Bartees Strange and his other guitarists engage in complementary “guitar wars” with their piles of pedals and stash of slinky Jazzmasters, Flying Vs, Teles, ES-335s, a space-age oddity, and a ’60s Silvertone with an onboard amp.
“You gotta remember, I wasn’t really shit until about a year-and-a-half ago,” Bartees Strange reminds the crowd at Nashville’s Basement East just before performing his song, “Hennessy.” “I was just in my basement playing guitar. And my wife was like, ‘Do the dishes ... Do something other than play guitar.’ Now all I do is play guitar again [laughs].”
Strange (born Bartees Leon Cox, Jr.), is a sponge and synthesis of everywhere he’s been and everything he’s seen or heard. Born in England and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, his experience performing with Brooklyn-based post-hardcore outfit Stay Inside and a later move to Washington D.C. have all contributed to his singular cosmic-slop sound. He notes during the Rundown that, as an adolescent, his guitar heroes were Thomas Erak of the Fall of Troy and Omar Rodríguez-López of At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta. But in the next sentence, he confesses his love for Nelly.
“I always thought people aren’t really honest all the time with what they’re listening to,” asserts Strange. “I think a lot of people like a lot of things. I grew up in a pretty country town, and everyone would say they just like country music. But I was like, ‘You like the Nelly record, dog. You like Get Rich or Die Tryin', man, and you also like LeAnn Rimes and Toby Keith songs, and Brad Paisley’s guitar playing. But you also jam B2K and pop songs, too.’ I’ve never been afraid or ashamed of what I like, so it all goes into my own music.”
What he’s been saying through 2020’s Live Forever and 2022’s Farm to Table has been connecting with fans and critics alike. The magnetism is Strange’s smooth synergy. This allows him to touchpoint influences from albums like Nelly’s Country Grammar, At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command, the National’s Boxer, and Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher into one harmonious, original package that has landed him on dozens of year-end lists and earned him an 83/100 rating from Metacritic for both of his full-length releases. [Editor’s Note: The Metacritic website uses their proprietary Metascore to distill the opinions of the most respected critics’ writing online and in print to a single number.]
Finishing his earlier thought to the Nashville crowd, he summarized: “‘Hennessy’ is a song I wrote when I was a kid, and growing up I thought there was all these weird stereotypes I had to get over to become who I am … [The hook of the song is meant] to kind of say, I know there’s all these expectations of what a black person does … but I just want you to see me for who I am and for what I’m trying to say.”
He might not have been “shit” 18 months ago, but he’s certainly on his way to becoming the something of the sort in the coming years. We’ll be here listening and appreciating.
Ahead of Strange’s final 2022 tour date supporting Farm to Table, Bartees and his guitar-playing compatriots welcomed PG’s Chris Kies onstage at Nashville’s Basement East to talk shop. During the interview, the trio explained how their “guitar wars” create a compatibly melodic arms race and structure their cohesive sound. We get introduced to a collection of oddball axes and go through their collective setups—which Strange fondly refers to as “Tone Capital”—assisted by a store’s-worth inventory of pedals. Plus, stick around after the Rundown to check out a heartfelt message from Bartees and the band’s wonderful performance of “Hennessy.”
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Bartees’ Battle Axe
Strange’s main axe for much of 2022 was this 1959 Gibson Custom Shop ES-335 Reissue “Chicago Music Exchange Spec” that features the delicate deterioration of the Murphy Lab treatment. It has a maple body (with a maple center block and red-spruce bracing), a 1-piece mahogany neck, an Indian rosewood fretboard, Kluson tuners, and custom CME-spec “S” Gibson humbuckers.
“Honestly, it’s pretty sick. It’s the dopest 335 I’ve ever played,” contends Strange. “It has a very versatile sound, and with its low-output humbuckers I can get it to chirp a little bit, but I also can go off on it.”
It has replaced touring duties for his beloved 1967 Epiphone Casino and a 1963 Gibson ES-125T. This and the rest of his riders take D’Addario EPN115 Pure Nickels (.011–.048). The 335 will stay in either standard or D-A-D-A-A-E tunings.
