Get One of These Amps and Ditch Your Pedalboard
Guitarists are constantly in search of the perfect tone. Often that tone shifts with their musical influences and moods. More and more, guitarists are building complex pedalboards that shape their sound and create a sonic signature. Pedalboards can be a great tool, but there is also a darker side. There are exponentially more issues that can arise from faulty patch cables, bad electrical grounding, and knobs that get unintentionally turned when gear is in transit. In addition to technical difficulties, pedal boards require constant care and add to the already sizable amount of gear that a guitarist needs to lug around for a gig.
There are a few amps that stand out as pieces of gear that can meet all the demands of a gigging guitarist. There is an old saying in the music scene that says, “When a guitarist plugs directly into an amp, they are either incredibly stupid or incredibly smart.” Check out these amps and see if they have the specs and features to make you ditch your pedalboard.
Bogner ATMA 18
The ATMA 18 is a killer amp made by Bogner Amplification in Los Angeles, CA. It comes in a 1×12 combo or lunchbox-style head with a matched 1×12 cabinet available. The ATMA is a 3-channel amplifier that is absolutely bursting with features. Three channels mean three different tones. Looking at the front panel, the ATMA appears to only have two channels. The 3-channel setup of the ATMA is a little unconventional but provides immense flexibility.
There is a clean channel with dedicated volume and tone and an override channel with dedicated gain and volume. The crunch channel has a dedicated volume knob but no front panel gain knob. However, on the back of the amp is a crunch knob that can dial back the amount of gain set on the overdrive gain knob. If the crunch knob is left at its highest setting, the crunch and overdrive channels will have the same amount of gain. Dialing back the crunch knob will lower the gain and overall volume of the crunch channel, but this drop in level can be compensated by boosting the dedicated crunch volume knob on the front panel. The crunch and overdrive channels share a 3-band EQ section.
In addition to these three channels, the ATMA has multiple voicing options. On the front panel there is a bright switch for the clean channel, a toggle switch to select 60’s (low-gain), 70’s (moderate-gain), or 80’s (high-gain, compressed) overdrive voicing, and finally a modern/vintage switch on the back panel of the amp that provides modern or vintage flavors on the amp output stage.
All three of the channels are selectable via a foot switch. I’ve seen guitarists who need three distinct sounds in a single set use the ATMA in place of multiple overdrive pedals. I’ve also seen guitarists who need two sounds and a boost pedal use the 3 volume knobs to use the overdrive channel as a boost, leaving the crunch knob all the way open, so the gain levels are the same across the crunch and overdrive channels. While the ATMA doesn’t have any onboard reverb or other effects, it does have a tube-buffered effects loop that can be used for reverb pedals or any other gain-stage sensitive effects. For guitarists who’s pedalboard is loaded with multiple overdrives, reverb, and boost, the Bogner ATMA 18 may be the way to go if you’re looking to cut pedal tap-dancing from your shows.
Hughes and Kettner Grandmeister 40
If your current pedalboard is stuffed with overdrive, delay, chorus, flange, and tremolo pedals and all of them get constant use, something like the Bogner ATMA 18 may not meet all of your needs. Enter: Hughes and Kettner Grandmeister 40. Using the amp in “stompbox” mode, the Grandmeister functions as a 4-channel amplifier that has dedicated gain, EQ, and volume, and effects for each channel. When using the amp in “preset” mode, you can dial in and save up to 128 presets that are all recallable from the MIDI foot switch. This gives you full control over every aspect of the amps settings and killer onboard effects and then allows you to save those custom settings in a preset.
The Grandmeister 40 takes the design that has made all-in-one guitar effects processors so popular and taken it one step further. Instead of having all of the processing occur before the signal hits the guitar preamp or via a tube-buffered effects loop, the processing occurs within the amplifier at precisely the right stage to get the purest tone. This has all been painstakingly engineered by the wonderful people at Hughes and Kettner so that each effect and tone will sound crystal clear and authentic.
The basic run down of each channels effects is as follows: gain, presence, boost, EQ, delay, flanger, phaser, chorus, and tremolo. Each of the effects can be customized via any of their corresponding parameters. This can all be done via the amp’s astounding front panel controls, or via an iPad app made by Hughes and Kettner.
If you’re feeling skeptical or unimpressed with the description of the Grandmeister and don’t think it could replace your beloved pedalboard, follow the link at the top of this section, connect to a decent system, and watch the videos (most of which are recorded through their trademarked RedBox DI system). This amp is truly an amazing feat of modern and vintage engineering and definitely worth considering as an alternative to the classic stomp box farm.
Contributor: Andrew Border
Subscribe to VersusMedia Magazine to get access to timely annotations, critical essays, and features by film professionals and critics from around the world.