This killer amp and cab are a dynamic duo, but each holds its own, too.
Recorded direct into Focusrite Saffire 6 interface into MacBook Pro using Logic.
Clip 1 - Fender Elite PJ, flat EQ, no enhancement.
Clip 2 - Fender American Standard Jazz, VRC at noon, slap riff.
0:00 - no EQ
0:10 - punch engaged
0:19 - punch and bright at 2 kHz
0:28 - punch and bright at 7 kHz
Clip 3 - Fender Elite PJ
0:00 - no EQ
0:09 - drive engaged at 9 o’clock
0:20 - drive dimed
RatingsBergantino Forté HP Pros:
Powerful and accurate reproduction of your instrument. Excellent tone-shaping features.
Larger than most class-D amps.
Bergantino Forté HP
Ease of Use:
Detailed and responsive, with wide tonal projection. Superior portability.
When amp guru Jim Bergantino was diagnosed with cancer, he sought solace and inspiration at the workbench, where he created the Forté HP, which combines some of the popular features of his previous amps with a robust power section. For our review, Bergantino also provided an HG410, a unique take on the classic 4x10 speaker configuration.
Drive, He Said
While the Forté HP sports all of the features of the Forté (aux in, a variable ratio compressor, 4-band EQ, and a bright switch), it includes practical options from the flagship B|Amp as well as a few additional goodies. Variable high-pass and low-pass filters provide precise tonal tailoring, whether for taming the lows in a boomy room or mellowing out the transients for a warmer vibe. Vintage tone lovers will appreciate the drive section, as it delivers harmonic enhancement in lower settings and heavy grind when cranked.
To the right of the front panel, a trio of buttons offer on-the-fly EQ bumps and other operational functions. Tapping the punch button delivers a 4.5 dB boost at 100 Hz. Holding down the aforementioned button for three seconds toggles the DI pre/post setting. Bergantino expanded the functionality of the bright switch on the HP.
While it was fixed on the Forté at 6.5 kHz, the new amp offers a choice of +6 dB at 2 kHz or +8 dB at 7 kHz. These settings can be particularly handy for finger presence and pronounced string-popping. The third button is more than a mute function. Depressing this control changes the operational impedance from 4/8 ohms to 2 ohms. This feature expands the possibilities of speaker connection, maximizing the massive 1,200-watt class-D power amp.
Another cool feature is the front-panel USB port. This is used to connect a wireless Bluetooth footswitch or install firmware updates. It also comes in handy when you need to charge your phone. Rear panel highlights include a headphone out, tuner out, effects loop, and direct out. The components are housed in a stout aluminum chassis. Large rubber feet prevent the amp from unwanted vibrations, and the HP may also be rack mounted. (Ears sold separately.)
Bergantino’s new speaker cabinet, the HG410, adjusts the arrangement of its neodymium drivers to project in a wider sound field. While three of the speakers are forward-facing, the fourth driver is a rear-firing woofer. The punchy sealed cabinet is constructed of Italian poplar with birch baffles, and tips the scales at 47 pounds.
I’ve relied on the Bergantino B|Amp and two HD112s as my rig of choice, so I was enthused to delve into the HP/HG combo. I played a Fender Elite PJ through the rig to assess its sonic possibilities. I also used the B|Amp, HD cabs, and various backline with Bergantino’s latest creations to listen for consistencies and differences. The first thing I noticed about the Forté HP was the way it presented every note with accuracy and authority—the result of an abundant, unflappable power amp. Never did the HP feel or sound like it was being overworked.
Shaping the sound of my instrument was simple, thanks to the intuitive layout. Once the gain stage and master volume were set, I could dial in the VRC compressor for a little extra tightness and punch, as well as dirty things up a bit with the drive control. Bergantino’s EQ section provided plenty of cut and boost, but it’s voiced to not significantly alter the character of the instrument. I enjoyed experimenting with the punch and bright buttons, enhancing the J pickup on the Fender Elite with extra burp and presence. I required very little from the EQ, since I used it as a subtle problem-solving tool for various live rooms.
