BY JORDAN WAGNER
Even if the old adage “You get what you pay for” holds a lot of truth in
the guitar world, most working musicians
simply have a difficult time plunking
down a few thousand dollars on a new
amp or guitar—especially in these trying
economic times. And it’s because of our
current harsh economic reality that so
many gear designers, large and small, have
worked hard to offer designs with a boutique feel at accessible prices.
This philosophy has been the driving
force behind Canada’s own Mack Amps.
Every Mack amp is built by hand at the
company’s Toronto headquarters, with
special attention paid to manufacturing
efficiency and parts costs in order to deliver
great guitar tones on the cheap. Their new,
super-lightweight and tiny Gem 2G—an
overhaul of the company’s original Gem—
isn’t a powerful amp at just 4 watts, but it
puts boutique tones in hand for less than
tend to put their power-scaling controls. Each
of the switches exhibited the same sturdiness
and consistency that’s apparent in the rugged
chassis, cabinet, and potentiometers.
The naming convention of the amp’s
Preamp Mode control is a little confusing,
with two options for Hot and Melt modes.
The company bills the Gem 2G as having a
tremendous amount of clean headroom, yet
the Hot mode is essentially the amp’s clean
channel. While it’s able to achieve a slight
amount of overdrive with the Gain control
cranked, it would have been more appropriate to name the modes Clean and Hot. On
the 2G, these two channels are now footswitchable as well, adding another improvement to the original Gem model.
Apart from excellent build quality, what
really makes the Gem stand out is its tube
complement. While the power section is
loaded with a tried-and-true EL84, a single
new-old-stock (NOS) 6AC10 triple-triode
tube drives the preamp section. Although
this tube is something of an oddity in guitar
circles, the 6AC10 was one of the most commonly used tubes in early televisions.
Many players will wonder how hard it will
be to find replacements for the 6AC10, but
it’s actually one of the rare NOS tubes that are
pretty easy to find. Because they were a gen-
eral-purpose tube at a time when most people
you might pay for a mass-manufactured
amp of lesser quality.
Like a Rock
The 4-pound Gem 2G is a pretty simple
amp to use. There are just three knobs on
the front panel of the diminutive 5 1/2" x
8", anodized-aluminum cabinet—Volume,
Gain, and Tone—and they felt solid, smooth,
and even as I swept through their ranges. The
Gem also has three pushbutton switches for
Power, Wattage Output, and Preamp Mode.
Because the Gem was designed primarily as
a studio tool, the Wattage Output switch
allows you to move between the amp’s full 4
watts and a micro-powered 0.4-watt mode.
And, wisely, Gem put the switch on the
front of the amp rather than on back, where
designers commonly (and inconveniently)
Wattage Output Switch