AER’s Compact 60/3 TE is an unassuming little amp. Its padded carrying case could be mistaken for a construction worker’s lunch bag. And once out of the case, it’s hard to imagine this little box, with an 8” twin-cone speaker, sounding like much. But when I plug into the AER, I’m taken aback. This subtly styled amp is loud and sounds warm, punchy, and organic.
As the name suggests, the 60-watt Compact 60/3 TE is the third iteration of a fixture in AER’s lineup. This time out, it’s been tweaked to accommodate the playing of Australian fingerstyle wizard Tommy Emmanuel. And while I didn’t have any of the 60/3’s predecessors on hand to trace the evolution of the model, I can say that the latest version, by any standard, is one terrific acoustic amp.
The Emmanuel signature amp looks a lot like the regular Compact 60/3, save for the Aboriginal-style art subtly etched into one side of the amp. Emmanuel’s initials and the letters “CGP” (as in, Certified Guitar Player, an honorific that Chet Atkins bestowed on Emmanuel) are etched in the other. The amp also deviates from the standard version by including a recreation of the Alesis Midiverb II reverb/delay setting that Emmanuel used on his 1995 album, Initiation.
The 60/3 feels both lightweight—at around 14 pounds—and rugged. The black acrylic–covered enclosure is made from solid birch, and the amp feels very roadworthy and capable of taking a beating.
I performed my first test of the Compact 60/3 TE with a Breedlove Premier Concerto and was impressed right away by the noise-free performance and, more important, how little it seemed to color the guitar’s sound. This is a huge plus for a really good guitar like the Breedlove. But even guitars with lesser electronics will benefit from the extra expressive leeway you get from such a clean canvas.
The amp’s top-mounted control panel is straightforward and intuitive, and I didn’t have to pore over a manual to figure out how to use it. There are two channels—one with a 1/4” input and the other with an XLR, of course—essentially making the amp a little PA for players that sing.
Though the controls on the guitar channel—gain, cut/boost bass and treble knobs, a sweepable mids control, and a “colour” button—offer plenty of sonic flexibility, I was very satisfied with all the dials at flat, mid-point settings. But I can definitely see the usefulness of the colour button, which cuts the mids while boosting the trebles. It’s a boon for fingerstyle players that like sparkle and top-end definition.
On a whim, I plugged in an old Gibson ES-175 with P-90 pickups and rolled the tone knobs way back. Not surprisingly, the Compact 60/3 TE makes an excellent jazz amp. It’s easy to conjure up warm, woody sounds that Jim Hall would love.
A Lush Effects Suite
The Compact 60/3 TE includes four preset digital effects, and each one sounds impressively organic. These settings include long and short reverbs, delay, chorus, and the parallel Alesis-inspired effect. Though the effects are adjustable only via level and pan dials (which control the percentage of effects granted to each channel), these effects should be plenty sufficient for most acoustic guitarists. The short reverb lends heft and dimension to strumming, while the other three settings add nice atmospherics to fingerpicked phrases.
In previous versions of the Compact 60/3, the effects are only audible through the amp’s built-in speaker and not the DI output. But that shortcoming is corrected on the Emmanuel signature amp. It’s likely this feature alone will make the Emmanuel signature preferable to the standard 60/3 for some guitarists—especially considering that the new amp is only a hundred bucks more expensive.
At $1,299, the Compact 60/3 Tommy Emmanuel signature amp is an investment, but it’s not out-of-reach expensive, either. This killer amp, with its portability, ease of operation, beautiful transparent tone, and ample headroom—not to mention its lush effects—is something you must check out if you’re a serious acoustic guitarist with a need to be heard loud and clear above the din.
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