One watt sounds monstrous in this '50s-meets-modern mighty mite.
Solid class A tone at an affordable price. Responsive and fun to crank. Simple design. Line level signal from the line-out jack adds useful functionality.
Probably too quiet for a gig-able clean tone.
Supro Delta King 8
Since its 2014 revival, Supro has given fans of small, low-wattage combos plenty to talk about. This should come as no surprise. Tiny but ferocious amplifiers with the Supro logo have been on the scene since the early days of the electric guitar and landed on some of the most classic guitar records of all time. And the company's recent offerings have captured the sonic essence of those vintage models with a line of well-built, modern amps that look just as cool as they sound.
Thus far, the current Supro team have drawn inspiration primarily from their 1960s models. But the new Delta King series digs in a little deeper, delivering the sound and aesthetics of their 1950s combos—stripes and all. The Delta King 8 is the tiniest of the bunch, offering just 1 watt of all-tube class A power via a single 12AX7 preamp tube and a single 12AU7 power tube. While it may be small, this amp lives up to the sonic legacy of its vintage predecessors and projects a surprisingly fearsome roar.
- Clip 1: Controls at noon, miked.
- Clip 2: Controls at noon, direct line out signal.
- Clip 3: Full volume, tone control at noon, full master volume, miked.
- Clip 4: Full volume, tone control at noon, full master volume, direct line out signal.
- Clip 5: Full volume, tone control at noon, master volume muted, line out plugged into a 1971 Fender Deluxe Reverb, miked.
Robust, Balanced, and Nasty
Playing the Delta King 8 is immediately satisfying. Using Telecaster- and Jazzmaster–style guitars, I set all three knobs—volume, tone, and master—to noon and got a clean, smooth, midrange-focused tone. This is, however, just about all of the clean volume that this amp has to offer. Turning the volume knob above noon gently eases the combo into an overdriven sound that, at full volume, is gnarly and cutting but retains warmth and clarity. The boost switch bumps the volume and adds a little more gain. Naturally, I had the most fun with everything cranked and the boost on. But while it's impressively loud for 1 watt, the Delta King 8 will be most useful for recording, practicing, or for extremely quiet gigs.
Turning the volume knob above noon gently eases the amp into an overdriven tone that, at full volume, is gnarly and cutting but retains warmth and clarity.
The 8" Supro DK8 speaker sounds robust and balanced, and easily handled the overdriven tones without sounding trashy. I've probably spent too much of my life wondering about speaker swaps for other small combos, but I'd be quite satisfied with this stock speaker.
A Cure for the Backline Blues
The line-out jack on the back of the Delta King 8 provides a line-level signal that is perfect for direct recording. This feature was thoughtfully positioned before the master volume control (an unusual feature on an amp this small), which means you can get warm tube preamp tone straight into your audio interface and opt to have the speaker muted when you turn the master volume down to zero.
That isn't the only trick up the Delta King 8's sleeve. To unlock its hidden superpower, go ahead and plug the same line-out straight into another amp. In this setup, the Delta King 8 essentially becomes a tube-driven overdrive unit. Chronic sufferers of the backline blues will celebrate the fact that this little Supro can lend its low-watt, class A tone to bigger, flatter-sounding stage amps. I was blown away by the snarling sounds it generated with my Deluxe Reverb at very reasonable volumes. And by keeping the master volume up on the Supro, you can also create cool A/B blends if you mic up both amps. If you're used to playing house gear but can figure out a way to schlep an extra 15 pounds, this tiny amp could be a game-changing addition to your gigging rig.
The Delta King 8 delivers much of the vintage Supro experience in a hip, well-built package. It's fun, sounds good in clean settings, and great in more overdriven ones. At $449, it's a great deal for those reasons alone. But the convenience and versatility that comes with the addition of the pre-master line out opens up possibilities in the studio and offers solutions to backline woes that make the price even more appealing.
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EQD dishes deep, dimensional reverbs in an elegant package that won’t mire you in menus.
Intuitive, streamlined control layout. Cool pitch-bending capabilities. Unique modulation tones.
Some digital artifacts at long reverb settings. Could use one more-conventional reverb voice.
EarthQuaker Astral Destiny Reverb
Ease of Use:
EarthQuaker Devices has built many brilliant stompboxes in its short history. And they’ve been resolutely unafraid about getting weird. But EQD has also mastered the art of building specialized and esoteric effects into pedals that are elegantly designed, intuitive to use, and don’t bog down the creative process.
