The NAMM Awards: Best Supporting Products Print
Tuesday, 29 January 2008 16:34
namm-anaheim-convention-center.jpgBy Jim Basara - GJD
In the last issue, I discussed some of my favorite guitars at Winter NAMM. Today's award is for Supporting Products. In the past, I've reserved this for a variety of products from humidifiers to tone circuit upgrades. However, at this year's NAMM, I didn't find any of the secondary items that could measure up to some of the new amplifiers that are now hitting the market. So, this year's Supporting Product awards are going to amp companies for three outstanding new products.

First up is Elmwood Amps with their new M90 Modena. Ken Volpe introduced this amp a short time ago with his Elmwood M90 Modena Review . As someone who constantly struggles with amp selection, Ken's review intrigued me greatly. My problem is that I am on the "friends circuit" meaning that I get together with various groups of friends who play everything from clean folk, to country, to blues, to classic rock, to metal. As such, I've always maintained a large array of pedals from which I select those that I need for the particular style. Overdrive and distortion has always been an issue since I've never found a tube amp that could provide feel and responsiveness, but was still able to offer up a wide range of gain settings.
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The M90 seems to solve these problems. It offers perhaps the best combination of responsiveness and flexibility that I have ever found in a boutique tube amp. Ken referred to this as being "fun", and I'd have to support his opinion, as I had an absolute blast playing with the M90. It has two channels, each with foot-switchable boost/drive. What I love about this amp is that each setting, whether it's clean, lightly overdriven, or full overdrive feels like the amp was specifically designed for that particular sound. Many of the boutique amps that I've played have a clear sweet spot and everything else sounds like you're stretching what the amp was really meant to do.

Also, being a townhouse dweller, I was thrilled to find that the M90 sounds awesome at low volume levels, even fully overdriven. Sure, it opens up wonderfully when cranked, but even at levels quiet enough to hear a TV at the same time, the amp is very responsive and provides great tone. I expect Elmwood to quickly build a fan base with this amp.

Next up is MI Audio's Revelation 60W Head. The Aussie pedal company has launched this new amplifier that it refers to as "Beyond Boutique", and they may have a valid point. This amp is absolutely loaded with features. The Revelation offers 4 completely independent channels featuring Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and Volume. Each channel is independently voiced with unique design architecture, meaning that changing channels feels more like changing amps, not simply changing gain. Each channel also has 3 gain modes, low, mid, and high, allowing any of the four differently voiced channels to act as a 'clean', 'crunch', or 'overdrive' channel, or the amp can be set up for four distinct clean tones, or four different overdrive variations. The amp also features four FX loops that can operate at line level and guitar level, leveraging ultra low noise buffered circuitry.

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Two different operating modes are available: Standard Mode uses the optional six-button foot controller where you can switch to any channel and toggle between master volumes, as well as assign any number of FX loops to a channel. Midi Mode allows you to store up to 128 programs for blending settings for channel, gain mode, master volume, FX bank, and more. This level of Midi control is rare indeed for a boutique, all tube head.

Like the M90, the Revelation should definitely be considered by anyone looking for a boutique head. It sounds great and provides incredible levels of flexibility.

Last but not least, we have the new Laney Class A Lionheart L5T-112. A 5-watt Laney sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but this new offering from the proven amp manufacturer delivers everything you'd expect from an amp with the Laney logo on it. Laney says that the amp is designed to provide the "evocative, classic tones of hot tubes pushed hard, but at a volume level your neighbors can live with." Well, the first part is certainly true, but this is the loudest 5 watts I have ever heard.

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I took a quick test drive of the L5T and it sounds fantastic, both clean and overdriven. It captures the pure Laney tone and punch in a great little package. The output is achieved with a single EL84, driven from three 12AX7 preamp tubes. Gold plated PCB's and jack sockets, along with sealed gold contract relays in all signal paths, provide for minimum sound coloration.

The amp offers 2 channels (clean and drive) and standard passive bass, mid, and treble equalization, as well as an FX loop and a 4" large spring line reverb. It comes with a single 12" Celsetion Heritage G12H in a marine grade plywood cabinet with retro banding strip, leather strap handle and folding tilt-back mechanism.

For around a thousand bucks, this small but powerful amp is a great addition to Laney's respected line. Stay tuned for a full review of this amp in a future GJD edition