Cicognani Brutus Live offers unique tones from Italy
|Download Example 1|
Channel 1 Clean
|Download Example 2|
Channel 1 Crunch
|Download Example 3|
Channel 2 Lead 1
|Download Example 4|
Channel 2 Lead 2
|All clips were recorded with a ‘74 stock Les Paul Custom and a Shure SM-7 close in on the cone of the left speaker about 1 inch from the grill. A very small amount of reverb was added using Altiverb 6 in Pro Tools. No compresson or EQ.|
Sporting a look similar to THD’s line of amp heads but in a black and orange color scheme, the Brutus Live head is a compact (15″×9″×7″) unit that offers 28 watts of Class A power through two 5881 power tubes. For tube-swapping junkies it also includes auto biasing for 6L6GC, EL34, 6CA7, KT66, 6550 and KT88. It comes standard with an effects loop that can be switched between series and parallel, and a direct/slave out labeled “Jolly” for driving a separate power amp. You’ve gotta love those naming conventions. On the front panel there is a single input, Bass, Middle and Treble controls, a 3-way switch labeled “T…Z” for Presence, separate Channel 1 and 2 controls for Gain and Volume, each with its own switch for Clean/Crunch/Sexy (Ch. 1) and Lead1/Lead2 (Ch. 2). Wrapping up the funky naming conventions are a standby switch labeled “Waiting/Playing” and a backlit rocker power switch labeled “Holiday/Rocking!”
The companion 2×12 DP birch ply cab houses two Jensen C12K2 speakers capable of handling up to 120 watts in mono mode. Two jacks on the back allow for mono 8-ohm and stereo 16-ohm inputs. The cab is covered in a sleek, black leather-like Tolex material with a black metal grill that is affixed to the front by nine screws. A nice bonus is the extractable microphone support system that can be used in place of a standard mic stand for convenient placement in a live or recording situation.
The mark of a good amp is that it allows the true characteristics of a guitar to come through. The best examples of amps don’t mask but enhance the things we love about our favorite instrument, and inspire us to play and create new music. With the Brutus it was clear that the amp has a voice—many of them in fact—but it also allowed every guitar I played through it to stand up and proudly display its unique characteristics.
Plugging in a Les Paul and setting the Brutus to Channel 1 in the “crunch” position with the gain at 3 o’clock and the volume around noon instantly brought out a perfect Foo Fighters rhythm tone: tight, crunchy and focused. Having a very active set of tone controls allowed for easy dialing in of more body via the midrange knob and a thick bottom that never flubbed out the Jensen speakers.
Flicking the “T…Z” switch to all three positions focused the presence center from low to high. In the far left position the presence felt both dark and bright if that’s even possible, while the middle position (W?) it brightened up and began showing some teeth. All the way to the right it brought a crispy fried bacon tone to the foreground, which could best be described as “Sizzlean!”
Over time, I found myself drawn back to the left position for that dark/bright combo with the Les Paul. Switching the sound switch (clean/crunch/sexy) to the clean setting and bringing the volume up to full opened up a whole range of cleans that went from dark and buttery to swampy and thin, depending on the guitar plugged in. I spent a good deal of time here chewing on the variety and really enjoying the amp’s ability to meld nicely to the accompanying guitar. The last setting on Channel 1 was the “sexy” setting. Switching over, I noticed a volume drop from the crunch setting which was a bit unexpected, considering where it was placed in the throw of the switch. However, this setting is meant to have a more compressed tone suitable for singing sustain without overly saturating the tone. The “sexy” tone isn’t necessarily what I’d call sexy, but it does in fact do what it set out to accomplish. It was clear that the sound became more compressed and extended out the decay of notes to allow for longer-held lines with a rounder front-end attack. Butter? No. Margarine? Perhaps!
During the time I spent playing through the amp, it became clear to me that this amp really loves single coil pickups on Channel 2. With a 2008 Fender Strat plugged in there was more than enough saturation and sustain in the “Lead 1” position to stand up to most amps in the high gain category. Again, the tone of the Strat really came through and the Brutus highlighted the beauty and sweetness of the single coils, offering a snap and swirl that can only be appreciated by playing this amp live. Switching over to “Lead 2” stepped things up considerably and offered a thickening and slight buzziness to the sound that reminded me of a higher gain setting on a Mesa Dual Rectifier. Channel 2 is much more aggressive and tends to erase some of the personality of the guitar due to the higher gain settings, which is a tradeoff that may or may not appeal to some players. It just depends on what your purpose is with the amp. The fact that you have Channel 2 as an option to footswitch over to is more than a bonus, considering Channel 1 has options that rival most two-channel amps in the first place.
Overall, the Brutus delivers a very wide range of tones from beautiful cleans to aggressive distortion. The width of coverage from the three tone knobs yielded much more control over the voice shaping than any vintage Marshall or Fender could boast, while still being usable in just about every setting, depending on the guitar. The bonus of having mini-switches to change the voicing of each of the channels really adds a lot of versatility to the sound as well. One thing that came back no matter what guitar I played through it was the tightness in the feel of the amp. This is not an amp with a lot of sag to it, which limited me to playing a little more on the safe side than I’d like.
That said, I checked out Donato Begotti’s MySpace page (myspace.com/donatobegotti), and if he is using the Brutus, which it sounds like to me, he is clearly more than able to pull off masterful chops regardless of the type of feel this amp has. Cicognani has certainly put together a unique and very usable amp setup with the Brutus Live head and 2×12 cab. In any studio or live situation it will deliver a cool new color to your tonal palate.
After the review had been printed, I brought the head over to my tech’s place and played it through our trusty eighties Marshall 4x12 with Celestion Greenbacks. DANG! It really sounded killer and extremely Marshall-like on the crunch channel. Played it for an hour at least, right after we had played my JCM 800 and 75 Superlead. It was very cool.
You want a portable yet powerful and unique sounding amp perfect for recording or live use.
You like a lot of sag in your lead tone.
Head Street $1699 Cab Street $524.99 - Cicognani - cicognaniamps.com