non standard tube

The smallest of the new-school Supros isn’t based on a vintage model, but it nails that punky, budget-box attitude.

The original Supro amps were produced by Valco and sold through department stores in the ’50s and ’60s. Despite their built-for-beginners status, these humble amps have often served as secret weapons for great guitarists, notably Jimmy Page during Zep’s early years. Supros lack the power of Marshalls and the rich, balanced tones of Fenders, but their explosive presence and rude overdrive have lent a punky edge to many great recordings.

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The PRS Sweet 16 amp can deliver tones for any style without relying on the classics

Download Example 1
Clean - Bright Off, Volume 7 o'clock, Reverb 10 o'clock, Treble, Middle and Bass at noon, Master 11 o'clock. Fender VG Strat.
Download Example 2
Head then Combo with same settings - Bright on, Volume 5 o'clock, Reverb off, Treble 3 o'clock, Middle noon, Bass 2 o'clock, Master 10 o'clock. PRS Mira X.
Download Example 3
Classic Rock - Bright on, Volume 3 o'clock, Reverb off, Treble 1 o'clock, Middle 2 o'clock, Bass 11 o'clock, Master 8 o'clock. PRS Mira X.
All clips recorded with a Shure SM57 with Digidesign Pro Tools
Paul Reed Smith and master amp builder Doug Sewell have teamed up to create a new amplifier called the Sweet 16. This new single channel amp combines excellent tone and quality aesthetics and a not-so-expensive price point, and is available as a head or a combo amp. The Sweet 16 amp has 16 watts of cathode-biased 6v6 output tube power and is hand-wired in Stevensville, Maryland.

Sweet Simplicity
The Sweet 16’s simple controls include volume, treble, mid, bass, master volume and a bright switch. The preamp section consists of two 12AXT tubes and two 12AT7 tubes. The power tubes are biased to near Class A, so they run a bit hotter than normal. There is also a tube-driven 3-spring Reverb with a medium decay. The back panel of the Sweet 16 stays simple as well, with only an impedance selector and speaker outputs.

Plug In
I hooked up the Sweet 16 to one of the new Paul Reed Smith 1X12 speaker cabinets, and cranked the volume up all the way for a distorted tone. The Master Volume was set fairly low and all parameters were set to 12 o’clock. I plugged in a variety of humbucker-equipped guitars, such as a Schecter Horton with Seymour Duncans, an Ibanez 540 with EMGs and a PRS Mira X. Power chords were fat and chunky, with plenty of bite. I was able to get a good distortion with a classic British rock vibe immediately, without even spending any extra time knob twiddling. It was a nice, thick and smooth overdriven tone, with a fat controlled bass and a strong mid character. The Sweet 16 offers a voicing that can’t easily be compared to a sound such as a Marshall or a Vox. It has its own thing going on, which is a good thing. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how robust the volume and tone are with the Sweet 16, which proves that good things do come in small packages!

I really liked how responsive the Sweet 16 was, depending on how hot the pickups are. With each guitar I tried, the tone was sweet and warm with a very musical distortion when pushed hard. Backing off on the guitar’s volume, the Sweet 16 proved to be quite touch-sensitive. You can start off with a clean tone, and the amp reacts well to the velocity of your strumming by adding a touch more crunch and bite when you dig in a little harder. A guitarist will appreciate being able to control the amp just by the attack of the pick or a turn of the guitar’s volume knob.

The Sweet 16 sounds great with single-coil pickups as well. With a clean tone, the highs were crisp and sparkly but also had plenty of warm and boomy low end to round out the sound. It offered great tones for blues, funk and country playing. I really liked the sound of my Strat’s single-coil in the neck position, for playing either rhythms with a clean sound, or leads with a more distorted tone. Also, the “edge of breakup” tone to full distortion sounded great with a Strat. The tone remained clear without getting too fuzzy or muddy.

You can clearly hear the range of certain parameters when using a clean sound. The bright switch definitely adds more shimmer and sparkle for more bell-like cleans. Also, the bass control is more useful in the clean setting. I found that turning up the bass a lot in overdrive made the tone a little too rumbling and buzzy for my liking.

The Combo
I was able to test out the Sweet 16 combo amp as well as the head. The combo has the exact same features and control panel as the head version, and includes a Celestion G12H-30 speaker. The amp’s sound is basically the same, although there was a slight difference in tonality between the combo amp and the head & cabinet combination. The new PRS closed-back 1X12 cabinet features a Vintage 30 speaker. Paired with the Sweet 16 head, this combination results in a very large-sounding and resonant tone. There was a really ballsy sound and bass response from this cabinet that I really liked and preferred over the combo version.

The Final Mojo
The Sweet 16 has tones that will please any rock, blues, country or jazz player. You won’t get an instant high-gain metal sound with the amp alone. However, I tried the amp with a high gain pedal and a guitar with active EMG pickups, and the amp was instantly transformed into a modern metal machine! So it is versatile enough that a guitarist can use this amp for a jazz session one day, and a metal gig the next day. (And yes, I do know many guitarists who work like that!)

