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.
The retro-pop-meets-shredder sum of the Kingbolt's parts—the like of which we don’t see often—is quirky and eccentric without looking goofy.
Since taking flight in 1997, Reverend Guitars has garnered a reputation as a player’s company. With a lineup of instruments that include signature models of artists like country picker Pete Anderson, jazz/blues virtuoso Gil Parris, and avant rocker Reeves Gabrels, Reverend has always focused more on functionality than flash. At NAMM 2013, the Kingbolt was introduced as part of the company’s Bolt-On series, and it targets a heavy-metal/hard-rock market that the company has never really explored. Like most Reverends, though, it’s a solid performer that inhabits a unique place within its target market rather than aping established standard bearers.
Days of Metal Passed
The Korean-made Kingbolt, with its pointy horns and curved bottom, has the aesthetic presence of a “super strat” that got tangled up with a Jazzmaster and a Music Man. The retro-pop-meets-shredder sum of those parts—the like of which we don’t see often—is quirky and eccentric without looking goofy.
The 25.5"-scale Kingbolt features a korina body, a “medium-oval”-profile maple neck with 22 medium-jumbo frets and a 12"-radius fretboard that’s available in maple or rosewood (our test model has the former). Reverend founder Joe Naylor’s expertise as a luthier and his experience in industrial design is evident in some of the Kingbolt’s less-obvious details, like the neck plate—which, in addition to having six screws for added sustain and increased tuning stability, has two smaller screws in the middle so that the plate stays bolted to the back of the body when the neck is removed.
Hardware choices also reveal a keen design eye and emphasis on playability. The Wilkinson WVS50 IIK tremolo features an arm that you simply push in instead of an annoying threaded arm (you can also adjust swing tension), and the Reverend pin-lock tuners makes it very easy to change strings and keep the guitar in tune. Tuning isn’t quite as stable as a more conventional locking-nut-equipped guitar—when I gave the whammy bar a few violent dives and upward yanks, I experienced some perceptible detuning, but it wasn’t too drastic. For folks like me who hate locking-nut tremolos, the pin-lock tuners and 1 21/32" graphite nut are a pretty cool compromise.
In terms of construction, this Reverend delivers in spades. The craftsmanship on the Kingbolt is immaculate—perfectly cut nut slots, properly seated frets, a correctly positioned bridge, and a great out-of-the box factory setup. All checklist items that, sadly, you can’t automatically expect these days. The Kingbolt’s neck is very comfortable whether your proclivities include extended jams based on full barre chords, bluesy lower-register bends, or above-the-12th-fret shredding. The forearm and belly cut definitely add to the comfort factor—after a fairly long rehearsal that traversed many different genres, I never felt a sense of fatigue.
Like a Bolt of Lightning
I tested the Kingbolt through various setups, including a Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel amp and a vintage ProCo Rat pedal. The ceramic Special H bridge and neck pickups, measuring at 13k Ω and 6.5k Ω, respectively, give the Kingbolt the ability to get a modern sound or a slightly vintage vibe. Overdriven, the Kingbolt has an authoritative lead voice that’s thick but clear and articulate—even at very high gain levels. Clean, the Kingbolt sounds confident without possessing an overbearing, in-your-face aggressiveness.
Like other guitars in the Reverend lineup, the Kingbolt’s electronics include a bass-contour knob, which Reverend says can make a humbucker sound like a P-90 or a single-coil. It hollows out the sound and works a little like a coil-splitter except that there isn’t as much volume loss as you’d get with a tapped coil. While an obsessive gear-o-holic might never mistake the Kingbolt for a Stratocaster or a Telecaster in a blindfolded test, there was a moment in the middle of a session where, a few seconds after flicking to the neck pickup, I looked over to double check the pickup configuration. I had the bass contour rolled back and, for a brief second, I thought I was hearing a single-coil. The faux single-coil sound was even more convincing when I played some twangy spaghetti-western-type riffs with the bridge pickup’s tone all the way up and the bass contour all the way off.
