Carry-On Amp Head Review

Blankenship’s Carry-On delivers classic British sound in an extremely portable 21-watt package.

The Carry-On is part of Roy Blankenship’s LEEDS21 Series. It was designed to provide the traveling musician a small and lightweight amp to keep “that familiar sound” when taking your regular stack is not an option. Having been in the unfortunate position of having to borrow amps while on the road, I was curious about whether or not a small, 21-watt amp would deliver, especially since I use a 120-watt amp live. Looks can be deceiving — this little guy is loud, making it a worthy amplifier for both studio and live use. Employing two 12AX7s, two EL84s and a single 6CA4 rectifier, the Carry-On is voiced for the classic British tone of the ’60s, but with modern updates that may make some enthusiasts think twice about leaving the house again with their prized vintage amp. Created with the idea that less is more, the Carry-On is a sharp looking boutique amp with its cool nameplate and spade logo. At first glance, it looks like a lunch-box version of a Marshall plexi replica, with its familiar gold panels, black Tolex and Marshall-style knobs. As for features, the Carry-On’s front panel provides Volume and Tone controls, one Input, On/Off/Standby switch and a huge, bright purple jewel lamp. The back panel has a 3-way switch for 4, 8 or 16 ohms, and two speaker outs.

When I first plugged into the Carry-On, I ran a Gibson SG-X with a 500T humbucker straight in (no pedal chain) and used an Orange PPC412 cab with Eminence Governors. Going for all or nothing, I cranked the volume clockwise to 8 with the guitar volume at 10. I was instantly won over by the tonal quality of this amp. Before even touching the Tone knob I was surprised at how powerful the Carry-On was, but also how perfectly dialed in the tone was. I can’t imagine the care and time it would take to voice an amp this well with the idea of giving the player only two controls. The overall sound of the amp is crunchy, bright and responsive with excellent sustain. The Tone control adjusts the amount of low to high range; while it’s not a very extreme control, it does provide a final touch to an already killer sound. I found 6 to be to my liking, because it gave me a little more on the top end to match the Eminence Governors’ midrange. Turning up to 10 the sound didn’t fall apart, but provided even more gain and power.

Backing off my guitar volume and flipping the coil-tap switch to a single coil, I lowered the amp volume to around 4 to 6. The Carry-On provided a transparent clean sound, complimenting the bright and punchy qualities of the 500T in single-coil mode. After stumbling up the stairs and discovering that I’d been playing for about three hours straight, I was sold. While I had the amp, I got the chance to use it in the studio to double guitar tracks. I ran a ’72 Fender Telecaster reissue with Warmoth baritone neck, Rio Grande Dirty Harry single coil in the bridge and the stock Fender jumbo humbucker in the neck. The combination of the Carry-On’s raw crunch, the bite of the Telecaster and the low end of the baritone strings supplied plenty of low growl, complimenting my Sound City L120’s darker tones. The Carry-On also accepts pedals very well, if the gain provided by the amp isn’t enough. It handled all the distortion and fuzz pedals I threw at it like a champ. I only wish this amp had a line out, so I could have slaved out the Sound City for even more volume.

The Final Mojo

Though the Carry-On recreates the sound of old, there are some very modern traits to the amp that may make it more desirable than using a vintage amp live, or even in studio situations. The sturdy power supply is one. The other is that the Carry-On runs at modern voltages, unlike older amps that were made to run at lower voltages. This allows the Carry-On to achieve its full potential, giving you 1960s tone without having to change the caps on your vintage amp. Designed to give the player straight to amp tone, the Carry-On will make you forget all about a master volume (which squashes your preamp tubes anyway). While pedal effects makers and software companies may try to reproduce it and may come close, there is nothing quite as inspiring as standing in front of a revved up valve amp at full volume. Hiwatt, Sound City, and Marshall enthusiasts would do well to check out Roy Blankenship’s amp line. The Carry-On comes at a street price that makes it obtainable for a boutique amp — especially next to that plexi you’ve been watching on eBay. Now I just have to save my pennies to buy one, or skip the country with the one in my basement.

Buy if…
you’re looking for classic British tone.
Skip if…
21 watts is not enough.

Street $1499 (includes ballistic nylon carry bag and shoulder strap) — Blankenship


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