A shape-shifting evolution of Mark Bartel’s original design dishes scads of tone and performance possibilities.
0:00 – Stratocaster, bridge pickup, amp set to “Pentode mode”
0:22 – Same guitar and settings, amp set to “Ultralinear mode”
0:45 – Stratocaster, neck pickup, Pentode mode, reverb and tremolo on.
1:24 – Les Paul, bridge pickup; Lead Channel Vol 2 o’clock, Tone 1 o’clock, Mid-Bite 8 o’clock (Pentode mode).
1:45 – Mid-Bite turned up to 4 o’clock (all else the same).
A versatile and cleverly designed combo, offering a number of excellent tones at a broad range of output levels to suit different venues.
The onboard attenuator is handy, but the tone can become a bit over-compressed and indistinct at higher volume-reduction settings.
Ease of Use:
Tone King has built stylishly retro and tonefully infectious amps for two-and-a-half decades. And when introduced in 2013, the original Sky King was both a repository for all that founder and designer Mark Bartel had learned up to that point, and a signpost to a new way forward. It featured dual onboard output attenuators, a switchable output transformer configuration, and a totally handwired circuit, while previous Tone King models had carried quality hand-soldered printed circuit boards.
A lot has changed in five years. In 2013, Tone King was part of the Premier Builders Guild (alongside Two-Rock amps and Fano, Koll, and Baker guitars), although Bartel was still at the helm design-wise. With the dissolution of PBG and Bartel’s departure, Boutique Amp Distribution of California is now home to Tone King. They’ve released a revamped Sky King that aims to retain all the plusses of the original design while improving a handful of details in the process.
The new 1x12 Sky King combo generates 35 watts from two cathode-biased 6L6GC output tubes, with foot-switchable rhythm and lead channels, onboard reverb and tremolo (tremolo is also foot switchable, reverb is not), and an attenuator for each channel. The format may not be revolutionary, but the Sky King is unique in many respects.
The first-generation Sky King won fans for its impressive combination of performance-enhancing features, deceptive versatility, and, well, kingly tone. Known first and foremost for capturing alternative takes on Fender-inspired sounds, Tone King branched out with this model without sacrificing blackface-like voicings.
Situated just after the combo’s single input, the lead channel has controls for volume, tone, and mid-bite. The latter control adds gritty tweed-like drive to the amp’s sometimes Marshall-y roar. The rhythm channel sports volume, treble, and bass controls. The two channels share knobs for reverb and the tremolo’s rate and depth. You’ll note an absence of a master-volume control. Instead, the Sky King dials down output level via a pair of built-in, reactive-load Ironman II attenuators. With an independent 6-position knob for each channel, it’s a superbly handy feature. And it allows you to tailor independent lead- and rhythm-channel output levels, meaning you can crank the former for maximum grind and still dial it down at the output and leave the latter more wide-open for optimal headroom. The mode switch, found on the amp’s back panel, toggles the output transformer between pentode and ultra-linear modes. Pentode feels faster, more responsive, more articulate, and bolder (think Fender blackface), while ultra-linear is rounder, richer, and a bit reduced in overall output.
Probing deeper into the Sky King’s workings reveals both a heavier redesigned chassis and a printed circuit board in place of the former handwired circuit, which Tone King says has been adopted to minimize noise issues. It’s worth noting that the amp’s 5AR4 tube is also a change from the original version’s 5U4G, and denotes a somewhat stiffer rectifier.
The new combos also use a different speaker—a Celestion-made Tone King 1660, purportedly for a wider overall frequency response. That and the other changes bring the 2018 model in eight pounds heavier than the circa-2013 combo, at 56 lbs. The TV-front cabinet is of the same 24"x18.75"x12" dimensions as its predecessor, and still reflects Bartel’s meticulous design sense and his goals of maximizing resonance, projection, and clarity. It also looks great in the retro-kitsch turquoise vinyl that covers this one.
Given all that the Sky King can do—from mid-gain and midrangey JTM45-inflected crunch to scooped and crystalline Pro Reverb cleans, to grinding ’50s tweed and fat, plummy ’60s Valco-inspired tones—it’s surprisingly easy to dial in. Tested with a Collings City Limits with PAF-style OX4 humbuckers, a ’57 Telecaster, and a Novo Serus J with Amalfitano P-90s, the Sky King revealed the character of each guitar, and added many sonic textures that are utterly its own.
The pentode setting on the back panel’s mode switch was optimal for extracting maximum bark and aggression from the lead channel, or more spanky and sparkling clean tones from the rhythm channel. With the Telecaster in hand I got superb late-’60s, Buck Owens-inspired twang tones from the rhythm channel. The Les Paul-like Collings and the lead channel, meanwhile, veered easily into classic-rock territory. (I found it important to avoid maximum tone and/or mid-bite settings to avoid fizziness here).
Flip to ultra-linear, and the rhythm channel exudes a rounder, creamier clean that compresses when pushed—essentially taking us back a decade to thick ’50s moods. The lead channel, meanwhile, reveals a juicier, browner output. (Because ultra-linear is a little softer output-wise, you need to dial up your channel volumes, or dial up the attenuators a notch, to compensate, if desired.) The tube-driven reverb and bias-modulating tremolo both sound excellent, and selected together they’re pure atmospheric heaven.
With the attenuators set to 0 (bypass) on both channels, the Sky King produces a loud 35 watts. But as handy as the built-in Ironman II is, I’d also say that wide-open is where the Sky King sounds best. You can’t expect any amp to sound exactly the same quieter as it does loud, and the lowest couple of notches on the attenuator can sound a little compressed and diffuse. But the Ironman IIs are very practical tools, and a great means of suiting the amp’s volume to your performance space.
Stylish, versatile, and cleverly configured, the Sky King is an appealing amp from all angles. How does it compare to the original? From memory, the new Sky King might lack just a little of the original’s depth and sweetness. Although, to be fair, I don’t have them side by side to A/B, and haven’t played its predecessor for about three years. That said, it’s a great amp however you slice it. For an added eight pounds, I might want my benefits a little more clear and present in the results, but the Sky King still soars by any measure.
Watch the First Look:
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Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.