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This article was originally published in issue #12
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Is it an amp? Is it a pedal? Well, actually it's a pedal amp from bespoke valve amp maker Dennis Cornell. Michael Casswell investigates.
Dennis Cornell has built a great reputation amongst amp purists for creating hand built, point to point hand-wired amps - amps that have been given the seal of approval by no lesser beings than Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, Albert Lee, Larry Carlton and Hank Marvin! Dennis is a true craftsman and uses the best components for his products. Nothing is mass produced in large numbers and everything is hand built to exacting standards. So I was very curious about the Cornell Pedal Amp, which looks like the love child of your favourite mini boutique practice amp, and the most sought after boutique overdrive stomp box. So what exactly is it? In fact, as you have probably guessed, it is both of those things.
The Cornell Pedal Amp can be very useful in a few ways. Firstly it can be a four Watt amp. The single 8 Ohm output can be connected to a speaker cab of your choice and would be great for home practice, recording and even for quieter live work. Four Watts through a good speaker cab is surprisingly loud and with a decent front of house and on-stage monitor system, you would be good to go for general live work. It's also very cool for recording. Stick a mic in front of your speaker cab, and this pedal will give you some convincing vintage Fender and Vox tones at very manageable volumes. You could certainly get some very nice pure valve tones recorded, and then add any reverbs or delays you need in the mix, which is the best way to do it if you are not an expert in sound manipulation with effects.
It can also act as a fantastic true bypass boutique, valve driven overdrive pedal, pushing the front of your amp and bringing it alive and generally giving you more of everything. It sounds to me that the best results would be with cleaner sounding amps than those needing silly amounts of volume to come alive. This in front of a plexi Marshall or vintage Fender twin would be very cool, but I'm sure that great results can be got from most amps out there. Obviously it would also sound great with a loud Cornell amp! Maybe with higher gain amps, hiss and general saturation can be a consideration, but no more than when using any overdrive based pedal in front of an amp with gain. One very cool feature is the ability to power other pedals with the 9 Volt out. In a pedal board, daisy chaining power to other pedals is very welcome. You also get a preset EQ boost on the pedal which basically gives you more gain. Great for solo boosts and although it's pre-set, sounds just about right.
We also have a headphone out socket, which kills all sound, making it perfect to use when the neighbours, parents, brothers, sisters, wife, girlfriend, dog.... just can't take your widdling any more!
Less successful for me is the speaker simulated mixer out. The bar is set very high nowadays for good direct feeds straight to a desk, simulating a good mic'd-up speaker cab tone. This is was too fizzy on the more driven tones for me, but may work for some people. I feel it would work well for compressed clean tones though, but on the dirt, I'm not convinced. You can draw your own conclusions from the demo.
So generally, I think Dennis has identified a bit of a gap in the market, because I can't think of another product out there that does what the DC Pedal Amp does. It's not cheap, but it is handmade, with full back up and after sales service from Dennis Cornell. This is very much a niche product, but it does what it does very well and for the right player (albeit one with a big wallet) it could represent a quality buy.