Created in conjunction with guitar prodigy and Grammy Award-nominated singer–songwriter Marcus King, the MK Ultra is Orange amplification's first-ever amp designed and built in the USA. Using the highest-quality components available, including American-made custom Heyboer transformers, this hand-wired 30-watt all-valve guitar amplifier represents a marriage of classic American and British tonal sensibilities. Make no mistake, though, this is not a copy of a previous design with slight modifications. This is a unique innovation that offers a new approach to the trademark Orange sound. Nick Jennison reviews.
Something I've always admired about Orange Amps is their simplicity. They're fabulously unfussy and direct (both tonally and in their design), even going so far as to eschew words on the front panel in favour of their famous pictograms. Amps don't get more "to the point" than Orange…
…or so I thought. The first Orange amp designed and built in the USA, the MK Ultra, took a look at how straightforward the rest of the Orange family is and thought, "Hold my beer". Built to the exacting specifications of Grammy-nominated artist Marcus King, this hand-wired 30-watt monster has just three knobs - "Deep", "Sing", and the invitingly oversized "Volume".
First, let's lay something to rest. A clean, high-headroom "pedal platform," this amp most certainly is not. It starts to break up with the volume set to about 10 o'clock, and from there, it's on and on into more and more outrageous overdrive. There's actually a pretty crazy amount of distortion available (considering that King isn't really known as a gain hound), but it's far from the tight, modern gain you'd expect from a Rockerverb. The distortion is fuzzy, loose and complex and starts to inter-modulate as you dime the volume control. It's like the biggest and best fuzz you've ever heard.
With the amp set a little cleaner, you'd be forgiven for thinking the "Deep" and "Sing" controls don't really do a whole lot. They're broad and quite subtle, but they start to really shine when the amp is cooking. When those power valves start to saturate, the EQ controls provide detailed, nuanced sculpting of the way the amp FEELS, offering everything from pokey and more articulate mid-pushed sounds with a hint of Blackmore about them through to doomy sludge with a "splatty" transient response that feels like the amp is about to explode.
As far as pedals go, you're best off using boosts, overdrives and fuzzes to augment and enhance the tone of this amp rather than trying to get your entire gain tone from a pedal chain. The basics work best here: treble boosters, vintage fuzzes, TS and Klon style overdrives—you know, the drill. There's no effects loop, so dial your reverbs and delays sparingly (embrace the old-school way and go without), and be prepared to use your guitar's controls for your clean sounds. Not exactly modern convenience, but that tone is worth the compromise.
The MK Ultra is an amp that does one thing and does it beautifully. In a world of pocket calculators, it's a sledgehammer. If you're the kind of old-school player who values single-channel simplicity and glorious tone over sprawling versatility, this amp will set your world on fire - if you can get hold of one!
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