Buffalo FX's new Ram's Head will satisfy the tastes of players who lust after Gilmour's tone on Animals and The Wall.
If you line up a several original “ram’s head” Big Muffs, each will speak with a slightly different accent. Electro-Harmonix allegedly used some 20 different schematics for this second version of the Muff, which the company introduced in 1973. One constant among originals, however, is their midrange scoop, which can make the Muff a shadowy presence in a live situation.
Precision Muffin Makin’ Steve Painter of Buffalo FX says that addressing this midrange drop was the first priority of his ram’s head clone, and indeed, his NOS BC239C transistor-driven unit has a perceptible midrange bump and increased top-end headroom. The components are period-accurate—everything inside this black box existed in the ’70s.
It’s a beautifully built box too. The Buffalo FX Ram’s Head uses the same enclosure as Painter’s last fuzz, the Germanium. It’s taller than most pedals, which may take some getting used to. One reason for the unusual enclosure is a quick-release 9-volt battery drawer, which might remind Muff fanatics of Pete Cornish’s famous clones. No need to fuss with wires or connectors—just slide the battery into place. (You can also power the pedal with a center-negative 9-volt barrel adaptor.)
The straightforward controls mirror the original: sustain, level, and tone. Input and output jacks are at the crown of the box, and there’s a small blue power indicator LED next to the footswitch.
Stepping Out of the Shadows Because the original Ram’s Head is so closely associated with David Gilmour’s tones from Animals and The Wall, I hooked up a Stratocaster and an Orange OR50 with EL34s to approximate Gilmour’s classic rig. Running a clean output on the amp, I engaged the Ram’s Head with sustain maxed. This setting was a bit aggressive for most of Gilmour’s leads, but dialing back the gain to 3 o’clock let me nail the sustained bends from “Dogs.” However, the maximum-sustain setting proved excellent for mining Tony Iommi’s Vol. 4 lead tones, especially after adding a slight tone bump and switching to a Les Paul with humbuckers. The extra dirt lends a gritty bite to metal-tinged solos without inducing overwhelming feedback.
In a full-band setting, the Buffalo was a revelation. You sometimes need an extra overdrive or EQ pedal to make a Muff heard within a raging band, but not with the Ram’s Head. Painter’s tweaks provide a hot edge that cuts through dense band arrangements with output to spare. Even paired with a dark, reverb-drenched Fender Twin Reverb, the Ram’s Head easily finds a toehold for lead work or rhythm riffing. I performed an A/B test between the Buffalo and several other Muff-style pedals lurking around my rehearsal space, and the advantages of Painter’s mods shone brightly. The Buffalo usually sounded slightly cleaner, with greater midrange clarity.
The Verdict This is the second Buffalo FX fuzz box I’ve reviewed, and my expectations were high. Steve Painter hand-wires, assembles, tests and screen-prints each box, and his dedication shows. The Buffalo FX Ram’s Head’s added midrange presence increases the circuit’s versatility without sacrificing the power you want from a Muff. It’s equally happy with single-coils and humbuckers, and sounds great through both American- and British-style amps. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a rig this Ram’s Head won’t work with.
Jaguar's new HC50 dodges delivers a minimalist, potent, distinctly English-voiced EL34 amp that’s happy dishing immaculate clean tones and more ferocious sounds alike.
Part of the charm of vintage amplifiers is their inherent simplicity—I mean, do you really need six or seven knobs to get a decent tone? While there is something to be said for versatility and control, the short answer to that question for a lot of players is that less is more.
Jaguar Amplification is no stranger to minimalist tendencies, and the company’s new HC50 dodges the doodad trap to deliver a potent, distinctly English-voiced EL34 amp that’s happy dishing immaculate clean tones and more ferocious sounds alike.
Your Tone, Sir
The HC50 has just four chickenhead knobs—master, volume, bass, and treble—two inputs, and standby and power switches on its faceplate. Jaguar added a couple goodies on the back panel—power-scaling and an impedance selector. At full power, the HC50 delivers 50 class-AB watts—enough headroom for just about any stage. At half power, there’s still plenty of volume for most stages, but it also facilitates a full-bodied, dirtier blend at a lower output level. The HC50 ships with a 12" Celestion Creamback, which is has ample breathing room in the girthy open-back cabinet.
