing that’s
reminiscent of a healthy vintage Marshall
JTM45—but with a little more aggression.
With a Strat at one end of the cable
and all of the amp’s controls at noon, the
Barcelona sounded simply brilliant, with
a nice, thick low end supporting each
plucked note. The tone had a surprisingly
monstrous body—much bigger and rounder
than what I’d expect from a 1x12 openback
cabinet. The Bass and Treble controls
each have a wide range, but careful use of
the Master Volume is just as important in
the quest for sweet tones. Punchy, brash
tones issued forth when it was dialed to
about 3 o’clock, but below that the amp
took on a jazzier, darker voice—perfect for
both the Strat’s neck pickup and the neck
and middle pickups together.
When I needed brighter tones, turning
up the Treble and Gain did the trick. But
to really get sharp, bright tones out of the
Barcelona, it’s best to rely on your picking
hand. One of the really beautiful things about
the Barcelona is how much headroom there
is for getting the most out of your attack.
When I wanted a spanky country vibe for
some Jerry Reed-esque fingerpicked rolls,
the Barcelona was more than accommodating—
but I got the most effective results with
aggressive pick attack. This is a very honest
amplifier that’s extremely sensitive to how
tight and clean your style playing is.
That said, the Barcelona’s tone stack has
a lot of range that makes it easy to dial in a
variety of very desirable sounds. I was particularly
taken by how effectively the Mid
EQ switch reined-in spiky midrange peaks
on the scooped setting—making it a snap
to achieve just the right level of midrange
raunch without sacrificing definition in the
highs or boom in the lows. This reining in
was particularly helpful after I plugged in
a Les Paul loaded with a rather hot set of
Tom Anderson humbuckers (an H3 in the
bridge position and an H1 in the neck). The
scooped position brought out a voice akin
to a vintage blackface Fender Twin Reverb,
taming the Les Paul’s aggression but leaving
a toothy bite and piano-like bass response.
Even when I played the Paul with a heavy
picking hand and the Barcelona’s Gain control
maxed, the tone remained clean and clear
across the board. It wasn’t until I cranked
the Master Volume to around 2 or 3 o’clock
that it started to growl—but at that point the
amp seemed almost absurdly loud for such a
small combo. Bogner recommends relying on
pedals to achieve significant overdrive when
using the Barcelona, and I’d concur after
enduring such blisteringly high volume in
order to get the amp to overdrive naturally.
For players with a taste for clean, impeccably
detailed tones, the Bogner Barcelona is
hard to beat. Its ease of use and Texas-sized
sounds makes it a winner for any player who
needs a combo for gigging and studio use.
It isn’t a very forgiving amp if you’re sloppy,
and coaxing the sweetest tones is very much
a matter of touch, but those traits also set it
apart from many similarly powered combos.
As with the rest of Bogner’s International
line, simplicity and portability are the
Barcelona’s key qualities—qualities that
stand in sharp contrast to the features that
come to mind when many players think of
Bogner Amplification. However, if simplicity
is your game, the Barcelona could be
your path to positively glorious tones.Watch the video review:
your need for clean headroom and
dynamics trounces your desire for
effects loops and multiple channels.
you need amp overdrive at
a manageable volume level.