The Express is Wildenradt’s answer for the travelling musician who likes a little kick and growl from an amp, no matter how small.
Given the constraints and long hours involved with running a one-man operation, Craig Wildenradt of CEC Amplification is really something of an overachiever. His Nashville company has already impressed with the 15-watt Suckerpunch combo, has an 80-watt behemoth under development, and recently unleashed the 10-watt Toll-Free Express reviewed here.
The Express is Wildenradt’s answer for the travelling musician who likes a little kick and growl from an amp, no matter how small. With its miniature frame and miniscule weight, the Express is designed to accompany you from the practice hall to the studio to the stage. But it’s how big the Toll-Free Express sounds doing it that distinguishes this diminutive monster.
The Toll-Free Express offers a simple control array. There’s one instrument input on the lower right-hand side with an On/Off/Standby switch and an LED indicator. The five white chickenhead knobs cover the basics—Master, Bass, Middle, Treble, and Gain. There’s also a Hi-Cut switch that enables you to move between the regular output and one with a shaved high end when engaged.
The backside of the Express features three separate output jacks (4, 8, and 16 Ω) for matching speaker impedance. This output option may look like it takes up needless real estate, but it also seems far more durable than those plastic impedance selectors that can show wear after repeated coin or flathead screwdriver use.
You’ll find some nice components nestled within the 1/2" Baltic birch walls. This 10-watt growler ships with two JJ 12AX7s in the preamp and one SED “Winged C” EL34 in the power amp. You’ll also find custom-wound O’Netics power and output transformers, Audience Auricap capacitors, and Vishay low-noise resistors. There’s certainly no cost-cutting going on here.
All the guts are housed within a 14.5" x 9.5" x 9.5" enclosure, which essentially makes the CEC the size of a tall shoebox. Dressed from head to toe in a leathertextured, gunmetal gray vinyl, the amp has the appearance of a futuristic military device. The dovetailed corners are adorned with robust metal brackets and a tightly woven black-and-silver grille cloth is home to the CEC Amplification logo. Weighing in at a touch over 20 pounds, the Toll- Free Express is sturdy, to say the least, and it feels like it will weather just about any storm—nice to see in an amp that’s billed as portable and road-ready.
I tested the Toll-Free Express using an 8 Ω 4x12" cab with Celestions Vintage 30s, as well as a Gibson Les Paul, a Fender Stratocaster, and a Fender Telecaster.
After dialing up a tone recipe that seemed fit for the Les Paul, I turned the Master volume a little more than half way up, set the Gain at about 20 percent, and got a sweet, harmonic break-up. Trying to achieve this level of tube saturation on, say, a 50-watt, non-master volume head would get you an eviction notice in most neighborhoods. But the Express managed to communicate the wholeness of the Les Paul tone without ripping the roof off the house. Rolling down the Master even to the 30 percent range still gives the amp a surprisingly weighty tone, most notably in the bottom end. And there was no need to aggressively re-EQ the treble at this considerably lower volume—a testament to the amp’s intrinsic balance.
I switched over to the Telecaster and increased the Master, Treble, and Gain to roughly 75 percent of full. At these settings, the Express continued to exhibit a knack for very plush crunch, but with a bit more of that characteristic British sizzle. And flipping to the bridge pickup gave a quick-strike lead tone, like Jeff Beck’s early Yardbirds jams. While picking out “Heart Full of Soul,” I needed a rhythm tone with less bite for the verses. Rolling off the guitar’s volume did the trick, and left me with a powerful, full-house strumming tone. The early Beck comparisons are apt given that the Express more often than not evokes a classic Vox without all the spiked high-end. But even those more aggressive and biting tones are available if you want them. Just kick up the Treble.
The Stratocaster is a fine match for the Express too, and a great blank canvas for conveying a Strat’s inherent bell-like harmonic qualities. Both the Stratocaster and the Telecaster benefited from the Hi-Cut switch, which gives both guitars greater reach across the tone spectrum at high-gain settings where they can become piercing and unwieldy. It’s a great tool for any treble-prone guitars.
Craig Wildenradt’s CEC Toll-Free Express is an exceptional and thoughtful piece of amplifier design. It’s built to readily handle pickups of any kind and output level with its highly dialable EQ—all while kicking with a classic rock authority that makes it sound bigger than it really is. While the clean tones are quite good for an amplifier of its size, its true strength lies in the mid- to high-gain crunch. If you’re looking to power a massive stack or work in really big rooms, you may want to skip this one unless you’ve got stellar monitors. However, the Express will feel right at home at smaller clubs and studios, and you’ll be surprised how much 10 watts working full time can sound stadium-huge.
if you need wholesome, hearty gain and stinging Brit tones at bedroom levels.
you’re looking for lots of clean headroom.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Mystery Stocking is coming soon! Sign up for PG Perks below so you don't miss it.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.
The new finish, according to Lava Music, is “inspired by the beauty of the golden hour,” a shining time just before sunset and after sunrise when photographers covet to capture stunning pictures.
With bright and warm golden hues, the new finish adds a brilliant metallic glow to the surface of Lava ME 3, complementing its AirSonic 2 carbon fiber unibody which features L3 Preamp with FreeBoost 2.0, delivers industry-leading sounds by breakthrough acoustic technologies, and houses a multi-touch display powered by Lava-developed HILAVA system.
Speaking of the HILAVA system, Lava Music also added four new effects: Nebula, Desert Rose, Cassette, and Edge of Breakup. As unique as their names sound, they are very much different from what we normally know about effects. Programmed into the HILAVA system, each of the four is powered by the company’s latest ArctanDrive algorithm and incorporates effects like Pitch Shift, Delay, and Reverb. And every one of those incorporated sub-effects comes with various parameters that players can adjust to design unique, overdriven sounds by just tapping on the multi-touch display. That said, those effects enable users to play with overdriven tone on an acoustic-electric guitar without even plugging in any external gear.
LAVA ME 3 | Now in Golden Hour | LAVA MUSIC
Lava Me 3 in Golden Hour is now available starting from $999 on LAVA MUSIC, Amazon, and local guitar dealerships near you.
For more information, please visit store.lavamusic.com.