Three clipping modes and no mid hump take this three-knobber way beyond typical TS tones.
Cusack’s Screamer V2 makes no bones about being inspired by Ibanez’s famous green stomp, but its 3-position clipping toggle—which selects between standard, “crushed,” and asymmetrical LED clipping—adds a welcome wrinkle to the three-knob formula. V2 has a good deal more saturation than classic Tube Screamers, and it’s a rich, toothy distortion that never feels thin or piercing, even with tone maxed. Further, its EQ response also lacks the TS’s characteristic midrange hump, so it sounds much more transparent whether you’re using it to get dirty or as a clean boost—though the amount of oomph on tap at minimal drive settings is somewhat modest.
But clipping modes are obviously the star attraction here. Their sonic differences are virtually indistinguishable with level and drive below noon, but past that more traditional players will love that standard mode yields a bristling, harmonically rich and very versatile distortion, while asymmetrical mode has a smoother, rounder, more amp-like response. (Think cranked, possibly modded vintage Fender.) Meanwhile, subversives will love that the V2 can get into gnarly, RAT-like territory in crushed mode.
Test gear: Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Tele with Nordstrand NVT A3 pickups, Goodsell Valpreaux 21 and 1x12 with Weber Blue Dog and Silver Bell speakers.
Clip 1 — Tele Bridge; off, then all 3 clipping modes with level and tone at noon and drive at max
Clip 2 — Tele Bridge and Neck; off then all 3 clipping modes with level and tone at noon and drive at 3 o'clock
Intriguingly flexible tone possibilities. No midrange hump. Solid build.
Clipping-mode nuances disappear at lower drive settings. Distracting “clip-o-meter” and confusing dual-color status LED.
Cusack Screamer V2
Ease of Use:
Twenty bucks for a 1970s Sunn combo in excellent condition makes for a Saturday well spent!
I was recently at a garage sale and bought a Sunn Solos II guitar amp for $20 Canadian. It is a 2x12 solid-state combo with a tremolo/reverb footswitch. Everything appears to be in original and near-perfect condition. The speaker grille has no tears, but has slightly turned a little yellow due to age. I found very little information on this amp. Can you give me a little history and possibly a value?
Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada
You never know what you’re going to find at a garage sale! I don’t always have the patience on a Saturday morning to go house-to-house trying to find the next treasure, but every now and then you come across a good old piece of gear. It’s even better when you find an old piece of gear at a bargain price.
Brothers Norm and Conrad Sundholm founded Sunn in the mid-1960s in the Portland, Oregon, area. Norm was the bassist for the Kingsmen, and after the band gained overnight success with their hit “Louie Louie” in 1963, he quickly realized that the amps they had were not powerful enough to play large concerts. So, Norm enlisted the help of Conrad to design a more high-powered bass amplifier, and the result was the first Sunn amp.
The Sunn brothers quickly outgrew the confines of their family garage, where they had set up shop. In 1965, they moved into a repurposed, swimming pool facility in Tualatin, Oregon, where they would manufacture and expand their line to include a full range of amplifiers. The Who famously used Sunn amps on their North American tours in late 1967 and 1968, and the company’s notoriety grew in the music-gear business.
Unfortunately, Sunn’s initial success was short-lived. In 1969, Conrad bought Norm out of the company after the brothers began disagreeing on business decisions. Three years later in 1972, Conrad sold the company to the Hartzell Corporation. Production then moved to Williamstown, Kentucky, but they were still shipping components from Oregon at great expense. It should also be noted that by the 1970s Sunn was heavily involved with solid-state technology, which wasn’t considered as good as tube amps by many musicians. Sunn manufacturing would return to Oregon after a few years.
Production floundered through the late 1970s and early 1980s, before Fender bought Sunn in 1987. Fender initially produced Sunn amps for a few years, but mothballed the trademark until 1998 when they rolled out a new line of Sunn amps. That line only lasted until 2001. Interestingly, the Sunn 300T became the Bassman 300, which remained in Fender’s product line through 2012. The Sunn brand is still owned by Fender today, but Sunn-branded amplifiers haven’t been produced for many years.
The icing on the cake for this garage-sale steal is the original dual-footswitch that was still paired with the amp.
The Solos II amps were produced in the 1970s and designed for guitar use. Like many Sunn amps from this era, they utilized a solid-state chassis. Your model has two 12" speakers (a 1x15 configuration was also available), 120-watt output, two channels with normal and brite inputs for each channel, reverb and vibrato on channel 2, and a distortion switch labeled as “X20.” The fact that your amp came with the original footswitch for controlling reverb and vibrato is pretty cool, since unattached items like footswitches tend to go missing over the years.