Like the rest of the Jaguar family, the HC50 has Brit blood in its circuits. Long a staple of English amplification, two EL34s drive the power section. Three 12AX7s power the preamp, and there’s also a GZ34 rectifier. All tubes are matched JJs. There’s something distinctly British about the Jaguar aesthetic too—white piping and fawn-hued vinyl take cues from the Vox wardrobe and are a cool contrast to the sparkled blonde grille. And with a cabinet crafted from a 16-ply birch wood frame, this Jaguar is rugged enough to take out on the town too.
Clarity and Crunch
If you’re a high-gain nut or feel lost without the latest thousand-amps-in-one digital gadget, the Jaguar HC50 is probably not for you. But almost any other type of player is bound to love the HC50s clean tones—they’re some of the most spectacular and lovely EL34-driven cleans I’ve ever encountered. Many folks don’t associate British circuits with clean tones, and rightfully so—many Marshalls of yesteryear sound great with dimed-out gain but turn lifeless when you back off the volume. Save for a few high-wattage Marshalls, Voxes, and Hiwatts, this tends to be the rule rather than the exception.
But as my experience with the HC50 and conversations with Jaguar’s Henry Clift made clear, the company made tackling the British cleans conundrum a priority in designing this amp. Clift says the genesis of this amplifier was, in part, a clamor from players asking for a better platform for effects pedals. Given that, I was surprised to see a master-volume based circuit, which, if you’re not careful, can generate harmonic mush when you have a lot of stompboxes in the mix.
The ability to elude this problem so effectively is one of the real strengths of the HC50, however. Starting my test with a humbucker-equipped Epiphone Genesis, I set up the HC50 at full power and dialed master and volume to high noon. At these levels, the humbuckers generated a light crunch with great harmonic clarity and separation. The Jaguar displayed excellent touch sensitivity with the hotter bridge pickup, delivering extra bite in response to a harder approach. It’s a sensation you’ll probably bask in, but that touch sensitivity and capacity for detail can leave you feeling a little vulnerable if your playing is less than precise—you’ll hear every subtle nuance of your pick gliding across the strings.
Gain remains fairly sedate until you hit about 3 o’clock. Thereafter, you get a very English, Kinks-like crunch. Maxing the volume produces a more distorted and harmonically rich crunch, but again, you have to think in classic rock terms here. There’s no blocky compression or hyper saturation, just dirty, gritty muscle for chords and crisp, gleaming sustain for single-note solos.
Throwing a handful of pedals in front of the HC50, I found the Jaguar capable of communicating, in detail, the essence of nearly every effect I threw its way. An Ibanez TS9 was a great asset for lead work, allowing for more drive and silkier sustain. Heavier distortion from a Sovtek Big Muff found steady footing in the HC50’s clean gain structure, too. While some crunchier amps swallow a Muff’s harmonic nuances, the Jaguar broadcasts its gnashing character without a hint of burping or clipping. With a Telecaster in hand, this clean-twang-meets-Muff wall-of-fuzz mix is a perfect shoegazing cocktail. Just throw in your favorite reverb, shake, and serve.
Curious about the Jag’s compatibility with a closed-back cabinet, I hooked up an old ’60s Bassman 2x12 and switched the impedance to 4 Ω. While I could generate more cutting tones with this setup, the amp displayed less of the ethereal bloom you get with an open back. For more hard-rock attitude from the HC50, a closed-back cab is a great place to start. Still, for all the Angus Young-style attitude I got from the closed-back setup, I did miss the airier quality of the Celestion Creamback and the open cab. I can’t imagine many owners attracted to the versatility of this recipe will stray far from that combination.
This sweet little Jaguar is a solid choice for old-school Brit tone hounds and the plug-and-play crowd. You can run your guitar straight into the HC50 and find a vibrant, lively tone without a single pedal in the mix. But the Jaguar is just as alive with your pedal collection out front—I couldn’t find an effect that it didn’t take to like a fish to water. With the capacity to deliver both operatic sustain and a classy mod jangle, you’ll be hard-pressed to top this Jaguar’s potential without shelling out for a vintage classic.
Watch our video demo:
A J-style that offers a lot of the features Sandberg is famous for but at a more wallet-friendly price.
Let’s face it: The versatility and playability of the Jazz bass that Leo Fender gave us in 1960 have cemented its place in music history and made it the weapon of choice for a wide spectrum of bassists the world over. Since then there have been many would-be contenders to the original formula, though a good number of these basses have fallen into the pretender category. But over the years several companies have come up with J-styles that stand out, usually because of some sort of ingenious electronic or physical improvement.