After Bartees’ 2020 debut, Live Forever, came out, luthier Mike Baranik built Strange this Baranik RE-1 that boasts a reflective pickguard with the words “Never Die” emblazed on it. Its standout specs include a Baranik handwound gold-foil-style pickup that slides, a groovy, give-it-a-rip Göldo DG Tremolo in Shorty-Design, an illuminated control pod, and wooden saddles. It comes in at a feathery 6 pounds. Strange busts it out for his song “Heavy Heart” because of the guitar’s jangly grind.
“The RE-1s were designed to simplify the manufacturing without losing the most critical parts of a guitar, playability and tone,” says Baranik. “Almost every single one of the RE-1’s parts are made here in the shop from repurposed materials.”
Another one of Strange’s treasures is a 1959 Fender Jazzmaster. That classic stays at home, but he needs the instrument’s sonic flair for his nightly set, so he contacted Fender’s Jason Klein and sent over a request to recreate his ’59 with a few slight cosmetic changes. He wanted an Aztec gold finish with a matching headstock, complete with an anodized pickguard. Strange often starts the set with this golden goose on songs “Escape the Circus” and “In a Cab.”
A Low-Price Highball
Like his other touring guitars, this Gretsch G9520E Gin Rickey acoustic/electric fills in for his pricier, vintage flattops. The price was right at under $300, and Strange really loves its darker, boxier sound that meshes well with Graham’s brighter Orangewood acoustic. Another plus was that it came stock with a Gretsch Deltoluxe soundhole pickup that enables Bartees to run this into his Vox AC30.
A Voxy Solution
“In Tone Capital, U.S.A., things can change. The weather, all kinds of things … but honestly, the three of us are always kind of looking at each other like, ‘What is not right? Is it an amp? Is it a guitar?’ There’s dysfunction in Tone Capital, so after spending a lot of time with Fender amps, I’ve returned to AC30s for its crisp highs that match really well with the dark, mellower vibe of the 335,” says Strange. He plugs his guitars into the Vox AC30C2X’s low-input/top-boost section. This particular 30-watt combo comes with a pair of 8-ohm Celestion Alnico Blue speakers.
Bartees Strange’s Pedalboard
As the governor of Tone Capital, Strange has the most advisors on his board. Breaking them down by function, Bartees’ dirt and filth comes from a Land Devices HP-2, Fowl Sounds Obsidian Fuzzstortion (the unmarked black box), Bondi Effects Breakers Overdrive, and a ZVEX Box of Rock. Time-based effects include an Alexander Pedals Rewind Programmable Echo, a Boss DM-3 Delay, and a Source Audio Ventris. Bartees’ modulation machines are a Farm Pedals Tombstone Tremolo and a Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water K-Field Modulator. Two other noise manipulators include a Chase Bliss Blooper and a G-Lab BC-1 Boosting Compressor. Other boxes are a Radial SGI guitar interface (upside-down at the top), a Radial HotShot DM-1, and a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir Mini.
A V for G
“I just got this for this tour. I kind of bought it because I thought it’d be the most ridiculous guitar that I could bring onstage, but I’ve slowly discovered it’s the most the comfortable instrument I’ve ever had,” admits multi-instrumentalist Graham Richman. The 2022 Gibson Flying V in antique natural has stayed the same since he bought it, except for the fresh set of D’Addario EPN110 Pure Nickel strings (.010–.045).
Les Paul, More Gristle
This one used to be Richman’s number one, but only gets action for one or two songs, like “Kelly Rowland.” He still enjoys playing the Gibson Les Paul Standard ’50s P-90 because it has “more gristle and cuts in an interesting way,” compared to his V.
Orange You Glad to Play Me
For “Black Gold,” Graham puts on this Orangewood Sierra Live, that’s equipped with a L.R. Baggs Anthem pickup.
Richman runs all of his electrics into the above Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb. He landed on this combo because of the punchier Bassman circuit inside the Custom channel.
Graham Richman’s Pedalboard
When you’re a touring musician, cartage costs for gear are always a concern, and it’s no different for Richman. He downsized his setup to a Pedaltrain Metro 16 thanks in big part to the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher that not only can control MIDI pedals on his board, but also offers 112 internal effects, too. Graham relies on the MS-3 for all his delays, reverbs, and modulation. His gain stages come from nearby standalone pedals: Black Mass Electronics The First Herald, Black Mass Electronics 1312 Distortion V3, Walrus Audio 385, and a JHS Double Barrel.
