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This article was originally published in issue #4
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Splawn amplification is a company you may not have heard of but those who are familiar with them will be aware of the superb reputation they have built up due to their extremely high level of workmanship coupled with a truly phenomenal sound - I'll get more into that later.
Based in Dallas, a small town in the beautiful State of North Carolina, the company is the brainchild of the owner Scott Splawn. All of his products are handmade in-house, as are their speaker cabs and head boxes, although some parts are outsourced such as the chassis, circuit boards and transformers. Incidentally their transformers are custom wound by Hayboer, also in the USA.
The subject of this review is the Nitro Head. Although the majority of Scott Splawn's amps are geared toward the heavy rock market, they are by no means limited to that genre alone. Delivering 100 Watts, the Nitro is loud. Very loud. Attenuation has been made available though, which enables you to reduce the power output by half at the flick of a switch, which will be a very welcome option to many. The head houses four EL34s in the power section and 4 12AX7s in the Preamp stage, although there is an option to have the amplifier fitted with KT88s in place of the EL34's, in which case it delivers a massive 120 Watts.
Essentially, the Nitro is a two channel amplifier - clean and overdrive - with a further additional Overdrive 2 boost and solo boost, controllable via the supplied thee-way footswitch. Considering the fact that this amp is a high gain beast, the clean channel is remarkably versatile and although you are more likely to see this amp being used at a nu metal concert than a Blues gig, it is more than capable of fulfilling both roles with class to spare.
Sparkling, shimmering cleans to more chunky clean tones can be achieved with very little tweaking involved. It is, however when the overdrive channel is engaged that the Nitro shows what it was truly made for. Test driving it initially with the gain control on a low setting showed that this amp is one of the most responsive amps I've encountered. An incredible dynamic range can be achieved just by varying the amount of attack on the strings and I couldn't help but be inspired to play, which is truly what a great amp should do. Kicking in the Overdrive 2 via the supplied footswitch gives you access all the gain you will ever need.
More often than not, an amplifier shows its true colours the more gain you throw into the mix and clarity- at which point clarity and balance can be compromised but this is most certainly not the case with the Nitro. From belting out palm-muted heavy rock riffs, to rapid-fire alternate picked and legato line, there was absolutely no loss of tightness and clarity whatsoever.
Even though you will get killer tone straight from the word go, the addition of a Resonance control, which controls the low frequencies to the output section and Presence, which control the high frequencies, along with Bass, Mid and Treble controls should give you countless hours to tweak to your heart's content should you wish to. Quite simply, this is one of the finest amps I've had the pleasure of reviewing and if you are looking for one of the best high gain amps money can buy, then you need look no further. It isn't cheap - hence the four stars rating - but it is an incredibly fine piece of gear.