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This article was originally published in issue #10
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Most boutique amps look like they were designed by Rock-Ola or RCA's radio division in 1938. Two-Rock's Exo 15 looks like it fell from UFO. We asked our resident space alien, Michael Casswell, to investigate...
The 'low wattage with a massive sound' concept seems to have just about taken over the amp market in the past few years. They are all doing it and it's no bad thing, because amps that can deliver big tones at sensible volumes are perfect for home practice or studios. Some of them are even loud enough to gig with and providing you have good monitoring and a decent sound system, the actual Wattage of an amp doesn't really come into the equation.
Two-Rock, as a brand, has been on my list of amps to investigate for while. Some big names have been using them. Both John Mayer and Joe Bonamassa use Two Rocks as part of their multi-amp live rigs and those guys get great tones, could choose to use any brand of amp they wish and opt for Two-Rock. So I was pleased when a Two-Rock came in for review, courtesy of our good friends at Manchester's Toneworld, here in the UK.
It does look cool. I'm guessing it's called 'EXO' because it does look like it has an exoskeleton. If you don't know what that is, it means you have your hard protective bits on the outside, and your soft squishy bits on the inside, making you harder to eat in the food chain. So it looks tough, rugged, and I guarantee you wouldn't be able to eat it! It's obviously well designed and comes in predominantly black, blue and our version, which was sort of brown.
In case you don't know of them, and have just heard the name, Two-Rock is a Californian company,
formed in 1999 by Bill Krinard and Joe Mloganoski. Both have decades of experience behind them with guitar and Hi-Fi amps (in Bill Krinard's case) and in 2010, having established a rapid rise to boutique guitar amp stardom, the company was acquired by Premier Builders Guild, a particularly interesting boutique guitar and amplifier company, "comprised of elite master builders supported by proven management, marketing, and dealer service teams," it says here.
And so to the amp itself! The Exo 15 is a 6V6, tube rectified, class AB, single channel, 15 Watt head. On the front it has the usual pre-amp, gain and volume, which will give you more crunch as you wind it up, as well as the usual bass, mid, treble, master volume, and a contour control pot, which basically fine tunes how up front you want the amp to sound (a bit like a really effective presence control). Round the back, it is great to see an effects send and return for your delays, reverbs, and modulation effects. Some boutique amp manufacturers want to keep things 'pure' and sometimes do not include an effects loop, which really irritates me, because I like to have the choice of using my time-based effects where they sound best, which is in a loop! It's also great to see speaker cab outputs catering for 4, 8 and 16 Ohm cabs, which covers all the possibilities.
Soundwise, all Two-Rock amps are said to have been designed to let you hear the detail in your guitar. They are also designed to interact with your favourite stomp boxes to expand the sounds you can get from an already nicely voiced amp. You don't get bags of fizzy gain with the Exo. What you do get is a nice broad crunch, or a bluesy clean, that lets you create your own sonic canvas on top. So if you want more gain, kick in your favourite overdrive to push the front end, or back down the pre-amp gain for cleaner tones that will take compressors well, and again push the front end of the amp with a dirt box for more gain. This is how I generally run my Marshalls and how a lot of players do it. So although the EXO 15 is single channel, all the sounds are there if you know how to work your guitar volume knob, and get the best from your pedals. As for it delivering just15 Watts, well, in the room this amp seems loud. With a good cab, it could probably handle more civilized volume gigs, but it obviously will not have the headroom of larger wattage amps. Incidentally, Two-Rock also offers a specially designed cab to match this head, which we didn't get to try.
There's no doubt this is a superbly made amp - it's all hand-wiring inside - and it has been designed to do a versatile job of delivering classic tones and to do it exceptionally well. It's there to function as a fantastic sonic canvas for you to stamp your own idea of good tone onto. It isn't an amp that you plug-in and press a few buttons to get a pre-set killer tone - it's an unashamedly professional, expensive, exceptionally well made amp that would be ideal for a session player whose work calls for versatile, classic sounds from a reliable, portable, package.