When someone describes guitar tone as “beefy,” we all pretty much know what they’re talking about. That punchy yet bottom-end rich guitar sound that grabs everyone, even those who don’t play any instruments.
It’s a kind of tone you’d expect to hear in hard rock, blues-rock, or grunge songs, even in heavy metal. Sometimes it gets so “beefy” that you feel like you can literally bite it and taste it. One of the guitar players with this kind of tone that comes to mind is Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready.
Among the various amps and pedals that we can find in his rig, there’s one amp that’s worth mentioning – the Empire by a company called 65Amps (yeah, that’s written as one word).
Since this seemed like a pretty interesting piece of gear, we figured we can take a closer look at it and check out some of its features and its overall performance.
First off, we’d like to give some background on the company, 65 Amps. They’re relatively young, formed back in 2002, and one of the co-founders is Peter Stroud, a guitarist known for his work with big names such as Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, and Don Henley. Their main focus is on hand-wired tube amps, although bass amps, cabinets, and some old school-type distortion pedals can be found in their arsenal.
Back to the Empire amp, the main intention here was to have a relatively smaller boutique tube amp, but with a few intricate details. Although it has the power of 22 watts, it’s designed to replicate some classic Marshall tones, the ones that you can hear with the good old JCM800.
The most important thing here is that it has an all-tube circuit. The preamp section has five tubes in it, the standard 12AX7s. The power section has two 6V6 tubes, although the overall tone leans more in the direction of EL34s.
This was done intentionally with the idea to give those smaller American amps a vibe of those bigger British ones. In addition, it features three channels, giving some pretty versatile tone options.
The front panel has some interesting additions aside from the standard controls you’d find on most of the standard amps. First, there are bass, mid, treble, and presence knobs, individual volume knobs for each of the three channels, and the channel select switch.
Now, the fun begins with the so-called “Master Voltage” trademarked feature which allows you to use this amp’s full sonic potential at any volume.
So if you’re playing at bedroom-level volumes, you’ll still get to use the full potential of the all-tube circuit. Whether you’re recording, practicing, jamming or playing a gig, you’ll be able to adjust to the situation by implementing this control.
But that’s not all since there is also the so-called “Bump” switch which adds even more options, allowing you to change the tone without switching the channels. What it does is that it adds some gain and boosts the mids, ultimately giving you enough punch to cut through the mix.
The footswitch is included with the amp, but it features only two buttons.
On the back panel, we have a standard effects loop (send and return), one 8-ohm and 16-ohm toggle switch, the footswitch input, and two speaker outputs.
The overall design clearly pays tribute to those old amps while still retaining some slick modern design features of the 21st century. If you do care about the aesthetic aspect, you won’t have any issues with this amp’s design.
The Empire is built using the Baltic birch and weighs about 30 pounds in total, which is not that much for an amp of its size. What’s more, it’s pretty durable so you don’t need to worry about taking it on the road.
Okay, now we go to the most important part of the review – the performance and tone. We can easily say that this amp comes in handy for a great variety of genres.
With three channels and the Bump switch, you’ll be having a world of possibilities at your disposal for your endless quest for tone shaping. Everything from smooth jazzy tones, over crunchy blues-rock, up to soaring heavy metal leads – this amp can handle it all.
Of course, it requires some tweaking to find the sweet spots on this amp, but it’s far from a difficult task to dial in a great tone with it.
The tone that comes close to the EL34 tubes (despite the amp having two 6V6s in the power section) is quite a surprise. It feels as if it kind of blends in the best of two worlds, although it’s pretty clear that the intention here was to have the old Marshall tone.
The Bump switch might probably be this amps most important feature (at least that’s the impression that we got). It just adds enough of gain and mid-range boosts to let you cut through the mix. At the same time, it manages not to push it too hard and make everyone’s ears bleed.
Whether you’re planning to play it in the studio or on on the stage, it’s an amp that will handle any situation well.
But, at the same time, you need to bear in mind that this is probably not the best option for beginners or intermediate guitar players. Well, unless you’re actually willing to pay the price for it, which can be up to $1,200, sometimes even more.
On the other hand, the Master Voltage feature is a life-saver as it allows you to keep the amp’s great tone and not get it all washed up when you turn the volume down to the bedroom level.
The design is also a nice touch, although we wouldn’t mind playing on it even if it was ugly. Overall, it’s probably one of the best boutique amps out there. Some might think that 22 watts are not enough, but it’s just about right for any regular gigging band.