With 1978’s Some Girls—one of the Stone’s biggest-selling studio albums—and its resulting US tour, the band reconnected with their gritty, groovin’, and brash roots.
Some Girls Live in Texas '78
Eagle Rock Entertainment
During the mid ’70s, the Stones had lost much of their raunchy, charismatic zeal. They had released Goat’s Head Soup, It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll, and Black and Blue—albums that were commercially successful, but tepidly received by critics who claimed the rockers had become stale and predictable compared to the punk and disco music that had taken over the airwaves. However, with 1978’s Some Girls—one of the Stone’s biggest-selling studio albums—and its resulting US tour, the band reconnected with their gritty, groovin’, and brash roots. Here again was the group that first swaggered out of London in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the album’s songs and attitude restored the lads to their rightful place in rock ’n’ roll royalty. This rowdy energy powers the DVD and Blu-ray concert film Some Girls Live in Texas ’78.
The action starts with a burning cover of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” and an equally overdriven rendition of Exile on Main St.’s “All Down the Line.” On the latter, Keith Richards uses a ’50s blonde Tele, although for most of the concert he relies on a black ’75 Telecaster Deluxe driving a Mesa/ Boogie Mark I. From there, Live in Texas offers up blistering takes on “Tumbling Dice,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Star Star.” During the latter, Mick Jagger ad-libs “Jimmy Page is quite the rage, I couldn’t see the reason why.”
Key cuts include the stone-cold classic, “Beast of Burden,” a country-fried “Far Away Eyes” (with Ronnie Wood on lap steel), and a one-two combo of the phaserdriven, art-rock “Shattered” and punkmeets- Berry “Respectable.”
Picture quality isn’t great on Some Girls, and bonus features are pretty much limited to a 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live, but the band’s raw talent and powerful musicianship more than make up for that. Yes, it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but we like it, yes we do.
In essence, the Tone Hammer 500 is based on Aguilar’s popular Tone Hammer pedal, combined with a class-D power amp.
What is the Aguilar sound? To some ears, it is a unique combination of vintage warmth and modern clarity. And since 1995, bassists of all styles have relied on Aguilar gear, both onstage and in the studio. The evolution of Aguilar’s creations began with their renowned DB680 preamp and the DB728 power amp. This all-tube duo would establish the foundation for future Aguilar amplifiers, from the mighty DB750 (now upgraded to the DB751), to Aguilar’s latest offering, the Tone Hammer 500.
Tools in the Forge of Bass Tone
In essence, the Tone Hammer 500 is based on Aguilar’s popular Tone Hammer pedal, combined with a class-D power amp. The amp’s rugged exterior protects a clean and well-organized interior, ensuring that the Tone Hammer 500 could certainly handle an accidental drop.
The user-friendly front panel contains only the necessities— Gain, Bass, semiparametric Mid, Treble, and Master controls. Added to the array is a Drive knob, which is based on Aguilar’s adaptive gain-shaping circuitry (AGS). It works with the Gain and Mid controls to give the sound some vintage flavor. By increasing the Drive, one can achieve a tighter, warmer tone, or push the gain structure into overdrive. The diminutive design also provides convenience, with the DI and effects loop located on the front plate for easy access. Other handy features include an input pad, clip indicator, and an illuminated mute section. The back of the Tone Hammer 500 is also straightforward, with two speakON outputs, a tuner out, and a voltage selector.
In recent years, Aguilar has diversified their product offerings to include pickups, pedals, and speakers. Their most recent speaker line features lightweight components and is appropriately dubbed the Super Light series. Aguilar’s Super Light 1x12 (or SL 112) is the anvil to the Tone Hammer 500, but this is no cumbersome cabinet. The impressively light design houses a custom 12" Eminence driver, equipped with neodymium magnets. Adhering to the modernvintage ethos, the SL 112 has an old-school aesthetic with its black, textured-vinyl covering and black-and-white grille cloth. A nice highlight of the SL 112 is the custom crossover, which minimizes the 1 kHz “honk” associated with neodymium speakers.