Overall, I thought the Sweet 16 was amazingly well balanced, with really nice overtones. Guitarists will appreciate its portability, and can be used in the studio or on stage, as well as backstage or at home. It’s priced lower than other PRS amps, so it’s like getting a boutique amp without the big price tag. The Sweet 16 a small, single-channel, low-wattage amp with great tones and good looks, and is definitely an amp worth checking out.
Buy if...
You’re looking for a boutique quality amp at a reasonable price
Skip if...
You need an amp with an FX loop or more than one channel

Head MSRP $1999 Street $1659 - PRS -

Engl''s Ritchie Blackmore Signature combines gain with clarity at an reasonable price.

Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Recorded with 2006 Gibson Flying V
From the late-sixties rock quintet Roundabout to the pummeling Deep Purple to the driving melodic rhythms of Rainbow, legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore has had a defining career in rock and roll that few can claim to match, let alone exceed. The prolific guitarist has crafted some of the most infectious riffs in the history of the genre and helped found what is now known as heavy metal. Like other guitarists of the time, his style was heavily blues-based, but he incorporated a strong classical influence that would later serve as a foundation for modern-era metal guitarists such as Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Dimebag Darrell.

Blackmore’s unique guitar tone was a combination of the best of both worlds. Originally achieved with a Fender Stratocaster with a scalloped fretboard (purchased from a roadie of Eric Clapton’s) into modified Marshall Major 200-watt heads, it had the cut and tightness of the Strat and the heft, thickness and power of the Marshall Major. Since 1994, Blackmore has been using amplifiers from Engl. More recently, his own signature model was released to try to replicate the sheer power of his past rig and offer a larger, more modern tonal palette.

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The E 650 head presents the player with a relatively simple layout, consisting of a 3-band EQ section with a Presence control. A total of four channels share this circuit, and can also utilize the included Bright and Contour switches (more on this later). Along with a separate Lead Volume control and two Master Volume Controls, each channel setup reacts differently, depending on how the amplifier is set. The amplifier is all tube, running a quartet of 5881 power tubes and a total of four ECC83 preamp tubes.

Plugging In
After setting up the head with the matching Engl PRO series 4x12 cabinet, the head was set with the EQ controls at the 12 o’clock positions, the clean channel engaged, and fed with the input from a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom and a 2006 Fender American Stratocaster. Two words can best describe this channel: intense power. Older-era single channel Marshall amps, especially the Marshall Major, had a reputation for pushing a lot of air even when clean. Certainly, one of the defining characteristics of the Major was the added headroom; it was a very difficult amplifier to distort because it was extremely loud. It was certainly a shock to hit an open G chord and feel that old school non-master volume amp punch in the chest—that feeling that lets you know this is a healthy amplifier with a lot of power underneath the hood. This channel can be pushed into a light crunch more easily than a non-master volume amp by using the preamp gain control knob in tandem with the Master Volume A control, but it isn’t necessary. Pressing the “Gain Lo-Hi” button shoved out a killer British drive tone capable of handling any seventies rock tone you could want. In addition, the channel still had the punch and cut of the stock clean channel— the great vibration that exudes from a welldesigned amplifier, and that you can feel in your chest. The surprises did not stop there, though; this amp had a lot more say as the trial pressed on.

The lead channel section in the Blackmore has a somewhat different feel from the more unsoiled half. While the clean side has a very immediate attack with an extremely muscular tone, the lead channel gives in, just a little, for a spongier feel. It certainly doesn’t lose its defined punch, clarity and grind. Rather, it makes the amp a little easier to play, which is very nice, considering how much gain this thing has. For rock players of all eras, this is a great amplifier, but it is especially so if seventies hard rock is in order.

If more modern metal is what you’re after, the Engl Blackmore can hold its own against pretty much anything. The drive is rich, thick and enormously clear, sounding better and better as the master is turned up. Make no mistake, the Blackmore sounds great at low volumes, but sounds out of this world when pushed hard. It surely shares the tonal hi-fi ranks of other brilliant European amp makers, such as Diezel. It has that great British high gain tone with perfect midrange, but melded with modern, high fidelity circuitry and a particularly efficient power section. In the world of guitar tone, this is a relatively new sound and feel. Some players don’t care at all for the hi-fi quality of these amps, while others have been waiting their whole careers for something to come along that does it. Obviously, the best bet would be to play one in person, simply because the Engl Ritchie Blackmore is a very punchy and uniquely-voiced amplifier.

The lead channels are the only channels where the Contour control has any affect in the circuit. When pushed in, the frequencies between 300 and 500 Hz are boosted, providing a nice cutting edge for the toneto make its way through the mix, with plenty of harmonics for fast, easy runs. The Lead channels can also be further tweaked with the Presence and separate Lead Volume controls, which help add a sparkling top and balance the levels between the two channels. When reaching the higher gain settings, the amp handles modern metal and thrash tones with ease.

The Final Mojo

The Blackmore is a high gain player’s amp. That being said, players should definitely take warning: the impressive amount of gain coupled with the intense clarity will not cover up any lack of detail in the player’s style. Considering the price of the amplifier, the number of tones available and the simplicity of the features, some could easily consider it a bargain. There are other amplifiers that have similar tones but cost a lot more than this particular model. Without a doubt, it will make you feel, as Ritchie Blackmore himself put it years ago, “like you own the stage.”

Buy if...
you want a loud, reliable, efficient high-gain amp with a high fidelity feel for a great price.
Skip if...
you consider the hi-fi tones too anemic, need less power or separate EQ control for each channel.

Street $1699 - Engl -