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As a result, when the amp came out of the shipping box I made a number of assumptions about how it would sound based solely on the way it looked. The Marshall-style big box head cabinet said only one thing to me—classic hard rock— so with only a few minutes to test it out that day, we hooked it up to an Egnater 4x12 closed-back cabinet loaded with Vintage 30s, and plugged in a Richmond Dorchester with Lace Alumitone humbuckers. We dialed it in for “heavy” and immediately got the tone we were looking for: a meaty midrange grind with an assertive low-end thump. We also immediately noticed the sag-free “tightness” that signals a more-than-adequate power section and solid-state rectifier. Goodsell informed me later that this amp really began with not much more than a JCM800 transformer and the itch to “go big.”
It’s easy enough to tell that this single-channel brute is powered by EL34s, but I wouldn’t have guessed it’s a cathode-biased design. That makes the “50” in its name more of a model number than a description of its output power, but it sounds plenty big enough to top a half-stack. When I did finally get time to give it some in-depth investigation, I found out that the real departure here is farther from the typical tones and features of amps in the vintage “plexi” mode, and less from Goodsell’s stock-in-trade. Those departures, however, will be a real treat for all but the most dyed-in-thewool Marshallites. Goodsell is already highly regarded for his more refined, lower-power EL84 combos, like the Super 17 and the Custom 33, so it makes a lot of sense for his entry into the medium-power/high gain zone to retain much of what made those amps so successful—I just wasn’t expecting it. His “less-is-more” approach is readily evident on the outside: with only a single input, On/ Off and Standby switches, volume, gain, and 3-band EQ, the Black Dog is bare bones. The back of the amp demonstrates simplicity as well, with two speaker outs (switchable for 8 or 16 ohms), and a jack for the “by-pass boost” footswitch as the only “extra”—what a kick, too! I’ll explain a little further on.
Figuring that not a few players attracted to this amp are going to want to plug in a vintage Les Paul with real-deal PAF humbuckers, but not having one of those around at the moment, I decided to go first with the Duesenberg Mike Campbell signature model, since the Grand Vintage humbucker at the bridge has very similar qualities. I set all of the amp’s controls at noon and let fly. With the guitar’s tone knob down around 3, the Black Dog had all the aggressive punch and definition of an old-school Les Paul/Marshall combination, so it’s definitely able to rock that early-seventies vibe. While the overdrive is less creamy than the typical plexi-inspired design, that roiling, ballsy low-mid crunch is just as ample, and the dynamics are just as generous. If you’re still digging Thin Lizzy, Humble Pie, and Free, the Black Dog will surely get you there.
Moving through a few adjustments, though, the surprises started coming quick. With the tone knob rolled all the way up, the amp gained a different character altogether, with the humbucker producing a rawer bite that evoked a more modern Marshall tone, but without the raspiness of too much preamp gain, and more open-sounding, less “vowelly” in the mids. The lack of filtered negative feedback lent it an edgier, less refined top end that nevertheless stayed clear of brittleness.