Dave's Corner: Boutique Amp Guide Part VII

Part VII of the Boutique Amp Guide gets us to 42 makers, and we’re far from finished, with many great amps yet to come. This installment rolls out plenty of variety, from a couple of individualistic west-coast contenders, a meticulously hand-wired Brit classic reborn in the Midwest, to an unsung hero from New Hampshire, and a dormant giant that represents the most valuable boutique amps ever made. Be aware that if you haven’t yet seen your favorite make, or one that you’re interested in, it is likely slated for a future installment.

Satellite Amplifiers

Satellite Amplifiers

Satellite Amplifiers

Not nearly the household name in boutique land that it probably should be, this San Diego-based maker, headed by Adam Grimm, nevertheless has an impressive list of endorsees. Satellite is known for its simple, toneful designs and what might be called a maverick approach to the business. There are no Fender, Vox or Marshall copies here, although various Satellite models might cop renditions of those tones and more. Or, that is, cop what we think of as renditions of the classics, since the Satellite ethos is all about purity of tone and great articulation.

The company is probably best known for its 4xEL84, 36-watt Atom with controls for just volume and tone, a favorite amp of Johnny “2 Bags” Wickersham from Social Distortion. Other offerings tend also to hover around the lower and upper ends of the mid-sized spectrum, from the 45-watt, dual-KT66 Barracuda; to the dual-5881, 20-watt Mudshark; to the 16-watt, dual-EL84 Neutron, the Atom’s smaller sibling.

Tiniest of them all, though, is the Gammatron, a 2.8-watt head or combo with one 12AX7 in the preamp and a single 12BH7 preamp tube used as an output stage. It’s also the most affordable Satellite going, with prices ranging from the upper $400s to the upper $600s, depending on configuration and features.

If you’re a fan of entirely hand-wired amps based around top-notch components, the kind of simplicity that renders it almost impossible to dial in a bad sound, superbly dynamic clean-to-mean tones, and addictive touch sensitivity, Satellite is definitely worth a look.

  • Key Model: Atom
  • Recommended For: Any guitarist appreciating simplicity, sonic purity and great touch sensitivity.
  • Famous Users: Johnny Wickersham, John Reis of Rocket from the Crypt, Ron Heathman from Supersuckers

RELATED ARTICLE



Juke Amplification

Juke Amplification

Juke Amplification

A small operation based in Troy, New Hampshire, Juke has been seducing players with great-sounding and impressively-featured amps for nearly 20 years, without ever quite earning the reputation that the brand deserves. Founded by G.R. Croteau and based on his original designs, Juke is probably best known for its flagship Juke 1210 model (renamed the Warbler in 2008), an amp that represents an effort to blend the best of classic Ampeg, Fender, Gibson, Magnatone and Valco combos. It might sound like a tall order, but plug into one and you’ll quickly discover to what extent Croteau has succeeded.

In addition to a comprehensive gain and EQ stage, the Warbler boast a highly controllable three-knob reverb, and a vibrato with controls for AM-Depth and FM-Width (i.e. tremolo and true vibrato) in addition to its Speed control. The original configuration is an odd 1x12" + 2x10" combo that pumps a lot of air for its dual-EL34 output section, but is also available in other output tubes and speaker configurations.

Smaller combos were introduced in 2008, and the Coda, for example, delivers similar features in a smaller package, with 30 watts from a pair of cathode-biased 5881, while the Vamp simplifies the interface (without eliminating reverb or vibrato) for 15 watts from either 6V6s or EL84s. And if Juke’s amps aren’t as well-known as some others in the field, it ain’t for lack of trying: impressive workmanship, reliable components and an unflagging originality are all part of the recipe.

  • Key Model: Warbler
  • Recommended For: Versatile vintage tonality with onboard reverb and vibrato/tremolo, plus plenty of original character all its own.
  • Famous Users: John Fogerty, Ben Harper, Hershel Yatovitz (Chris Isaak and Silvertone), Troy Gonyea (Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Kolvane (Rose City Kings)

Reeves Amplification

Reeves Amplification

Reeves Amplification

You might expect an unlikely yarn behind the tale of how a classic British amp design came to be reborn in a workshop on the outskirts of Cincinnati, but there’s also some logic to the birth of Reeves Amplification. Founded by Hiwatt aficionado Bill Jansen, the company began life importing the revitalized U.K.-made Hiwatts emanating from Music Ground in the north of England. A few years in, though, Jansen decided he could do better at home and launched his own brand — named after visionary Hiwatt founder Dave Reeves (no relation) — to start doing just that in the early 2000s.

Flagship models like the Custom 50 and 100 are based almost point-for-point on the legendary Hiwatt DR-504 circuit, but Reeves also offers a handful of original designs that take off from the Hiwatt springboard. The Custom 10HG, Custom 12 and Custom 18 present some Hiwatt DNA in smaller, club-friendly packages that include tweaks and features suited to their format, often with power scaling, licensed from London Power, to suit your volume to any venue. The Custom Jimmy (as in Page) and Super 78 aim for more hot-rodded lead tones of the late ’60s and late ’70s respectively, while the relatively new Space Cowboy takes the Custom 50 platform into more big-Fender-inspired territory, while adding lush two-knob reverb.

All of the amps display some of the most meticulous hand-wired workmanship I’ve ever seen, with parts that are either top-shelf, or entirely custom spec’d, like the accurate re-creations of Partridge transformers that are considered essential to vintage Hiwatt performance. Tones? Think big, bold and clean at reasonable volume settings, and outrageously punchy and powerful when cranked.

