Austin Amp Show Review 2010 – Part 2
Today I had to work fast because my flight was at 7pm so departure from the Amp Show was set for about 4:30pm. There was no time for goofing around so right at the stroke of 10am I charged into Jeff Bober’s suite. Jeff is probably best known for the Budda brand but now has a new brand called East Amplification. New brand, new design…..Jeff’s new amp called the Studio 2 is rated at two watts! Yes, two stinkin’ watts using a pair of 12AT7’s in a push pull arrangement. Now you might be thinking what the heck am I going to do with a two watt amp? I could probably gig with a 6 watter like a Champ but two watts….that’s just silly! Ahhh but these are Bober-watts my friends and are unlike any other watts produced!
Jeff’s new Studio 2 is just awesome. Two watts yes but huge tone from those two watts and enough volume to probably cut a gig. The controls are Gain, Volume, Master, Treble, Middle, Bass and Presence. There is a line out with a speaker on/off switch so you can plug the amp into any power amp for more power. The matching cabinet is an open back design with a single 10” Eminence Ragin Cajun which is one of my personal favorites!
The new Studio 2 really sounds incredible especially for two watts (Bober-watts) with great harmonic content, sustain and clarity. You can hear every detail even when the amp is in a heavy overdrive mode. I found that the Studio 2 had plenty of bottom end as well. This amp would absolutely kill in a recording situation and would befriend engineers all day long. I got some cool Keef tones from it, Carlos tones and even some real nice clean sounds as well. Jeff knows his stuff and has an 18 watt version almost ready with footswitchable boost…..maybe I will get to sample that one at the NY Amp Show in June.
Venturing down the hall I decided to stop by the Egnater suite. 6’-9” tall John Ewing was there and introduced me to the whole line. Again, another brand I heard a lot about but only tried once a while back. The amps that were at the show were the Tweaker, Rebel, Renegade and Tourmaster. Egnater amps have lots of features but are easy to navigate and dial up a good sound quickly.
The new Tweaker is fun to play and tweak! It was purposely designed with a bunch of switches that alter the characteristics of the amp. 15 watts from 2x6V6’s and it is very small and light. I enjoyed flipping all the switches to see how they affected the tone…..fun! Next up was the Rebel 20 which was another tiny head with a lot of features including a 1-20 watt power scaler and a Tube Mix control that mixes a pair of EL84’s with a pair of 6V6’s. I liked this feature a lot and dialed back and forth checking the different tones. Up the line you go to the Rebel 30 which shares some features of the Rebel 20. The Rebel 30 which is a two channel switching amp was my favorite and had a ton of features. The Clean channel sounded beautiful and the Drive channel had plenty of gain for lead sounds. Each channel could be individually power scaled for even further versatility. Did I mention that each channel has reverb and there is also an effects loop? John also told me that you can turn off the speaker outs use the amp into a PA board or into a higher wattage power amp.
I never even got to the Renegade or Tourmaster. The three models I tried were awesome and I was sold on the design, features and tone. Not to mention the versatility. You could get any one of the models I played as a combo as well.
From amps I went back to guitars with a visit to the LSL Instruments suite. Lance Lerman had a few of his really cool guitars at the show. His guitars are made the old school way with templates, band saws and spoke shaves. The pickups are even wound in house! There were two models staring back at me that I was dying to try….the Saticoy (Strat) and T Bone (Tele). These two particular models had pine bodies which is a bit different from the usual ash or alder. Lance actually told me that there were some ash guitars of his in other suites but I did not get a chance to give them a whirl. I have to admit that I have experimented with a couple pine Tele bodies and did not like them at all. I was expecting the same sort of sound; scooped mids, light in the sustain department and a lack of note fundamental. I could not have been more wrong with my assumption! The LSL guitars blew that expectation “outta da box”.