The new EQD Astral Destiny fits that category. It specializes in super-spacious, modulated octave reverbs, including the octave-up reverb effect known as “shimmer.” But shimmer is just one dish from the Astral Destiny’s reverb menu. There are deep, resonant octave-down verbs, pitch-bending reverb effects, and expansive reverbs with no octave or pitch shift at all. Each can be mutated with flutter and wobble using the pedal’s dedicated modulation section. You can also save eight presets. But what makes the Astral Destiny’s big sounds extra appealing is the ease with which you can shape them, store them, and recall them.
Destined to Be Distant
Expansive digital reverbs are common in modern music. They add dimension and size to movie soundtracks and pop vocals—often to a comical degree. But they also lend atmosphere and mystery to the work of minimalist ambient artists and transform simple guitar and synth lines into cosmic-scale melodic statements. Because these music styles—and big reverb itself—can magnify tiny harmonic nuances, many pedals are cluttered with menus and multi-function knobs for surgically shaping the hugeness. These control layouts are great for sculpting specific sounds, but they can disrupt creative flow.
The Astral Destiny bucks that trend by utilizing a what-you-see-is-what-you-get control set. Hidden functions are confined to the two footswitches. The rest of the pedal’s power is accessed via the seven knobs and the single expression pedal jack.
Analog-oriented users will love the straight-ahead functionality of these controls. Presets are accessed via an 8-position rotary switch (though they are saved with a simple footswitch sequence). The eight modes, too, are selected via rotary switch. The critical reverb length control is situated at the top center, while the equally vital mix and tone controls are relegated to mini-knob status in the lower row. Bigger knobs for these oft-used functions would make a more satisfactory tactile experience, but I can’t say that the small size adversely affected performance.
The Astral Destiny’s modulation section is controlled via small depth and rate knobs. Unlike the chorus-like modulation found in most big-sounding reverbs, the Astral Destiny’s modulations sound more like a cross between tremolo and pitch modulation. They can be unique and sweetly undulating at modest settings, but also positively demented at higher rate and depth levels.
The stretch footswitch, which shifts the pitch an octave and doubles the size of the reverb, is another source of bizarre and theatrical sound tweaks. Tapping the switch gives you an instantaneous pitch shift. But holding the switch produces a sweeping rise or fall to the octave—the duration of which can be adjusted by holding the stretch switch and adjusting the length. It’s a killer tool for moving between chorus, verse, or bridge sections, or for punctuating a song with a flourish.
Near-Earth Orbits, Outer Reaches
Most of the Astral Destiny’s voices are bold and expansive, even at low settings. And if you’re looking for a pedal to add a touch of vintage-style spring reverb, there are simpler means to that end.
That said, there are many effective, subtle reverb textures to be discovered. The key to using the Astral Destiny in a more conventional, subdued fashion is keeping the length control at its shortest settings. At these levels, and with a just-right dose of treble from the tone control, you can conjure interesting, if idiosyncratic, tank-style reverb sounds. In the sub setting, which adds a low octave to the reverb, shorter reverberations, trebly tones, and aggressive mix settings can even add cool electric sitar overtones.
Taking the time to master and save a few of these more modest settings drastically expands the versatility of the Astral Destiny. But the main attraction for most players will be the pedal’s biggest sounds. The abyss reverb is the most versatile of the bunch by virtue of having no added octave. Consequently, it sounds great in short length/low mix settings, where it generates cool plate- and chamber-style tones, and at long settings where it adds ghostly and pleasingly metallic overtones to the reflections. The sub setting is fantastic for dropped tunings and baritone—giving detuned 6th strings immense resonance that you can offset or compliment with generous doses of treble from the pedal’s tone knob. To my ear, the octave-up reverbs, which include the shimmer, astral, and cosmos settings (the latter adds a regenerating fifth to the reverb tail), sound best at low tone settings, which give long reflections a more organ- or synth-like quality. But even at lower mix, tone, and length settings, they can add a pretty layer of magic dust to crunchy chords without sounding overly choral. Meanwhile, players that pepper their compositions with a sense of musical suspense—or who just love horror soundtracks—will relish the pitch bending capabilities of the ascend and descend modes, which set sustained notes and chords on swooping glide paths to the clouds—or spiral dives to a deep-water trench. Both sound extra amazing with a heap of slow modulation.
If big, octave-colored reverb sounds are bedrock to your tone palette, the simple, smart, and well-conceived Astral Destiny is a superb tool for performance and composition. Its relative simplicity will also find fans in players that like to move fast and intuitively without getting mired in menus. Some sound creators might long for a more chorus-like modulation section. And the presence of a slightly more traditional and subdued reverb voice would go far toward making the Astral Destiny the only reverb pedal you need. But if deep space is the place you prefer to dwell, EQD’s Astral Destiny will get you there in playful, pretty, and practical style.
