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This article was originally published in issue #40
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I am honoured to be one of first players in the UK to get to try out this new range of amps from Panama. They have arrived here through distributor Strings and Things all the way from the jungles of Panama at the base of some volcanoes, which is not something you get to say very often when reviewing guitar equipment! We had two amps from the range to look at, the Shaman 20 and the flagship Inferno 100, which both have their own character and places in the market.
Let's start with the Inferno, which would be classed as the top of the range offering. We are talking a big 100 Watts, with six 12ax7 pre-amp valves, two 6550 power amp valves, four foot switchable independent channels each with its own EQ, two switchable master volumes, switchable depth-boost controls, two level controllable effects loop, in a box finished in Spanish cedar and red zorrowood!
The four channels on the Inferno give you ultimate versatility in terms of super clean to super dirty. The obvious, most workable, way to have your channels set is to be able to go from the clean sounds through to crunch through to full on gain with each channel a bit dirtier than the one before. The Inferno does this all very well and the 6550/6L6 output tubes give huge bottom end with clear sparkling highs and is usually my output tube preference in amps that I own. Six 12ax7 pre-amp valves allow a cascading gain stage to take you from very clean to huge amounts of filth and dirt.
A great addition is the ability to switch between two master volumes, so you can have a volume boost preset on any channel which is great for your moment in the spotlight to get above the mix of the band. With a 100 Watts to play with you won't run out of headroom to take full advantage of this and that's the advantage of high power amps: you keep your cleans clean and your solo sounds crisp because the headroom gives you that capacity. In fact I don't associate Watts with volume, I always equate it to headroom, but obviously it is crazy loud if you want to turn it up. The amp has good stage presence too with its red exotic wood front and red and black tolex. There is a cool onboard depth-boost switch which gives extra low end thump and high end sparkle and although it's quite subtle at low volumes, you really get the benefit of it at rude volumes.
Panama Shaman 20
The Shaman 20 combo is switchable between 20 and 10 Watts. It's a two channel amp switchable from most generic amp footswitches and it runs five 12ax7s in the pre-amp stage and two EL84 tubes in the output stage. It has a tube effects loop with the option to bypass it. Although it officially gives two independent channels, each channel has an optional voicing mode, so you really get four sounds to choose from.
This little amp returns bags of character and the low wattage makes some creamy smooth tones available at modest volumes. You can dial in some Fenderish cleans to some fat Marshall-like crunch, on to modern high gain overdrive and all this would add up to the Shaman being a great studio amp, giving a huge range of tones in a portable package. 20 Watts is possibly on the limit of working in a live band situation, but in the room it sounds very capable and obviously live situations vary in what is needed from a back line amp.
Panama Cabs & combo features
The speaker cabs that come with these amps have some great design features. One is the ability to change the cabinet from closed back to open back. I much prefer open back cabs, which fill a stage much more than a very directional closed back cab, but sometimes that can be a bit antisocial for other band members, so a cab that gives you the option is very welcome. Another fantastic addition is each cab has an onboard attenuator, so you can drive your amp loud to get the full goodness of the valves, but you can then turn it all down to whisper volumes with cab attenuator. How cool is that on a guitar cab?!
The onboard drivers are apparently Panama's own; based largely on Celestion Vintage 30 speakers but they are smoother in the upper mids. They also have baffles made from tonewood for a nicer transient response. Both amps and cabs use only sustainable and eco-friendly tonewoods, the maker says.