I started out with a Fiesta Red/maple neck Saticoy and upon strapping it over my shoulder I noticed that it weighed in at about 6 lbs (maybe less) and immediately had a wonderful feel….broken in and comfortable. I could get Strat sounds that were some of the best I’ve heard with plenty of quack and clarity yet also sounding warm with a nice airy component. The bridge was set up so it was floating and the trem not only felt really nice it stayed in tune! I guess Uncle Leo’s design does work and needs no improvement after all….!
After ripping some cool Strat riffs it was T Bone time!!! You all know how I love the Tele type guitars so this was going to be a real treat for me. Again the guitar was in the 6 lb range, hung on a shoulder strap perfectly and had the same broken in feel. The finish was blonde which is my fave and the neck was substantial like the Saticoy. This was one of the best off the shelf, out of the box Tele type guitars I have ever played! It just rang and had twang with enough fundamental to make you think it was a light piece of ash plus it looked awesome. Both pickups sounded exactly like they should and I am certain that I could have taken the T Bone home that day and done a gig without any reservations. I tried to check these guitars out at the NAMM show but there was always a crowd about 3 deep and I couldn’t get close!!! Glad I did in Austin!!!
Sharing the same suite with Lance was Joe Kelemen who had his Kelemen and Jomama amps on display. These amps are just beasts. I spent the most time with the Roadrun_er model and it damned near took my head off….in a good way though. This was a great sounding punch machine and made the LSL T Bone sound huge!! This amp had plenty of volume and interacts very nicely with the guitar’s volume and tone controls. I could dial back the guitar and get a nice clean sound and then crack the guitar’s volume wide open for a really raucous tone. Even the straight single coil pickups had plenty of depth and width with a nice beefy sound. Beware this is a monster and it will drive your T levels up!!
Joe also had a couple 1×12 prototype amps with him that were almost as beastly. The one I played had a great rock tone and had a switch to knock back the output power which cut down the volume. Along with the volume cut the amps feel changed as well. I really liked this feature because at the lower power settings the feel became a bit more dynamic. Even with the power knocked back to just a handful of watts the amp was still loud enough to do a gig.
The workmanship inside of the Kelemen and Jomama models is beautiful and very methodically laid out. This probably contributes to the tone and dynamic response. These are the kind of amps that you just want to rock with all night long!!
About a year ago at the NY Amp Show I ran into Paul Sanders who makes the Nolatone amps. I sampled one of his June Bugs and the Tango 22 in NY and really liked both models. Almost one year later Paul has added some amps to the line including the June Bug with high power option. This option allows you to switch between a single 6V6 and an EL34 which I thought was pretty nifty. Next up the line was the Super Bug which is based on the June Bug but has two separate preamps, larger cabinet and a footswitch to channel switch between the two. There is also a high headroom option for the Super Bug. The 22 Tango is one of the biggest sounding 2x6V6 amps I have heard and Paul had one at the show in a combo format. All of these amps feature then new stylish cabinet design.
The CL-15 and CL-30 both have that British type of sound that reminds me of older Vox amps. Both of these models are basically unchanged and sound great…..and look awesome as well.
Last but not least was Paul’s new model called the Swamp Tango. This new model is based on the Tango 22 but has tremolo and a 15” speaker. Just like the name implies this amp sounds swampy……!
There are many models and options to choose from in the Nolatone line for sure. The designs and layouts are simple and straightforward but you can get a wide variety of tones from them. Start adding in the options and the sonic palette really opens up.
At this point in the day it was getting really close to the time for me to hit the road. My taxi to the airport actually showed up a little early and I had to cut my time a little short. Needless to say I was not a happy “pennalizer” because I was having a great time sampling all the gear and talking with everyone. I apologize to the brands that I missed and will hit you up at the NY Amp Show on June 5 & 6!!
The Austin Amp Show 2010 for me was a great experience. I got to play so many really cool amps as well as a few guitars and meet a bunch of really great people. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it all!!! So to wrap up I’d just like to say thank you to Loni Specter for doing a great job on producing the show. I’d also like to thank everyone that I met with for taking the time with me and my man Todd Hamilton. And lastly I’d like to thank the wonderful people of Austin, Texas. You guys ROCK!!!