Core-Tone The Killer
What is it that makes a core guitar tone something special within a mix? When dealing with tube amps, it is when every section of the amp is operating in harmony to form what is generally known as a sweet spot. The preamp is dialed to dynamically break up, the tone stack is dialed to accentuate the guitar’s tonal strengths while shaving away or compensating its weaknesses. The power section is cooking just enough to add smooth compression and full-range breakup to the equation. Suddenly, one feels like the guitar and amp are biologically infused with the brain, heart and fingers. This sounds easy enough to achieve on paper, but actually dialing in this magic at home or in the studio can be a real bugger. Usually the volume required to cook like this is excessive, and in domestic situations, can lead to angry partners, awoken babies and at worst, cops at the door. In a studio session, a 50-watt JMP or even AC15 working hard can cause ear fatigue for all involved and requires isolation for full band tracking.
Of course, there are many lunchbox-style heads for dealing with these situations, but the Audio Kitchen Little Chopper is the only one I have encountered that achieves the trouser-flapping raw vintage non-master-volume roar at volumes right down to whisper. The tones on tap range from the most beautiful silky swirling cleans, to the squidgiest, tube-rectified gushing juiciness I have heard squeezed out of an amp since I last listened to Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.” Let’s dig in.
The Dirty-Clean Dream Machine
As the manual states, as soon as I took this little bruiser off standby the sound was “all there.” I had all the dials set to midnight with the Brite switch off and I hit a chord on my all-aluminium EGC Standard Series Two with the P-90s attached to the neck. A raw deluge of deliciously complex overtones exploded out of the 2x12 open-back cabinet and simmered down gradually with a chorus-like swirl of sparkling sine wave intermodulation. The clarity of the preamp crunch was distinctly British, bringing to mind a mix of Vox and Hiwatt tonal characteristics, but the juice from the power amp tasted tonally of a Fender Bandmaster working it’s slightly compressed sustaining mojo. I had never heard this kind of full-range flattery from an EL84-driven amplifier.
Now, the keystone to The Little Chopper’s versatility comes from the variable Power control. As I wound it back counter-clockwise, the headroom went right down, adding power amp gain and infinitely sustaining compression. This was great for sinewy leads and chordal strikes that flowered into furry ferocity. I then disengaged the tone section with the Stack switch clicked to the right, adding sweet-hot midrange breakup and a slight bump in volume. With the power dimed for a full seven watts, the clean tone was simply awe-inspiring chiming from my EGC’s neck pickup—particularly with the Brite switch engaged. Of all these sweet-spot settings though, I preferred traversing the tonal line between clean and crunch with my fingers. This is the best dirty-clean amp I have ever played, perhaps only equalled by my old Swart AST, but The Little Chopper brings the goods at all volume levels and is dead silent when not playing—the perfect studio amp for vintage American and British tones rolled into one.
What We Like:
This may sound strange coming from us, but there are no pedals needed when dealing with The Little Chopper. Seriously, plugging straight in and messing with the dials can make outboard compressors, overdrives and even the most haywire fuzz boxes redundant. I was able to make the Little Chopper sound exactly like a tube-driven Harmonic Percolator with input set to High and the Power dialed low. Speaking of Percolators, if one is a fan of Albini guitar sounds, they need this box. Big Black, Jesus Lizard and Shellac tones are here in spades. It’s no wonder Albini, Flood and many other top engineers, producers and artists—including both Angus and Malcolm Young—consider The Little Chopper a must-have studio piece. It takes no time to get an inspiring tone, perhaps because this circuit has been largely refined from the ground up by ear rather than rulebooks. Oh, and the vintage valves pre-loaded and shipped with the amp are a nice touch.
It would be perfect with an impedance selector and maybe even an effects loop for some verb or delay. Pricey? Definitely, yes, but how much would one spend on a less usable and less versatile vintage recording amp?