My favorite features—essentially for fitting in the mix—were the high-pass and low-pass filters. Whether it was a boomy honky-tonk in Nashville or a 2,000-seat theater on a cruise ship, these filters kept my tone focused and present onstage. Initially I was a bit skeptical about the footswitch. I felt it wasn’t a necessity and rarely use it with my B|Amp. That said, I found the redesigned footswitch for the HP a major improvement and a useful tool in live performances. For example, I was playing an R&B medley that contained Motown bass lines and Sly and the Family Stone slap passages. With a few quick stomps of the drive, punch, and bright buttons, I could quickly transform the PJ from Jamerson mode to funk machine.
Although I was pleased how well the Forté HP performed with other speaker cabinets, it shone when combined with the HG410. The pairing was super-clean, responsive, and handled a lot of power. The narrow, rectangular design was ergonomically fantastic, as I could lift and transport the cabinet easier thanany 4x10 I have ever used. What sealed the deal for me on the HP/HG duo happened during a blues jam in a medium-sized club—an extremely loud room where the musicians prefer to crank up the volume and bash out blues/rock tunes. The rig was placed in between a Fender Super Reverb and the drum set. I never ran a line to the house PA. After dialing in the Bergantino rig for the room, I stood back to listen to how the HP/HG fit within the ridiculously loud jammers. To my surprise, the sound was thick and present, revealing the tonal tendencies of all the jamming bassists. In fact, many musicians in the audience thought they were hearing the bass through the house system. I’ve never had a lightweight rig perform so well at high volumes, and the Bergantino Forté HP/HG410 did it effortlessly.
As I was wrapping up this review, I got some good news. Jim Bergantino announced he was cancer-free. The Forté HP is his passion project as well as a monster amp, with easy-to-use features and stout tone. Discerning bassists who expect maximum performance will appreciate its thoughtful design and seemingly unlimited headroom that delivers each note accurately. Pairing it with the HG410 makes a vicious combination, rewarding users with excellent tone-shaping features and a strong footprint within any ensemble. I can say with confidence the Forté HP is one of the best amps of the year, and the HG410 is one of the best 4x10s ever designed.
Inspired while on the road? These devices can help.
Greetings, guitar nuts! As any of you who follow me on YouTube may know, I record and produce a smattering of videos each month, and many of them feature original compositions. In turn, I get a number of questions about my writing process and how I keep the creative juices flowing. I’d like to discuss some of the tools and strategies I use to maintain that creative spark this month. In my March 2019 column, “Make Your Creative Space Rock,” I talked about streamlining your studio space for maximum creative potential. But what to do when inspiration strikes elsewhere?
Your phone is your sketchpad. I often walk around humming and thinking about riffs, grooves, and melodies. They pop into my head all day, and when I realize I may have stumbled on an interesting one, I reach for my iPhone. That’s because the voice-memo recorder has become one of my favorite tools for archiving ideas. I’ll just sing the riff or groove into the phone, and then it’s right there for me to reference when I have a guitar in hand later.
Multitrack recording apps (such as GarageBand) are, of course, also available for phones and tablets, and while I haven’t personally delved deep into them yet for my work, I can only imagine the possibilities. I once heard a story about Tommy Lee making good use of his time during a stint in jail by using the pay phone to sing song ideas into his home answering machine. You know what? Those ideas turned into his next solo album.
Small amps are getting cooler. I recently got a couple of small amps that make for great practice and creative tools. The tiny Blackstar Fly 3 battery-powered amp was a great jam companion while I was on tour in Japan last year. When I’m in a busy, vibrant city like Tokyo, it can be hard sitting in my hotel room for practice and writing time. That said, I found myself playing more than usual once I got the Fly 3. I could just turn that little sucker on and conjure up a pretty inspiring tone instantly. Combine it with the voice recorder on the iPhone, and man, you can be an anywhere, anytime riff-writing machine!
Sadly, I somehow lost my Fly 3 on a trip back to the U.S., but I replaced it with a similar unit from NUX. Their Mighty Lite BT is about the same size as the Fly 3, but it also has built-in drum grooves and effects, which can help spawn even more musical ideas. (The NUX also has Bluetooth.) Both the Fly 3 and the Mighty Lite BT have aux-in 1/8" jacks, so you can plug your phone or laptop in and jam to tracks.
A studio the size of a soup can. I recently checked out an amazing little device called the iZotope Spire Studio. It’s a powerhouse full-blown multitrack recorder, the size of a soup can, and runs on batteries. It has two mic pres, a built-in high-quality mic, and it integrates with a phone app—which lets you add effects and mix individual tracks—and then easily exports your recorded creations to a stereo file.
The learning curve is minimal. I was up and running in just a few minutes, and didn’t even need the manual to figure out its basic operations. I was pretty blown away by just how great the internal mic sounds. I could record my acoustic guitar and voice, and quickly export the file right out of the Spire Studio with some basic auto normalizing. The resulting track sounded full and robust. I’m going to be getting a ton of use out of this little device, both as a multitrack writing sketchpad and as a field recorder (useful for YouTube videos) to capture high-quality audio wherever I go.
Spruce up your acoustic. Another great tool to spark some inspiration, the ToneWood Amp is an innovative and portable device that allows you to easily add some effects to your unamplified acoustic guitar. It mounts on the back of the guitar itself, and uses the vibrations of the guitar to generate effects such as reverb, delay, echo, and tremolo. You can also use it via a 1/4" input with any acoustic-electric guitar. It will enhance the sound of any acoustic in a pleasing way that just may inspire more than the basic guitar sound could alone.
To sum it up, there’s no shortage of great portable devices to help foster our creativity and musical abilities. Even just making good use of the smart phone you probably already have is a great way to make sure you’ll never lose a good idea again. Until next month, I wish you great tone!
The nano-molecular sandwich returns in a fuzz that ranges from full and ferocious to fractured.
Recorded with a Fender Stratocaster, ‘68 Fender Bassman, Apogee Duet, Shure SM-58, and Apple Logic.
Identical figure is played in various clipping configurations, followed by a single first-position chord played in various clipping configurations.
Unique smooth to fractured fuzz tones. Excellent build quality.
Esoteric clipping technology adds up to a little extra cost.
Nanolog Orbital Fuzz
Ease of Use:
In 2018 we reviewed the excellent WaveFunction from Canadian company Nanolog Audio. Apart from sounding great, WaveFunction distinguished itself via proprietary “molecular junction” or “nano-molecular sandwich” diodes. In that pedal, which also used silicon and germanium clipping diodes, the nano-molecular diodes were comparatively bold, fat, hot, and aggressive. In the new Nanolog Orbital Fuzz you can choose molecular junction or silicon clipping for each of the two gain stages. The results range from full and hot to gigantic and hotter, and many unique textures in between.
In general, dual nano-diode settings are warm and round, with Big Muff-scale mass. (Nanolog says the Big Muff was a primary source of inspiration for this design). Dual silicon-diode settings, meanwhile, are feral and toppy with hints of silicon Fuzzrite and silicon Fuzz Face. The two settings that mix diode types, meanwhile, range from heated and huge to a more focused, relatively low-output fuzz. The tone control has enough range to recast any of these sounds in significant ways, but it’s the gate control that most drastically reshapes the voices, turning each into a more chaotic, sputtering and trashy version of itself. I loved these sounds. And when you add in the fatter, singing, and sustaining voices, the Orbital Fuzz adds up to a most versatile and unique buzz machine.
Test gear: Fender Telecaster Deluxe with Curtis Novak Wide Range-style Humbuckers, Rickenbacker 330, ’67 Fender Vibrolux Reverb