“Honestly, it was an aesthetic-first purchase,” concedes guitarist Dan Kleederman. “It’d be really cool to play a SG Junior in this band—I hoped I’d like it … and I did!” This sweet surprise is a 2021 Gibson SG Junior that appears to be all stock, but he added a Bigsby B7 vibrato and a push-pull switch on the tone that cuts higher frequencies when pulled out. He said he was sold on its sound once the band made the move to in-ear monitors, because it sits in its own lane within the three-guitar attack. And because of that, this one sees the most action of Kleederman’s trio.
This 1998 Fender USA Thinline Telecaster is from Dan’s father, who bought the Tele in the early 2000s and recently loaned it to him. He gave Dan his blessing to customize it as he saw fit—so it now has a 4-way selector unlocking a series circuit that combines the bridge and neck pickup for a beefier, hotter signal. You’ll also notice that tone and volume control knobs are pulled from a Gretsch. “I’m in a phase where I like messing with the guitars and their looks,” says Dan. He uses this guitar every night for “Heavy Heart.”
Speaker of the House
“This is a very special situation here. Part of what makes this guitar unique is the fact that it has a built-in amplifier that you can turn on and off,” details Kleederman. The 1960s Silvertone 1487 TG-1’s gold-foil pickup is original, and was the initial allure for Kleederman to make the purchase.
And for “Hold the Line,” where Dan plays slide—to give the song a rustic, back-porch, AM-radio vibe—he engages the tiny amplifier and sends a signal to FOH via a Shure Beta 98H/C.
Kleederman puts all three of his electrics through a hand-wired Vox AC15HW1X that comes with a single 12" Celestion Alnico Blue Speaker. He borrowed the combo from Bartees’ FOH, Kitzy. He uses the low input of the top-boost circuit and says it works well for cutting through and providing some defined power to his sound.
His board starts with an always-on JHS Morning Glory. The next level of grime is the Matthews Effects Architect. He chose this one because it includes a boost, three different clipping modes, and a 3-band EQ, all in a small footprint. A Wampler Mini Ego handles compression, while an Xotic EP Booster gives him another intensifier of volume and gain. The ZVEX Fuzzolo helps Dan double bassist John Daise’s parts in a song like “In a Cab,” or give him a super-gated attack during “Boomer.” Then we enter the section of Dan’s crazier colors that get painted on with a Walrus Audio Mako M1, a Source Audio Collider delay/reverb, and a Boss DD-8 Digital Delay. And, stealing a page out of Bartees’ playbook, Dan slots a distortion (Animals Pedal I Was a Wolf in the Forest Distortion) at the end of his chain to “make everything messy and fun.” Off to the side of his board sits a Dunlop DVP4 Volume Mini Pedal, and a Sonic Research ST-300 Mini Stomp Box Strobe Tuner keeps his instruments steady.
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
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Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.
Classy design extras, ultra-buttery playability, and sweet, growling pickups distinguish this excellent ES alternative.
Faultless construction. Very nice PAF-style tones. Exceptional playability. Beautiful visual presence and cool vibe. Comes with a hard case.
The extra 200 bucks you’ll pay over the price of a more modest Epiphone ES-335 might be too much for practical players.
Epiphone Noel Gallagher Riviera
Whatever your opinion of Oasis—and they have a way of engendering opinions—there’s little arguing that Noel Gallagher has an ear for a tune. And like many contemporary British indie guitarists and forebears like his hero, Johnny Marr, Gallagher also understands the romantic and iconographic power of a great tune played on a classic guitar—particularly as a means of asserting difference from the pop and hair metal tribes that came before.
Between a keen awareness of those cultural forces and Gallagher’s not-even-kinda-subtle worship of the Beatles, it’s little wonder he found his way to the Epiphone Riviera that inspired this signature model. Gallagher’s original Riviera, which was a Japan-made 1980s model, is a very different guitar than the Beatles’ hollowbody, P-90-fitted Epiphone Casinos, though. In fact, with its center-block, semi-hollow construction, PAF-inspired humbuckers, and Tune-o-matic bridge, it’s much more like a Gibson ES-335.
