A 44-watt power amp in a pedal-sized box

Download Example 1
Gibson 1 - Gibson SG, Bridge Pickup, Volume 9 o'clock, Bright ON
Download Example 2
Gibson 2 - Gibson SG, Neck Pickup, Volume 12 o'clock, Bright ON
Download Example 3
Gibson 3 - Gibson SG, Both Pickups, Volume Dimed, Bright ON
Download Example 4
Gibson 4 - Boss DS-1, Drop-B tuned Gibson SG, Neck Pickup, Volume 12 o'clock, Bright ON
Download Example 5
Fender 1 - Fender Strat, Bridge Pickup, Volume 10 o'clock, Bright OFF
All clips recorded into an Emperor solid birch 4x12" with
Weber C1265s using a Shure SM57.
Electro-Harmonix is a constant source of innovation. And their effects— from classics like the Memory Man to the Big Muff to the more radical and recent POG—have a reputation for inspiring creativity and pushing the envelope of what is possible with a guitar and a few pedals.

With the release of the 44 Magnum, a 44-watt power amp in a pedal-sized box, Electro-Harmonix is aiming at a considerably more utilitarian target. Nevertheless, they’ve hit a bull’s-eye. The 44 Magnum ranks as one of the most practical pieces of gear for the gigging guitarist released by anyone over the last several years. It has potential in the studio and the practice space, and it can work as both a backup amp and compact front-line amp for certain players—all for the same money you’d pay for a typical high-quality pedal.

Packs a Punch

The 44 Magnum comes in the same ultra-small pedal box as the Magnum’s little brother, the 22 Caliber, and such effects pedals as the Freeze and the Nano Clone. The unit weighs about the same as a similarly sized effects unit, though it does require a fairly hefty 24-VDC adapter with an inline transformer (this is included with the device).

Because the 44 Magnum is a power amp, its output must be connected directly to a speaker. But EHX had the foresight to dummy-proof the unit to some extent, and if you power it up without connecting it to a speaker load first, the Magnum will automatically disable, saving itself from an eventual meltdown. To restart the Magnum, you simply remove it from power, connect a load, and reintroduce power. The optimal configuration is with an 8Ω cabinet, but the Magnum will push a 16Ω speaker too.

It’s deceiving and dangerous to think of this thing as a pedal, and it’s a bit scary to think of the poor bloke who will eventually plug this thing into his delay pedal. You read it here, you’ll read it on the pedal, and you’ll read it about four times in the manual—don’t plug it into anything but a speaker cabinet or otherwise appropriate load. The damage to your gear can be significant.

The 44 Magnum’s control set is as simple as they come. Like any non-master volume amp, a single Volume knob takes the 44 Magnum from quiet and clear all the way up to loud, growling, and saturated. The only other control is a 2-position toggle for Normal or Bright operation—a feature not unlike the Bright switch on many vintage Fender amplifiers.

If It Walks Like an Amp …

I tried the 44 Magnum out with an 8Ω Emperor 4x12 cabinet, a Gibson SG, and a Fender Stratocaster. With the Gibson piped through the 44 Magnum in Normal mode at low volume, the amp generated a full, if dark, sound with both neck and bridge pickups. At around 10 o’clock I started to hear pleasing hints of true power-amp compression. And even at this relatively low setting, the pedal was already kicking out enough volume for a practice session or a gig on a small stage.

Moving the volume up to noon propelled me into sweet overdrive territory. And with the volume at 2 or 3 o’clock, the Gibson’s humbuckers induced both heavy, harmonic distortion and singing feedback. My Stratocaster’s lower-output single-coils created a subtler saturation, but the signal was still very cutting, resulting in a juiced, Marshall Plexi-like tone that was simultaneously creamy, dark, and slicing. It’s remarkable— given its size—but the 44 Magnum really can rock and rock heavily. And the only limitation of the pedal, at least in terms of gain range, is that it may not work well by itself for certain genres of metal, where extreme volume and preamp gain are key, or for David Gilmour-style loud-and-clean applications.

I also evaluated the Magnum using a Boss DS-1, EHX Big Muff, and a Devi Ever Legend of Fuzz. Here the Magnum’s Bright switch proved to be a real asset, and flipping it on helped the distortion pedals’ high frequencies shine through. Like most guitarists, I generally run these pedals into the front end of my guitar amp, effectively funneling one preamp (the pedal) into another (the amp’s preamp). It’s not often that you get to hear your favorite distortion pedals run directly into a power amp, and it was definitely a sonic treat to experience the fundamental voice and range of those pedals so clearly.

The Verdict

There are a ton of potential applications for the 44 Magnum. Bass players in smaller, quieter combos can use it to drive a cabinet. And if you like to travel as light as possible, but need more kick than a small-wattage combo can deliver, the 44 Magnum and a small cabinet are a cost-effective and super-portable solution. For my money, though, it’s a great piece of insurance if you’re a touring or gigging musician. Throw the tiny 44 Magnum into your cable bag and you’re done with worrying about a failed amp forever. It won’t replace your vintage or boutique tube amp in terms of sweet tones, mega gain, or high headroom. But it sure won’t break your back and, at $145, it won’t break the bank either. If your go-to amp is an old-timer with a few quirks, you won’t be playing Russian roulette onstage with a 44 Magnum in your holster.
Buy if...
you regularly play electric guitar in a live setting and subscribe to Murphy’s Law.
Skip if...
you don’t need anything more portable than your combo, and it hasn’t failed you ... yet.

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