BY KENNY RARDIN
We are very fortunate these days in the world
of getting great tone. It has always been a bit
of science mixed with art, and occasionally a
bit of mojo thrown in for good measure. Now
we have at our disposal some great tools to
make this job easier. The Ultimate Attenuator is
certainly one of these tools.
Once again on the subject of very
A bit of history
low volume: remember that the
attenuator is basically used to get
the amp down to a useable room
or club volume. If you turn the
volume of the unit all the way off
and then bring it up in very small
increments so the sound barely
comes out of the speaker, you’re
not using the unit for what it was
designed to do. It is always help-
ful to push your speaker a bit.
The maker, Mark Gregg, is very
easy to communicate with, and he
has some very special surprises coming up
for us in the future.
For years, we have all known that turning up
the amp and driving the tube power section
harder will produce some great overdrive and
distortion tones, as well as those on-the-edge
clean tones we all love for Blues and Country
music. The first attenuator devices appeared
in the seventies. They weren’t much more than
a resistor used to convert some of the amp’s
power into heat. They did work, but provided
what is called a resistive load to the amp. A
solid non-changing load on the amp’s output
did not allow the amp to “breathe” as it went
through the many different frequencies it
was called on to produce. This often caused
amp failure. Marshall amps in the late seventies even came with a white paper tag on the
handle that stated, “warranty void if used with
ear perceives tone at different volume levels,
but there isn’t enough space here.
The Ultimate Attenuator is the first unit to use
its type of design to lower volume. A reactive
load is provided that doesn’t need to have an
impedance selector switch on the unit. It works
well with all impedance settings. What makes
this even more interesting is that if you do have
an amp with selectable impedance, changing
the settings will produce different responses.
These will vary both in tone and feel. I have
been using one of these units for quite a while
with several types of amps, and have had no
problems or amp failures. I am not aware of
anyone else having any either. So, I have to say
that it is very reliable.
The Final Mojo
I find the Ultimate Attenuator to be the
most transparent unit I have heard. It most
reliably reduced the volume without changing the tone, keeping in mind the above-mentioned curve. It won’t harm your amp,
and it is very reliable.
The attenuated signal is sent to a very remarkable, 100-watt even response amplifier in the
Ultimate Attenuator’s chassis, with a volume
control for the unit, so as you turn it down
there is no change of resistance to cause a
change in tone and dynamics. Instead of using
graduated notch settings as on some other
units, it is a smooth taper, bringing the level to
exactly where you need it to be.
you’re looking for a way to
harness that big or medium
wattage amp and make it useable at normal loudn.e0 ss levels.
you have a transistor amp, as it
is not recommended for solid
A few years ago a new breed of attenuators
was born: reactive load attenuators. There
are a few very fine units of this type on the
market right now. The bottom line, however,
is always “how does it sound?” There are two
common complaints. The first is that it changes
the tone, and the second is that it changes the
feel and dynamics. The first complaint is not
what it seems. I could go on and talk about the
Fletcher Munson Curve, which is the way our
The unit is very well constructed and does
come with some very cool options, such as a
“Plexi” switch for changing top end response.
There is also an optional 100-volt output power
plug in the back, which cuts the input voltage
to your amp to only 100 volts, as with a Variac.
This starves the amp and produces a bit more
compression and harmonics. It works very well
with an older non-master volume Marshall
amp. Think brown sound. Although my unit did
not have this option installed, there is also a
“bedroom switch” available for extremely low
volume settings that still retain the tone.
Base price: $449 As reviewed: $699
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