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Goodsell Black Dog 50 Review

January 15, 2009

Sound Clips Coming Soon!
Don’t judge an amp by its cover: that’s apparently the lesson I have to keep relearning. There’s been plenty of anticipation about Richard Goodsell’s promise to branch out into new territory (for him at least) with his new Black Dog 50, and the high-gain crowd has certainly been wondering when Goodsell was going to produce something just right for them—but I’ve had so much on my plate lately, I had to put it in the back of my mind to look into later.

As a result, when the amp came out of the shipping box I made a number of assumptions about how it would sound based solely on the way it looked. The Marshall-style big box head cabinet said only one thing to me—classic hard rock— so with only a few minutes to test it out that day, we hooked it up to an Egnater 4x12 closed-back cabinet loaded with Vintage 30s, and plugged in a Richmond Dorchester with Lace Alumitone humbuckers. We dialed it in for “heavy” and immediately got the tone we were looking for: a meaty midrange grind with an assertive low-end thump. We also immediately noticed the sag-free “tightness” that signals a more-than-adequate power section and solid-state rectifier. Goodsell informed me later that this amp really began with not much more than a JCM800 transformer and the itch to “go big.”

It’s easy enough to tell that this single-channel brute is powered by EL34s, but I wouldn’t have guessed it’s a cathode-biased design. That makes the “50” in its name more of a model number than a description of its output power, but it sounds plenty big enough to top a half-stack. When I did finally get time to give it some in-depth investigation, I found out that the real departure here is farther from the typical tones and features of amps in the vintage “plexi” mode, and less from Goodsell’s stock-in-trade. Those departures, however, will be a real treat for all but the most dyed-in-thewool Marshallites. Goodsell is already highly regarded for his more refined, lower-power EL84 combos, like the Super 17 and the Custom 33, so it makes a lot of sense for his entry into the medium-power/high gain zone to retain much of what made those amps so successful—I just wasn’t expecting it. His “less-is-more” approach is readily evident on the outside: with only a single input, On/ Off and Standby switches, volume, gain, and 3-band EQ, the Black Dog is bare bones. The back of the amp demonstrates simplicity as well, with two speaker outs (switchable for 8 or 16 ohms), and a jack for the “by-pass boost” footswitch as the only “extra”—what a kick, too! I’ll explain a little further on.

Plugging In
Figuring that not a few players attracted to this amp are going to want to plug in a vintage Les Paul with real-deal PAF humbuckers, but not having one of those around at the moment, I decided to go first with the Duesenberg Mike Campbell signature model, since the Grand Vintage humbucker at the bridge has very similar qualities. I set all of the amp’s controls at noon and let fly. With the guitar’s tone knob down around 3, the Black Dog had all the aggressive punch and definition of an old-school Les Paul/Marshall combination, so it’s definitely able to rock that early-seventies vibe. While the overdrive is less creamy than the typical plexi-inspired design, that roiling, ballsy low-mid crunch is just as ample, and the dynamics are just as generous. If you’re still digging Thin Lizzy, Humble Pie, and Free, the Black Dog will surely get you there.

Moving through a few adjustments, though, the surprises started coming quick. With the tone knob rolled all the way up, the amp gained a different character altogether, with the humbucker producing a rawer bite that evoked a more modern Marshall tone, but without the raspiness of too much preamp gain, and more open-sounding, less “vowelly” in the mids. The lack of filtered negative feedback lent it an edgier, less refined top end that nevertheless stayed clear of brittleness.






A real pleasure for me was the tone of the P-90 at the neck of the Duesenberg. It broke up less easily, so I could really lean into a gritty half-clean tone without it crumbling and losing the defined attack. I was able to take it from thick and bluesy to lean and jangly— without touching the amp. More than any other pickup I ran through it, the P-90 showed off the superb touch sensitivity of the amp; it kept me riffing “Chickamauga”-style for the better part of an afternoon.

The biggest surprise has to be the clean tones. Those are going to catch everyone off guard. Think blackface Super and you’re more than just in the ballpark. Switching over to straight single-coil guitars made my head spin. The bridge pickup on a Tele produced a confident, snappy twang that went positively gnarly with some gain on it, while the neck pickup went fat and deep while staying beautifully clear—and it just wailed when I rolled up the guitar’s volume knob. My Nash S63 strat poured out everything from old-fashioned golden tones to overdriven Texas blues, slinky funk and soul tones and twitchy, punk grittiness. In particular, the “notched” settings on this guitar sold me on the power of Goodsell’s mojo, invoking shades of Hendrix and Tommy Bolin (in his less-fuzzed-out moments).

The Black Dog also features a footswitch control that works like a boost; it bypasses the tone stack when engaged—Goodsell says the switch makes about 20 – 25 dB more gain available, while also kicking in a fixed midrange compensation cap. Stomping on it turns the amp into an unrestrained, fire-belching incendiary device. Fortunately, the Treble control still works as a high frequency roll-off in bypass mode, or there’d be no way to stand in the same room with it. If you want more saturated high-gain intensity than you thought was plausible in an amp of this design, here it is—but get some hearing protection.

The Final Mojo
Did I mention that after a day’s worth of blissful tone tripping all the amp’s controls are still set at noon! I’ve decided not to mess with them until after I’ve balanced my checkbook, and taken it up on stage—I could really use a gigging amp that doesn’t distract me with the urge to tweak it all night. Among the features I expected to find here, a presence control isn’t missed. And though four inputs is pretty common for the single-channel, Marshall-inspired 50-Watters, the lack of them is no loss here—not just because it keeps things simple, but also because there’s at least as wide a range of gain control with the Black Dog’s single input. When you add in the extra gain from the bypass boost, it’s probably a great deal more than most. For an amplifier this simple, the tonal versatility of the Black Dog 50 is just plain huge. Richard Goodsell might’ve had in mind a gain-heavy stage rig when he designed it, but it’s also easy as hell to imagine it taking up a second job as the go-to amp for studio work.
Buy if...
you want an amp with superb dynamics and sensitivity that travels fluently across the spectrum of vintage tones.
Skip if...
you’re a card-carrying member of the “Marshalls Only” club, or you’ve got to have an effects loop.
Rating...
5.0

MSRP (as tested) $1899 - Goodsell Amplifiers - superseventeen.com