Love and Sockets

Cedric Burnside's new Fender Tone Master Twin Reverb has the same controls and features as a classic non-master-volume Twin, but, with its solid-state circuitry and light speakers, half the weight.

In a one-man battle for louder, a Fender Tone Master Twin and Ampeg Portaflex duplex rig triumphs.

I admit it. I was once part of the Arms Race. When I was in my '90s alt-rock band, Vision Thing, I bought a Marshall half-stack. Then the other guitarist got Fender's 100-watt The Twin, which he cranked. And the bassist got a Trace Elliot AH500X. And it was on. Volume and gear escalated until we were damn loud, and it was a constant battle to hear and be heard. Eventually I kinda won, but it was a pyrrhic victory. I was doomed to lug around two 4x12s: one with a 50-watt Marshall Super Lead and the other with a 100-watt Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier Trem-O-Verb. Yes, it sounded fantastic, but … damn! My back!

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Tim Carroll's amp "A," one of his fleet of trusty Vox Pathfinder 15Rs, miked and ready to rock.

Nashville's Tim Carroll turns a mite of a Vox into a mighty rock 'n' roll dragon slayer.

Nashville is a land of musical shamans. And in all lands of such potent magic, there is an inner circle that includes the most respected members of that class. Typically, they're not widely known to the outside world, but among their peers they are revered. Tim Carroll is such a shaman—a songwriter of such depth that John Prine chose to cover his work, and a ferocious rock 'n' roll guitarist whose ability to improvise around his writing's chiseled backbone is seemingly limitless.

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Leni Stern is prepped to cut a track with her ngoni as her trusty Custom Shop Strat waits its turn. The guitar's weathering is the result of finish damage by mosquito spray she used while playing festivals in India and Africa.

Two combos are slimmed down for air travel, but beefy enough for a global musical adventurer. And for the ngoni.

Everybody knows it's easy to get a clean, full tone from a Fender Blues Junior and a Strat, but what about a ngoni? That's the 6-stringed Malian instrument that guitarist and singer Leni Stern has adopted as her third core voice. With three plucked and three resonating strings, and a wood, calabash, and animal-skin construction, it seems like a potential nightmare to amplify. But … with the right pickup and her little workhorse combo, she's got it dialed in both live and on her new album Dance—bright and punchy, with just the right touch of air, and a propulsive, fat snap that reveals the ngoni's role in inspiring the banjo while sounding, quite rightfully, from an older, nearly timeless place.

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