The combined weight of the 4-pound Tone Hammer 500 and two, 25-pound SL 112s is equivalent to the average 1x15 cabinet with a ceramic magnet. With that in mind, it’s safe to say this rig combination has “one-trip” portability along with its cool, classic looks.
But How Does It Sound?
I put the Tone Hammer 500 and two SL 112s through their paces using a 1964 Fender Jazz bass, a Nash P-style bass (with flatwound strings), and a carved German upright equipped with a Fishman BP-100 pickup. The Aguilar products were also combined with Glockenklang amps and cabs to assess the compatibility of the Aguilars with other brands.
It was clear from the first three notes that the test rig had that Aguilar sound. Set flat, the TH500 and SL 112s created a tone with warm midrange and a solid, but not overbearing, low-end punch. With the tweeters turned down, it was easy to hear the crossover at work. The highs were present, yet smooth, with no harshness or edginess. The rig could bark, particularly when soloing the bridge pickup on the ’64 J bass and boosting the mids. What was most surprising was the way in which the warm, vintage-like tone of the Aguilar rig could be modernized with a twist of the tweeter controls on the SL 112. Setting the level to 12 o’clock on the tweeter’s Volume control gave the rig some zing, great for slapping on the Jazz bass.
The sound of the upright came through fairly well and the accuracy of the lightweight rig brought out the “string sound” of the Fishman BP-100 pickup. If you are pleased with your current bass and pickup, there is a very good chance that the Tone Hammer 500 will complement your sound nicely.
Of all three instruments, the Nash was the winner when paired with the Aguilar rig. The growl and heft of each note was delivered with authority. Slides and vibrato techniques came through so well, it gave the Nash an articulate, Barry White-style timbre. Oh baby.
Combining the Aguilar amp and cabinets with other brands garnered some interesting results. The warmth of the Tone Hammer 500 sounded great with the Glockenklang Space Deluxe 112 cabinet, establishing a tonally balanced rig. The aggressive midrange of the SL 112s added some life to a Glockenklang Soul head, evoking a responsive and articulate combination. This brief experiment provided evidence that these Aguilar products have the potential to play well with other amps and cabs.
I used the Tone Hammer 500 and the SL 112s in a variety of live performances. The test rig worked well with a jazz trio by bringing out the mids of the German upright, which made intonation adjustments easy. On a cover-band gig, the rig could not quite compete with two, 50-watt guitar amps and bombastic drums. Fortunately, running a line to the house provided enough volume to convey the Aguilar sound with the ’64 Jazz bass. Armed with the Nash P-style bass, I treated a cabaret show audience to some Tone Hammer-tinged bass lines. Pairing the Tone Hammer 500 with a Glockenklang Space Deluxe 112 created so much sound that I could fill a 700-seat theater without PA support.
As one would expect when using any lightweight amplification, the biggest benefit is the portability of the components. The size of the Tone Hammer 500 is small enough to fit in most gig bag pouches, and the handle placement on the SL 112s allows for balanced transportation of the cabinets. During my time with the review rig, I developed arthritis in my right foot, which dramatically limited my mobility. It was a relief to have this rig, because I was able to minimize the stress on my foot with such easy equipment to transport. The Aguilar rig also passed the gig obstacle-course test—navigating flights of stairs and enduring long walks from the stage to the car.
The Tone Hammer 500 and SL 112 are solid additions to the Aguilar family. These are ideal products for the bassist on the go, as well as a player with back or feet problems. The Tone Hammer 500 gets close to replicating the tone of its predecessors, and outrivals the many mini-amps on the market. While the SL 112 is one option to pair with the Tone Hammer 500, Aguilar also has a wide variety of other cabs to fit a bassist’s particular needs. All said, if you are looking for a portable, eyecatching rig that gives you a taste of that Aguilar sound, try plugging into the Tone Hammer 500 and SL 112.
