A 44-watt power amp in a pedal-sized box

Download Example 1
Gibson 1 - Gibson SG, Bridge Pickup, Volume 9 o'clock, Bright ON
Download Example 2
Gibson 2 - Gibson SG, Neck Pickup, Volume 12 o'clock, Bright ON
Download Example 3
Gibson 3 - Gibson SG, Both Pickups, Volume Dimed, Bright ON
Download Example 4
Gibson 4 - Boss DS-1, Drop-B tuned Gibson SG, Neck Pickup, Volume 12 o'clock, Bright ON
Download Example 5
Fender 1 - Fender Strat, Bridge Pickup, Volume 10 o'clock, Bright OFF
All clips recorded into an Emperor solid birch 4x12" with
Weber C1265s using a Shure SM57.
Electro-Harmonix is a constant source of innovation. And their effects— from classics like the Memory Man to the Big Muff to the more radical and recent POG—have a reputation for inspiring creativity and pushing the envelope of what is possible with a guitar and a few pedals.

With the release of the 44 Magnum, a 44-watt power amp in a pedal-sized box, Electro-Harmonix is aiming at a considerably more utilitarian target. Nevertheless, they’ve hit a bull’s-eye. The 44 Magnum ranks as one of the most practical pieces of gear for the gigging guitarist released by anyone over the last several years. It has potential in the studio and the practice space, and it can work as both a backup amp and compact front-line amp for certain players—all for the same money you’d pay for a typical high-quality pedal.

Packs a Punch

The 44 Magnum comes in the same ultra-small pedal box as the Magnum’s little brother, the 22 Caliber, and such effects pedals as the Freeze and the Nano Clone. The unit weighs about the same as a similarly sized effects unit, though it does require a fairly hefty 24-VDC adapter with an inline transformer (this is included with the device).

Because the 44 Magnum is a power amp, its output must be connected directly to a speaker. But EHX had the foresight to dummy-proof the unit to some extent, and if you power it up without connecting it to a speaker load first, the Magnum will automatically disable, saving itself from an eventual meltdown. To restart the Magnum, you simply remove it from power, connect a load, and reintroduce power. The optimal configuration is with an 8Ω cabinet, but the Magnum will push a 16Ω speaker too.

It’s deceiving and dangerous to think of this thing as a pedal, and it’s a bit scary to think of the poor bloke who will eventually plug this thing into his delay pedal. You read it here, you’ll read it on the pedal, and you’ll read it about four times in the manual—don’t plug it into anything but a speaker cabinet or otherwise appropriate load. The damage to your gear can be significant.

The 44 Magnum’s control set is as simple as they come. Like any non-master volume amp, a single Volume knob takes the 44 Magnum from quiet and clear all the way up to loud, growling, and saturated. The only other control is a 2-position toggle for Normal or Bright operation—a feature not unlike the Bright switch on many vintage Fender amplifiers.

If It Walks Like an Amp …

I tried the 44 Magnum out with an 8Ω Emperor 4x12 cabinet, a Gibson SG, and a Fender Stratocaster. With the Gibson piped through the 44 Magnum in Normal mode at low volume, the amp generated a full, if dark, sound with both neck and bridge pickups. At around 10 o’clock I started to hear pleasing hints of true power-amp compression. And even at this relatively low setting, the pedal was already kicking out enough volume for a practice session or a gig on a small stage.

Moving the volume up to noon propelled me into sweet overdrive territory. And with the volume at 2 or 3 o’clock, the Gibson’s humbuckers induced both heavy, harmonic distortion and singing feedback. My Stratocaster’s lower-output single-coils created a subtler saturation, but the signal was still very cutting, resulting in a juiced, Marshall Plexi-like tone that was simultaneously creamy, dark, and slicing. It’s remarkable— given its size—but the 44 Magnum really can rock and rock heavily. And the only limitation of the pedal, at least in terms of gain range, is that it may not work well by itself for certain genres of metal, where extreme volume and preamp gain are key, or for David Gilmour-style loud-and-clean applications.