Overall, the Kingbolt is a bright-sounding guitar, and this is especially evident when playing with clean tones. Even after turning the tone knob fully counter-clockwise and keeping the bass contour up all the way, I noted a crispness that you typically don’t experience when you turn the tone knob all the way down. If you’re one of those guys who rolls off your tone to get jazz tones, you might not find the Kingbolt dark enough. On the other hand, your tone won’t turn into mud and you’ll be able to cut through any mix.
Reverend has always been about offering affordability without sacrificing quality, and like most of their guitars, the Kingbolt’s price-to-quality ratio is very high. At $1,079, it feels and plays like a boutique instrument without the custom price tag. And although it’s marketed as a hot-rod rocker, what makes the Kingbolt especially appealing is its versatility beyond the world of power chords and JCM800s. Practically speaking, it could be the one guitar to bring to gigs where you don’t feel like schlepping multiple instruments. There isn’t much tonal ground the Kingbolt can’t cover with a few tweaks to the versatile control set. If you like to just dial up some basic sounds and be done with it, you’ll find what you need in seconds. However, if you’re a tinkerer, the Kingbolt offers a gold mine of tonal possibilities.
A smart, modern acoustic-electric grand auditorium that’s beautifully built and supremely playable.
Founded in 2001 by Adam Cole and Brad Clark, Cole Clark builds everything from acoustic guitars to lap steels and ukuleles. But the Australian company’s original intent was simpler—make steel-string flattops from unique, sustainable, and local tonewoods, such as bunya and Queensland maple. Cole Clark’s most recent offering, the Angel AN2A3-BB, stays true to the company’s original mission. But in many ways it’s a sum of the lessons Cole Clark has learned since the company started, and this adds up to a modern grand auditorium guitar of superlative quality.
The Design and Craftsmanship
At a glance, the Angel AN2A3BB looks more or less traditionally built, but like many Cole Clarks, it has a lot of constructional attributes that distinguish it from the average steel-string. For starters, it’s built with a Spanish heel, a construction method more associated with classical guitars that integrates neck and neck joint and is thought by many to transfer sound better than a dovetail joint. The top and back feature surfaces of standard thickness and ridged sides instead of the kerfing that reinforces most flattop bodies. According to Cole Clark, these alternative methods contribute significantly to the guitar’s projection and volume.
The Angel is built from a selection of solid Australian species—a bunya top, Tasmanian blackwood (a relative of koa) back and sides, and a Queensland maple neck. Meanwhile, the bridge and fretboard are made from the more conventional choice of rosewood, and players with traditional tastes can opt for a top built from grade AA spruce.
The woods from Down Under used in our review model are certainly attractive. The top glows with a reddish hue and is dotted with bird’s-eye figuring here and there, and it complements the warm reddish-brown streaks of the blackwood back and sides. A thin, satin nitrocellulose finish reveals the details of all the woods in their natural glory. A rich chocolate-like brown, the fretboard and bridge make a smart counterpoint to all of the lighter-colored woods. The woods are a tactile delight too, especially the bridge and fretboard.
Ornamentation on the guitar is beautifully Spartan. There’s no back strip or end strip, just a narrow ring of maple binding on the top and back of the guitar. The rosette comprises rosewood and blackwood rings, and the fretboard is dusted with traditional snowflake inlays in mother-of-pearl. Overall the design feels very organic, though that effect is diminished to some extent by the plastic elements used for the electronics, which include controls for the preamp on the lower bout and a battery compartment on the butt end.
Cole Clark put the Angel together nicely. The neck-to-body junction is smooth and solid, the binding is perfectly flush with the body, and other tricky areas like the volute on the headstock are clean and carved precisely. The 20 Dunlop 6230 frets are flawlessly polished and entirely free of jagged edges, there are no tooling marks on the fretboard, and the TUSQ nut and saddle are tidily notched.