Tone Hammer 500:
you want a user-friendly, superportable amp with warm tone and decent power.
you need more power, prefer a more hi-fi tone, or can’t play without tubes.
you need a lighter rig, and have an ear for a midrange-friendly cabinet.
you like a cabinet with a fuller low end, or prefer the tone of ceramic drivers.
What’s remarkable about the EC Twinolux is how, like so many great Fender amps, it can be a beautiful blank slate for anything.
Fender’s relationship with Eric Clapton has been fruitful beyond the clout that comes with comfy star associations. As anyone who has played a good Clapton signature Stratocaster can attest, the dividends are musical too. Until this point, however, Fender’s relationship with Clapton, or any of their high-profile player endorsees, has been about guitars—an odd situation given that Fender’s amps nearly rival the company’s 6-strings in terms of historical importance.
That all changed this year with the introduction of three Eric Clapton signature amps, the EC Vibro-Champ, the EC Tremolux, and the EC Twinolux reviewed here. None of these three amps are radical reinventions, and each is based to some extent on a Fender classic. But Clapton’s collaboration with the Fender design team, which resulted in features like tremolo and power attenuation, makes each of them a unique amplifier.
What’s remarkable about the EC Twinolux is how, like so many great Fender amps, it can be a beautiful blank slate for anything. And while it took the help of a pedal or two to cop tones from say, Slowhand’s more extreme Cream moves, the Twinolux is an able and willing running mate for ventures into territory ranging from crunch to near-pure clarity, as well as sounds that have nothing to do with Clapton’s repertoire at all.
Just as the EC Vibro-Champ is a variant of the ’57 Champ, and the EC Tremolux (reviewed online at premierguitar.com) is a variant of the ’57 Deluxe, the EC Twinolux is based on the ’57 Twin—a reissue of the 40-watt tweed Twin that Clapton has used onstage since Cream’s 2005 reunion. In many ways, the original narrow-panel Twin was the template for most of the famous mid-to-high-power Fenders that would follow—6L6 power tubes, 12AX7 preamp tubes, 12" Jensen speakers, and a clean but bellowing voice that gave you something a little extra when you cranked it up.
In terms of specifications and appearance, the Twinolux is a very close relative to that first narrow-panel Twin. The circuit is based on the 5E8-A schematic that’s the foundation of the narrow-panel original. The two 6L6GE power tubes help conjure 40 watts of firepower and four 12AX7s help power the preamp section. Like the original Twin, the Twinolux has dual 5U4GB rectifier tubes. A peek into the open-backed cabinet reveals two 40-watt Weber-designed alnico speakers (built by Eminence), and transformers built by Mercury Magnetics. The control set is straightforward, if a little less than totally logical. A Presence knob is all the way to the right and is separated from the rest of the tone controls by the Speed and Depth controls for the tremolo.
At its core, the Twinolux may not differ too much from the ’57 Twin. But the obvious differences are significant. First, there’s an output-tube bias tremolo circuit. More importantly though—at least in terms of the Twinolux’s overall versatility—there’s a 3-position attenuation switch that not only cuts the power down to apartment-friendly levels, but will cut a speaker out of the mix too, for more controlled output.
Physically, the Twinolux is a thing of beauty. The finger-jointed pine and lacquered-tweed cabinet is the embodiment of Fender minimalist elegance. And it makes the ugliest guitar look about 50 times cooler when parked against the Twinolux.
Sweet and Simple
There’s really no way to test the EC Twinolux without a Stratocaster on hand, but I also used a humbucker-equipped Telecaster Custom, a Jaguar with Seymour Duncan Hot pickups, and a Rickenbacker 12-string to probe the Twinolux’s range of voices. And one of the sweetest aspects of the Twinolux is how agreeable it sounded with each guitar.
