Clips recorded with a 2009 Fender American Tele
Reinhold Bogner has a reputation as a master builder of great-sounding, loud amps such as the Ecstasy, Shiva, and Überschall—each of which is a legend in the hard-rock and metal worlds. But Bogner says he’s always had an ear for the magic of a little amp, and that has made him well positioned to leverage the en vogue status of smaller rigs. Bogner and the company that bears his name entered this game a couple of years ago with the 18-watt Mojado (which has since been replaced by the Palermo), but he’s since gone on to introduce even more diminutive amps in the new International Series—a line of big-toned, low-wattage amp s that includes the Barcelona combo reviewed here.
The International Series is inspired more by a “compact is good” ethos than a single approach to design, circuitry, or tube type. Its models vary in voice and character, with something for just about any player not seeking high-gain tones. With 40 watts of 6CA7 power, the Barcelona speaks with a ’60s British accent, loads of clean headroom, and a defined punch that’s less typical of Anglo amps.
A League of Its Own
At its core, the Class AB Barcelona is a very simple amplifier. It’s among the most powerful amps in the International line in terms of wattage, though the 40 watts can be throttled back to 20 watts via the amp’s standby switch. This portion of the circuit works in tandem with a power transformer that’s custom- wound exclusively for an 8 Ω speaker load (in this case, a Celestion Vintage 30).
A trio of JJ 12AX7 tubes is the core of the amp’s single preamp channel. Instead of a traditional three-band EQ section, the preamp employs Treble and Bass knobs and a 3-way Mid EQ switch that flips between scooped, flat, and boosted midrange voicings. And while the Barcelona is built principally for a crystal-clean headroom, Bogner also threw in a Gain control for added versatility. Pulling that control out kicks in the amp's Fat mode, which boosts the gain and bass.
When you boil it down, the Barcelona is geared for ’60s British jangle and punch. There’s a percussive snap in the attack, combined with Bogner’s signature muscularity and smooth midrange voicing that’s reminiscent of a healthy vintage Marshall JTM45—but with a little more aggression. With a Strat at one end of the cable and all of the amp’s controls at noon, the Barcelona sounded simply brilliant, with a nice, thick low end supporting each plucked note. The tone had a surprisingly monstrous body—much bigger and rounder than what I’d expect from a 1x12 openback cabinet. The Bass and Treble controls each have a wide range, but careful use of the Master Volume is just as important in the quest for sweet tones. Punchy, brash tones issued forth when it was dialed to about 3 o’clock, but below that the amp took on a jazzier, darker voice—perfect for both the Strat’s neck pickup and the neck and middle pickups together.
When I needed brighter tones, turning up the Treble and Gain did the trick. But to really get sharp, bright tones out of the Barcelona, it’s best to rely on your picking hand. One of the really beautiful things about the Barcelona is how much headroom there is for getting the most out of your attack. When I wanted a spanky country vibe for some Jerry Reed-esque fingerpicked rolls, the Barcelona was more than accommodating— but I got the most effective results with aggressive pick attack. This is a very honest amplifier that’s extremely sensitive to how tight and clean your style playing is.
That said, the Barcelona’s tone stack has a lot of range that makes it easy to dial in a variety of very desirable sounds. I was particularly taken by how effectively the Mid EQ switch reined-in spiky midrange peaks on the scooped setting—making it a snap to achieve just the right level of midrange raunch without sacrificing definition in the highs or boom in the lows. This reining in was particularly helpful after I plugged in a Les Paul loaded with a rather hot set of Tom Anderson humbuckers (an H3 in the bridge position and an H1 in the neck). The scooped position brought out a voice akin to a vintage blackface Fender Twin Reverb, taming the Les Paul’s aggression but leaving a toothy bite and piano-like bass response.
Even when I played the Paul with a heavy picking hand and the Barcelona’s Gain control maxed, the tone remained clean and clear across the board. It wasn’t until I cranked the Master Volume to around 2 or 3 o’clock that it started to growl—but at that point the amp seemed almost absurdly loud for such a small combo. Bogner recommends relying on pedals to achieve significant overdrive when using the Barcelona, and I’d concur after enduring such blisteringly high volume in order to get the amp to overdrive naturally.
For players with a taste for clean, impeccably detailed tones, the Bogner Barcelona is hard to beat. Its ease of use and Texas-sized sounds makes it a winner for any player who needs a combo for gigging and studio use. It isn’t a very forgiving amp if you’re sloppy, and coaxing the sweetest tones is very much a matter of touch, but those traits also set it apart from many similarly powered combos. As with the rest of Bogner’s International line, simplicity and portability are the Barcelona’s key qualities—qualities that stand in sharp contrast to the features that come to mind when many players think of Bogner Amplification. However, if simplicity is your game, the Barcelona could be your path to positively glorious tones.
Watch the video review:
your need for clean headroom and dynamics trounces your desire for effects loops and multiple channels.
you need amp overdrive at a manageable volume level.
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