june 2011

The Mudshark’s design specs owe a lot to the famed Supro Thunderbolt amplifier from the mid ’60s.

Download Example 1
Dirty, controls set at 1 o'clock
Download Example 2
Volume maxed, low input
Clips recorded with a 1978 Greco EG-700 single cut through a Marshall JCM800 4x12 cabinet.
Few social groups are as resistant to the march of technology than guitarists. Even while amplifier design has witnessed drastic leaps in development and we now have incredibly versatile digital-modeling units brimming with processing power, huge sections of the electric guitar-playing populace still cling to the technology that propelled records now 50 years old (or more).

The upside of all this evolutionary reticence, of course, is that great builders are refining the simple tube circuit like never before. And few builders embrace the elegant simplicity of old tube circuits quite like Adam Grimm of Satellite Amplifiers. Grimm started Satellite when he built an amp for the lap-steel player in his Hawaiian band, and he’s remained restlessly fascinated with the potential of tube amps ever since. His ever-evolving line now has 10 models, and his newest amp—the 20-watt Mudshark— shows he hasn’t yet surfaced from his deep-dive exploration of great tube designs.

Like a Bolt from the Blue
The Mudshark’s design specs owe a lot to the famed Supro Thunderbolt amplifier from the mid ’60s. Legend has it that Jimmy Page used a Thunderbolt combo from this era as his main studio recording amplifier for the first two Led Zeppelin albums. Just like the Thunderbolt, the Mudshark is built around two 5881 power tubes, a pair of 12AX7 preamp tubes, and a 5Y3 rectifier tube.

The Mudshark features some notable improvements on the Supro design, however. Apart from higher build quality, it’s powered by Mercury Magnetics transformers, which are highly regarded in boutique circles because they provide reliable power and add tonal heft. No matter where I looked, the Mudshark’s guts were put together just about perfectly, with flawless solder joints and tightly routed wiring in the point-to-point circuit. And if simplicity is a Satellite hallmark, the plug-and-play Mudshark could easily be the company’s flagship—it has just two controls: Volume and Tone. Apart from those, the high- and low-gain inputs, and the 3-way ohm switch (4, 8, or 16) around back, there’s nothing to fiddle with.

The Mudshark looks straight-up cool. It’s covered in gorgeous blue-sparkle vinyl that’s reminiscent of Kustom’s old tuck ’n’ roll cabinets (although Satellite applies the vinyl directly to the wood). There were some small air bubbles and divots in the material that wouldn’t be noticeable to, say, fans at a gig, but they were apparent up close and when I ran my hand over the head cabinet—a small issue, but one that kept the amp from being aesthetically perfect.

Serious Bite
Knowing the Mudshark was designed with Jimmy Page in mind, I grabbed a Telecaster and a ’77 Greco EG-700 Les Paul copy and routed the Mudshark through a Marshall JCM800 4x12. With the Volume and Tone controls both at noon, I dug into the Telecaster and was rewarded with a bark that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I expected a tone with vintage vibe, but I hadn’t anticipated being bludgeoned with it. The Mudshark is an aggressive predator of an amp that bares deadly teeth with every note, remains defined during complex chord work, and exhibits pick sensitivity that I have rarely experienced in an amplifier. It’s very honest, with beautiful grit and nary an ounce of dampening or over-compression.

Going for the Kill
Primed to see how hotter humbuckers would sound, I plugged in the Greco and explored hard-rock territory. All the sonic detail I heard with the Telecaster remained intact, albeit with more growl, sustain, and thickness. The dual coils drove the Mudshark into overdrive with the Volume at about 10 o’clock. As I moved the knob higher, the volume increased until about one o’clock. Beyond that, it just piled on more grit and sustain. When I flipped to the Greco’s neck pickup position, the tone remained solid in the low end and sharp in the highs, reminiscent of the smooth tones of early Chicago. I’m certainly no Terry Kath, yet hearing what the amp was capable of at those settings made me want to rip in that style like never before.