Watch our First Look demo of the EarthQuaker Devices Astral Destiny:
The most successful electric guitar of all time evolves subtly, but substantially.
Comfortable neck. Super-sweet neck pickup tones. Combination neck/bridge setting. High-quality build. Sensitive tremolo.
Combination neck/bridge tones can sound muddy in chord settings.
$1,599 street (with pine body, $1,499 with alder body)
Fender American Professional II Stratocaster
Fender designers tasked with a Stratocaster re-design probably veer between ecstasy and terror on some days. Such are the thrills and pitfalls that go with the responsibility of rethinking an icon.
But as most modification enthusiasts know, the Stratocaster’s elegant simplicity leaves plenty of room for refinement and adaptation to personal taste. Indeed, that’s one of the most beautiful facets of its solidbody, bolt-on-neck design—you can drill, rout, shim, sand, and shave to your heart’s content and retain much of the guitar’s essence.
On the surface, the new American Professional II Stratocaster doesn’t look like a radical overhaul. Instead, Fender added incremental but sometimes quite substantial refinements that subtract little in the way of classic Stratocaster-ness. Fender originalists may balk at changes like a carved heel and flatter fretboard radius, but the American Pro II Stratocaster’s component parts add up to an instrument that still feels, looks, and sounds very much like a Stratocaster should.
In the Pines
One of the most interesting deviations from tradition in the American Pro II series is the use of what Fender calls roasted pine for the body—a move we’re likely to see more often as Fender pivots away from swamp ash, which is now threatened by boring beetles and flooding associated with climate change. Roasted pine is available in only two of the finishes in the American Pro II Stratocaster line—sienna sunburst and the natural roasted pine of our review model, both of which will set you back an extra hundred bucks. Superficially, the natural roasted pine and maple-neck version is reminiscent of the walnut-finished, black-pickguard-and-maple-neck Strats from the early-to mid-’70s. But if you, ahem, pine for a more ’50s or ’60s-style Strat, you can opt for the alder-bodied version—which is used for seven of the nine finishes. Several finishes can also be offered with rosewood necks.
The neck itself is a delight. A Stratocaster is the essence of balance. But it always seems to me that a Strat feels extra-well-balanced when the neck is a little bit on the thicker side. The deep C profile featured on this iteration does a very nice job of straddling the divide between the chunkier profiles of ’50s and early-’60s Strats, and thinner contemporary necks. But the comfort is really compounded by the rolled edges, which create the tactile illusion of making the bend-facilitating 9.5"radius feel like a more curvaceous and vintage-styled 7.25" radius.
The extra sense of comfort is compounded by the carved heel, which is beveled on the treble side in line with the 17th fret. Play a full-step bend at the 18th fret and you’ll definitely notice the absence of the hard edges on a blocky old-style heel. It makes it much easier to put extra muscle and nuance into string bends and vibrato at these higher reaches of the neck. Players with smaller hands will almost certainly appreciate the extra reach and room to move
While it’s hard to determine with certainty what specific effects the pine body might have on the overall tone, you perceive extra warmth and detail in many settings. The bridge pickup feels extra quick, responsive, and spanky, even by Strat standards, but exhibits excellent string-to-string balance. The real star is the neck pickup, which, to my ears, delivers a little extra size and low-mid glow, particularly from the bottom end. Drop tunings sound fantastic on this pickup—especially that thumping 6th string. And while I didn’t change the .009–.042 set the guitar ships with, it was hard not to be tantalized by the thought of using heavier strings on the bottom to add mass to the already tantalizingly rich low end.
Fender’s treble bleed circuit (which preserves high end as you roll back the volume) becomes a real asset in these settings. The push/push switch on the second tone knob is another cool addition to the Strat’s usual bag of tricks—enabling selection of the lovely neck pickup from both the bridge and bridge/middle positions. The sound is fat, complex, and can feel harmonically cluttered in some chord-centric situations. But leads, especially slow, chord-melody passages, sound balanced and pretty in these positions and make great use of the extra low-end ballast from the neck pickup. This is certainly a Stratocaster soul and jazz players can love.