Epiphone currently makes several very nice ES-style guitars, from their own ES-335 to the closely related Riviera and Sheraton. Most of those guitars, save for the B.B. King, Emily Wolfe, and Joe Bonamassa signature models, sell for $599 to $699, which begs the inquiry: What does this Noel Gallagher Riviera give you for 200 bucks extra that its cheaper stablemates do not? If you’re a hardcore Oasis fan, that’s a non-question. But even at $899, this guitar is a great value. It feels and plays like a more expensive instrument. The build quality is pretty close to faultless. It comes with a hardshell case. It growls, sings, and stings in classic style. And by amalgamating several elements from Casinos, vintage-style Rivieras, and Gibson ES instruments, the Noel Gallagher Riviera adds up to a unique twist on a classic profile.
An E for Elegance
I’ve longed for a Gibson ES-335 since … forever. They loomed large in images of some of my biggest heroes: Keith Richards on the back of the Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! album, Roky Erickson, and Jorma Kaukonen to name just a few. Usually, an Epiphone Dot was the most affordable means of satisfying my 335 desires, and I’ve played a lot of them in shops and some that belong to friends. But I had weird luck with those Dots. When I found a good one, my interests seemed to be somewhere else. When I was feeling enthused, I could never find one that was quite right. But I feel like if I had ever come across an Epiphone 335-style as nice as the Noel Gallagher Riviera, I might have dropped the cash down on the spot—regardless of my current musical predilections. It’s a very inviting and easy-to-hang-out-with kind of guitar.
If you haven’t taken a break from your pedalboard for a while and need a taste of straight, mainline amp thrills, the Noel Gallagher Riviera is a satisfying means of getting there.
For starters, the Noel Gallagher Riviera feels next to effortless to play. Not everyone digs cradling a 16" body. And not everyone loves a 12" fretboard radius. But just about anyone else that touches this guitar is at risk to succumb to its smooth-playing charms. The action could fairly be called delicious, and the setup perfect, even after a cross-country journey.
The Noel Gallagher Riviera looks good, too. The wine-red finish and binding, aged to a biscuit-tan hue, look like a rather scrumptious meal. But the guitar also holds up to scrutiny at the detail level. I couldn’t find a construction or finish miscue. If there is any possible complaint, it’s that the finish might be a tad thick. All the same, I love looking at it. And though dogmatic Gibson players will probably scream heresy, I prefer the way the slim, florid hourglass headstock looks on this guitar compared to a Gibson. The white, curvaceous pickguard is also a pretty contrast to the wine finish, which I prefer to a Gibson ES-335’s black guard.
Air and Cultured Muscle
If you haven’t taken a break from your pedalboard for a while and need a taste of straight, mainline amp thrills, the Noel Gallagher Riviera is a satisfying means of getting there. The Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers, which aspire to a late-’50s, low-output PAF sound and feel, might lack some sense of the wide-screen, aerated texture you hear in the real thing or a top-flight replica, but they are a very nice facsimile. The top end zings and is neither too soft nor too bossy. And though the low end can be a touch woofy in some settings—a quality that applies to just about any PAF to a degree—it just as readily offers growling counterweight to the sweet treble tones. Like any PAF-profiled pickup, the Alnico Classic Pro is scooped in the midrange. In a great PAF, there’s usually enough personality in the scooped mids to lend a little purr to the output. That edge is slightly blunted here. But on balance, this a very nice set of pickups for a guitar in this price range.
The pickups are also a beautiful match for the semi-hollow construction, which I always think feels a little more dimensional than a Les Paul. The bridge pickup and combined pickup settings in particular seem to benefit from the extra body resonance, which lends them size and firecracker energy. The neck pickup alone, meanwhile, feels and sounds a little extra smoky, vocal, and soft around the edges. Each of these settings, by the way, pair to thrilling effect with overdrive tones. But I particularly love how it matched up with Marshall-style and raspy ODs, where the extra midrange adds a sweet toughness.
The knock on the Noel Gallagher Riviera will almost certainly be that it’s 200 extra bucks for what is, elementally, an Epiphone ES-335. But the little details—the parallelogram markers, the curvaceous, white Rivera pickguard, and the wine finish and aged binding, add up to a very pretty, distinctive, and unique twist on an ES. It’s also a very classy alternative to a Les Paul if you want PAF sounds in a less common instrument. I might also argue that it’s just a touch more versatile in some musical situations, thanks to the combination of airy resonance and growl. If you’re a songwriter, you’ll love how great it sounds nowhere near an amplifier. But this guitar is a joy to hear loud, alive, electrified, and unadulterated.