With humbuckers, I found that setting both controls at 1 o’clock offered the most balanced tones and still allowed me to achieve cleaner tones by easing up on my attack and dropping the guitar’s volume ever so slightly. With Tone set any higher than 2 o’clock, the amp became too bright and slightly brittle sounding. Past 4 o’clock, it was prone to feedback, too. One other thing worth mentioning is that, since the amp is based on a non-master-volume circuit, an attenuator might be in order for those who would like to play at lower volumes while still taking advantage of the amp’s overdrive. It’s only 20 watts, but they’re loud watts— loud enough to gig with.

The Verdict
If you’re a lover of the aggressive, but smooth and harmonically rich, tones of classic-rock albums of the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Satellite Mudshark should absolutely be on your radar. It’s not the most versatile amplifier ever, but not having extra bells and whistles is part of the allure of this type of design—the simplicity affords certain raw, in-your-face tones that can’t be had from more sophisticated circuits. The Mudshark’s back-to-the-basics topology works like a time machine back to early ’60s. Whether you’re looking to snatch some of Page’s early Zep mojo or find your own straightforward tone, the Mudshark is an amazingly inspirational place to begin.
Buy if...
you’re passionate about authentic and authoritative late-’60s and early-’70s rock tones.
Skip if...
you need more flexible features such as a Master Volume, an effects loop, and/or a 3-band EQ.

Street $1450 - Satellite Amplification - satelliteamps.com

Building off of the popularity of their banjos in the 1920s, as well as lessons learned from a brief experiment in the guitar realm with their smaller Recording models,

Building off of the popularity of their banjos in the 1920s, as well as lessons learned from a brief experiment in the guitar realm with their smaller Recording models, Epiphone released their Masterbilt series of guitars in 1931. Guitar body size was king in the ’30s, and these models were produced to compete with Gibson’s Master Model range, further fanning the flames of rivalry between Epiphone and Gibson. Over the next few years, the two companies continually modified their lines in an attempt to outdo each other in the guitar size and volume game. In 1935, Epiphone pulled their trump card and released the Emperor archtop. At 18 1/2" wide, the Emperor reigned supreme, finally solidifying Epiphone’s position as one of the world’s most popular guitar manufacturers.

The 1953 Zephyr Emperor Regent (also known as the Zephyr Emperor Vari-Tone) seen here is a stunning example of the next round of innovations Epiphone made, this time in the electric guitar market. In Epiphone-lingo of the time, “Zephyr” and “Regent” denoted an electric model and a cutaway, respectively. This guitar features three original New York pickups—some models came with three DeArmond pickups— and the 6-button switching system allows all possible pickup combinations, save all three together. The original Bakelite pickup mounts and carousel control knobs are in great shape, and the Frequensator tailpiece is still holding strong, a rare sight for such an old example. With a flame spruce top, 7-ply body binding, bound rosewood fretboard, and pearl block inlays, one can see why the Emperor was Epiphone’s top model before the company merged with Gibson in 1957.

Thanks to Greg Mayo at Greg’s Guitars for listing this guitar on Gear Search. Whether you’re looking for a vintage jazz box or the latest shred machine, there’s a great chance you’ll find it at Gear Search. More than 47,000 pieces of gear are listed, including some of the rarest gear in the world.

Head to premierguitar.com/gear to find your dream instrument!

Paul Rivera’s amplifiers and effects are impressive by any standard. His work reflects a remarkable breadth of knowledge and intuition about the real musical applications for amplifiers and effects. The

Paul Rivera’s amplifiers and effects are impressive by any standard. His work reflects a remarkable breadth of knowledge and intuition about the real musical applications for amplifiers and effects. The proof is in Rivera’s client list—which includes artists spanning country, metal, roots rock, and pop—and in the longevity of a career that now spans more than three decades.

