Class-D power amplification is revolutionizing the business of loud guitars. These relatively tiny, highly efficient solid-state devices can generate a tremendous amount of wattage, yielding amps with real-world power and headroom that will best a 100-watt Marshall Plexi, but are small enough to fit on a pedalboard. Lately we've seen quite a few class-D amps hit the market, mostly in the bass realm, but guitar-specific models are appearing more regularly and look very promising indeed. One of the most notable of recent entries into the market is the Demeter TGA-1-180D, also known as The Mighty Minnie, a 180-watt class-D amp that features a tube preamp section, a Jensen transformer, and a housing that is plenty small enough to live happily on a traveling pedalboard.
The Mighty Minnie was reportedly designed at the request of slide guitar genius and Demeter amp devotee Sonny Landreth, who wanted a small, loud head that would work well with pedals and fit comfortably on a pedalboard for fly-in gigs where he would otherwise be forced to suffer at the hands of a questionable backline. As luck would have it, the engineers at Demeter had recently been working on a design concept for a small amplifier and monitor speaker rig for a pedalboard, and in doing so found that they could easily squeeze the hand-wired, Bassman-style tube preamp from their custom shop TGA-3 into a compact chassis with a 100-watt class-D power section. It was from these concepts that the Mighty Minnie was born.
The first thing one notices is that the Minnie has a walloping amount of output available. This output is directly dependent on what kind of cabinet(s) its dual quarter-inch speaker outs are plugged into, generating a maximum of 180 watts into a four-ohm cab, 100 watts into an eight-ohm cab, or 60 watts into a 16-ohm cab like a vintage-style Marshall 4x12. Other features include a power switch on the back, a stomp switch on the front for activating or deactivating standby mode, and a panel of controls that includes knobs for gain, bass, middle, treble, and master. The Master knob can be pulled up to engage a 20-decibel pad, letting the player tame the Minnie's substantial volume for higher gain sounds at less frightening output levels. The front panel has a single guitar input and, dig on this, a nine-volt DC output jack for powering pedals. Booyah! All of this is housed in a weapons-grade rectangular chassis with a little cage on top where one can observe the duet of preamp tubes hard at work.
I think most pedal people probably find the idea of a pedalboard-mounted amplifier really exciting. I mean, it sort of completes our mania, right? Short of mounting yourself on a pedalboard, it's about as far as one can take the concept. At the same time, most guitarists will probably be rather suspicious of how good a small tube-solid-state hybrid amp like this could possibly sound. I'm pleased to assuage these fears and report that The Mighty Minnie sounds genuinely great (check out some videos of Sonny Landreth playing through one if you don't believe me). The tones are rich, muscular, and very dynamic. The Bassman-style preamp offers up fat, round clean tones with a gentle glassy sheen, and the wide range of drive sounds is quite impressive. As you turn the gain knob up varying shades of tweedy grit and grime are revealed, while British-style chunk can easily be dialed in with a little tweaking and a big, closed-back cab hooked up. And let me tell you, this thing was made for pedals! The Minnie's clear, warm personality and massive headroom make it an ideal foundation for effects of all kinds, and it gobbled up the gnarliest overdrive, fuzz, and distortion boxes without a hiccup.
What we like:
Demeter's Mighty Minnie is going to be a dream machine for a lot of pedalboard jockeys. There are a handful of other amplifiers around now that are designed for pedalboard mounting, and most of them are excellent, but Demeter's has a big leg up on the competition in the sonics department. It sounds as good or better than many full-sized all-tube designs, and through my 2x12 cab loaded with Celestion V-type speakers it produced way more than enough volume. The features are pretty basic but offer all the options for tone sculpting that anyone should need, and the nine-volt output jack and stomp switch standby are really clever additions.
At $949, the Demeter Mighty Minnie is the most expensive of the pedalboard amps that we have seen, but then it is also the best sounding, so the extra cash layout does yield tangible benefits. Also, the cage on top makes it a little bulkier than some of its purely solid-state class-D competition. It's still plenty compact, but if you have a small board and space is truly at a premium, then there are smaller, sleeker options.