  • Key Model: Custom 100
  • Recommended For: Players seeking superbly well-constructed amps with the powerful, stadium-ready sounds that Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and Dave Gilmour made famous.
  • Famous Users: Johnny Hiland, Craig Ross from the Lenny Kravitz band, Mark Stoermer of The Killers

RELATED ARTICLE



Benson Amps

Benson Amps

Benson Amps

One of the fun things about the boutique amp world, for me anyway, is the way that exciting new makers still crop up and do something entirely original rather than just adding another “vintage-X clone” to the market. Chris Benson of Portland, Oregon, is one such maker. His M.O. is not a world away from that of Adam Grimm of Satellite, although he does things entirely his own way: to wit, simple and compact tube amps that eschew excessive bells and whistles in the name of sonic integrity and superb playing dynamics.

Benson grounds its lineup in a mid-sized model, the Monarch, which is available with few other buyer-determined options. A single Volume and Tone control is all this 15-watter dishes out by way of user interface, and that’s all you should need: set the Monarch a little past noon and use your guitar’s volume control to roll from shimmering, textured cleans to chewy, dynamic overdrive faster than you can say “tube distortion.”

For the player who needs more headroom, the 4x6V6, 30-watt Chimera doubles the Monarch’s output and ups the knob quotient to three. Or, for genuine bedroom or home-studio levels, investigate the 1-watt, 1xEL84-driven Vinny. If you need reverb, Benson’s highly regarded, stand-alone, tube-driven Tall Bird unit fits the bill. All Benson creations are point-to-point wired, using Mercury Magnetics transformers, custom-made chassis, carbon comp resistors and Mallory 150 signal caps.

  • Key Model: Monarch (optionally paired with Tall Bird reverb)
  • Recommended For: Players who want to set it and forget it, yet to still achieve luscious and dynamic tones from an original tube amp.
  • Famous Users: Chris Funk from Decemberists, Jessica Dobson of the Shins

Magnatone

Magnatone

Magnatone

Badging the contemporary reissue of a legendary vintage amp line as “boutique” might seem a little odd, but I feel the newly revitalized Magnatone brand qualifies on several counts. These things are far from mass-produced, hand-built in the USA by St. Louis Music, using hand-wired circuit boards and the types of components you find in many other boutique amps. Also, rather than slavishly re-creating vintage circuits, Magnatone has thoughtfully re-adapted classic sounds and features for enhanced performance while introducing many clever new designs to boot.

The Stereo Twilighter best represents the historic Magnatone sound. This 2x12" combo houses two full output stages of 22 watts each, each of which uses a pair of 6V6s, for true stereo reproduction of the legendary pitch-shifting vibrato. (Fun fact: the two broad “V” emblems on the amp’s front grille stand for “vibrato vastness,” as per the vintage Magnatone catalogs.)

Players seeking more portable packages can get a taste of vintage Magnatone in the 1x12" Twilighter and 2x10" Panoramic Stereo, while the Single V blends a little tweed-era Fender Pro with the luscious Magnatone effects. The Studio range offers even more compact 10- and 12-watt Lyric and Varsity combos that still capture some Magnatone style, while the Master Collection contains two renditions of Super Fifty-Nine heads that aim for Brit-meets-yank rock tones.

  • Key Model: Stereo Twilighter
  • Recommended For: A reliable contemporary take on the hypnotic Magnatone stereo vibrato, couched in excellent vintage-leaning tube tone.
  • Famous Users: Billy Gibbons, Tom Petty, Rich Robinson

RELATED ARTICLE



Dumble Amplifiers

Dumble Amplifiers

Dumble Amplifiers

The name of no other amp-maker past or present is likely to spawn as much debate as that of Alexander Dumble. And yes, this series is primarily dedicated to existing — or at least recently existing — amp lines, and it is unclear whether Dumble is still building amps for anyone, much less ordinary mortals; but so large in guitar-amp lore does his name loom that it would be negligent not to touch on his work here somewhere.

Rather than get into the entire Dumble mythos — about which a book could be written — let’s summarize by saying that Alexander Dumble primarily started his thing by modifying Fenders in the 1960s, and was designing and building his own amps by the latter part of that decade, aiming mainly to achieve the cranked-up lead tone that so many players were chasing. Best represented by the Overdrive Special, the “Dumble tone” is mostly heard as a smooth, creamy, liquid overdrive with delectable touch sensitivity and plenty of girth, as captured on many recordings and performances by Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Lowell George, later-career Stevie Ray Vaughan and a few others.

The entry price of attaining a good existing example of an original Dumble has busted past the $50,000 mark — way past, in some instances — so fewer and fewer of these amps are heard out in the wild these days. Also, be aware that all original Dumbles were hand-made by Alexander himself and usually were tweaked to suit the tastes of the client, so no two are quite entirely alike. For many players, a simulacrum of the legacy lives on in the many Dumble clones and Dumble-inspired amps available on the boutique market. Major players in that arena include Bludotone, Glaswerks, Brown Note, Quinn, Fuchs, Two Rock, Ceriatone and a handful of others.

  • Key Model: Overtone Special
  • Recommended For: Bold, warm, crisp cleans and dynamic liquid lead tones, generally considered best suited to fusion or jazzy-bluesy improvisation.
  • Famous Users: Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lowell George from Little Feat

Read More of Dave's Boutique Amp Guide:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Hunter

Dave Hunter is a writer and musician who has worked extensively in the USA and the UK. The author of The Guitar Amp Handbook, Guitar Effects Pedals, Guitar Amps & Effects For Dummies, The Gibson Les Paul and several other books. Dave is also a regular contributor to Guitar Player and Vintage Guitar magazines.

comments powered by Disqus

Reverb Gives

Your purchases help youth music programs get the gear they need to make music.

Carbon-Offset Shipping

Your purchases also help protect forests, including trees traditionally used to make instruments.

iOS app store button
Android play store button
Oops, looks like you forgot something. Please check the fields highlighted in red.