That ability to work across stylistic barriers is typified in Rivera’s new Shaman pedals— the Blues Shaman, Double Shaman, and Metal Shaman. The Blues Shaman evokes an overdriven tweed Fender, while the Double Shaman combines two voices optimized for hot blues-rock or more aggressive ’80s flavors. The Metal Shaman, meanwhile, conjures high-gain destruction. Here we take a look at the Blues Shaman and Double Shaman, but be sure to also read our review of the Metal Shaman at premierguitar.com/may2011.

Built for the Stage
Both the Blues Shaman and Double Shaman are constructed from 16-gauge stainless steel and adorned with colorful graphics printed on polycarbonate panels. Shared features include a single 1/4" input and output, a 9-volt adapter input, and a battery compartment that’s accessed through the back panel’s four Phillips-head screws. High-quality parts are used throughout: WIMA wound caps, low-noise FET and bipolar transistors, and Analog Devices chips are mounted on double-sided PCBs, while metal-barreled jacks ensure road-worthiness and long life, and the knobs and stainless-steel housing suggest Paul Rivera isn’t the slightest bit interested in skimping. These pedals were built to last and were obviously designed with love and care.

Blues Shaman
Download Example 1
Gritty Strat in Combo Mode
Download Example 2
Gritty Strat in Stack Mode
Download Example 3
Hamer Korina Special (P-90s), heavy distortion
Clips recorded through a Blackheart Little Giant 5 and 65 Amps London Pro 1x12 cab (Celestion G12H-30). Mic'd with a Shure SM57, dry into a Chandler LTD-1 mic pre with no EQ into an Apogee Symphony I/O to Pro Tools. No added reverb or FX.
The Blues Shaman was designed to reproduce the dynamic range and soft-clipping overdrive typical of a ’50s tweed Fender with 6V6s and an alnico Jensen speaker—for example, a Deluxe or Tremolux. Controls are simple and to the point: Level, Tone, and Gain knobs, a Stack/Combo mini toggle, and two stomp switches labeled Ascension (boost) and On/ True Bypass.

I set up a Fender American Standard Strat, a Blackheart Little Giant 5 head, and a 65Amps London Pro cab with a Celestion G12H-30 speaker to evaluate the Blues Shaman. With the Blackheart set clean and flat, the pedal delivered a classic, slightly fizzy, thick-bottomed blues mood. The pedal translated picking dynamics superbly, and the whole rig felt lively and very touch sensitive. The Blues Shaman has a knack for conveying the nuances of the interaction between fingers, wood, and wire. It’s very organic sounding.

Digging in with the Gain at 1 o’clock imparted the beautiful sound of a small combo nudging up against the breaking point. In the Combo setting, you can hear the Blues Shaman take on many of the qualities of an open-back cab with its airy, and less bass-heavy sound. The Tone knob is effective and has a very wide range. Rather than just add treble, it shapes the voice in a more dimensional way— moving from darker to brighter and fizzier without sacrificing bass clout. At first, I was leery of having only one control for tonal voicing, but in this case it was more than enough to dial in tones ranging from James Gang-style grit to Leslie West’s Mountain-sized hugeness.

Switching to my humbucker-equipped Hamer Korina Special, I cranked up the gain and toggled to Stack mode, which thickened and tightened up the bottom end while emphasizing low mids. With my eyes closed and the amp volume high, the bristling, compressed tones made me feel like I was onstage at a late-’60s outdoor festival. Small as the test rig was, it sounded as badass as a Sunn Coliseum head—only at a much more practical volume. The Ascension switch propelled that sound even further into the stratosphere—adding a killer boost and livelier harmonics.

There is no doubt Rivera knows his amps. And the Blues Shaman feels like a pedal built by someone who understands an amplifier as a living, breathing beast. The Blues Shaman nails that tweed sound and so much more. I can envision situations where I’d happily take the setup I used for this review over a ’50s tweed Deluxe simply for the versatility the Blues Shaman adds.
Buy if...
you need a wide range of tweed-style tones in a single pedal.
Skip if...
your overdrive tastes tend toward modern flavors.

