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For an amp originally produced for just two short years in the mid-sixties, the Marshall 1974X has spawned quite a bit of interest, inspiring everything from boutique amps based on its EL84-powered design to 18watt.com, a site developed to help folks roll their own 18-watt creations. While some amps – most notably Marshall’s own 1974X reissue – have attempted to stay true to the original design, others have viewed the Class A combo as a jumping off point, the direction Reinhardt Amplification chose for the SV 18 head.
Starting with the 1974X’s basic tonal formula – three 12AX7s, two EL84s and a EZ81 rectifier tube – Bob Reinhardt set off to make an amp that would retain the original’s touch dynamics at lower volumes. Reinhardt calls this feature Scaled Valve Technology, and the resulting, sharpdressed amp comes across like a Hugo Boss designed flamethrower. Featuring its fair share of Marshall-inspired visual cues, such as a bottom-mounted chassis, gold control panel and gold-topped knobs, the green and white tolex combination and art-deco inspired logo set it apart from its British made counterparts and more slavish clones.
The unique gain structure provided by Reinhardt’s Scaled Valve Technology allows everything from clean, hollow and chimey new country sounds to crunchfilled, glam-era bombast circa 1973 with just a twist of the guitar’s volume knob. This design uses the amp’s Level control to reduce the voltage delivered to the power section of the tubes, tricking them into behaving like lower output tubes. Rather than power scale the entire amp, Reinhardt only scales the power amp section and phase inverter. According to Bob, “If you power scale the whole amp it sounds like ass – it just gets thin and weak.” I would have to concur with his sentiments, if only for the fact that the SV 18 sounds like anything but ass.
To deal with the large signal hitting the power amp section, Channel 1’s Drive and Gain controls play a key role in compensating. "When you scale down the output tubes, the preamp still has the big signal, but it’s going into a lot smaller tube, so it will knock the crap out of the power section – you have to bring the Gain levels down in the preamp.” Bob explains, “Gain controls the first preamp stage and Drive is basically the second preamp stage.” So what does this mean when playing through the SV 18? The Drive control gives an honest impersonation of power tubes on the brink, and the Gain knob, while steering clear of cascading-type gain staging, should keep fans of the modded Marshalls of yesteryear more than happy. The three controls in conjunction – Level, Drive and Gain – allow this amp to deliver legitimate pushed pre and power amp flavors at surprisingly reasonable volume levels.
"The unique gain structure provided by Reinhardt''s Scaled Valve Technology allows everything from clean, hollow and chimey new country sounds to crunch-filled, glam-era bombast circa 1973 with just a twist of the guitar''s volume knob."
This isn’t a picky amp; in fact it seems quite happy pretty much wherever the knobs land. Channel 1 sounds particularly sweet with the Level control around 7 and all the other knobs at noon, or 5 on the front panel’s silk-screening. The Bass control seemed to be voiced to help focus the characteristic chunk and works well for tuning the amp to the type of cab being used. The Mid knob was helpful in adding a little more grit and sparkle when turned up past 6, and judicious Treble control tweaks were integral to achieving old school, clean-but-dirty rhythm tones. Regarding the tone circuit, Bob offered, “It’s kind of a Super Lead preamp and tone married to an 18-watt power section. It is tweaked a little bit obviously – it’s not straight out of a Super Lead, but that’s the vibe I was going for.”
Here is where the depth of both the Drive and Gain controls became apparent and subtle tweaks delivered all kinds of killer tones without a lot of fuss. I could easily get dry, papery, low-drive sounds that would put me in good stead if Malcolm Young ever needed replacement. By the same token, if Mick Ralphs ever takes sick, with a P-90-equipped guitar and the SV 18, I’m good to go. “All the Young Dudes” tones were abundant here, and the amp was more than responsive enough to the guitar that a cable and the guitar’s volume knob were enough to cover the above tones without touching the amp itself.
The Right Profile
Channel 2 offers up an interesting twist by sporting an uncluttered one Tone, one Drive layout. Tonally, Channel 2 delivers more warmth and less sizzle than Channel 1, and seems well suited for more vintage, roots-type tones. I was amazed at the amount of adjustability that the single Tone control offered, making it even easier to dial up some killer tones.
Another feature adding to the SV 18’s flexibility is the Soft/Firm Standby switch, which works in conjunction with the EZ81 rectifier tube to fine-tune the amp’s responsiveness. Although I left it in Soft mode for the majority of my testing, players capable of greater speeds than quarter notes at medium tempos would likely appreciate the added definition and faster attack provided by the firm setting.
Bob was kind enough to send in a matching 1x12” oversized speaker cabinet loaded with a custom-designed, Weber-built R65H speaker, which packed a jaw-dropping amount of bottom-end. Not only did the rig look regal and sound amazing, but it had the added benefit of being really easy to carry. This old back could easily wrangle the head, cab and a gigbag to any show, even those including stairs. Even with its convincing low volume prowess, the SV 18 shouldn’t be mistaken for a bedroom amp. It can easily serve in a live situation with all but the most heavyhanded drummers or the most inept of completely inept sound guys, but little can help in those situations, so no points off there. Throw an SM57 in your bag and you should be covered.
The Final Mojo
Reinhardt Amplification has come out swinging, and in the process has placed the SV 18 near the top of a crowded field. This amp should appeal to a broad range of pickers ranging from old-school Marshall aficionados to contemporary country pickers – really. Bob has indicated that more than a few of these are showing up at A-list Nashville sessions, and after sampling the broad range of tones this amp produces, I can totally see why.
you''re a connoisseur of impeccable, low-wattage, British-flavored amps.
you need an amp for when the kids are snoozing.
MSRP $1695 Cab MSRP $495 - Reinhardt Amplification - reinhardtamps.com
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