Leo Fender may have been a genius, but
his legacy has benefitted from more
than a few happy accidents. Consider the
Fender Bassman: This tweed beast was
never intended for guitarists—it surfaced in
1952 to go along with the Fender Precision
Bass. But somewhere down the road, a budding
guitarist plugged his 6-string into a
Bassman and a classic guitar amp was born.
Leo’s great tweed Bassman circuit
(known far and wide by amp nerds as the
5F6A) was such a success it has inspired
imitators and homages ever since. No less
than Jim Marshall launched his amplification
empire with his take on a ’59
Bassman—the JTM45—and 50 years later,
amp builders are still plying those waters.
Grammatico Amps is one of the most
impressive of these and the Austin-based
outfit has created a groundswell of praise
for it sole product, the Bassman-inspired
Kingsville. It was good enough to get the
attention of Bassman-champion Jimmie
Vaughan, who purportedly wrote John
Grammatico a check after playing a few
runs through a Kingsville. We were, as it
turns out, similarly impressed.
The Kingsville’s top-panel control layout
will be familiar to anyone who has ever
used a tweed Bassman. It’s a simple control
set—presence, middle, bass, treble, bright
volume, and normal volume, all on a scale
of 1 to 12—though it takes a little adjustment
if you’re more accustomed to simpler
blackface-style control arrays.
Each channel (bright and normal) has
two separate inputs, and the second is
ostensibly better suited for instruments
with higher output. Aside from the tone
controls, there’s a threaded orange indicator
jewel, an on/off switch, a standby switch,
and an easy-access fuse holder. Curiously,
there’s also a spot for a ground switch, but
this is purely for the cosmetically nostalgic—
it’s not actually hooked up.
John Grammatico’s exacting approach to
building the Kingsville is impressive. When
he tired of sifting through signal capacitors
that weren’t up to his standards, he had
his own made in the USA. And the entire
circuit is an amp tech’s dream with flawless
handwiring and snug, but accessible components.
The 45-watt power section is driven
by two Tung-Sol 5881 tubes, and the amp
offers three Electro-Harmonix 12AX7s in
the preamp and a 5AR4 for the rectifier.
For all of the vintage exactitude that
goes into the Kingsville, the amp deviates
from tweed styling dogma. Instead, the
finger-jointed solid pine cabinet is dressed
in a crème-colored vinyl that bridges the
tweed and early piggyback eras. And while
the entire amplifier weighs in at a svelte 42
pounds, the craftsmanship makes the amp
feel exceptionally rugged and solid. You get
the sense no expense was spared building
these regal beasts, and they’ll hold up for
years with regular maintenance.
An Agreeable Sort
One of the most beautiful aspects of the
original Bassman is that it works well with
just about any guitar, and here the Kingsville
doesn’t disappoint. With a Stratocaster
running into the normal channel and the
volume up to about 8, you can nail the sultry
and powerful tones of “Voodoo Chile.”
Kick it up to 10 and you’re flirting with the
“Slight Return” territory.
The Kingsville’s build quality shines at
these loud volumes. It’s noise and rattle free
and rings with harmonic clarity. Single-coils
at these levels generate that distinct vintagetube
crunch that’s bristling with attitude
and authority. Sharp punches at a Telecaster
will send you into smoldering Keith
Richards territory, and you can access Page’s
slicing single-note lead tones by stepping up
your pick attack.
If you favor humbuckers, you need not
fear muddiness. A tweak of the treble and
presence knobs will clear up the output
from a Les Paul, and rolling down the amp
volume helps accommodate the Gibson’s
higher output while communicating a blistering
blues twang. Using the bright channel
for humbuckers gets you even further
out front of the low end without sacrificing
the substantial bass voice that’s such a vital
part of the Bassman sound. It’s a great texture
for playing against a bass.
The Kingsville is a blast to drive into
dirty zones, but its capacity for truly gorgeous
cleaner tones is remarkable. Telecasters
and Stratocasters demonstrated a complex,
charismatic tone at just a third of full volume.
The Kingsville is exceptionally responsive
to picking dynamics, and this quality
makes it an excellent choice for slide players.
The presence control is great for adding
a touch of top-end brilliance once you dial
in your EQ. This knob doesn’t simply add
more treble like some presence controls, but
seems to lend some air to a wide band of
upper frequencies—perfect for adding body
and authority to high notes.
Even though the Kingsville’s tone is distinctly
tweed, the amp’s inherent compression
is more musical than super squishy,
giving the combo an openness that some
tweeds lack. It even has a hint of blackface
boominess that, when matched with the
tight low-end of a tweed-style circuit, creates
a subtle hybrid of vintage Fender-style tones.
If you’ve found yourself on a quest for
early rock ’n’ roll tone, you just can’t do
better than the Grammatico Kingsville.
Undeniable sound, a remarkable EQ, and
careful craftsmanship will surely impress
any vintage aficionado—on stage or in the
studio. The $2,500 price tag isn’t exactly
peanuts, but the handbuilt quality and
sense of craft really justifies it if you have
the coin. This is one case where you’re likely
to get what you paid for.