A variety of tweakable tones in a small box with a small price tag
Bruce Egnater is famous for his role in pioneering multi-channel amps with cascading preamps—an idea that’s rather ubiquitous now but was the stuff of dreams just a couple of decades ago. Today, he’s building on that notoriety by becoming one of the leading purveyors of affordable, feature-packed tube amps. His latest entrant in the field is the diminutive 15-watt Tweaker head and 112X 1x12 cabinet.
Utilitarian Lunchbox, Hearty Meal
At this point, it’s pretty tough for an amp manufacturer to distinguish itself in the so-called “lunchbox amp” category. Almost every company out there, from boutique to budget outfits, has a pint-sized tube amp—everything from simple-and-sweet designs to heads that cram more knobs and mini-toggles than you thought possible onto a miniscule chassis.
Egnater Amplification has already made its mark in the crowded niche with its popular Rebel 20 and Rebel 30 models—which allow you to morph between 6V6- and EL84-powered tones—but the company has found another way to wow us with the new Tweaker (which is also available as a 1x12 combo).
The Tweaker’s wow factor doesn’t necessarily come from such decidedly boutique features as those in the Rebel (although it does have several tricks up its sleeve). Instead, it comes from sheer bang for buck. The Tweaker is powered by a pair of 6V6 tubes—which is a welcome change for those who feel pip-squeak-sized amps too often skew toward EL84s. And it packs a ton of practical features into its face-slappingly affordable box while still managing to exude a vibe of relative simplicity.
The front panel features, from left to right, Power and Standby switches, a Vintage/Modern mini toggle, a Master knob, a US/AC/Brit voicing mini toggle, a three-band EQ section, a Hot/Clean mini toggle, a Gain knob, Bright/Normal and Tight/Deep mini toggles, and a single 1/4" input. Around back, it’s even simpler: Send and Return jacks for the buffered effects loop, an Impedance switch (4, 8, or 16 ohms), two speaker jacks, a three-position voltage selector (100, 115, 230), and a standard IEC power jack. The matching Egnater 112X cabinet features a semi-open design, a 12-inch Celestion G12H-30 speaker, and input and output jacks (for daisy-chaining to another cab). The 112X features a soft, utilitarian rubber handle, while the Tweaker head has a leather handle that gets the job done but feels somewhat flimsy. Both enclosures lack metal corner protectors, but they do have tall, soft rubber feet for excellent shock absorption.
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Tweak to Your Heart’s Content
Although the Tweaker is stocked with several mini toggles that open up a myriad of tonal options, dialing in a usable sound is usually as simple as plugging in. I ran the amp through its paces with several test guitars, including a Tele with alnico 3 single-coils, a Reverend Pete Anderson hollowbody with P-90s, and a Schecter Ultra III with mini humbuckers. With each guitar, I found it nearly impossible to dial in a sound I couldn’t use.
The most logical place to begin tonal experimentation is with the US/AC/Brit voicing toggle, which alters the amp’s tone stack for Fender-, Vox-, and Marshall-style tones, respectively. Some players may lament that this feature isn’t footswitchable, but that would doubtless bump the price up significantly. My take is that Egnater designed the amp to please a wide swath of players who love plug-and-play simplicity but don’t plan to switch sounds a lot. That makes the Tweaker a great choice for both home recordists and players like me who’d rather find a sweet spot, then change up tones manually with tweaks to playing attack or the guitar’s volume knob.
Although I consistently gravitated back to the warm, well-rounded US voicing—which was great for everything from old-school rock to indie tones, rockabilly, and bluesy wailing—the AC and Brit voicings were also stellar. In all three, the Vintage/Modern toggle yielded looser, more lived-in tones in the former position, and a little more articulation and definition in the latter.
With the Hot/Clean toggle flicked up to Hot, each tone-stack setting served up enough gain for any flavor of hard rock and all but the doomiest of metal. I preferred Hot/Clean set to Clean overall—and particularly in the US voicing—for the more expansive range and reactivity to pick dynamics. And in that particular setup I could use my fingers and a light touch to get fat, thumping jazz sounds using the Reverend’s neck pickup, or dig in with a pick and any of the guitars’ bridge pickups for varying levels of toothy gain—from bristling Brian Setzer-like tones (think “Rumble in Brighton”) to raucous J. Mascis flavors.
I vacillated between preferences on the Bright/Normal toggle. The Tele’s bridge pickup liked Normal best because it avoided infamous ice-pick tones. But when I attenuated the trebles, Bright really brought out the AC30-type flavors in the AC voicing.
The Tight/Deep switch was great for moving between different types of guitars. At first, I liked Deep because it gave each guitar more oomph, but I also found that Tight yielded delightfully taut tones when used with the Tele’s bridge pickup to dish up spanky, hybrid-picked country giblets. And I don’t need to tell you how cool it was to be able to go from country-fried to a classic Marshall-style “brown” sound (think “Back in Black”) by simply flicking over to Brit voicing and Vintage mode!
Like most heads in the lunchbox space, the Tweaker doesn’t have reverb, but the effects loop enables you to patch in your favorite outboard unit without muddying up your signal’s front end. (I used a Strymon Blue Sky Reverberator to add sloshing dimension. In the US voicing, it was like having a delicious old Deluxe Reverb.) Volume-wise, the amp has plenty of power to hang with a fairly loud band, as long as you’ve got the Gain at or past noon and the Master set toward its upper limits.
When you factor in the Egnater Tweaker’s flexibility, impeccable variety of tones, and rock-bottom price, it’s almost laughable to fault it for anything. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its limits (for instance, its treble response can’t match the sweet smoothness of, say, a stellar boutique amp), but we’re talking about an amp that opens the door to a ton of authentic tube tones you can use in the studio or live—and at about the same price as amps we used to laugh at in the ’80s. And that makes this amp a steal. Case closed.
you need a slew of quality tube tones for very few bones.
you’ve got money to burn on multiple amps that specialize in various tonal flavors.
Street $399 (head) $249 (cab) - Egnater Custom Amplification - egnateramps.com