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Bogner Panama Amp Review

Bogner Panama Amp Review

One of the most aggressively voiced amps in Bogner''s International Series—dishing mid-to super high-gain sounds at comfortable volume levels.

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Schizo at 3, Gibson Les Paul Custom
Small tube amps have always been valued in the studio and on small stages for their unique tonality and feel. Bogner Amplification ventured into the small watt amp waters not to long ago with their Mojado amplifier, and the company’s new International Series focuses, to a large extant of small-to-medium wattage units. At four watts, the Panama is among the lowest powered of the bunch. But it’s also one of the most aggressively voiced—dishing mid-to super high-gain sounds at comfortable volume levels.

Here She Comes, Full Blast and Top Down
The Panama was born, in part, out of requests from Japanese customers who want the tone, gain and feel of a cranked stack, but have to abide by strict volume control rules when living in densely-populated apartments. Reinhold Bogner dug deep into the preamp and phase inverter with the goal of replicating the feel of a big cranked amp with nice tone at low volumes. These amps were only available for sale in Japan for quite some time, but word soon spread to players in the US, creating demand on this side of the Pacific.

The Panama utilizes pair of 6V6 power tubes to dish out its maximum four watts. One JJECC83 preamp tube makes up both of the amp’s gain stages, and a Chinese 12AX7 does the job of the phase inverter, but also serves as an additional gain stage. The Panama’s simple, straight-forward circuitry was designed with as little tone stack attenuation as possible, giving the pint-sized powerhouse as much natural tonal body and response that Bogner could muster. The size of the Panama comes at the expense of modern features like a second channel or an effects loop.

The amp’s humble control layout covers a wide range of tones, provided that you’re primarily interested in the high-gain end of the spectrum. Overall output is handled by a single volume control, and the amp starts pushing some serious air when it hits the 2 o’clock position—effectively leaving two thirds of the amp’s volume range for honing various tones. Explains Bogner, “We use one of our ultra-slow taper, custom-made CTS pots so you have a better range to find lower volume settings.”

For those who feel that the Panama’s four watts still puts out a little too much for the next door neighbors to handle, the amp’s standby switch doubles as a half-power control that knocks down the amperage to a miniscule two watts. Bogner describes it as having the effect of using a Variac, which not only lowers the volume somewhat but also loosens up the feel and brings out more harmonics.

The real weapon in the Panama’s tone shaping arsenal are the Schizo and Mode controls. Bogner’s Palermo amp shares the same four-way Schizo control, but the Panama’s is wired with a completely different set of voicings. The first position gives the amp a mellower feel with a mid-level amount of gain, while the second brightens up the tone. The third position opens up the floodgates with a high-gain roar, and the fourth adds a tinge of brightness to the already-searing voicing. Adding even more gain to the amp is easily achieved by flipping the Mode switch towards its double flash symbol. This adds a lot of compression and cuts the overall volume, but takes away a small amount of dynamic range.

The amp and cab are covered in the same custom Black Comet vinyl, and the cab sports a cool salt-and-pepper grille cloth, which looks like a nod to Marshall P.A. column speaker cabinets of the ’60s.

Jump Back, What’s That Sound?
The Panama was designed for one thing and one thing only—high-gain jamming at a volume level that won’t cause your ears to bleed. As such, clean tones aren’t really there for the taking. For players looking for more bell-like tones, Bogner’s New Yorker and Barcelona amplifiers are likely a better fit.

As I moved from riffs to melody lines, the amp reacted in tandem, breathing out and allowing each note to bloom and sustain with great clarity.

But with a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom, the Panama belted out some amazingly lush and vibrant tones through Bogner’s vertical closed-back 2x12 cabinet. The Celestion Vintage 30-loaded cab is a vertical version of Bogner’s low-profile stack cab for better projection than a traditional horizontally oriented 2x12. The difference was quite apparent as I cranked the Panama’s Volume control with the Mode and Schizo switches in their first positions. At times the amp had the authority of a 4x12.

It was very interesting to hear just how much of an effect that the amp’s Mode switch had on the tone, volume, and gain levels. In the first position (designated by a single lightning bolt symbol) the volume was much louder, with a vintage bark in the midrange great picking sensitivity. The voicing was signature Bogner—aggressive, yet smooth and highly dynamic with a heavy nod to high gain British voicing. As I moved from riffs to melody lines, the amp reacted in tandem, breathing out and allowing each note to bloom and sustain with great clarity.

Since the Panama’s overdrive level was mostly governed by the Volume control (not unlike a vintage Super Lead), getting really high gain tones required me to push the Volume up to levels that probably weren’t exactly apartment-friendly. It wasn’t until I flipped the Mode switch to the second position that the Panama got to bedroom-safe levels, which cut the volume down considerably but enabled me to add a ton of liquid gain and sharpen the highs slightly. Lovers of the face-melting lead tones from Bogner’s famed Ecstasy amplifier will feel right at home with the amp in this mode.

The Schizo knob was critical to getting a great tone out of the Panama—especially when flipping between each of the Mode switch’s settings. The effect of each mode was much more noticeable the higher the Schizo control was set—requiring me to get rather conservative with how much input I fed from my guitar. If I wanted to lay back with a classic early ’70s hard rock riff when the amp was in the higher gain mode, I had to keep my guitar’s volume control down about a third.

The Verdict
If you’re looking for searing high gain with a British accent at manageable levels, it’s hard to beat the Bogner Panama. The amount of detail and clarity in the tone is stunning, even if there aren’t a lot of clean tones or headroom. And each of the two Modes gives the amp a different feel and flavor, which is nice for those who want to cover a wider spectrum of hard rock tones. For aggressive punch and growl at volumes that won’t tear your face off, there are few better paths to take.
Buy if...
detailed, low volume high gain rock tones are what the doctor ordered.
Skip if...
you’ve just got to have clear clean tones.

Street: Head $1129, 1x10 or 1x12 combo $1399 - Bogner Amplification -