I also evaluated the Magnum using a Boss DS-1, EHX Big Muff, and a Devi Ever Legend of Fuzz. Here the Magnum’s Bright switch proved to be a real asset, and flipping it on helped the distortion pedals’ high frequencies shine through. Like most guitarists, I generally run these pedals into the front end of my guitar amp, effectively funneling one preamp (the pedal) into another (the amp’s preamp). It’s not often that you get to hear your favorite distortion pedals run directly into a power amp, and it was definitely a sonic treat to experience the fundamental voice and range of those pedals so clearly.

The Verdict

There are a ton of potential applications for the 44 Magnum. Bass players in smaller, quieter combos can use it to drive a cabinet. And if you like to travel as light as possible, but need more kick than a small-wattage combo can deliver, the 44 Magnum and a small cabinet are a cost-effective and super-portable solution. For my money, though, it’s a great piece of insurance if you’re a touring or gigging musician. Throw the tiny 44 Magnum into your cable bag and you’re done with worrying about a failed amp forever. It won’t replace your vintage or boutique tube amp in terms of sweet tones, mega gain, or high headroom. But it sure won’t break your back and, at $145, it won’t break the bank either. If your go-to amp is an old-timer with a few quirks, you won’t be playing Russian roulette onstage with a 44 Magnum in your holster.
Buy if...
you regularly play electric guitar in a live setting and subscribe to Murphy’s Law.
Skip if...
you don’t need anything more portable than your combo, and it hasn’t failed you ... yet.

Street $145 - Electro-Harmonix -

A variety of tweakable tones in a small box with a small price tag

Bruce Egnater is famous for his role in pioneering multi-channel amps with cascading preamps—an idea that’s rather ubiquitous now but was the stuff of dreams just a couple of decades ago. Today, he’s building on that notoriety by becoming one of the leading purveyors of affordable, feature-packed tube amps. His latest entrant in the field is the diminutive 15-watt Tweaker head and 112X 1x12 cabinet.

Utilitarian Lunchbox, Hearty Meal
At this point, it’s pretty tough for an amp manufacturer to distinguish itself in the so-called “lunchbox amp” category. Almost every company out there, from boutique to budget outfits, has a pint-sized tube amp—everything from simple-and-sweet designs to heads that cram more knobs and mini-toggles than you thought possible onto a miniscule chassis.

Egnater Amplification has already made its mark in the crowded niche with its popular Rebel 20 and Rebel 30 models—which allow you to morph between 6V6- and EL84-powered tones—but the company has found another way to wow us with the new Tweaker (which is also available as a 1x12 combo).

The Tweaker’s wow factor doesn’t necessarily come from such decidedly boutique features as those in the Rebel (although it does have several tricks up its sleeve). Instead, it comes from sheer bang for buck. The Tweaker is powered by a pair of 6V6 tubes—which is a welcome change for those who feel pip-squeak-sized amps too often skew toward EL84s. And it packs a ton of practical features into its face-slappingly affordable box while still managing to exude a vibe of relative simplicity.

The front panel features, from left to right, Power and Standby switches, a Vintage/Modern mini toggle, a Master knob, a US/AC/Brit voicing mini toggle, a three-band EQ section, a Hot/Clean mini toggle, a Gain knob, Bright/Normal and Tight/Deep mini toggles, and a single 1/4" input. Around back, it’s even simpler: Send and Return jacks for the buffered effects loop, an Impedance switch (4, 8, or 16 ohms), two speaker jacks, a three-position voltage selector (100, 115, 230), and a standard IEC power jack. The matching Egnater 112X cabinet features a semi-open design, a 12-inch Celestion G12H-30 speaker, and input and output jacks (for daisy-chaining to another cab). The 112X features a soft, utilitarian rubber handle, while the Tweaker head has a leather handle that gets the job done but feels somewhat flimsy. Both enclosures lack metal corner protectors, but they do have tall, soft rubber feet for excellent shock absorption.

