October 20, 2010
Versatility at manageable volumes
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Gain 7 o'clock, Volume 2 o'clock, Master volume 3 o'clock. Rickenbacker 330.
|Download Example 2
Gain 9 o'clock, Volume 3 o'clock, Master Volume 10 o'clock. Gibson Les Paul.
|Download Example 3
Gain 2 o'clock, Volume 2 o'clock, Master Volume 4 o'clock. Gibson Les Paul.
When Jeff Bober started EAST Amplification, he saw the opportunity to do something much more than crank out another no-frills low-watt amp. His work at Budda Amplifiers made him an expert at applying more modern tone circuits to classic-voiced 6V6, 6L6, and EL84 amps. He also recognized what a full-featured low-watt amp with greater tone shaping capability could mean to players in recording situations. (Full disclosure: Bober writes our monthly Ask Amp Man column, but we submit his products to the same scrutiny as those from any other manufacturer.)
One of the results of his vision, the new EAST Amplification Studio2, is impressive. Because the Studio2 does more than just sound like a little amp making a big sound—it pulls off the illusion of a big amp making a big sound. It’s an ingenious bit of aural deception that could indeed make the Studio2 an invaluable recording session fixture.
Built to Dial up Big
The 2-watt Studio2 is built around a circuit that’s quite unique among low-wattage amps. There’s a fairly standard set of three 12AX7 tubes in the preamp section, as well as a 5U4 rectifier tube. The power output section, however, is built around two 12AT7s (a low-noise tube that’s often used in high-end studio preamps, among other applications) in a push/pull configuration. This unique type of output stage builds in a bit more headroom than the typical single-ended output stage of most low-power amplifiers, making it easier for the amp to more faithfully replicate the tone and feel of much larger amplifiers. The rear panel also contains a passive effects loop and a variable line output. The amp also has a unique built-in load that enables it to be run sans speaker cabinet for recording or for use as a preamp whose signal can then be sent to a larger amp when 2 watts simply aren’t enough. The optional solid-pine open-back 1x10 cabinet we tested the unit with features a 75-watt Eminence Ragin’ Cajun speaker. (Bober informs us that the cab is now shipping with the new proprietary EAST 10" speaker.)
The head’s front-mounted control panel offers several clues to the flexible nature of the amp’s circuit. The leftmost control is a Gain knob that enables saturation of the regular Volume section of the circuit (which is the next control over). An EQ section with High, Middle, and Bass knobs follows, and then Presence and Master controls.
Though it’s plain that the Studio2 is built for business, it’s a good-looking amplifier, too. It’s dressed up in a quasi-paisley/ yin-yang patterned vinyl covering, and the cab also has a cool sparkle grill cloth that’s reminiscent of the earliest Ampeg stacks. The inside of the amplifier is immaculate and looks more like a super high-end home audio component than a guitar amplifier.
Bigger Than the Sum of Its Parts
To get to know the Studio2, I switched between a ’90s Les Paul Studio, a Fender Stratocaster with a Seymour Duncan mini humbucker in the bridge position, and an ’86 Fender “E” Series Stratocaster. Trying to dial up a tone somewhere between clean and gritty, I set the Gain at 2 o’ clock, Volume at 12 o’clock, and Master to 3 o’clock. In this configuration, the Studio2 loved the cutting qualities of my Strat’s Firebird-style mini humbucker, and my single- note leads were slicing, well defined, and harmonically even. At the same settings, the ’86 Stratocaster’s bridge pickup coaxed a rich, treble-heavy snap out of the Studio2—evoking and inviting a satisfying stab at the funky opening to Jimi’s “You Got Me Floating.” The Studio2 really came alive when my Les Paul’s bridge pickup hit the front end. While whole chords were a bit muddy—even with a kick in the treble and midrange—lead tones brimmed with attitude, exhibiting a girth and crispness reminiscent of Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin II sounds or Paul Kossoff’s dry, husky Marshall tones. And when I laid into a full-step bend with a little finger vibrato, the Les Paul and Studio2 sustained as if I were letting a faucet run.
Dialing up the Master and Gain on the amp gave me predictably more aggressive results with the wide-open Les Paul. But when I rolled off the volume on the mini humbucker-equipped Strat, the Studio2 took on the clear, airy chime of a Fender Princeton or Champ. Dialing the Strat’s volume back up to almost 10 found the Studio2 blooming into beautiful, compressed AC15 territory—perfect for some Revolver-era George Harrison-style playing.
Backing the Gain and Volume down to 9:30, moving the Master between 12 and 2 o’clock, and mixing in a little more bass, midrange, and presence turned the Studio2 into a sweet Keith Richards-/Black Crowes-style chord machine. I tuned the Les Paul to open-G and ran through a sequence of stabbing riffs and discovered that this rhythm-rocking zone is one of the Studio2’s secret strengths. Big chords blooming with harmonics and sympathetic overtones rang in beautiful detail and leapt out of the Studio2 with an enveloping quality that made the amp feel way bigger than its actual decibel output.
Just as Jeff Bober intended, the Studio2 is as versatile a low-wattage amp as you’re likely to find. About the only thing it’s missing is the headroom for hot, clean country picking or loud ’n’ clear jangle—though you can achieve a serviceably clean tone with crafty manipulation of your guitar’s volume knob. But clean is not what the Studio2 does best. And whether it’s conjuring midrangey, Vox-style snarl or the hot-and-gritty sound of a humbucker driving a ’60s plexi Marshall, the Studio2 can serve up the goods in full harmonic splendor without deafening half the populace. As it’s name suggests, the Studio2 is a perfect little monster for recording. The big sounds it produces at lower decibels expand microphone and recording space options. And the way it can effectively become a crackling, kicking baby Marshall stack at a third of the volume is nothing short of amplifier alchemy. The amp’s personality varies significantly, depending on the pickups driving it. For me, a humbucker-equipped Les Paul with tone and volume controls wide open seemed to be the Studio2’s most natural mate. But with so much tone massaging capability, you’re certain to find startling, amazing, and very useful tones no matter what guitar you call your main squeeze.
you’re tired of wrestling with a stack in the studio or need high-gain tones on a small stage.
you need super-clean tones at high volume.
Street $1350 (Studio2 Head), $425 (1x10 cab) - EAST Amplification - eastamplification.com