Magnatone Varsity 12
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Magnatone Varsity 12

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COMBO ATTACK

 

At the heart of the Varsity’s tone is a Class A, EL84-driven power amp. There are two 12AX7 valves in the preamp and a GZ34 rectifer valve for an American- style voicing, and the controls are simple and straightforward: volume, treble, bass and reverb. The treble control has a 14dB range at 2kHz and the bass knob has 12dB at 60Hz. There are two inputs (high and low sensitivity) and a tube-driven 4-counterwound spring long-pan reverb. There’s also a control panel-mounted 8 ohm speaker output and a line output, as well as an NFB switch, which Mag- natone somewhat confusingly states is designed to “provide settings of gain and harmonics by restructuring the power amp gain providing fuller tone.” In layman’s terms what it does is makes everything sound bigger, louder and more sensitive when it’s engaged. The 12” speaker is a ceramic-magnet custom Magnatone model.

 

HIT THE ‘AWESOME’ SWITCH

 

First up, this thing is loud. With the NFB switch engaged and the high sensitivity input selected, the volume was loud enough on 2 to get me yelled at by everyone in the house. There’s only a limited amount of travel on the volume knob where you’ll fnd clean tones before things transition to big, bold, overdriven, singing tone. This is an intriguing amp because it can most defnitely get dirty, but it does it with a high level of sophistication, complexity and control. The term ‘boutique’ is pretty much overdone by now but that’s really what this amp conjures. The midrange is rich and articulate, the highs are clear but not buzzy and the lows are full but not boomy. Jeff Beck likes to use one of these with his Strat, and it is indeed a very single coil-friendly amp, but it also played very nicely with my high-output-humbucker-loaded Les Paul. You can reign in the harmonic complexity a little and scoop the mids by turning off the NFB switch, and this also gives you a bit more clean range before hitting those heavenly overdrives, but NFB makes such a bold, powerful tonal statement that it’s almost an ‘Awesome Switch.’ The reverb has a slightly muffed, yet very complex feel, acting as more of a swirling ambient effect than a traditional splashy spring reverb sound.

 

I LOVE IT LOUD

 

If you can handle the kind of volume that’s required to get this amp to operate at its peak tonal potential, you’re going to love this amp for a wide range of rock, country and blues styles. Its sophisticated, it looks great, it’s easy to control and it’s very versatile. But loud. Very, very loud.