Carlsbro Stingray Electro-Acoustic
The new Stingray Electro Acoustic combo from Carlsbro presented a problem at first. It is a lead combo or a bass combo? Certainly the amp looked like it had been designed with lead work in mind, and the accompanying press blurb described the unit as suitable for acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars. Couple this with the name and the answer seems obvious. But the cabinet, with its 15" speaker and overtones of previous Carlsbro bass cabinets seemed to tell another story.
The answer is that the Stingray is neither a straight lead nor a straight bass combo — it is a hybrid creature that combines elements of both. Carlsbro have gone in for successful crossbreeding here and have combined their standard lead top with their Pro-Bass Combo speaker cabinet, resulting in an extremely versatile unit that operates well over a wide frequency range.
The unit is in classic Carlsbro black with moulded black plastic corner pieces. The older style metal corner pieces always inspire more confidence, but these plastic ones are quite rugged and an added plus is that scratches don't show up as much as they do on chrome plated corners. Four castors are fitted and I am pleased to say that the back two are fitted with brakes. There is nothing worse than seeing your Combo rolling slowly towards the edge of the stage at a gig!
Castors really are necessary on this unit — it is extremely heavy. And this brings me to the handle; there is only one, fitted centre top, and this is made of ridged black plastic. It hardly looks capable of lifting the weight of the unit many times before breaking, but Carlsbro assure me that the handle has been thoroughly tested with weights five times that of the Electro-Acoustic. Psychologically, though, a stronger looking handle would inspire much more confidence.
Recessed side handles are essential on this combo. It needs two people to carry it without the severe risk of a double hernia and their absence is a mystery. When I pointed this out to Carlsbro, they said that this would be rectified in the near future — so recessed handles may well be appearing shortly on this model.
As I have already mentioned, the cabinet is a direct steal from the Carlsbro Pro-Bass combo, but with the addition of two high-frequency bullet radiator horns situated top left and right. The speaker remains the same — a 150 watt 15", 4 ohm RCF. This is a Rolls-Royce, or at least a Bentley, amongst speakers and its presence here, alongside the horns, provides for stunning frequency range and effects — but more of this later.
The speaker grill is another source of complaint, however. It looks fairly rugged, but with a bit of poking it soon becomes clear that this is the flimsiest of covers and its function can only be described as more cosmetic than practical.
Now to the amplifier. The back panel contains the mains switch, fuse (2AT), two output sockets, preamp out socket and two slave sockets. Maximum power output on this amp is 150 watts when the combined impedance of all speakers used is 4 ohms. The RCF is 4 ohms so it follows that if any additional speakers are linked up, power output will drop.
The preamp and power output sections of the amplifiers may be isolated by inserting a jack lead into the preamplifier socket on the rear panel. This prevents the signal from reaching the power amplifier and provides a low level output which is fully controlled by the tone and effects circuits. This signal may be fed into any suitable signal processing unit such as a mixer unit. The output from the mixer unit can then be fed back into the power amplifier by means of a jacklead inserted into either of the two slave sockets which are also situated on the rear panel.
The circuitry is in two sections: the preamp and control circuits are mounted on to the front panel by the pots while the transformer, smoothing capacitors and power amplifier are mounted to the back panel. The input preamp, tone filters and reverb amplifiers are built around quad, low-noise operational amplifiers.
The hefty transformer, smoothing capacitors and bridge rectifier supply the rails to the power-amp board which is mounted over the power transistors. All interconnections are well made with wiring tied together in a loom.
The only complaint concerns the mains switch which is a flick switch with a plastic toggle. Either a metal toggle or rocker switch would be more suitable and prevent the chance of the toggle leaving the switch during manhandling!
Overall the quality of construction is high throughout with the components, resist-coated PCBs and few interconnections inspiring confidence and ensuring reliable, quiet operation.
The front panel is very impressive and has two channels, each having two high impedance inputs of high and low sensitivity.
Of the two channels, the first is the most interesting. The controls for this channel are 'Gain', 'Low', 'Parametric Frequency', 'Parametric Gain', 'Hi', 'Suzz Sustain'. A 'Bright' switch is also provided and gives you extra brilliance and attack to the sound. The 'Gain' control enables you to match your instrument to the amplifier input. Also, by turning the 'Gain' up and the 'Vol' control down, overload distortion can be obtained giving a dirty, overdriven sound. Being brought up on Marshall valve amps, I am still not convinced by solid circuitry 'overdrive' but this effect really is quite good. 'Lo' and 'Hi' controls work in the conventional manner. In addition to these controls, channel 1 features a Parametric Equaliser. Any frequency between 75Hz and 1kHz can be selected by the control marked 'Freq'. This can then be cut or boosted by the control marked 'Gain'. In effect, the parametric section operates like a powerful graphic equaliser. 'Suzz' is obtained by adjusting the 'Sustain' control for the length of sustain, and the 'Gain control for the volume of the suzz. The 'Sustain' control also functions as an on/off switch for the suzz effect.
All in all, this channel offers comprehensive and versatile facilities. For example, set 'Gain' on low, 'Parametric Frequency' in centre position, and 'Parametric Gain' on full, both 'Suzz' controls on full, 'Lo' on medium and 'Hi' on full and a very long, smooth sustain sound is obtained. A bit more knob twiddling and you can get a bright, hard, clear sound, a growling bass with bright treble or a stringy treble that will transform a Les Paul into a fair imitation of a Strat. Some more knob twiddling can even transform a Strat into a fair imitation of a bass!
Channel 2 is a simple extra with 'Gain', 'Lo' and 'Hi' controls as in channel 1, but without the Bright switch and the Parametric or Suzz features. This simplicity of the second channel doesn't really matter because with the extra facilities on the first channel it is unlikely that anyone would use it anyway except for amplifying a second instrument or vocals in a small rehearsal situation.
Other controls on the front panel are Volume and Reverberation. Reverberation is available for both channels and is selected by pressing either of the two push buttons situated beside the 'Rev' control. Adjustment of the 'Rev' control varies depth and the unit itself is of the usual spring line type. The suzz and reverberation effects can be switched on and off using the double foot switch which is provided with the amplifier and its ¼" jack plug plugs into the 'F/S' socket on the front panel.
As I have already indicated, the sounds available from the Stingray Electro-Acoustic are quite remarkable and its combination of bass cabinet, horns and lead top add to this dexterity. For the home studio musician who plays a number of instruments this combo is an excellent all-rounder. It's great for guitar work, excellent for keyboards because of its wide frequency range and it also doubles as a bass guitar unit offering an impressive range of bass effects.
Standard bass sounds are easily available and the lead top allows the exploration of a number of high register bass effects. It is easy to change, for example, from classic jazz/bass sounds to a solid bass with a hard 'click' on the higher notes. And if you like Rickenbacker bass effects, they can also be imitated using this unit.
But perhaps the musician who will be most impressed by the Stingray Electro-Acoustic is the amplified acoustic guitar player — after all the combo is named after him. Finger picking styles become a treat to hear: the thumb picked bass notes are warmly relayed and higher register finger picked notes are punched out through the horns with sparkling clarity. This is probably the best combo for the electro-acoustic guitar player presently available in the U.K. market.
The price of the Stingray Electro-Acoustic is £458.10, which is quite reasonable when you consider that the Stingray Pro Bass retails at £490.18 and the Stingray Lead combo retails at £388. (All these prices include VAT.) At a price midway between the two, Carlsbro have produced a unit that, arguably, combines the best of both.
The Stingray Electro-Acoustic is distributed in the UK by Carlsbro Sales Ltd., (Contact Details).
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Review by Alan Hardman
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