Premier Guitar

3rd Power Amplification American Dream 1x12 Combo Amp Review

October 20, 2010

Download Example 1
Strat, clean tone on Blackface channel at 22-watts
Download Example 2
Les Paul, mean and dirty tone, Brownface channel at 10-watts
Download Example 3
Richmond Dorchester bluesy-clean open tuning tone, Blackface channel at 22-watts
Clips recorded with a Shure SM57 into a Chandler LTD-1 mic pre directly into Pro Tools.
3rd Power Amplification may be a fairly new name in the amp business, but don’t mistake that for inexperience. Designer Jamie Scott has chased perfect tone for several decades, a quest that began in his early days as the original (and current) guitarist for the San Francisco metal band, Vain. Debuting at the 2010 summer NAMM show in Nashville, the handwired, Fender Deluxe-inspired American Dream is the second amp to be released from 3rd Power.

American Built, American Vibe
The American Dream is a 1x12 combo utilizing a Celestion Alnico Gold speaker housed in a very striking and unique cabinet. The cab incorporates 3rd Power’s triangular speaker chamber, which is designed to eliminate standing waves and enhance clarity. There are two vents that let sound escape through the sides of the amp, as well as a removable triangular back panel that lends a touch of open-back sound. With its white Tolex and salt-and-pepper grille cloth, the American Dream looks very mid-century American. And adorned with a black control panel with white chicken head knobs, heavy-duty toggles, and a red jewel light, the amp looks cool, classy, and functional.

The front panel is fairly sparse, given there are two channels available. From left to right, Channel 1 (the “brownface” channel) features an input, Bright switch, Volume, and Tone controls. Channel 2 (“blackface”) also has an input and Bright switch, but is followed by Volume, Treble, and Bass controls. A global Presence knob and 3-way switch with settings for 22 watts, standby, and 10 watts is adjacent to the Power switch and jewel light. The back panel has an IEC power input, fuses, and four speaker outputs (16 Ω external, 8 Ω internal, and 8 Ω internal + 8 Ω external).

The American Dream runs on a pair of 6L6 power tubes and boasts a two-stage preamp that uses 12AX7 preamp tubes. Staying true to the vintage concept, there is no effects loop or reverb on the amp.

Plug and Play
Because it’s not bogged down by bells and whistles, getting a good tone with the American Dream pretty much comes down to plugging in and playing. You’d have to work hard to get a bad sound out of the amp, but make no mistake—that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of tonal variety inside. Plugging my Les Paul into the Brownface channel, I dialed in a killer, dirty tone that conjured up sounds reminiscent of the first Montrose record. There was some of the low-end splatter that comes from a cranked Fender, but that’s part of the charm of playing this style of amp. Note definition and clarity was superb and dynamic response was excellent. This is a very touch-sensitive amp. Without accessing the guitar’s volume knob, I went from clean to dirty just by digging in harder with the pick—and this amp likes hard picking!

Like many vintage brownface amps, there is less headroom and the mids bark a little more. But the triangular internal design and side vents open up the sound and give it a wide, dimensional quality that feels like full-blooming stereo compared to the highly focused and compressed projection of a normal, closed-back cab. Removing the triangular back panel lets the amp breathe even more, and the tone opens up accordingly. Engaging the Bright switch adds more top-end spank and chime, while the Tone control, though somewhat subtle, offers plenty of range.

As I explored this channel, I found the global Presence control becomes more effective as the amp revs up in volume. This control is voiced in such a way that the tone never gets harsh or brittle, just fuller and more cutting in the mids.



Clear as Black
Moving to the Blackface channel gave me more headroom and clarity, making the American Dream perfect for mating with pedals. The combo revealed the full character of just about every pedal I threw in front of it. If you’re a guitarist who favors pedal textures, this amp makes a perfect blank slate.

Switching guitars to a Fender Stratocaster made it clear why the combination of Strat and Deluxe has always been so revered. From the first chord, the American Dream was bold, chimey, clear, and powerful. The response of the amp felt like an extension of my nervous system. It was both immediate and springy, giving me the feeling of the guitar being played back from the amp. Typically when I play with this clean of a setting, my amp feels a little too unforgiving, but in this case it was positively inspiring. At full volume, the American Dream gave way to a beautiful, blooming gain that was warm, detailed, and willing to get rude with a little force from my right hand.

When I switched to the 10-watt output setting, I experienced an apparent, but not huge volume drop. The most obvious change was in the response. It became a little darker in tone, but there was also a spongier feel and faster breakup in the tone. I liked this setting for pushing the amp and getting some grit without killing everyone in the house with volume, and I could see the effectiveness of this option for clubs. It’s a great feature and adds useful tonal variety to what seems like a very simple amp, when you look at the front panel.

The Verdict
The American Dream reminds you how much you can do with simplicity, and how a few knobs can offer a wide world of tone. The innovative cabinet design opens up a new dimension in sound dispersion, and the amp makes you never want to quit playing. For all its clarity and richness, it makes pedals sound terrific. And while it isn’t a small combo, it doesn’t weigh a ton. It’s easy to see myself taking the American Dream along with a few pedals to just about any gig and getting every tone under the sun. One can dream, right?

Buy if...
you love classic American tones and want a perfect blank slate for exploring pedal tones.
Skip if...
you need a Swiss-Army amp to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
Rating...


Street $2499 - 3rd Power Amplification - 3rdpower.com