Today, Sunn has developed a bit of a cult following by musicians in the stoner-rock genre. Sunn amps fit the genre because they’re loud, relatively clear, put out a good bass sound, and can deliver a ton of distortion.
These Solos II amps are currently worth between $400 and $600 (U.S.) in excellent condition, which your amp most certainly is. You did very well picking it up for $20 (U.S. or Canadian). Take care of it like the previous owner did and you will have a treasure for years to come. And keep checking out those garage sales!
PG chief editor Shawn Hammond on why it’s time to move beyond dominant-male guitar lingo.
Almost from its inception, guitar as we know it has been drenched in sexualized machismo. The trailblazing, rock ’n’ roll-presaging 6-stringer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other women guitarists couldn’t have gotten away with it even if they’d wanted to, but go back a century or so to rambunctious early blues players, followed by the rockers they inspired, and you’ll see that guitar dudes have long wielded their axes in ways that project dominance through exhibitionistic poses and maneuvers that range from slightly suggestive to explicitly masturbatory to all-out coitus guitarus.
And the lingo we’ve developed over the ensuing years has a pretty testosterone-centric outlook, too. We describe a full, powerful sound as having “balls,” a curvaceous semi-hollow guitar wailing through a cranked amp as “woman tone,” and self-indulgent players who let their fingers fly endlessly across phallus-like fretboards as “wankers.” And to any aviation-history buffs in the crowd, sorry, I don’t buy the idea that guitarists who rave about “balls-out” or “balls-to-the-wall” solos are just using the ol’ bomber-pilot metaphor.
You could argue that a lot of this sexualized dominant-male stuff simply mirrored the gender dynamics of the times and the lyrical content of the artists’ repertoire. You could also argue that it’s no big deal because most of us simply interpret these things at their coded, 6-string-centric idiomatic level without pausing to think or care about any sort of unsavory backstory. We do this with all sorts of sayings in everyday life, so it’s nothing new. On one hand, that’s just part of living with the ceaseless evolution of language—I mean, it would take a lot of time and energy to unpack every little idiom we come across, right? Plus, a decent number of women guitarists utter these macho sayings and engage in these alpha-male-like gesticulations onstage, too. For some, I’m sure it just seems like a harmless, innocent part of the vernacular. Part of the fun—part of the coolness of guitar. For others, perhaps it’s an ironic way to reclaim what was dominated by men for far too long.
But to me, and I’m sure plenty of others, the words do matter. Casual phrases like these reveal more about our true selves than we realize. So I’m just going to come out and say it: Phallic moves and male-centric colloquialisms for 6-string awesomeness are just plain dumb. Borderline sexist—even if sometimes kind of accidentally or absentmindedly so. They’re like caveman talk: “Me like my ding-dong. Me like guitar. Me wish guitar was ding-dong.”
Yes, merely living requires a certain amount of surrendering to the tide of linguistic evolution, especially since its pace seems to increase with each passing year. But as society ostensibly progresses, should we not be willing, if not compelled, to revisit the past—isn’t there an old saying about doom and repetition?
I’m sure plenty of readers will brand me a PC-culture warrior, or worse, for bringing all this up. And that’s fine. But just know that my doing so has nothing to do with being a prude. If I were saying this 20 years ago, when I was a very different person with a very different set of beliefs, yeah, sure—it totally would’ve been.
But not now. Now all this makes me think of Maude Lebowski’s rant to the Dude in The Big Lebowski: “My art has been commended as being strongly ‘vaginal,’ which bothers some men. The word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Vagina … they don't like hearing it and find it difficult to say, whereas without batting an eye a man will refer to his dick or his rod or his Johnson.” Or his balls.
Now I’m coming from what I’d like to believe is a more open-minded and aware place, a place of wanting to right some of the dumb little wrongs that are actually in our power to change—even if they don’t seem like that big a deal. Just remember that those for whom the norm has brought comfort, status, and power have rarely been mindful of the sting felt at the opposing position. If you find yourself getting riled up about my nitpicking, ask the women and girls in your life if they’re cool with the idea of normalized male dominance, objectification, and having their bodies equated with inanimate objects that you can fondle anytime you like down in your “man cave.”
So please, next time you feel like your tone is so amazing you’ve gotta shout it from the rooftops, how about describing it as “beefy,” “muscular,” or “fucking huge”? Or “fucking” anything that doesn’t have to do with your XY-derived genitalia? Don’t tell us how “ballsy” it is, nor how “balls-to-the-wall” your epic solo was. Everyone agrees sex is great. As Maude said, it’s a “natural, zesty enterprise.” But sorry, dudes, balls aren’t that big a deal.