SansAmp Character Series
Oxford, U.S. Steel, and Leeds
battery power, the pedal’s “on” LED starts to
dim at around 6 volts—a handy feature for
gigging guitarists. Standard 1/4” input and
output jacks and a silent footswitch round
out the physical package. Like all SansAmp
pedals, Character Series models boast a
buffered bypass mode, which allows you to
run long cables and send your signal through
multiple pedals without incurring high-end
loss, even when the Character Series pedal is
The Oxford is Tech 21’s take on a classic
Orange head. Whether they were going for an
OR- 120 or OR- 80, I won’t even try to guess.
According to the Oxford’s preset card, the
Mid knob is centered at 500 Hz with up to
12 dB boost or cut, while the Low and High
knobs are based on a ’70s British console EQ
and fixed respectively at 120 Hz (offering as
much as + 22 dB boost or - 12 dB cut) and 2. 5
kHz (+ 30 dB boost or - 12 dB cut).
The Oxford’s Character knob emulates the
famous F.A.C. (Frequency Analyzing Control)
midrange sweep that we know and love from
Orange amps. Turning the knob counterclockwise tightens up the lows and thins out
the sound a little, while going toward noon
thickens the tone quite a bit. Beyond that,
the sound becomes brighter and more present. Cranked fully, the Oxford’s Character
knob admirably mimics the “just about to
blow” sound I know all too well from my
Orange. It’s a spitty tone that gets a bit flutey
and is classic Orange all the way.
Engaging the Speaker Simulation button
turns on the Oxford’s Greenback cab emulation. (Tech 21 didn’t specify if this is a closed-back 4x12, but that’s what I hear.) Because I
spend many late nights in the studio, this is a
great option when you can’t plug into a mic’d
guitar amp. There still is a bit of that “direct”
sound, but for a pedal at this price, it’s a
bonus feature that certainly works well.
As far as plugging into the front end of a
guitar amp, the Oxford fared best with a
fairly generic clean tone, which allowed the
pedal to do the heavy lifting. That said, I
did have fun trying the Oxford with a
gained-out amp, too.
The Final Mojo
I threw a variety of guitars at the Oxford,
including Les Pauls, a Strat, a Hamer Korina
Special, and even a late-’60s Gibson EB-O
bass. In every case, I was able to get great
Orange-inspired tones with ease. The pedal
has a surprising amount of gain on tap,
and having a full set of tone controls really
allowed me to voice the pedal to each guitar.
The combination of active tone controls and
the Character knob actually yielded more
sonic range than the real thing, yet even in
the most extreme settings, the Oxford always
produced inspiring sounds.
you want classic Orange-flavored
tone in a compact pedal.
you need more modern tones.
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The U.S. Steel clearly borrows its inspiration
from a Mesa/Boogie Dual or Triple Rectifier.
Much like the Recto series, the U.S. Steel’s
real strength lies in heavier music. The tone
controls are voiced as follows: Mid at 450
Hz, Low at 125 Hz, and High at around 3. 2
kHz. You can boost or cut these frequencies by 12 dB. The Character knob adds
thickness to the Drive control settings, but
also brightens up the sound—an effect
that gets more pronounced as you turn the
knob clockwise. Once again, the Speaker
Simulation button mimics a Celestion-loaded speaker cabinet, and my ears tell
me they were going for either Vintage 30s
or 75s. You can’t be too literal about this,
as it’s an emulation circuit, but it does a
fine job of getting your tone in that ballpark when you’re going direct into a mixer
or computer interface.
For me, Mesa/Boogie’s Rectifier amps have
always worked really well for metal, and they
particularly excel in the rhythm department.
No doubt, there are legions of fans of this
tone, which is why we’ve heard it on so many
records. The U.S. Steel doesn’t disappoint in
this respect—in fact, it covers it in spades.
Inspired by the look of the U.S. Steel sitting
next to my Schecter Jeff Loomis 7-string, I
plugged directly into Pro Tools through a
Creation Audio Labs MW1 Studio Tool and
threw up the devil’s horns. I was immediately hit with that ultra-subsonic low you can
only achieve from this type of amp.