Premier Guitar

Krank Nineteen80 Amp Review

September 27, 2010

Download Example 1
Clean, bridge pickup
Download Example 2
Clean, neck pickup
Download Example 3
Dirty, bridge pickup
Download Example 4
Distortion, neck pickup
All clips recorded with a Gibson Les Paul Custom
Krank is known for higher gain heads favored by the likes of Dimebag Darrell. When I found out I would be reviewing the Nineteen80, I asked around to see what kind of buzz the amp had going. “It’s a JCM 800 on steroids,” I heard over and over. Having owned many JCM 800s in my day—some actually “on steroids” via modifications from José Arredono and Lee Jackson—I was ready to take on the latest rendition of the classic.

The Specs
The 80-watt Nineteen80 head features two 6550 power tubes and five 12AX7 preamp tubes. The 6550 power tube was a popular choice among early amp mod gurus, as it’s known for a big low end and a lot of power and reliability.

The front panel features (left to right) Power and Standby switches, a Krank channel with Presence, Sweep, bass, Midrange, Treble, Master, and Gain. Following the Krank channel is the Kleen channel with Volume, Treble, and Bass controls. A channel selection switch is located between the two channels, and Input and Footswitch jacks round out the front panel on the right. The knobs are a white chicken-head type, which, combined with the “salt and pepper” basketweave, makes for a nice vintage look. Black grille cloth is also available.

The back panel is fitted with an effects loop featuring Send Level, Send and Return jacks, FX Boost button and Return Level. To the right of these controls is an ohm selector switch with selections of 4, 8, and 16 ohms, two speaker output jacks, and a voltage selector for 115 or 230 volts, allowing the amp to be easily used in other countries.

The Effects Loop
Guitarists as a whole have a love-hate relationship with effects loops. Many feel they change the sound of the amp by affecting the degree that the power section is pushed when they are not unity gain. Other concerns are that there are different level requirements depending on the effect used. If you are running an old analog delay pedal in a plus four or line level loop, it will distort the front end of the pedal and reduce it to a very undesirable tone. Meanwhile, line level rack effects usually have input and output control settings and work well with these types of loops.

Over the years, many brands of amps have tried to address this issue. Krank has finally done it. Theirs is a series tube-buffered loop with input and output levels.To further ensure that the effect level requirements are met, the FX Boost switch is provided to give the user the ability to match impedance levels specifically to whatever effects unit being used. This loop design, although it is not a new idea, remains my personal favorite. It is easy to plug and unplug your effects from the return jack and adjust for the unity gain needed to drive that power section properly. The loop also sounds very good because of the design of the tube buffering circuit. If one is so inclined, this type of loop is great for linking a couple of these monsters together. The footswitch with the amp not only controls channel switching functions, but effects loop bypass. This means that whether you are using effects or not, the levels can be set for a volume boost for solos.



Plugging In
Starting with the clean, or “Kleen,” channel. I was able to get a very pleasing high-headroom clean tone. Although there are only treble and bass tone controls, the EQ seems to be adequate for coaxing sparkling British-type clean. The tone is a bit similar to a Vox AC 50 head that I own. It’s full and warm sounding.

However, the overdrive channel is really what his amp is about, which you’d expect from a name like Krank. The Krank channel does not disappoint. It absolutely bristles with gain punch and harmonic overtones. The tone is, in fact, very reminiscent of the older modified amps I have played. The controls are wide ranging. Players who scoop the mids a bit will love the tightness this amp provides when scooped, while players who like the mids will find the midrange right where they want it to be. Krank seems to have found the magic frequency for the voicing of their Midrange control to please pretty much everyone.

Low end is big and tight, even at the highest gain settings and with the hottest humbuckers. Pick harmonics will cut through and go into feedback sustain easily. I was impressed with the overall sustain of this amp, as well—notes seemed to sustain endlessly. The one control I was a bit leery of was Sweep. More often than not, controls like these are a cheesy, quasi-parametric filter that sounds like a wah circuit. This was not the case with the Nineteen80. The sweep control did sweep the frequency range, as the name implies, but without sacrificing the low end or making the scratchy tone often associated with these types of controls. It was very useful in fine-tuning the tone for whatever application needed. It ended up being a very well-designed, useable feature.

While tons of gain is not a problem, I should note that this amp is not just for high gain styles. I was able to get some very good bluesy tones by reducing the gain. The amp also cleaned up very well when I reduced the guitar’s volume, allowing control of gain from your guitar. The lead (Krank) channel worked equally well with single-coil or humbucker guitars, and I was able to achieve a wide range of gain and tonal colors.

The Verdict
The Krank Nineteen80 is a well-constructed head that should last for years. It lives up to its reputation of capturing vibe of great modified amps of the eighties, while features like the effects loop and Sweep control put this amp ahead of many of its competitors. The conservative rating of 80 watts makes it perfect for any size venue, and it is versatile enough for classic tones as well as more modern heavier tones. This one does all that you would expect from a modified British amp head and more.
Buy if...
you are looking for one amp for many types of British tones at a reasonable price.
Skip if...
you are still buying because of brand names.
Rating...


Street $1299 (head) $799 (cab) - Krank - krankamps.com