Epiphone Noel Gallagher Riviera Demo | First Look
Ever wonder what it’s like to do a Rig Rundown? It’s awesome! PG’s editorial director explains.
Although John Bohlinger has done the talking for the majority of our Rig Rundowns, followed by our director of video content Chris Kies and chief videographer Perry Bean, I’ve been PG’s jaws on my fair share. So, here’s what it’s like to do a Rig Rundown.
It starts well before we get to the venue, with Chris handling the scheduling with the artist’s team. Then, at the appointed time, Chris, Perry, and I convene at the club or concert location. I either know the artist’s work or have done research so I can ask informed questions. Chris and Perry arrive with cameras, lavalier mics, SM57s, tripods, and lights. Since I’m just carrying a notepad, I like to lend a hand. Every Rundown I’m on is like a reunion with Chris and Perry, too. We get to catch up, and since they’re best friends, they radiate a rapport and positivity that’s infectiously good. (I haven’t worked directly with our new videographer, Jarrad James, yet, but I hope you’ve seen some of his Drum Rundowns.)
Usually, the artist or guitar tech is ready for us onstage, and when they’re not, it’s either a treat to hear part of soundcheck—like the Allman Betts Band ripping through “Whipping Post,” or Eric Johnson last-minute-tweaking his amp setup—or, on unlucky days, torture—like listening to a guitarist blame the sound engineer for his lousy tone for a half hour, without once trying to change the settings on his own Marshall.
I like to make Rig Rundowns engaging conversations, instead of mere show-and-tell.
When the stage is ready for us, Chris and Perry use their experience to find the best angles to shoot the action. They position me and the artists and set up lights to illuminate where we stand. They put the SM57s on amps, help secure the lavaliers, do a quick soundcheck, and make sure the lenses are getting the goods. Honestly, they do all the hard work.
If the artist or tech isn’t familiar with Rig Rundowns, I’ll give them a quick outline of the conversation we’ll have. Often, emerging artists aren’t just ready, they’re psyched! I’ve heard, “Oh, I know how a Rig Rundown works!” … often. And with undisguised glee.
Then Perry, typically, says “rolling,” and away we go. I like to make Rig Rundowns engaging conversations, instead of mere show-and-tell, which is why I arrive informed and ready to talk about an artist’s history, recordings, stylistic interests, and more. If we can have a real discussion, and maybe even weave in a little humor or empathy, all the better.
If I make a mistake—ask a dumb question, stumble over words, stray out of the lens—I can stop or be stopped for a redo (and so can the artist), and Chris and Perry will cue me back in perfectly, coaching me on physical and verbal continuity. They’re really directors, making short documentaries. After filming a kabillion Rig Rundowns and demos, they’re also incredibly well-informed about gear, so they might suggest we focus on a particular instrument or stomp to hit all the right notes. They also encourage the artists to play, so we can begin each video with a live performance and really show off the tones these rigs create.
I love being onstage when somebody like Doug Aldrich, a great guy with a heart full of tone, rolls up the volume dial and hits the strings. Jimmy Herring did the same at a Widespread Panic Rundown at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater, and if I wasn’t standing next to him when I heard the low, mournful roar that came out his amp, I could have been convinced that Godzilla was coming up the nearby Cumberland River. It was one of the greatest sounds I’ve ever heard. Absolutely primeval.
When the filming’s over, Chris starts packing up and Perry takes stills for the Rundown’s text on PG’s website. I usually snap a few cell phone photos to capture details I’ll want to use writing that text—just as visual notes. And then it’s a wrap … except for the hours of editing that go into each Rundown, where an entirely different magic happens.
The bonus for me, of course, is getting to talk to artists I love about their gear. After interviewing Eric Johnson and Devon Allman for years, it’s been great to meet them and find they’re also kind and generous in person. My favorite Rig Rundown was with Buddy Miller, who I’ve long admired, and who invited us into his home studio for a spirited, free-ranging talk about his favorite instruments, recording gear, and way more. He even let us use his vintage overheard mic when we came up short. And yes, Nick Raskulinecz’ Nashville pad is the ultimate heavy rock playroom!
Every Rig Rundown I’ve done has had real highs—moments of discovery, enlightenment, musical adventure—and I hope you experience that, too, when you watch them.
Supro goes toe-to-toe with the Princeton and comes packing a bag of extra tricks.
Appealingly retro. Compact. Practical power-scaling functions. A great low-power pedal platform.
