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Engl E 650 Ritchie Blackmore Signature 100-watt Amp Review

Engl''s Ritchie Blackmore Signature combines gain with clarity at an reasonable price.

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Recorded with 2006 Gibson Flying V
From the late-sixties rock quintet Roundabout to the pummeling Deep Purple to the driving melodic rhythms of Rainbow, legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore has had a defining career in rock and roll that few can claim to match, let alone exceed. The prolific guitarist has crafted some of the most infectious riffs in the history of the genre and helped found what is now known as heavy metal. Like other guitarists of the time, his style was heavily blues-based, but he incorporated a strong classical influence that would later serve as a foundation for modern-era metal guitarists such as Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Dimebag Darrell.

Blackmore’s unique guitar tone was a combination of the best of both worlds. Originally achieved with a Fender Stratocaster with a scalloped fretboard (purchased from a roadie of Eric Clapton’s) into modified Marshall Major 200-watt heads, it had the cut and tightness of the Strat and the heft, thickness and power of the Marshall Major. Since 1994, Blackmore has been using amplifiers from Engl. More recently, his own signature model was released to try to replicate the sheer power of his past rig and offer a larger, more modern tonal palette.

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The E 650 head presents the player with a relatively simple layout, consisting of a 3-band EQ section with a Presence control. A total of four channels share this circuit, and can also utilize the included Bright and Contour switches (more on this later). Along with a separate Lead Volume control and two Master Volume Controls, each channel setup reacts differently, depending on how the amplifier is set. The amplifier is all tube, running a quartet of 5881 power tubes and a total of four ECC83 preamp tubes.

Plugging In
After setting up the head with the matching Engl PRO series 4x12 cabinet, the head was set with the EQ controls at the 12 o’clock positions, the clean channel engaged, and fed with the input from a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom and a 2006 Fender American Stratocaster. Two words can best describe this channel: intense power. Older-era single channel Marshall amps, especially the Marshall Major, had a reputation for pushing a lot of air even when clean. Certainly, one of the defining characteristics of the Major was the added headroom; it was a very difficult amplifier to distort because it was extremely loud. It was certainly a shock to hit an open G chord and feel that old school non-master volume amp punch in the chest—that feeling that lets you know this is a healthy amplifier with a lot of power underneath the hood. This channel can be pushed into a light crunch more easily than a non-master volume amp by using the preamp gain control knob in tandem with the Master Volume A control, but it isn’t necessary. Pressing the “Gain Lo-Hi” button shoved out a killer British drive tone capable of handling any seventies rock tone you could want. In addition, the channel still had the punch and cut of the stock clean channel— the great vibration that exudes from a welldesigned amplifier, and that you can feel in your chest. The surprises did not stop there, though; this amp had a lot more say as the trial pressed on.

The lead channel section in the Blackmore has a somewhat different feel from the more unsoiled half. While the clean side has a very immediate attack with an extremely muscular tone, the lead channel gives in, just a little, for a spongier feel. It certainly doesn’t lose its defined punch, clarity and grind. Rather, it makes the amp a little easier to play, which is very nice, considering how much gain this thing has. For rock players of all eras, this is a great amplifier, but it is especially so if seventies hard rock is in order.

If more modern metal is what you’re after, the Engl Blackmore can hold its own against pretty much anything. The drive is rich, thick and enormously clear, sounding better and better as the master is turned up. Make no mistake, the Blackmore sounds great at low volumes, but sounds out of this world when pushed hard. It surely shares the tonal hi-fi ranks of other brilliant European amp makers, such as Diezel. It has that great British high gain tone with perfect midrange, but melded with modern, high fidelity circuitry and a particularly efficient power section. In the world of guitar tone, this is a relatively new sound and feel. Some players don’t care at all for the hi-fi quality of these amps, while others have been waiting their whole careers for something to come along that does it. Obviously, the best bet would be to play one in person, simply because the Engl Ritchie Blackmore is a very punchy and uniquely-voiced amplifier.

The lead channels are the only channels where the Contour control has any affect in the circuit. When pushed in, the frequencies between 300 and 500 Hz are boosted, providing a nice cutting edge for the toneto make its way through the mix, with plenty of harmonics for fast, easy runs. The Lead channels can also be further tweaked with the Presence and separate Lead Volume controls, which help add a sparkling top and balance the levels between the two channels. When reaching the higher gain settings, the amp handles modern metal and thrash tones with ease.

The Final Mojo

The Blackmore is a high gain player’s amp. That being said, players should definitely take warning: the impressive amount of gain coupled with the intense clarity will not cover up any lack of detail in the player’s style. Considering the price of the amplifier, the number of tones available and the simplicity of the features, some could easily consider it a bargain. There are other amplifiers that have similar tones but cost a lot more than this particular model. Without a doubt, it will make you feel, as Ritchie Blackmore himself put it years ago, “like you own the stage.”

Buy if...
you want a loud, reliable, efficient high-gain amp with a high fidelity feel for a great price.
Skip if...
you consider the hi-fi tones too anemic, need less power or separate EQ control for each channel.

Street $1699 - Engl -