Champaign, Illinois has long been an epicenter of loud. This small college hamlet, an unlikely outpost of Midwestern underground rock culture surrounded by a sea of corn, has given birth to innumerable loud bands, including Poster Children, Braid, and the positively seismic Hum. Continuing in this Middle-American tradition of loud is Champaign's own Analog Outfitters, an eccentric group of audio specialists that use recycled materials from old Hammond organs to build unique, toneful, and rather blaring guitar amplifiers and cabinets. We managed to get ahold of their newest head, a 20-watt, 6V6-powered firebreather dubbed The Road Amp, and a nifty 1x12 cab to rock it out through.
The Road Amp is guaranteed to attract attention before it's even plugged in, due to its distinctive enclosure. Analog Outfitters has taken decommissioned road signs, cut them up, bent them into shape, and fashioned them into sturdy housings for the Road Amps (hence the name, I suppose). Each one is unique, and ours came in a badass, weathered safety-orange, lending to its workmanlike aesthetic. The head's Spartan layout consists of a single input and a single 8-ohm speaker output, with controls on the front panel for volume, treble, and bass, and switches for power and standby. Looking into its guts shows hand-wired circuitry, beefy Hammond transformers, dual 6V6's, 12AX7 and 12AU7 preamp tubes, and a 5U4GB rectifier tube. The 1x12 cab Analog Outfitters sent with The Road Amp looks a lot like a nice vintage end table made of beautifully finished solid woods. However, a peek around the back reveals that this is no table, but an open-back 1x12 cab with a hefty 12-inch alnico speaker. Like the head, both cabinet and speaker were sourced from vintage organs.
Wow, this thing is LOUD. The Road Amp is handily amongst the loudest sub-50 watt heads I've ever plugged in. It also happens to sound spectacular. With PAFs it stayed clean-ish and sparkly up to about 9 o'clock on the volume knob. By 3 o'clock it's all vintage Americano 6V6 grind and compression with thick bass frequencies and copious shine up top. Rolling back the guitar's volume knob offered many tonal variations accentuated by delicious, spongy tube rectifier sag and rich harmonics. The Road Amp sounded excellent through the supplied cab, but it was also rather bright. I began to suspect that this brutish little head might be a bit much for the open-back 1x12, so I switched over to a closed-back 2x12 with Celestion V-Types. The results were ferocious and sublime. The added bass and "smear" from the dual 12's tamed the high end a bit and added some serious rock chunk. Damn, this amp is fun to play! Did I mention how loud it is? What?!?!
If you're looking for a unique, no-nonsense tone machine that will peel the paint off your walls and maybe get you arrested, Analog Outfitters’ Road Amp is a great choice; its simple design belies the wealth of delicious, interactive tube tones lurking inside. The company’s cabinets are beautiful and functional as well, though I think the open-back 1x12 supplied for review may not have been an ideal match for the head's bright nature. At 1199 dollars The Road Amp is a relatively affordable investment, considering that each one is a unique, hand-wired creation featuring excellent vintage components. Just make sure before ordering that you have someplace you can turn it up properly, and have some hearing protection handy.
What we like: Unique as all get-out, amazing old school, American-flavored tones, copious volume.
Concerns: The tremendous output will make it an impractical amp for some players, and I really wish the cabinet had a handle. Toting a handle-less 1x12 around is really awkward.