Sandberg’s high-end J-styles are in the latter camp. These German builders have long been the darlings of the European bass scene, and in more recent years the company has garnered attention around the globe with its wide selection of vintage-style and modern basses. One of their most recent offerings, the Electra TT4, is a J-style that offers a lot of the features Sandberg is famous for but at a more wallet-friendly price.
Although most of the TT4’s components are made in Korea, Electra series instruments are assembled and quality controlled at Sandberg’s Braunschweig, Germany, workshop. While many elements of the test bass affirmed Sandberg’s reputation for skillful craftsmanship, a crack in the upper horn’s finish, slight exposure of the unfinished neck pocket, and a couple of unfinished fret edges did raise an eyebrow. In what was probably another cost-saving decision, Sandberg eliminated the 4-dot company insignia that’s typically inlaid between the upper horn and neck pocket on higher end basses.
Those familiar with Sandberg basses will notice that the Electra TT4 has a look similar to the company’s vintage-inspired California series. The basswood body of our review model has an attractive creme finish that’s complemented by a tortoiseshell-pattern pickguard. The satin-finished maple neck is crowned with rosewood and 22 frets, and it’s anchored by six bolts that provide plenty of stability. Sandberg kept the look classic with clover tuners and their take on the traditional headstock. While it’s commonplace to find string trees on the 1st and 2nd strings, the TT4 has Sandberg’s proprietary retainer, which puts the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings at an angle consistent with the 4th string. This uniformity may not precisely deliver the benefits of an angled headstock, but it is a much better alternative than the typical circular retainers.
The Electra’s chrome bridge hints at influences from G&L and Hipshot hardware, and the saddles offer plenty of string height and spacing options, along with a locking mechanism that keeps them where you set them. The cutaway for each string slot makes for convenient string installation, and players who have tangled with a broken string onstage will appreciate the quick-release feature. Meanwhile, the uniquely tapered strap buttons provide unforced fastening of straps in all shapes and sizes—and keep them securely in place.
The TT4’s wonderful low-end vibrations are transmitted by Sandberg-designed single-coils with alnico 5 magnets. Tones are shaped by a 2-band preamp that’s also designed by Sandberg. Aimed at the player who desires both modern and vintage tones, a push-pull pot in the volume knob allows toggling between active and passive operation.
Sparring with the Sandberg
My first impressions playing the Electra TT4 were quite positive. Its weight and balance were excellent, and there was never any hint of neck diving or shoulder stress, regardless of the angle. Speaking of the neck, it’s super smooth and is really the center of the TT4’s savvy design. Moving up and down the fretboard was virtually effortless, and on many occasions I found myself not even thinking about the instrument—focusing instead on just making music. Simply put, the Electra TT4 has one of the most comfortable necks I have ever felt on a bass at this price point.
I tested the TT4 by plugging it into a Phil Jones D-600 amp pushing a Glockenklang Quattro 410. One can most certainly expect some 60-cycle hum when soloing single-coil pickups, but the Sandberg units were particularly noisy—especially the bridge pickup. When I popped the volume knob into passive mode, the bass delivered a taste of characteristic J-style tones, though they were a little timid in the low mids. This was alleviated to some degree in active mode, where the bass knob could supply more lows and low-mid punch—but active mode also changes the Electra’s tonal characteristics to more of a clean, scooped sound. Boosting the treble knob provided ample brightness and put some teeth on popped notes, or warmed up the tone with a downward dial.
I tested the Electra TT4 in a few different live settings and styles. On a blues-trio gig, I boosted the bass and significantly cut the highs to deliver deep, round sounds with the neck pickup. The treble knob really came in handy at a louder rock covers gig: A slight boost provided a pick-like attack to fingerstlye playing, allowing my lines to cut through overdriven guitars and a bombastic drummer. A horn-band setting was where the Electra performed best, though. The TT4’s timbre was fitting for a wide range of R&B and soul classics—from barking bridge-pickup lines to snappy thumb-slinging fills.
In all of these settings, the Electra’s playability shined—sometimes outshining its tonal traits. On some occasions its sound lacked a little authority, and I shied away from soloing the pickups due to the hum. But the TT4's super-comfortable design definitely made for a very pleasing experience for my hands and back.
In the realm of J-style basses, there’s a lot of competition. And though the Sandberg Electra TT4 may not wow vintage purists with its tones—which could use more punch, and also suffer from some noise issues—this bass will work well for a variety of modern music, as well as for slappers looking for a nice, moderately priced instrument. Overall, the Electra TT4 plays better than many in its class, and it offers many of the great features and characteristics that have long made Sandberg a standout bass company.