This 50-watt head captures the best qualities of coveted non-master volume amps.
The Risen Legacy amplifier is a 50-watt salute to the high-wattage non-master volume tube amps of yesteryear. In their heyday, amps like the Marshall Super Lead were often the top choice for rock guitarists who needed stadium-filling power to overcome underpowered PA systems. With today’s efficient sound systems, such immense power may seem impractical—which is what makes the Legacy a genuinely special amp.
Those old non-master volume amps were more than just loud—they were unruly, even brutish, and their wide sound and organic feel are nearly impossible to replicate without such immense power. Instead of attempting to approximate those tones in a low-wattage package, Risen met the challenge by equipping the Legacy with the copious headroom and power needed to accurately produce those tones, along with separate preamp channels for American- and British-style tones.
The Legacy concept originated with a 100-watt bass amp custom-ordered from Risen by a blues guitarist. Risen electronics guru Drew Tooley tweaked the circuit to better handle a guitar’s frequency range, added a second channel, and halved the wattage for softer top-end response.
The Legacy is an eye-catching head that oozes vintage vibe. Its ply enclosure, white Tolex covering, black piping, and illuminated logo are flawless. Also, Tooley and business partner Lucas DeShong are committed to using locally sourced materials and labor, and most Legacy parts are built near Risen’s Indiana home base, including the custom hand-wound transformers, faceplates, and chassis.
While the Legacy’s controls resemble those of a Marshall Super Lead or a Vox AC50, Risen says the circuit is an original design. The interior components are beautifully hand-wired on turret board. There are two independent preamp channels, each with its own tubes, controls, and high- and low-gain 1/4" inputs.
The first channel uses a pair of 12AX7s and has a three-band EQ and volume controls. The second channel, fueled by a single EF86 preamp tube, has a volume knob and a single tone control. The 50-watt output section relies on a pair of 6L6GC power tubes and a GZ34 rectifier. The features are strictly traditional—there’s no effects loop, channel switching, or onboard power attenuation, though you can switch channels via an A/B box connected to both inputs.
Big ’n’ Rich
The Legacy captures the best qualities of coveted non-master volume amps. There’s massive headroom, making this an excellent amp for squeaky-clean country, blues, and rock tones. With a Gibson Les Paul Custom and a Marshall JCM800 4x12, the 12AX7 channel sounds clear and articulate, with a glassy old-school plexi vibe. Clean notes and chords have buttery sustain that becomes seemingly endless at higher volumes. The treble, midrange, and bass controls have fairly wide ranges and greater effect on the tone than the controls on some now-legendary non-master volume amps, such as the Super Lead. The touch responsiveness is off the charts—the amp growls softly or barks with fierce high end depending on how hard you dig into the strings.
The EF86 channel sounds similar to the first, but with rounder body and even more headroom. Much of this is due to the unique design of the EF86 tube. This cool-sounding tube actually has more gain than a 12AX7, but in the right preamp circuit it can remain clean even with strong input signals. As a result, this channel’s bold, brash tones hit you in the chest harder and faster, and with a decidedly British upper-midrange presence. The tone pot acts as a combined high-/low-pass filter, providing an enormous range of colors despite being the sole tone control. The channel also takes pedals (especially overdrives and fuzzes) extraordinarily well, letting them expand and breathe without noticeable coloration or congestion at gig-level volumes.
The amp’s stellar overdrive tones blend a Marshall plexi’s midrange roar with the warm, supple lows of a Fender Bassman pushed to the brink. They’re also extremely touch-responsive—you can go from ripping Powerage-era Angus Young crunch to slightly gritty tones perfect for blues leads and broken chords. The overdrive tones come at a price, though: You must crank the amp’s volume to push the output section into overdrive, and the Legacy is really loud at volume settings above 11 o’clock. Remember, amps of this ilk were originally designed to not distort, which let them produce wide-open clean tones with fast attack and plenty of volume. You might want to invest in an attenuator if you want to enjoy the Legacy’s overdriven tones without pissing off your neighbors.
There’s nothing quite like the response, feel, and sheer muscular power of a healthy non-master volume tube amp, and the Legacy earns top marks in all three categories. It offers a wealth of outstanding clean and overdriven tones, and has an exceptional ability to handle stompboxes without muddying up. Players demanding modern features such as master volumes, channel-switching, and effects loops can probably find more appropriate amps within the Legacy’s price range. But for those of us who can’t resist the thrill of pure high-voltage rock ’n’ roll, the Legacy is downright killer.
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