There comes a time in every electric guitarist’s life when the big 100-watt Marshall stack becomes just a little impractical. Perhaps that new apartment has paper-thin walls, or maybe the baby needs its sleep. For whatever reason, it’s a good time to be alive, because amplification companies have begun to issue several low-power, high-quality units with tone that’s just as good, if not better, than many of their “big boy” cousins. Zeppelin Design Labs is the latest company to bring a new amplifier into the world, and it’s called the Percolator. And, my goodness, is it a sight to behold, with a sound to be heard.
What will first strike the observer is the Percolator’s size: it’s around 15.5 inches tall and a mere 5.25 inches deep. The cabinet is big enough to feature a Jensen “Special Design” eight-inch speaker (made in Italy) and to hold a ferocious two-watt all-tube amplifier. The Percolator’s retro-styling—complete with silver grill cloth and handsome wood staining—is both simple and elegant. The controls are as foolproof as they come: a single power toggle, a volume knob, and an input knob, all clearly marked, sit atop the cabinet.
Now, certain watt-hungry tone hounds will likely shake their heads. “Two watts? That’s nothing! I can’t even play with a drummer!” Perhaps. However, for a bedroom, or for a stage with a quality PA system, the Percolator is exactly what any sensible guitarist should seek out.
The Percolator is warm and round at lower volume settings, yet loud enough to be a useful practice tool; no one will have to struggle to hear these cleaner tones. At levels around noon and above, the Percolator’s new old stock Compactron tube will really get a workout. Unlike rival units such as the Vox AC-10, the Percolator’s distorted tones tended to be more well-rounded, and less nasal. Crank up the volume knob to max for full distortion at a reasonable volume. Two watts at full volume is actually quite loud, and might be just a bit too loud for one of those late-night, home-from-the-bar-at-2AM solo practice sessions.
What distinguishes the Percolator from its mass-manufactured rivals is quality. The Percolator might cost a bit more up front, but the price is fair when the construction and materials are considered. Not only is the amplifier itself constructed from a new old stock tube, it also features a custom power transformer, courtesy of Zeppelin Design Labs. But what might be most astonishing is that Zeppelin constructed the cabinet with solid poplar. In what might be the wisest and most value-enhancing move the company could make, Zeppelin eschewed cost-cutting, high-density particle board in favor of real wood cut from a real darned tree.
Zeppelin has designed and delivered exactly the sort of high-quality amplifier that will undoubtedly provide its owner with years of dependable service. Its design and construction evince the sort of dedication to craft and quality that so many people believe belong solely to a bygone era.
What We Like:
Fantastic value given the solidity of the cabinet’s construction and the quality of the tone. Warm cleans push into round, full overdrive that’s moderately loud.
Although it’s fairly well protected, the tube is exposed and could be knocked out of place if a person is careless.