Egnater Tweaker-88 Amp Review
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.
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.
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