In the music industry, a great sound isn’t always the ticket to surefire stardom. Many artists toil and flirt with success, only to get just a tantalizing taste of glory before the fickle public moves on. If they’re lucky, their work endures on its own merits and is rediscovered when nostalgia or taste catch up again.
The same fates can also befall the gear behind the musician. Take the Dean Markley CD60 for example. The original CD60, released by Dean Markley in the mid-’80s, was the subject of a loyal following that included high-profile artists like Alex Lifeson, Andy Summers, and Eric Clapton. When anything related to lead tones from the ’80s fell out of vogue, the amp faded into relative obscurity. But as this latest incarnation of Dean Markley’s 60-watt, 6L6-driven combo demonstrates, its circuit is capable of much more than ’80s retroisms, and it impresses with a huge range of rich, singing sounds.
Shapes of Things
Manufactured by Dean Markley Electronics, the reissue of the all-tube CD60 is a faithful clone of the original. That said, it packs in a few modern updates, including digital reverb, a variable-level effects loop, and PA-in and pre-out jacks.
Three 12AX7 preamp tubes and two 6L6s power the action under the hood by driving a single, Celestion 12" speaker. The cabinet is rather heavy at 42 pounds, but it feels solid as granite. And though few would call the CD60 classic looking, it has an understated and utilitarian vibe about it. It’s a smart, user-friendly amp that can be maneuvered from a control panel that’s surprisingly uncluttered and easy-to-read.
The EQ section, which also features bright- and mid-boost switches, is used for both the clean and drive channels. The presence and reverb knobs are universal as well. The only arguable quirk in the control set is an odd naming-convention—the drive knob adjusts the drive channel’s gain level, and the lead master knob adjusts the channel’s volume. Easy enough to get used to perhaps, but enough to inspire a few double-takes when plugging in the first time. The drive channel also includes a voicing switch, which provides a considerable low-frequency boost.
Lush and Large
Strum a few open chords with the treble, mid, and bass knobs set to the mid point, and the 6L6s will respond with a lush and large voice that sounds and feels more akin to the air displacement from a 4x12. The bass output is huge. But it’s just as dramatic to hear how sharply the bass can be rolled-off with an EQ adjustment. All three EQ knobs, in fact, seemed to have a wider-than-usual operable range. It makes it a little harder to dial in the desired setting at first, especially if you’re used to say, the feel of a vintage Fender circuit. But the payoff in flexibility is enormous.
Genuinely blackface-like clean tones sounded great with a little digital reverb in the mix. And with the fat, humbucker kick from a Les Paul Studio’s bridge pickup, the reverb-colored 6L6 clean tones took on a sweet three-dimensionality. With careful use of the bright switch and the presence knob, I could give the Les Paul a little additional bite that was almost never harsh and left plenty of room for tones elsewhere in the frequency spectrum. But if the clean tones on the CD60 have a basic-Fender-like quality, they are typically, and predominately, more modern and Mesa-like—with a bouncy, elastic quality that was especially responsive to dynamics and effects.
Cranking the volume showed off the CD60’s vast headroom. I got a warm, almost tweed-like breakup at the highest volume ranges with the mid knob turned up. And the breakup can also be controlled well through pick attack, making the amp great for mildly distorted blues or Robben Ford-style fusion leads.
Thick, Layered Leads
The drive channel provides much of the same range as the clean channel. At lower gain-levels, the guitar’s volume knob is effective for cleaning up the tone—sometimes all that’s needed for fast switches from rhythm to lead, and vice versa. The drive channel can get incredibly dark and bassy—especially on the neck pickup of a Les Paul—though it remains richly layered and breathy rather than muddy. Surprisingly, the drive channel outshines the clean channel in terms of harmonic complexity. And as lush and musically adaptable as the clean channel was, switching to the drive channel brought the CD60 to life. From a scorching and singing Santana Abraxas-esque lead, to a crazy-thick and creamy Warren Haynes-like Soldano sound (which you can get with the voice and mid-boost switches flipped up), almost everything that came out of the amp had a cutting presence and sustain. I mustered some awesome sounds at the furthest extremes of the EQ’s range, too, from smoldering, room-shaking rumbles to raining layers of intense filth by kicking the treble knob up and engaging the bright switch.
A Stratocaster and the CD60 are a great ticket to cutting but less-saturated rhythm sounds. And the amp retains the snappier character of the Strat, even with the drive close to maximum. It takes a bit more effort to fatten up lead tones, but the right amount of bottom end from the amp provided creamy, neck-pickup tones that took on an almost humbucker-like muscularity. Responsiveness is lightning-quick, and the CD60’s digital reverb—though not especially deep—adds warm, naturalsounding ambience. (The company says the reverb has since been adjusted to enable more depth.)
At a street price of $840, the CD60 would be a great workhorse for anyone requiring warm, articulate cleans and an array of distorted tones that can span decades. With loads of natural, gritty edge on tap and the ability to thicken leads with much more bass and lower-midrange cream than one would expect from a moderately sized combo, the CD60 will satisfy those that need power, character, and portability.