There are many new ideas in high-quality
amps these days, but few that routinely get
down to business like Bruce Egnater’s ideas.
The original big idea for the Rebel 20, when
it was first announced, was to offer a switchable option between 6V6 or EL84 output
tubes (check out the video from the New York
Amp Show, or NAMM 2008 for a look at the
prototype). 6V6s are said to be smoother and
warmer, while EL84s sound more vigorous,
raw and chimey, like the classic British-voiced
amps. What everybody knows, though, is that
however you describe them, there’s a distinct
difference in the way they sound, so this feature is like having two amps in one high-quality, single-channel head.
But it’s really more than two, because when
a problem arose with making the option
footswitchable, instead of just scrapping the
notion, Egnater decided to improve on it. He
put the output tube selector on the front control panel, next to the Watt and Tone controls,
and then made it variable. For the first time,
you can choose between EL34 or 6V6 output tubes or, if you like, you can blend them
together in whatever ratio suits you. What
that sounds like, I’ll get to, but first I’d like to
pause and respect the exceptional pragmatism of that idea.
The advantage of blendable output tube
types really comes down to adding versatility to the amp’s voicing—much more than
you can get by just switching tubes. There
is enough versatility there to dial in a whole
catalog of great rock tones. You just need to
adjust the front panel controls while you play,
and let your ears do the walking. This is going
to appeal as much to gearheads already deep
into high-end amps as it will to players who
may be shopping around for an upgrade but
haven’t decided how far they want to go.
And of course the knob-fiddler in me finds it
Just experimenting with the controls while I
played it, I started recalling songs I haven’t
played in years. The tones were so authentic. Blues-rock, glam classics, garage rock,
definitely metal, meaty eighties power chord
stuff, Detroit sound; this amp does all of it. The
Rebel’s got a well-defined, articulate crunch
that loosens or tightens with a twist of the
Tube Mix knob, or the flick of the Tightness
switch—a rumble removing cutoff that helps
you to keep the low end from getting too
flabby or mushy at higher gain. With the EL34
output tubes selected, using the switch will
give you that controlled, Marshall-sounding
bottom. The 6V6s are a little rounder and softer, while the EL84s are a little throatier, bolder,
with more bite. With gain, both exhibit crispness, satisfying harmonics and sweet sustain.
The Brightness switch adds presence and clarity; using it along with the Treble control vastly
expands the tonal variety of the high end.
With either output tube type selected, the
cleans are full and balanced, and the distortion just rips. The Gain control has a lot of
room, and it’s got great saturation even at low
wattages. The amount of control you have
over the smoothness is pretty amazing. With
some healthy gain and volume, the amp has
a superb growl, even with the thinner bite of
my Telecaster’s single coils. It never gets too
spanky or twangy, but it will take you from
blues to a southern rock sound with ease.
There is a lot of gain here, far more than
you’d need for all but the hardest rock. You
can easily pull off metal, and the old-school
metal tone will knock your socks off; the low-mids are not for the fainthearted, and the
ported cabinets are obligingly responsive to
ass-kicking low end. Dime the Rebel 20 and
set the Tube Mix knob to 6V6 and this amp
becomes a blunt weapon, but not a bludgeon. Turn the Tube Mix over to EL84 to add
a fierce edge for thick, searing leads.
I had to share this amp with somebody—it
was too good to keep to myself—so I invited
fellow reviewer Jordan Wagner to bring a guitar in and give it a listen. We plugged in his
1978 LP Custom with Tom Anderson pickups
and immediately came down with a case of
“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” fever. I’m
still having dreams about that tone, it was so
ballsy and pure. The Burstbuckers on an all-mahogany LP Studio also sang and cried—the
crunch from the bridge pickup was edgy and
bright, and the woman tone off the neck
pickup was like a fat, rich howl.
Like Egnater’s ideas, the quality is also first
class—it’s built like a little tiny tank—and his
team has earned a reputation for taking care
of their customers and their business. Unless
you’re a one-amplifier kind of player, and
you love that one above all others, it’s very
difficult for me to see any reason why you
wouldn’t go for one of these. This is para-digm-changing gear.
this one’s mine! you hear me?
Go get your own! I mean it,
get your own!
you’ve got your heart set
on a Tourmaster.
Head online to premierguitar.com
to hear sound clips and watch
video demos of the Rebel 20.
Head: Street $599 Cab: Street $249
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