opening chords to AC/DC's "Down Payment Blues" are one of
the best representations of classic overdriven British
guitar tone. Those ringing, raunchy chords have a quality
that goes beyond simply a wonderful sound; they can elicit
other feelings and emotions as well. The driving force
exhibited by the masterful rhythm playing, with the pick
digging into the strings, has all of the bawdy, thick
qualities that exemplify rock and roll. It conjures feelings
of youth -- the hair on the back of your neck rising to the
occasion -- accompanied by a blatant disregard for any sort
of rules and the need to just rock out. It's a cliché that’s
entirely true, and only fully understood when standing in
front of a raging, healthy British tube monster wielding a
powerful, well-tuned axe. Soultone Amplification,
based out of Chandler, AZ, has fully captured this potent
sound with their line of variable power guitar amps. In
addition, they have given special consideration to the
appeals from players and producers who have attempted to
control their rather unwieldy ancestors in the past.
The 1986ps SuperPlexi is clearly influenced by one of the most underrated amplifiers in history, the Marshall Bass head. These amps are sought after for their tonal similarities to the Lead series, with differences in the circuit that lead to more low end and softer highs. They came in two flavors, the 50-watt Bass and 100-watt Super Bass, just like their Lead counterparts. Guitarists quickly realized that not only did they sound great with a bass, but were excellent with a guitar as well. Readers who are not familiar with these amplifiers should listen to Duane Allman’s work on At Fillmore East, Malcolm Young’s AC/DC catalog, and Lemmy Kilmister’s recordings as bassist for Motorhead. That sound has gained attention from modern guitarists, such as Adam Jones [Tool], who is a major proponent of the Super Bass. Soultone has taken the iconic nature and characteristics of this sound and created their own interpretation, rife with new features and impeccable craftsmanship.
The Power Scaling controls on the left are the shining feature of the 1986ps. This innovative circuit drops the power output from full-bore at 50 Watts, down to a miniscule 10 milliwatts. This allows you to achieve power tube distortion, even when diming both volume controls, at any volume level. Working in conjunction with the Power Scaling knob is a Drive control that can adjust the level of the signal coming from the preamp. Working with both of these together, you can overcome issues with low headroom to craft everything from a beautiful, massive clean sound to completely over-the-top distortion that can even become abrasive and harsh if that’s what you’re into. Soultone even claims that when running the head with pricey NOS tubes, running the Power Scaling low can extend their life, which is a rather large plus in the eyes of budget-conscious players.
Considering how much power the guitarist has over the headroom in this amp, it is extremely easy to achieve great overdriven tone. Setting the EQ and Presence controls at noon, Power Scaling at 1 o'clock, Drive at noon, and plugging a Gibson Flying V into the upper left high-sensitivity input with Volume 1 at 10 o’clock is a great start to experience what this amp has to offer. Notes ring out with authority and punch, but without any sort of harshness that can be common in modern high-wattage master volume amps today. Beyond the satisfying, familiar crunch that the amp delivers, the there’s a surprising sensitivity to pick attack. Even with the relatively hot pickups in the Flying V, the 1986ps cleans up exceptionally well when playing with a light touch. Once you find the sweet spot, you might not even have to touch the volume knob at all to achieve a good clean -- provided that you’re willing demand overdrive by smacking the strings with Nugent-like authority.
Classic cleans and great British overdrive are your thing, and not having to spend a few bones on a good power attenuator suits you.
You need a more modern tone and the ability to switch between multiple channels, or you’re looking for the sharp, upper attack that 100-watt heads have in spades.
Source: Premier Guitar
Edition: May 2009
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