Oddly, it was the Stratocaster that demanded the most patience and tone tweaking. Working with the Twinolux’s volume at about 30 percent and the tone controls at noon, the bridge pickup on the Stratocaster was pretty trebly and even a little thin for 1st-position chords. It’s not a bad setup for playing mellow blues shuffles, Prince-style funk vamps, or Slowhand’s own patented “Lay Down Sally” muted-and-popping rhythm style. But to really make a Stratocaster work for more rocking and bluesy stuff, you have to kick up the Bass and bring the Treble down to about 25 percent. What you lose in high-end definition, you can add with a nudge of the Presence control, which can also lend a little more body and color to the amp’s essentially compressed voice.
The hotter output and rounder, almost P-90-like qualities of the Jaguar’s pickups were a better fit. And with an overdrive pedal in between the Jag and Twinolux, I got a clearer picture of how accommodating this amp really is—the Twinolux does a remarkable job of communicating the personality of guitar and effects, and it really seemed to love the kick in the pants it received from my battered Tube Screamer without sacrificing an ounce of its own flavor.
The most natural sounding pairing for the Twinolux was the humbucker-equipped Telecaster, which seems to tame the amp’s treblier tendencies and works well with its natural compression. The neck humbucker in particular is especially well suited to the amp’s wide-open, high-volume settings. Here again, the Twinolux benefits from conservative use of treble and generously applied bass. But exploring higher volumes with a wide-open humbucker seems to enliven every last shade in the Twinolux’s tone palette. The amp will stay sparklingly clean (and plenty loud for a rockin’ drums/bass/keyboard combo) up to about 30 to 40 percent of full volume. After that, the Twinolux doesn’t really get louder, just more compressed and overdriven. But each increase up to full blast adds another hue to the amp’s crunchy and singing voice, and a little finesse with your touch will open up a world of dynamics. This is where the presence control comes in handy too, and you can lend more harmonic balance and space to a very muscular basic tone with a boost in the Presence.
In this environment, the Twinolux can evoke everything from one of Joe Walsh’s exploding James Gang tweeds to a JTM-45. And most importantly for Clapton fans, this is where the woman tone lives on the Twinolux—a beautiful, round and husky violin tone that will transport you straight to the domain of Ulysses—or beyond if you put a Tone Bender or Fuzz Face out in front and roll off your guitar tone. Even at its most aggressive settings, this amp still loves fuzz and overdrive.
The attenuation options on the Twinolux are a smart touch. Back at home, I used the single-speaker setting through the night for a few 12-string-based projects, and neither a cut in power nor speaker count affected the Twinolux’s ability to convey the 12-string’s harmonic complexity. In fact, I might have been more inclined to use the attenuated output in a recording environment for rhythm work and arpeggios, given its warmth and overall civility.
The tremolo is effective for a subtle wash and lending movement to simple rhythm work—particularly when working that dry, spanky Stratocaster tone zone. But though Fender says the tremolo is throbbier than their typical ’60s-style circuit, I didn’t find it quite as swampy as the circuits in my reissue Vibroverb or my vintage Tremolux, even at the most aggressive intensity settings.
Apart from the obvious high-gain applications, it’s hard to imagine a musical setting in which the EC Twinolux wouldn’t excel. The burly, bassy end of its tone spectrum and exceptional touch sensitivity make it a great jazz amp. Roll up the Treble a touch and kick on the treble pickup of your Telecaster and you’ll be kicking down barn doors like Don Rich. And needless to say, Slowhand himself must be proud at how readily this amp can move from round and wooly Cream-era tones to 461 Ocean Boulevard without a hitch.
There are a few drawbacks. This amp will sound too brittle and trebly for a lot of Stratocaster players who like a meatier kind of chiminess. And the lack of reverb when you do get that ideal Fender tone locked in can be just short of excruciating. The Twinolux isn’t cheap either, at almost three grand out the door. But given the Twinolux’s range and beautiful build quality, this may be the only amp you need for 80 percent of the music you make, and given that math, it may be worth the investment. Considering everything this amp can do, it might just be a perfect launching pad for exploration of your own musical voice—even if you’ve never heard an Eric Clapton record in your life.
you’re on the hunt for a perfect marriage of Fender 6L6 versatility and a wide range of Slowhand tones.
you need Marshall-style gain on top of your clean, biting tones.