Cranking a vintage blackface Fender combo is a satisfying, almost primal experience. It doesn’t rearrange your internal organs the way a dimed plexi might. Instead, there’s a warm sweetness in those Fullerton designs that players and builders have been chasing ever since. Thanks, Leo.
Nashville amp guru Jamie Scott is happy standing on Leo’s shoulders, but he doesn’t mind breaking from tradition to take classic sounds forward. His Wooly Coats brand began as a place where he could build classic, simple circuits without the extra bells and whistles of his 3rd Power line of amps.
But the 18-watt Spanky MKII has just enough bells and whistles and old-school Fender tones to be feel like a blackface classic that never was—or the kind of amp that Leo might build in 2017. We checked out the 1x12" combo version that comes loaded with a 40-watt Eminence Alessandro GA-SC64 speaker. (A head version is also available.)
Back to the Future
The Spanky MKII borrows the vibe and aesthetics of its blackface inspirations. The solid pine cabinet is, well, solid. The controls along the front would be familiar to even the most casual blackface fan, save for a few thoughtful additions. There are two separate inputs, low and high, along with a three-band EQ (yay for the mid control!), a single knob for reverb, and a volume and the HybidMASTER knob that we’ll discuss in a minute.
For many, the big addition to the control setup will be the mid control. For years, the thing that stuck in guitarist’s craw about vintage blackface combos (the Twin Reverb is one exception) is the lack of midrange relative to Fender’s British rivals. Scott’s addition of the mid control and the clever way in which he voices were a revelation to my ears—enabling the amp to toe the lines between blackface, tweed (and tweed-influenced British amps) in many beautiful ways.
If I needed the amp to work as a pedal platform, I’d keep the mid control around 10 o’clock where things sounded warm, round, and punchy. If I wanted more amp drive, I could push the mids to summon growly, tweed-style grunt. Digging in harder yielded even more bite and growl.
One of the 3rd Power line’s most useful features is the HybridMASTER control. Scott originally had planned to leave this out of the Wooly Coats line, but decided to add it to the MKII version due to customer demand. It doesn’t function like a traditional attenuator, which diverts or dissipates some or all of the amplifier excess power. Rather, it regulates internal operating voltages, current flow, and audio signal levels across multiple circuits. HybridMASTER’s more intricate system for fooling the output section means that the amp retains more of the amp’s natural gain characteristics. And boy, does it make a difference. I plugged in my Schroeder Chopper TL loaded with Jason Lollar Special T pickups and left all the tone controls at noon. With the volume around 10 o’ clock, I was able to adjust the HybridMASTER control to fit the room I was in. On a recent pit band gig I was able to get the clean headroom I needed at lower volume without coloring (or subtracting color from) my tone.
When I cranked the HybridMASTER control and the volume control past noon, the 18-watt circuit felt bigger and more alive. The output was rich and organic with heaps of headroom. And even though the amp’s controls felt very responsive, the amp felt most responsive to playing dynamics and attenuation from my volume guitar volume knob.
It’s hard to think of all those iconic recordings powered by blackface combos without considering the haunting enhancements from spring reverb. And it’s become a bit of a litmus test for amps in this niche to see how faithful the reverb is to the originals. For my tastes, Fender-style reverb circuits tend to sound too deep too quickly. (I’m not a devout surf rocker.) So I really appreciated Scott’s decision to tune his own reverb to the overall vibe of classic spring-style reverb, but with an intensity range that doesn’t totally mask the dry signal.
Even the most close-minded blackface purist would find it hard to resist the Spanky’s combination of vintage sounds and contemporary volume control features. The controls are well thought out, the reverb is addictive, and the midrange helps bridge the gap between blackface and tweed tones. It’s also super portable and road worthy. Given those factors, the flexible volume attenuation scheme, and the reasonable price, the Spanky MKII stands a better than fair chance of becoming a gigging classic.
Watch the Review Demo: