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This article was originally published in issue #43
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This little 10 Watt bruiser of an amp is the latest on the market from UK amp royalty Denis Cornell. With 40 years in the amp business, and the last 20 years spent producing his own no compromise products, Denis knows a thing or two about hand building amps. This is the Cornell Vintage Brown 10 Watt and is designed to give something close to a medium to high gain '80s style tone that could be described as that mysterious 'Brown' sound that everyone talked so much about back in the day. It certainly has some kick to the response and tone and the build quality is second to none with Denis Cornell's meticulous handcrafting approach.
Most modern amps have multiple valve stages to create high gain, which in theory affects tone and response, but the Vintage Brown does it in the very first stage, allowing for a more sensitive control of the sound from the guitar volume pot, and giving a purer tone that is more about the player's touch than loads of generic sounding distortion. This amp is truly hand wired inside a chrome steel chassis, with components sitting on a custom made board that uses a mixture of turrets and eyelets. The pots, valve (tube) bases and sockets are of the highest quality with incredibly neat wiring and placement which helps eliminate any hum, and the whole lot has been sprayed in a protective coating to stop oxidisation and moisture getting to the important parts such as solder joints. Most working amps see many environments that effect reliability as the years pass, but anything made by Denis will be going strong without problems for a very long time indeed.
This is pretty much a plug in, turn up and play amp. It has a three band EQ, a master volume and spring reverb with a nice attenuator to take the 10 Watt output down in four stages to 1/8 of a Watt, so it's great for the studio or home use because you can drive the amp without the volume police knocking on your door! At 10 Watts, the amp seems really quite loud in the room and for intimate gigs or bigger gigs with good monitoring, you should be OK. The onboard Celestion V12 delivers those Watts well, and adds to the break-up as you run the amp at its limit, which at 10 Watts, you will.
There is also an on board gain out switch which defeats how you set the gain and sends the amp straight to maximum gain at any volume, leaving you to do the rest with your guitar's volume control and your fingers. Although there is plenty of gain available, it still might not be enough for some players. The amp is designed to be turned up so that you get the pre-amp stage, power amp stage and speaker breakup all cooking, then you hear more what this amp is about, because in full 10 Watt mode and everything maxed out, it does kick out some great Rock tones. It depends on your own personal idea of what a hot rodded brown sound of the '80s really is, because everyone will have a different opinion. If you really need crazy amounts of gain, then any type of boost or overdrive pedal in front of the amp will launch the amp into a whole new world of distortion. Plus there is a nice little mid boost feature which revoices the overall tone, giving the EQ a boost where you need it with guitar, which I really liked because it worked in a really sweet musical way. If you are into a more Rock/Metal tone, then you probably won't use this feature.
Although I say this is a plug in and play amp, there are onboard features to work with, but I suspect that once you find your favourite tone, you probably won't adjust it. This is an amp that will vary with your touch, your guitar volume, your pick ups, the guitar you use and even the pick you use because there is a purity to the tone that comes from Denis knowing how to build an amp and this is his tribute to that elusive sound. Finished in black Tolex with a grey grill it looks stylish and purposeful as do all Cornell amps across the range. This is not the cheapest 10 Watts you can buy, but it certainly is among the highest in quality.
If you want to get your hands on one of these fine combos, Denis Cornell does have distribution in much of Europe, the USA, Canada and Japan, as well as retailers across the UK, though you aren't going to find one of these in every high st. music store so it's possibly best to contact Denis direct and ask.