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Back to Basics
Like things old school? These hot pieces of gear not only give you access to timeless sounds, but are dead simple too—the kind of simple that keeps you playing instead of twiddling knobs. So quit thinking and start jamming! These tools will help you do the talkin’.
Fender ’57 Champ
Even when you’re Fender, it’s tough to top a legend. But sometimes coming close can yield amazing results. That’s certainly the case with the ’57 Champ—a reissue of one of the mightiest little amps ever built. While Fender Champs of several eras might make short lists of the best recording amps ever, the 5-watt, 6V6-driven 5F1 circuit on which this reissue is based is treasured for its class A circuitry and lack of negative feedback loop. In practical terms, that gives the ’57 Champ (January 2010) an impressive combination of low end and punch. To reviewer Bob Goffstein’s ears, “the volume was beyond what I would expect from 5 watts.” And he found the proprietary Weber Alnico speaker “punchy and sweet.” Goffstein also used the ’57 Champ in the studio and for re-amping purposes—which reminded him “why every studio needs a Champ.” Add to all this a sweet, down-to-the-letter, period-correct, tweed-covered cabinet and handwired circuitry, and it’s easy to see why so many players have welcomed this little gem back with open arms.
The Jaguar Junior (May 2010) is an amp for folks who like things easy. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do a lot. In fact, the Jaguar is one of the amps that seem to have a little something funny going on somewhere behind the curtain (if we may reference the Wizard of Oz). It seems way louder than its 17 watts, and it’s got a much wider sonic palette than its Master Volume, Volume, and Tone knobs would suggest. It even has a Pentode/Triode switch that enables you to power the amp down to 7 watts. As reviewer Pat Smith found out, it’s got a startling amount of headroom. He was moved to note that “set for clean, it is everything you’d want: big, fat, tight bass response with a clear-but-not-harsh top end. Jazzers who like tubes will really dig the Junior. The touch sensitivity is very good, and you can get such a nice dynamic range here.” He had a lot of fun dialing up dirtier tones with the Master Volume, and he remarked how much tone variation could be achieved with crafty use of a guitar’s volume knob and on the earthy distortion tones available with guitar volume wide open. Smith described the dirty Jaguar as “classic, gritty grind—think Billy Gibbons or George Thorogood.” Combine that with enough clean headroom to do everything from jazz to jangle, and you’ve got one very versatile kitty.
Nik Huber Krautster
Some of the most timeless and unquestionably coolest electric guitars ever are the dead simplest. Guitars like the Telecaster and the Les Paul Jr.—they don’t get any simpler. And most attempts to improve on that formula attempt to do so by making matters more complex. That’s why we love the Nik Huber Krautster (May 2010) so much. This mahogany slab of subtle simplicity makes no apologies for its lack of frills. And it even ups the simplicity ante on the Tele and the Jr. by eliminating a tone control. But that doesn’t mean the Krautster skimps on craft. No mein freund, this dressed-down and mighty German is flawlessly crafted with a gorgeous curly maple neck that meets the body in an impeccably designed and executed heel joint, and it resonates like a mother even when unplugged. It does have one dirty little secret, and that’s a volume knob that also works as a coil-splitter, turning the Häussel humbucker into a single-coil. An affront to simplicity? We think not. It sounds too dang cool. Reviewer Chris Burgess found the Krautster “extremely sensitive to touch and playing dynamics,” and he noted that, with the Volume knob all the way up and an amp primed with gain, the Krautster “simply shines.”
The Mk. III Tone Bender was one of most essential ingredients in Jimmy Page’s early ’70s tone recipe. Like most fuzzes of its day, it was not a complex circuit, but its beautiful simplicity gave shape to some of the most iconic hooks and licks in the rock encyclopedia. So it’s always a surprise that there aren’t more Mk. III clones out there—and that makes it even more of a treat when a really magnificent one like the SkinPimp MKIII (February 2010) comes along. While the Skin Pimp MKIII yields access to the sounds that sent Zeppelin aloft, there’s also a 3-way Frequency toggle that helps tailor the MK III for more contemporary distortion settings. MKIII tester Jordan Wagner used the toggle to “dial in some of the most fantastic, midrange-heavy fuzz this side of Master of Reality.” Needless to say, Wagner also found the MKIII capable of the classic snarl that makes vintage pedal junkies seek out the original Mk. III. He remarked on the note articulation, raspy bite, and “one of the best vintage Jimmy Page tones I’ve ever come across, including that sharp bite Page had in his pick attack that is so elusive in fuzz pedals of today.” A whole lotta love, indeed.