Street $249 - Rivera Amplification - rivera.com

Double Shaman
Download Example 1
LA Mode, Super Lead Tone, Godin Icon Type 2
Download Example 2
Austin Mode, Stack, Epiphone Sheraton
Download Example 3
Austin Mode, Combo - Texas Rhythm Tone, Gibson Les Paul
Clips recorded through a Blackheart Little Giant 5 and 65 Amps London Pro 1x12 cab (Celestion G12H-30). Mic'd with a Shure SM57, dry into a Chandler LTD-1 mic pre with no EQ into an Apogee Symphony I/O to Pro Tools. No added reverb or FX.
The Double Shaman is two very different pedals in one. Its two channels—L.A. and Austin—range from the ’80s hair-metal feel of a modified Marshall on one to hot, Gibbons-/SRV-style Texas tube tone on the other. Both channels have simple layouts, with Level, Tone, and Drive knobs, and a Stack/Combo toggle. There are also two stomp switches for Destination (channel selection) and On/True-Bypass.

Given that I came up during the hairband era and actually owned several modded Marshalls back in the day, it was a fun trip down memory lane to jump into the L.A. channel. Plugged into the same Blackheart/65Amps half-stack I used with the Blues Shaman, I fired up a Godin Redline HB and cranked up the Drive control. Lo and behold—hair metal on demand!

Much like the amps we modded back in the Reagan years, the L.A. channel has a ridiculous amount of gain on tap, and the mids sounded focused for maximum cut and wailing tone. In Stack mode, there was plenty of attack and clarity, though it comes with the same trade-offs you experience in a modded amp: With the ridiculous amount of sustain you get from so much gain, you also lose some of the dimensionality that comes with less-extreme voicings with lower gain settings. It’s not a super-versatile tone, but if you’re nostalgic for Warren DiMartini’s solo tone on “Round and Round” or you want to lay into some Dokken-era Lynch sounds, this pedal was made for you.

The Tone control was quite flexible and handy when changing from guitar to guitar and matching just the right amount of attack and presence. It even made my low-gain Strat kick like it was loaded with humbuckers. In Combo mode, the L.A. section’s tone became brighter and a little looser on the bottom. But my preference—especially in the L.A. channel—was to stay in Stack mode: It achieved maximum punch and bottom-end tightness.

On the Austin channel, the same three controls and Stack/Combo toggle seemed to offer up a wider range of tones. With a Les Paul R8, it was easy to dial in a killer Billy Gibbons Texas tone. Individual notes rang rich with harmonics, and with the Gain set fairly high (around 3 o’clock) there was a raunchy vibe that just stank of coolness. I really enjoyed the compressed, spongy feel of the attack, as well as the flexibility of the Tone control.

With the Les Paul in hand, I assumed I’d prefer Stack mode, but it was Combo mode that availed my favorite Texas-boogie tones. And with a Strat and a roll-off of the Gain, it was easy to conjure round, muscular SRV sweetness. Switching into Stack mode with this combination made the sound even bolder and more powerful, and the pedal really responded to digging in harder.

At times, I wished there was a third stomp switch that added a boost capability for each channel. Absent this feature, you can still easily set up one channel to be hotter as a boost for your solos, but because their tonal differences are so substantial this approach will be ineffective in certain musical contexts.

The Double Shaman accomplishes a lot for a single pedal—it can transport you from the Sunset Strip circa ’87 to the South with the click of a switch. Both channels are highly specialized and offer up very different sounds for those who work across a wider tone field. In my experience, I’ve never come across a pedal that moved between two extremes and made them work so well together.
Buy if...
your playing incorporates ’80s hair-metal sounds and ’70s Texas grit.
Skip if...
you don’t need such radical variance in your lead tones.

Street $299 - Rivera Amplification - rivera.com

The Verdict
Paul Rivera’s decades of experience show in the Blues Shaman and Double Shaman. Both pedals are dynamic, sensitive, and responsive to different guitar voices and playing approaches—just like a great tube amplifier. And if you’re looking to expand the range of your own amp without sacrificing its essential tube character, the Blues Shaman and Double Shaman have the goods.