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Review

Cornell Wilko Johnson Custom Amplifier

Issue #51

So all in all a beautifully constructed, dynamic, touch sensitive amplifier that offers a broad range of vintage tones. It's not for Hi gain fans, but for the right player, it's an amp that will stay with you for years. The only trouble is, you can't buy one... well, maybe if you ask Denis nicely he might make an exception.
Dan Le Gresley

Pros:

Incredible sounding amp
Great pedal platform
It’s red and black 

Cons:

Might be a little basic for amp tweakers

Cornell Wilko Johnson Custom Amplifier

To accompany this month's interview with Wilko Johnson, Dan Le Gresley takes a look at Wilko’s very own signature Cornell amp and has the pleasure of exploring the tonal possibilities of this "one off" amplifier.


I'm going to state for the record right now that I'm a fan of both Dr Feelgood and Denis Cornell, I've relished the opportunity to explore this rig and research both of these local heroes. I grew in Essex not but a short hop from Southend, home of Dr Feelgood and Cornell Amplifiers. Every area has their heroes, and to bands growing up in Essex, Wilko's influence is un questionable. Denis Cornell is a different story; this little-known boutique amp manufacturer seems to avoid the limelight actively. It wasn't until I recorded my last record that I was introduced to these Goliaths of groove. The Romany 10 was my weapon of choice, and its lineage can be traced back to the Custom 40/80 upon which this amp is based.

It's a simple combo, and its origins can be found in the Fender 57 Twin. The 3 x 12AX7 preamp valves and 2 x 6L6 Output valves share this common ancestor. In the back of the Cornell, you'll find a Tone Tubby 12 Inch USA Red Back, with tonal controls coming from two high impedance inputs, the Hi input offering 6db extra. Next door on the panel you'll find Volume, Bass and Tone dials, the latter of which work across the whole frequency spectrum. With ease, you can dial in the tone of 59 Fender Bassman or the shimmering sparkle of a Fender Twin. Further along, you'll find the output switch offering 10 or 40 watts and the ubiquitous Standby and Power switches. The whole amp is wrapped in signature Wilko Red and Black Tolex (To match his telecaster and curly red cable), with a silver grill and Wilko badge on the top front panel. She's pretty, theirs no denying it.

So what separates this amp from your standard fair? It's simple, craftsmanship. Hand built, point to point wired with lovely attention to detail. Most modern mass produced amps tend to be built with cheaper printed circuit boards, this is ideal for reducing costs and making amps more affordable for the common man, but unfortunately, has hugely detrimental effects on high-frequency response and harmonic richness. This is due to the capacitance created by having components so tightly fitted together. You notice this harmonic richness and dynamic response the moment you start playing the Wilko.

Matching Wilko's "all on 6 o'clock" settings with the output set to 40 watts you get a big, bellowing, valve soaked driven spank. while dialling back the volume knob on the guitar and applying some reverb gives you shimmering, bluesy and soulful sounds perfect for cropper style playing. Roll off the tone knob and flick it to the neck pickup and you are not far from Wes Montgomery territory. Switch the output to 10 Watts, crank the volume, and you've got a glorious valve socked overdrive that retains the dynamic response of its cleaner cousins, but allows you to venture into different sonic plains. Like all 57 Twin based amps, this will take pedals in the front well. A tube screamer would sing through this.

So all in all a beautifully constructed, dynamic, touch sensitive amplifier that offers a broad range of vintage tones. It's not for Hi gain fans, but for the right player, it's an amp that will stay with you for years. The only trouble is, you can't buy one... well, maybe if you ask Denis nicely he might make an exception.

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Issue #52

Yngwie Malmsteen

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