The Transformers are Big and Beefy

Last November I reviewed the excellent 65Amps Lil’ Elvis combo, and the Tupelo’s arrival stirred up a little case of déjà vu. Looking nearly identical to the Lil’ Elvis and sporting the exact control panel layout, I was a little leery of how different this amp could sound—how could I write a review if there wasn’t anything new to say? Upon closer inspection and consulting the manual, it’s clear that 65Amps had a method to their madness when designing the Tupelo. While it may look like Lil’ Elvis, the Tupelo is more like his bigger, American brother.

By Design
Designed to produce a bigger and bolder flavor of the great ’60s American amps with more tonal and modern gain options, the Tupelo pushes 20 watts through a pair of 6V6s, three 12AX7s, and a solid state rectifier. The combo is made of 1/2 blind dovetail-jointed Baltic birch and covered in the classic and classy 65Amps black and tan color scheme with gold piping and basket weave-like grille cloth. Like in the Lil’ Elvis, the speaker of choice is a Celestion G12H-30. Front panel controls from left to right are Volume, Smooth switch, Tone, Bump switch, Intensity, Speed, and Master. The rear panel offers a passive effects loop, two-button footswitch jack, dual speaker outs, an 8/16-ohm impedance switch, and IEC power cord input. The power section has been optimized for 6V6s and includes newly designed Mercury Magnetics iron to maximize the tone. The transformers are big and beefy — cool!

Peaking inside the beautifully designed and cleanly laid out chassis, you can see a mix of NOS carbon comp and metal film resistors as well as a selection of Sozo caps. According to 65Amps, they use the carbon comps in the tonal paths and the metal film resistors where stability is critical. The Sozo caps are also a mix of modern and vintage styles. With all of these additions I was ready to get right to it and check out what the Tupelo had to offer, so it was time to plug in.

Big American
I won’t lie — I’ve heard the clips of [65Amps co-founder and Sheryl Crow guitarist] Peter Stroud playing through the Tupelo and was blown away with that big, open jangle and gorgeous, chimey distortion, so I was expecting a lot. First up was my standard litmus test of a 2003 Gibson Murphy Les Paul R8. With the controls all set at about the halfway mark and the tremolo off, the amp kicked my ass right out of the gate. The Les Paul didn’t have the same chime as Peter’s Elliot guitar but I’d expect that from the different guitars. The tone was thick and chewy with a bold and wide bottom end and a killer crunch that had just enough top without being brittle. You could feel the headroom and power on big chords, making me realize just how loud 20 watts is — I was shaking the walls.

Backing off the volume knob on the guitar cleaned the amp up very nicely and brought out the more subtle tones that you only get from that type of combination. Throwing caution to the wind, I dimed the controls and hit the Bump switch. This setting gave me that open throttle feel, similar to my favorite Marshalls where it’s on the verge of feedback and notes effortlessly glide out of the guitar. Because the Master is a voltage control, it works differently than a typical master volume by bringing the voltage down correctly and effectively reducing the volume. At all but the lowest settings it didn’t harshly affect the tone. You can bring it down to a comfortable bedroom volume without killing the integrity of the sound, which is a nice bonus and also useful for late night studio sessions at the house.

The Smooth switch is labeled with a “+” and “-” on either side of the switch. In the “+” position, it acts like a boost of some sort and added a nice edge to the sound while increasing the gain. Both positions sound great, and if you’d like a little smoother sound, you can switch to the “-” position and take some of that edge off. I found this very useful for matching guitars to the Tupelo. In particular, my Strat liked the sound of the “-” position when using the bridge pickup.

Let’s not forget the tremolo! The tremolo is engaged either with the included footswitch or using the Intensity knob. The trem has a unique sound and a depth that I’ve rarely encountered on an amp. With the Intensity set at full and the Speed at the lowest position, it produced a thick throbbing that was syrupy and gooey. Bringing the speed up and backing down the Intensity took the focus off the effect, resulting in a beautiful swirl and depth that added richness and texture to the tone. The effect was so addictive I found myself leaving it on almost all the time, including soloing. It’s that good.

65Amps uses a combination of vintage American Allen Bradley carbon composite resistors and modern 1% Mil-spec metal film resistors in their circuitry. The carbon comp resistors are used in the tone path, while the more stable 1% Mil-spec metal film are used in areas that do not affect the tone as heavily. This creates a unusually repeatable and predictable formula that 65Amps says provides the best of vintage tone and modern stability and safety. 65amps purchased over 350,000 vintage Allen Bradley 5% Mil-spec resistors from the military and can build in this fashion for years.

The Les Paul wasn’t the only guitar that loved the Tupelo. Over the review period I ran a Hamer Korina Special through it with devastating results. The tone was so raw and edgy that it ended up being the star of a track on my upcoming CD. An Epiphone Sheraton matched nicely with the amp and gave off shades of tones that I hadn’t heard come out of that particular guitar before. As much as I loved the dirty tone, it was the semi-clean, backed-off volume knob sound that blew me away and had me playing for hours. A Richmond Dorchester with Lace Alumitone pickups and a Bigsby produced a glassiness and class, and the combination of the tremolo and a little dip of the Bigsby was right out of a David Lynch film. This could very well be my favorite sounding guitar with the Tupelo for cleans and slide.

The amp’s passive effects loop worked flawlessly with a variety of pedals and effects I ran through it. While I don’t usually use effects loops these days, it did bring up the point that if one is designed well there’s no reason not to use one for time-based or other effects.

The Final Mojo
While a lot of amps these days can do a lot of different tones through channel-switching and FX, the beauty of the Tupelo lies in its seemingly simple design. Even though there are only a few knobs and switches, each one of them serves up a potent range and, most importantly, allows the guitar’s personality to shine through. Throughout the review process, I found sounds in guitars I’ve owned for years that never had been heard before — a truly remarkable feat. With enough power to play at a club or in the studio, coupled with a master voltage circuit to cut down the volume when necessary, I’d say 65Amps really nailed it — again! This one’s a keeper.

Buy if…
portable, versatile, big American tone is what you’re looking for
Skip if…
you need more power (what? You’re playing the Enormodome tonight?)

MSRP $2395 – 65Amps –


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