Watch the video review on page 2...

Tweak to Your Heart’s Content
Although the Tweaker is stocked with several mini toggles that open up a myriad of tonal options, dialing in a usable sound is usually as simple as plugging in. I ran the amp through its paces with several test guitars, including a Tele with alnico 3 single-coils, a Reverend Pete Anderson hollowbody with P-90s, and a Schecter Ultra III with mini humbuckers. With each guitar, I found it nearly impossible to dial in a sound I couldn’t use.

The most logical place to begin tonal experimentation is with the US/AC/Brit voicing toggle, which alters the amp’s tone stack for Fender-, Vox-, and Marshall-style tones, respectively. Some players may lament that this feature isn’t footswitchable, but that would doubtless bump the price up significantly. My take is that Egnater designed the amp to please a wide swath of players who love plug-and-play simplicity but don’t plan to switch sounds a lot. That makes the Tweaker a great choice for both home recordists and players like me who’d rather find a sweet spot, then change up tones manually with tweaks to playing attack or the guitar’s volume knob.

Although I consistently gravitated back to the warm, well-rounded US voicing—which was great for everything from old-school rock to indie tones, rockabilly, and bluesy wailing—the AC and Brit voicings were also stellar. In all three, the Vintage/Modern toggle yielded looser, more lived-in tones in the former position, and a little more articulation and definition in the latter.

With the Hot/Clean toggle flicked up to Hot, each tone-stack setting served up enough gain for any flavor of hard rock and all but the doomiest of metal. I preferred Hot/Clean set to Clean overall—and particularly in the US voicing—for the more expansive range and reactivity to pick dynamics. And in that particular setup I could use my fingers and a light touch to get fat, thumping jazz sounds using the Reverend’s neck pickup, or dig in with a pick and any of the guitars’ bridge pickups for varying levels of toothy gain—from bristling Brian Setzer-like tones (think “Rumble in Brighton”) to raucous J. Mascis flavors.

I vacillated between preferences on the Bright/Normal toggle. The Tele’s bridge pickup liked Normal best because it avoided infamous ice-pick tones. But when I attenuated the trebles, Bright really brought out the AC30-type flavors in the AC voicing.

The Tight/Deep switch was great for moving between different types of guitars. At first, I liked Deep because it gave each guitar more oomph, but I also found that Tight yielded delightfully taut tones when used with the Tele’s bridge pickup to dish up spanky, hybrid-picked country giblets. And I don’t need to tell you how cool it was to be able to go from country-fried to a classic Marshall-style “brown” sound (think “Back in Black”) by simply flicking over to Brit voicing and Vintage mode!

Like most heads in the lunchbox space, the Tweaker doesn’t have reverb, but the effects loop enables you to patch in your favorite outboard unit without muddying up your signal’s front end. (I used a Strymon Blue Sky Reverberator to add sloshing dimension. In the US voicing, it was like having a delicious old Deluxe Reverb.) Volume-wise, the amp has plenty of power to hang with a fairly loud band, as long as you’ve got the Gain at or past noon and the Master set toward its upper limits.

The Verdict
When you factor in the Egnater Tweaker’s flexibility, impeccable variety of tones, and rock-bottom price, it’s almost laughable to fault it for anything. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its limits (for instance, its treble response can’t match the sweet smoothness of, say, a stellar boutique amp), but we’re talking about an amp that opens the door to a ton of authentic tube tones you can use in the studio or live—and at about the same price as amps we used to laugh at in the ’80s. And that makes this amp a steal. Case closed.

Buy if...
you need a slew of quality tube tones for very few bones.
Skip if...
you’ve got money to burn on multiple amps that specialize in various tonal flavors.

Street $399 (head) $249 (cab) - Egnater Custom Amplification -