Inside the guitar, you’ll see some slightly rough woodworking apparent on the unfinished back and sides, and on the opposing A bracing, as well as a few very small glue spots. But these are hardly unusual, don’t affect the sound in the slightest, and on the whole, the Angel is a well-built guitar.
Smooth Playing Aussie
Removing the Angel from the included molded plastic case, I was pleased by the guitar’s light weight and the sweet smell of the wood. The Angel feels a little deep for a grand auditorium guitar, but it’s perfectly balanced between body and neck. It’s a pleasure to cradle on the lap, and it feels just as good to play slung over your shoulder.
The C-shaped neck has a medium-deep profile and comfortable rounded shoulders. With an agreeably low action and the perfect amount of neck relief, the guitar plays smooth and superbly right out of the case, and stretchy barre chords and speedy single-note runs are all easy to execute without excessive hand fatigue. The 44.4 mm nut (about 1.75") makes the fretboard feel super-spacious and perfect for fingerstyle techniques, and this effect is compounded by the long 25.5" scale. The fretboard’s 12" radius facilitates string bending too, and the guitar felt elastic and bend-happy, even with the .012 set of Elixir strings the guitar ships with.
Easy and Adaptable
The visual appeal of the Angel is echoed in the tones that lurk within, warm and alive with clarity. A simple open-E chord rings beautifully, sustains with swirling harmonics, and is well balanced from the 6th string to the 1st. Perhaps due to the integral neck, output seems remarkably consistent up and down the fretboard. For instance, a B played at the 6th string’s 7th fret does not sound dissimilar, in terms of timbre or volume, as one played at the 5th string’s 2nd fret. Overall, the Angel feels very responsive and is equal to the task of the gentlest fingerpicking and most frenzied strumming. The sound loses none of its luster or harmonic richness when the guitar is tuned to open G, DADGAD, and even down to low C. These alternative tunings are quite easy to access, thanks to the smooth-feeling Grover 18:1 tuners.
Being a grand auditorium-sized instrument, the Angel begs to be fingerpicked, and it has a very adaptive voice that you can apply to everything from Renaissance lute pieces to country blues and chord-melody jazz. Still, it’s plenty cooperative when played with a plectrum, whether for delicate arpeggio work or more aggressive soloing and strumming—though the latter might be less advisable, given the lack of the optional pickguard.
Three Ways to Get Electrified
These days most mid-priced electric-acoustic guitars use undersaddle electronics, which can sound bass-heavy, quacky, and not entirely faithful to the instrument’s natural sound. But just as a home audio system incorporates subwoofers, midrange boxes, and treble horns to best distribute a full-range sound, the electronics on the Angel incorporate three separate transducer elements to handle all of the sonic frequencies. These include six individual piezo sensors under the bridge for the low end, a FaceBrace (soundboard transducer) for the midrange, and a condenser microphone for the high end.
The preamp includes two dials: One blends the output between the piezo and soundboard transducer elements, and the other controls the level of the mic. Once this balance is right, you can tailor the tone using standard volume, treble, mid, and bass controls, it’s unfortunate that this system doesn’t include the commonplace built-in digital tuner.
I plugged the Angel into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier. Because acoustic guitar amps are designed to compensate for the shortcomings of traditional acoustic electronics, it took a bit of tweaking of the blend controls to get the most natural sound. What seemed to work best for this purpose was a slight emphasis on the undersaddle elements. Plugged into GarageBand, the electronics have an uncommonly warm, lifelike sound and generate a minimum of extraneous noise—this is plug-in-and-play at its best.
Cole Clark’s Angel AN2A3BB is a smart, modern acoustic-electric grand auditorium that’s beautifully built, supremely playable, and capable of generating voices that are at home in many musical contexts—especially with its super-flexible electronics. What’s more, the Angel is built from a selection of solid, sustainably sourced tonewoods that lend a unique flavor to otherwise familiar tones. Though it’s not inexpensive, it’s a total winner when it comes to playability and style. And if you crave breaking away from the pack sonically and visually, the Cole Clark Angel is a great way to do it.
Watch our video demo: