The Nineeen80 captures the vibe of modded amps of the ''80s at a reasonable price

Download Example 1
Clean, bridge pickup
Download Example 2
Clean, neck pickup
Download Example 3
Dirty, bridge pickup
Download Example 4
Distortion, neck pickup
All clips recorded with a Gibson Les Paul Custom
Krank is known for higher gain heads favored by the likes of Dimebag Darrell. When I found out I would be reviewing the Nineteen80, I asked around to see what kind of buzz the amp had going. “It’s a JCM 800 on steroids,” I heard over and over. Having owned many JCM 800s in my day—some actually “on steroids” via modifications from José Arredono and Lee Jackson—I was ready to take on the latest rendition of the classic.

The Specs
The 80-watt Nineteen80 head features two 6550 power tubes and five 12AX7 preamp tubes. The 6550 power tube was a popular choice among early amp mod gurus, as it’s known for a big low end and a lot of power and reliability.

The front panel features (left to right) Power and Standby switches, a Krank channel with Presence, Sweep, bass, Midrange, Treble, Master, and Gain. Following the Krank channel is the Kleen channel with Volume, Treble, and Bass controls. A channel selection switch is located between the two channels, and Input and Footswitch jacks round out the front panel on the right. The knobs are a white chicken-head type, which, combined with the “salt and pepper” basketweave, makes for a nice vintage look. Black grille cloth is also available.

The back panel is fitted with an effects loop featuring Send Level, Send and Return jacks, FX Boost button and Return Level. To the right of these controls is an ohm selector switch with selections of 4, 8, and 16 ohms, two speaker output jacks, and a voltage selector for 115 or 230 volts, allowing the amp to be easily used in other countries.

The Effects Loop
Guitarists as a whole have a love-hate relationship with effects loops. Many feel they change the sound of the amp by affecting the degree that the power section is pushed when they are not unity gain. Other concerns are that there are different level requirements depending on the effect used. If you are running an old analog delay pedal in a plus four or line level loop, it will distort the front end of the pedal and reduce it to a very undesirable tone. Meanwhile, line level rack effects usually have input and output control settings and work well with these types of loops.

Over the years, many brands of amps have tried to address this issue. Krank has finally done it. Theirs is a series tube-buffered loop with input and output levels.To further ensure that the effect level requirements are met, the FX Boost switch is provided to give the user the ability to match impedance levels specifically to whatever effects unit being used. This loop design, although it is not a new idea, remains my personal favorite. It is easy to plug and unplug your effects from the return jack and adjust for the unity gain needed to drive that power section properly. The loop also sounds very good because of the design of the tube buffering circuit. If one is so inclined, this type of loop is great for linking a couple of these monsters together. The footswitch with the amp not only controls channel switching functions, but effects loop bypass. This means that whether you are using effects or not, the levels can be set for a volume boost for solos.

Plugging In
Starting with the clean, or “Kleen,” channel. I was able to get a very pleasing high-headroom clean tone. Although there are only treble and bass tone controls, the EQ seems to be adequate for coaxing sparkling British-type clean. The tone is a bit similar to a Vox AC 50 head that I own. It’s full and warm sounding.

However, the overdrive channel is really what his amp is about, which you’d expect from a name like Krank. The Krank channel does not disappoint. It absolutely bristles with gain punch and harmonic overtones. The tone is, in fact, very reminiscent of the older modified amps I have played. The controls are wide ranging. Players who scoop the mids a bit will love the tightness this amp provides when scooped, while players who like the mids will find the midrange right where they want it to be. Krank seems to have found the magic frequency for the voicing of their Midrange control to please pretty much everyone.

Low end is big and tight, even at the highest gain settings and with the hottest humbuckers. Pick harmonics will cut through and go into feedback sustain easily. I was impressed with the overall sustain of this amp, as well—notes seemed to sustain endlessly. The one control I was a bit leery of was Sweep. More often than not, controls like these are a cheesy, quasi-parametric filter that sounds like a wah circuit. This was not the case with the Nineteen80. The sweep control did sweep the frequency range, as the name implies, but without sacrificing the low end or making the scratchy tone often associated with these types of controls. It was very useful in fine-tuning the tone for whatever application needed. It ended up being a very well-designed, useable feature.

While tons of gain is not a problem, I should note that this amp is not just for high gain styles. I was able to get some very good bluesy tones by reducing the gain. The amp also cleaned up very well when I reduced the guitar’s volume, allowing control of gain from your guitar. The lead (Krank) channel worked equally well with single-coil or humbucker guitars, and I was able to achieve a wide range of gain and tonal colors.

The Verdict
The Krank Nineteen80 is a well-constructed head that should last for years. It lives up to its reputation of capturing vibe of great modified amps of the eighties, while features like the effects loop and Sweep control put this amp ahead of many of its competitors. The conservative rating of 80 watts makes it perfect for any size venue, and it is versatile enough for classic tones as well as more modern heavier tones. This one does all that you would expect from a modified British amp head and more.
Buy if...
you are looking for one amp for many types of British tones at a reasonable price.
Skip if...
you are still buying because of brand names.

Street $1299 (head) $799 (cab) - Krank -

Ibanez''s Tube Screamer Amp provides 15 watts of all-tube power with a built-in Tube Screamer circuit for around $300.

Download Example 1
Clean - no TS or boost. Les Paul (neck)
Download Example 2
Tube Screamer circuit & Boost engaged. Les Paul (bridge)
Download Example 3
Tube Screamer circuit & Boost engaged. Les Paul (neck)
Download Example 4
Tube Screamer circuit & Boost engaged. Strat (neck)
Download Example 5
Clean - no TS or boost. Strat (second position)
All clips recorded with Gibson Les Paul Custom or Fender Stratocaster Reissue (maple neck) with slight reverb added.
Ibanez—a name long associated with guitars and effects—has once again entered the world of guitar amplification with the TSA15H. This newest offering is a 15-watt, all-tube head and matching cabinet featuring none other than the world-famous Ibanez Tube Screamer built right in to the amp.

Using a Tube Screamer to drive the front end of a good tube amp is really nothing new. We guitarists have been doing this for years with great success. I think I would be hard pressed to find a player who has not at least tried this in the search of their special tone. The results differ based on the type of amp that was being overdriven—British amps end up more gainy and robust, while American amps are more bluesy. Ibanez has set out to try to achieve both types of desirable tones.

First Impressions
The Tube Screamer half stack is a very clean-looking rig in cream vinyl covering with black grille cloth and a dark green faceplate and two-button footswitch (sold separately, Street $34.95).

The head’s front panel (left to right) consists of Input, followed by the Tube Screamer controls—Overdrive, Tone, and Level—a Tube Screamer on/off toggle, a boost toggle, which gives a 6 dB boost to the front end, Bass, Treble, and Volume controls, and Standby and Power switches.

The rear panel features the AC power input, a 15-watt or 5-watt selector switch, output and footswitch jacks, and a send return for the effects loop. For this amp, Ibanez opted for a set of output jacks, rather than a switchable impedance selector. Combinations include two 8 ohm, one 4 ohm, two 16 ohm, one 8 ohm, one 16 ohm selection. The amplifier boasts two 6V6 output tubes and two 12AX7 preamp tubes.

The cabinet, model TSA112C, is a half-open back enclosure fitted with one 8 ohm Celestion Seventy/Eighty 12-inch speaker.

Plugging In
The theory behind the recent trend of low-wattage, portable tube amps is that a player can achieve great tube sounds for low volume practicing or recording. It is necessary however, to push the power section into the amount of output tube clipping required for best sound and response. As a player who grew up on tube amps, I feel that a lot of these amps fall short of these expectations. This Ibanez amp actually delivers.

The first thing I noticed was the 6V6 tube’s character. Unlike the usual EL84 types frequently used in small watt amps, 6V6 tubes are more robust when driven and have higher headroom than other smaller types. The second feature that I liked was the fact that there was no master volume. This meant that the amp actually had to be cranked up to drive the output tubes. With all of the switches in bypass position, I was met with a very pleasing clean tone—even at nearly full volume and with humbucking pickups. The tone controls were very effective and wide ranging and provided me with the control necessary to dial in a great clean tone.

Engaging the Tube Screamer, I was able to get a very nice crunchy tone similar to a Twin with a Tube Screamer. With a Stratocaster, this translated into a very bluesy, almost Texas type of sound, but not as aggressive. The higher I ran the actual amp volume, the better this sound got—think SRV with his TS 808 engaged. Switching to a Les Paul, boost engaged, and working with the amp’s volume I was able to dial in amazing bluesy tones a la early Bluesbreakers Clapton.

Turning down the guitar’s volume on either instrument yielded many more classic blues tones, and also cleaned up nicely. The volume level I was using was loud and punchy—not low “bedroom” volume. As a matter of fact, I had a rehearsal with bass, drums, keys, and vocals, and I was a bit too loud. Changing to the 5-watt setting helped, but using less of the tube degraded the tone I had been working with. Disabling the boost switch offered more bedroom volume, but again the tone was not the same. The boost section creates a more British sound with more mids, while the boost off setting was definitely more American.

Between the Les Paul and the Stratocaster, I was able to get great professional-quality tones for most kinds of music. However, I had to resort to using pedals for convincing metal sounds, from more modern metal to Van Halen or George Lynch territory. Luckily, the amp appeared to be very pedal friendly, and I had good luck with a few distortion pedals. With the pedals, I turned the Tube Screamer off, engaged the boost, and ran the volume at about 8 or 9 on the 15-watt setting to achieve a good metal tone. This was one setting where you could get a consistent lower volume by adjusting the output on the distortion pedal. As nice as the amp sounded with its own single 12, I could not resist the urge to put it through something bigger. I tried an old Vox 2x12 cabinet with Celestion G12-30H anniversary speakers, which was amazing, and a 4x12 with Celestion Vintage 30s. With the 4x12, the amp literally screamed—you have to hear it to believe it!

The Final Mojo
I think this little amp makes good sense for any guitar player who needs a respectable tone at a lower db level. I took it to a jam session in town and it was very well-received by most players. Despite the lower price tag, the amp is sturdy and held up to everything I put it through. It feels and responds like a good tube amp, and varying the controls dials in the response even further. Even at the lower home levels, it was still a cut above other small amps I’ve tried.
Buy if...
you are looking for a small all tube package that sounds like the real deal.
Skip if...
you are happy with your present tone or do not need a small amp.

Street Head $299 Cabinet $199 - Ibanez -

Aracom''s attenuator reduces the level of your high-gain head, and matches impedances as well

If you have an amp that sounds great when you crank it up but it’s just too loud for most playing situations, you’ll want to know about the new Aracom Power Rox PRX 150-Pro amp attenuator. Designed for use with tube amps, this unit lets you reduce the level of a fully cranked head or combo.

The PRX 150-Pro is housed in a black anodized-aluminum case with an amp-style strap handle, and it looks all business. When I unpacked my review unit, the vented front, side, and rear panels caught my eye. They are, of course, for cooling, but they give the box a striking, industrial vibe. A passive device, the PRX 150-Pro requires no AC power for operation.

Two front panel knobs—Step Attenuation and Variable—let you control your amp’s output level. Step Attenuation has six discrete settings labeled A-F. Settings A-E reduce the level in 3 dB increments. Switching to position F engages the Variable knob, which lets you further attenuate the output by as much as 16 dB. The unit can handle a 150-watt input signal and our review model provided an overall cut of 30 dB (which effectively takes a 100-watt amp down to 0.5 watts—3% of the amp’s power rating). However, Aracom informs us that the latest PRX 150-Pros can attenuate up to 40 dB— which can take a 150-watt amp down to .015 of a watt.

The PRX 150-Pro’s magic really happens at the back panel. The input—where you plug in your amp’s speaker output—offers 2-, 4-, 8,- and 16-ohm settings, and that’s what sets the PRX apart from most other attenuation devices. Having a variable input selector lets you use the PRX with different amps with various fixed output impedances. You don’t have to purchase separate units to accommodate, say, a Fender Super Reverb and a Marshall JCM900. And if your amp offers selectable output impedance, you can explore the different taps on the output section, which can alter the amp’s tone and feel.

The Aracom’s own output impedance is also variable, and you can set this independently of the unit’s input impedance. You can switch the PRX 150-Pro’s parallel output jacks to 2, 4, 6, 8, and 16 ohms, which gives you complete flexibility to mix and match amps and speaker cabs with dissimilar impedance ratings. Very flexible. Further, a true-bypass switch on the back panel allows you to bring the PRX in and out of the circuit.

How Does It Sound?
I tried this unit with several types of amps, using both Les Pauls and Strats, to get a good idea of the unit’s sonic capabilities. First, I used a 4-ohm Fender head with a 16-ohm Marshall cabinet. When I used this type of rig in the past, I had to rewire my Marshall cabinet to 4 ohms. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this setup with both amp and cabinet operating at their normal impedances. The sound on the least attenuated setting (A) was more open and a bit tighter in the low end than I was used to hearing.

As I reduced the levels by stepping through settings B-E, I detected little sonic difference until I got down to the Variable knob settings. It’s worth noting that when you lower the dB level on a high-powered amp—whether with a master volume or a power attenuator— the sound changes because you’re not pushing the speakers as hard. This is simply a mechanical issue. That said, the feel I got using the PRX 150-Pro at these lowered levels was great. And this made playing quietly a lot more enjoyable.

I tried other amp combinations, including a Marshall Super Lead head with a Marshall cabinet and a Vox AC50 with a 2x12 Vox cabinet. I had the Vox set to 8 ohms to match the cabinet’s 8-ohm impedance. With each rig, the results were very much the same: Tone and feel stayed consistent through the A-E ranges. Testing the Marshall head was especially fun, because I tried switching between transformer taps, which altered the amp’s tightness, overtones, and low-end response. In this application, the Aracom gives you another option for sculpting your tone. (By the way, the 8-ohm tap on the Marshall sounded best to me.)

The Final Mojo
Sonically, the Aracom PRX 150-Pro attenuator stayed very true to every amp I paired it with. My tone stayed stable as I lowered the dB level to its minimum amount (the variable control doesn’t turn the sound completely off). Even super-quiet bedroom settings sounded very good and responded to picking and touch extremely well. This attractive, sturdily built unit would be a great addition to any guitarist’s tone arsenal.
Buy if...
you need quality tones at lower levels, or you need to match impedance between different amps and cabs.
Skip if...
you have a low-power amp that already provides the tone and volume levels you require.

Street $660 - Aracom Amplifiers -

Tech 21''s Boost D.L.A. is a delay and then some.

Download Example 1
Blues Echo
Download Example 2
Trails Echo
Download Example 3
Download Example 4
Country Slap

At first glance, I knew Tech 21’s analog delay emulator with clean boost was going to be something different because of the unit’s layout and controls. The gold case features two footswitches: one for bypass and one for tap tempo. Above them are two small buttons labeled “trails” and “triplets.” Two rows of knobs allow adjustments for Mix, Feedback, Tone, Time, Level and Flutter. On the sides of the pedal are the Input and output jacks, as well as the 9V adapter jack. The supplied manual was very informative and easy to understand, and offers some great sample settings for the types of effects provided. The build quality is excellent, and the battery compartment that clips the battery in place is a nice touch.

How Does It Work?
As far as adjustments go, this pedal has all the bases covered. It also addresses all of the shortcomings I’ve experienced with other delays. The mix control sweeps from 100 percent dry to 100 percent wet, which is important for two reasons. One is, of course, to get the proper balance of delay to the dry sound. The other is to allow for finer control of the delay, which makes this the first delay I’ve found that is truly useable in line before the front end of a distorting or clipping amp. I believe in placing the distortion or overdrive pedal before the delay (and reverb) so the trails don’t fight each other in the sensitive environment of an overdriving amp’s input. Although this isn’t the way I’d recommend using a delay, sometimes it has to be done this way if there’s no effects loop. And with this unit, it’s possible to get a pretty decent delay sound this way.

The Feedback control can go from just one repeat to infinite repeats, and can even reach self oscillation levels like an old Echoplex. All those cool flying saucer sounds are possible here. Using the Trails button makes it possible to keep the delay trails repeating and fading out after the unit is switched off.

The Tone control on this pedal is a thing of beauty. There is a longstanding debate among players about which are more desirable, the pristine clean sounds of a digital delay or the lo-fi tones of a good analog unit. Many analog units have differing degrees of this delay tonality, depending on the brand of the delay and the designer’s ear. This one has literally all of them covered; from the clearest, brightest digital to the warmest analog, and all points in between. The control is very wide ranging, and I was able to duplicate the tones of any of my delay pedals quickly and with little effort.

The time control has a range of 30ms to 1000ms. Often with my older analog delays I find myself wishing for just a little more delay time to match the tempo of a song, but longer delay times—between 450ms and 600ms—tend to get too dark. This is not the case with the Boost D.L.A. All delay times had perfect tonality at any setting. If you like it dark, you can dial that in too. The Triplets button allows you to instantly set up those triplet sequences in perfect time. I achieved instant Pink Floyd delays just by activating this control and tapping the tempo.

Next is the Level control, which brings me to one of my pet peeves about many delay pedals: you go to do a solo and the volume drops out. What makes it worse is that the degree of the problem usually varies with the type and amount of distortion or overdrive you use. To help compensate for it, I’ve used small footswitchable boosts after the delay on some pedalboards. However, once again the Boost D.L.A. unit comes through. Unity gain is at approximately 12 o’clock on the dial, and up to 9dB of boost is available without changing the pedal’s sound. No matter what type of tone you’re using, you won’t have dropouts.

Like similar controls on other units, the intent of the Flutter control is to simulate the tape warble of old Echoplex-type units, and this one works well. On the original echo units, this effect was random depending on quality of your unit’s motor and drives parts. Using modern technology, you can actually achieve the desired amount of this effect; it’s not exactly random but it does sound similar. There is, however, another benefit to this control on the Boost D.L.A.: it can create lush chorus sounds on its own, with or without delay. Just using the Tone and Flutter controls, I was able to get some killer chorus tones that were extremely variable, making this a great feature.

The Final Mojo
I’ll start by saying that this pedal does not have a hardwire bypass. Some players may be concerned about this, and the way it will interact with other pedals and devices. Normally, I’m a fan of true bypass, but I also realize that it can generate a noisy signal. In this case, because of the choice to offer a properly designed buffered system, I don’t see any problems. I hooked it up to a true bypass strip and found no ill effects from it not being true bypass. Kudos to Andrew Barta and Tech 21—no unwanted compression or other artifacts were present. The Boost D.L.A. met or beat all my expectations of a delay unit. A lot of thought has gone into the design of this pedal, and they seemed to have covered all the bases. In the process, they’ve also set the bar a little higher for others.
Buy if...
you’re looking for a delay pedal that goes beyond the average feature set.
Skip if...
you’re not over particular about delay sounds and you’re happy with your old unit.

Street $195 - Tech 21-