Natural overdrive can get a little soft and squishy when pushed hard (if you don’t like that sort of thing).
If current trends are any indication, lower stage and studio volumes are with us to stay, and Supro, in particular, has built a lot of low-power amps to serve this segment of the market. The Amulet is the latest in a line built to satisfy small-amp appetites and deal thick, vintage-leaning tone.
The Amulet’s 15-watt, 1x10 combo configuration delivers a lot of flexibility: a simple control panel, nice tremolo and reverb sections, and a useful attenuator, which offers power scaling ranging from 15, 5, or a single watt. The output stage, meanwhile, is Class A and driven by a 6L6GC tube, rather than pairs of smaller 6V6s or EL84s, which drive the most common 15-watt tube amps. Together, these design features make Amulet an interesting and unique Princeton Reverb alternative.
Young, Free, and Single
The Amulet’s control panel will make any 1960s combo amp fan feel right at home. Volume, treble, bass, reverb, and tremolo speed and depth make up the control compliment, save for the 3-position output power switch. The Amulet is a looker, too, like just about everything we’ve seen from the revitalized Supro. Housed in a compact 17.5" x 17" x 8" poplar cabinet and weighing just 29 pounds, it’s covered in stylish black Scandia vinyl with cream piping and a cream grille cloth. A large leatherette handle makes for a super-comfy carry. The speaker is a Celestion G10 Creamback rated at 45 watts.
Given the Class A output stage, you could view the Amulet almost as a beefed-up Champ with extras. The past couple of decades have seen a variety of creative Class A offerings, like the THD UniValve, Victoria Regal (and double-single-ended Regal II), Emery Sound Microbaby, Blackheart Little Giant, the original Carr Mercury, and others. But only the Carr came with a built-in attenuator like the Amulet’s, so it’s nice and rare to see power scaling in this circuit type, at this power level, and at this price. Amulet’s true class-A output and the associated second-order harmonics add to the brew, which most will hear as lively, deep, overtone-rich, and more multi-dimensional in overdriven settings.
The whole of the Amulet’s circuit is tube-driven. There are 12AX7 preamp tubes for the preamp gain stage, reverb gain make-up, and tremolo sections, and a single 12AT7 driving the front end of the spring reverb. Inside, a rugged-looking printed circuit board is populated with quality, through-hole components and board-mounted tube sockets.
Good Luck Charm
The Supro Amulet is a pretty handy box of tricks, given the small package. At lower settings on the volume knob and ranging up to about 11 o’clock, it sounds clean, crisp, and detailed, with body and balance. And despite the modest 15 watts, it feels powerful enough that you could maintain those clean tones in a small club with a volume-conscious rhythm section. Add lush reverb and rich, warm tremolo to taste, and there are some superb atmospheric cleans to be found—offering great sonics for retro swamp-rock, surf, alt-country, and indie textures.
The Amulet offers nice shades of breakup between 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock, but roars when it’s cranked. Assuming that you’ll want to use this capability often, the 15-watt setting will likely be too loud for many home studios. But you can still hit this sweet spot at 5 watts. And apartment dwellers and bedroom jammers that need to use the 1-watt position will still find lots of nice tones. At its sweetest, though, Amulet generates chewy, thick, rowdy, vintage-flavored overdrive and loads of compression without totally sacrificing dynamics.
While the amp’s natural overdrive is expressive in the right setting, it’s awesome with overdrive pedals, too—particularly with amp volumes around 10 to 11 o’clock. One of my favorite pedal/amp recipes was a grinding, plexi-like Friedman overdrive with the Supro set to 15 watts and a clean-but-almost-dirty volume. With a Telecaster out front, the Amulet had the sting of Jimmy Page’s early Led Zeppelin solos. Class A amps are rarely blessed with much low-end thump. Faster onset of compression and sag is usually part of the brew, too. The Amulet is no different in either regard, but it has a way of reminding you how these characteristics can be real virtues and makes the Amulet an exciting amp live or in the studio.
The Supro Amulet is a super-likeable and super-useful amp. The retro styling is a winner. Tones range from crispy to juicy at a range of output levels thanks to the built-in attenuator. The reverb and tremolo are both very good, and it pairs beautifully with overdrive pedals. If, to your ears, that adds up to fun and musical versatility, you’d be wise to give the Amulet a listen.