The American Professional II Stratocaster is a positive evolution of a guitar that was pretty close to perfect in its original incarnation. Refinements like the fluid, bouncy, and precise vibrato, carved heel, and 9.5" radius fretboard with rolled edges manage to represent true improvements without sacrificing what you might call vintage integrity. The wide grain of the pine body on our review specimen may deviate a touch too much from the figuring in natural ash finishes to please hardcore vintage purists. But this particular guitar aligns nicely with Fender’s underappreciated ’70s instruments in stylistic terms, and there are many more vintage-style finishes available in its alder incarnation—along with some very modern ones, if that’s your fancy. In short, the American Professional II bridges the gap between vintage familiarity and a more expansive, modern tone vocabulary with grace. And the effort Fender put into these enhancements clearly has paid real dividends.
Watch our Fender American Professional II Stratocaster First Look demo:
A master of Big Muff-style circuits builds a Ram’s Head clone that’ll be tough to beat at any price.
Wide-open, airy, super-smooth, and ripping classic Ram's Head tones. Awesome for chords and rhythm playing. Crazy sustain. High quality.
Big if you're space conscious. Expensive.
Wren and Cuff Caprid Blue-Violet Special
Ease of Use:
Most Big Muff freaks agree that the Ram's Head pedals—a series of Muffs built by Electro-Harmonix in the early-to-mid-'70s—embody most of the breed's very best attributes. Not all Ram's Heads are amazing. Component inconsistencies mean some sound better than others. But devout Muff-heads insist that the very best of the best come from a run that coincided with Electro-Harmonix's use of blue and violet paint. This collision of sound and color birthed the legend of the Violet Ram's Head.
Wren and Cuff's Matt Holl knows much about these nuances. He chases authentic Big Muff sounds with fervor. And though Holl has built great Ram's Head clones before, his efforts have really reached an apex in the Caprid Blue-Violet Special.
All in for Authentic
The Blue-Violet Special is a feast for a vintage fiend's senses. It features the same dimensions, on/off switch, “backwards" tone control, and Arnold Böcklin typeface that distinguished the original. Even the hand-populated circuit board is a fastidious near-clone of the original “3003" EHX Big Muff board—right down to the shape of the solder traces.
But the real treats are the sounds. And the Caprid Blue-Violet Special underscores the fact that the magic behind the Ram's Head's wall of sound resides in the spaces in between. The source of this space is a perceptible mid-scoop that highlights the white-hot-but-smooth top end and gut-walloping bass. This is the classic formula behind any good Ram's Head. But the Blue-Violet Special adds perceptible extra airspace, even when the gain and tone controls are cranked to their feistiest levels. The result is more room for dynamics in both touch and composition. And it compelled me to play a lot of austere, melodic phrases where I could bask in the sweet cello- and violin-like overtones.
This signing quality can lead you down predictable alleys. It can be hard to avoid punctuating every lead phrase with an eternally sustaining David Gilmour or Ernie Isley bend. But there are many other benefits to the open, scooped, and super-detailed voice. Chunky punk/metal riffs sound huge, with a just-right compression on transients that excites fast staccato riffs. And if you stack drives and fuzzes, or like to leave room for modulation and delay echoes to bloom, the extra air gives these effects plenty of room.
Room to Range Outward
The impressive range in the Blue Violet's controls is a source of bountiful and colorful voices. The Caprid's ample headroom means you can use cool, buzzing lower-gain settings without sacrificing output. The volume control is a powerful tone shaper, too, inducing smooth but pronounced compression at extreme volume settings and more open, detailed tones at lower levels (which are still monstrously loud).
The tone and sustain controls also yield abundant and varied rhythm and lead tones—enabling super-precise coloration when overdubbing or arranging for multiple guitar parts. There are many incredible, dusky, no-highs fuzz sounds on tap here. But if you max the treble, keep the volume low, and the sustain right around the 2/3 mark, you have the recipe for spot-on Bosstone and Maestro-style “Satisfaction" buzz.
Picking at micro-nuances in basically similar fuzz pedals can get ridiculous. After all, a ripping, soulful solo will probably sound ripping and soulful regardless of the gain-stage transistor. But as a sum of many thoughtfully assembled parts, the Caprid Blue-Violet Special is an extraordinary, head-of-the-class Muff. It's audibly smoother and more effectively scooped in the midrange than less authentic Ram's Head clones. And its knack for sweet, unbroken sustain is extra-impressive—even by Big Muff standards—opening up possibilities for lyrical, spacious solos and extra-expressive finger vibrato.
If you're an entrenched Big Muff cultist, the Blue-Violet Caprid is a must-hear experience. But even if you can't tell a Ram's Head from a rooster, it's impossible not to be wooed by the smooth, sinister sounds from this ultra-authentic take on a legend.
Watch our First Look demo of the Wren and Cuff Caprid Blue-Violet Special