Once upon a time there was a guitar player. Having cut his teeth playing in a few notable blues and R&B bands around London, it came time for this particular guitarist to form his own group and stamp his name on music history forever. And so he did, that band holing away for months at a time turning lead into gold gradually until it was ready to put that alchemy on tape. When the time came, inspired by the heroes of Chicago’s South side blues scene, he plugged his ’52 Telecaster into an old tube combo amp and turned music history on it’s head. That player was Jimmy Page; the record was Led Zeppelin’s 1st and that amp was a Supro.
LEGEND IN THE MAKING
Throughout the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s Supro amplifi cation was the amp of choice for ax slingers across America. Famous for their ferocious growl and extraordinary amount of power relative to size, it’s a tragic irony that the company responsible for what would become the white whale of so many collectors went out of business the same year the aforementioned game changing record was released. New York’s Absara Audio resurrected the famous lightening logo in time for NAMM 2014 and was clear that these newly anointed are more than capable of treating the Supro legacy with the piety and respect it deserves.
Never has the phrase ‘tiny but mighty’ been more fi tting for a piece of kit than in the case of the 1600 Supreme. The cabinet is only a touch bigger than your dad’s briefcase, but it is every inch true to the specifi cations laid down three quarters of a century ago. One custom voiced 10” speaker sits in wait behind the silver grill cloth and as soon as you fi re up the two 6V6 power tubes it roars with the velocity and veraciousness of a much bigger rig. It’s loud, but not uncontrollably so, in so much as the circuit design is so raw and true to the earliest manifestations of engineering that it has a startlingly touch sensitive dynamic that plays as much into tonality as it does volume. It plays directly into the hands of producers like Daniel Lanois, who’s ‘turn it up and let the amp play itself’ rubric draws lineage from Page’s groundbreaking performances.
BEAUTY, BRAINS AND BRAWN
The control panel is one of the more intuitive ones I’ve come across. Two input channels drive twin gain stages that can be run either in series or parallel. Plug into channel two for a modicum of bite, extremely low noise fl oor and incredible headroom; plug into channel one for all of that and more, bridging both gain stages in order to use both volume pots to fi nd any number of sweet spots. Both channels dive headlong into one tone stage, which serves up swathes of tremendous, booming low end readily making way for the snappiness of your playing to take care of the highs. You really have to thoroughly explore these dials a lot more than with other amps as the two channels dance with each other in a way that renders the familiar, linear 1-11 directive obsolete. It’s ephemeral, spritely and you really have to keep an eye on it in case it changes its mind and decides that you’re both going to sound completely different to what you had planned. History has rendered the mythic Supro amps something of a unicorn in the amp world. The 1600 Supreme is as singular as the players who made it so sought after. It’s nothing if not a wild, almost untamable ride, after which neither you nor your playing will ever be the same.
Hits and Misses
Incredible throw for such a small footprint
Ferocious growling tone
One leans heavily towards the low-end with not a lot of attention up top