Roost head and cab, Sessionette, Vox Escort.
SESSIONETTE 75W: £250
The controls on the Sessionette are a credit to the design ingenuity of the builders, Axess Electronics of sunny Basingstoke. Seven knobs in all, but they do a hell of a lot, more than many twin-channelled, dual parametric jobs with twice that number.
The Sessionette is a compact, single 12in Celestion speaker combo, tranny powered and with a control panel that sits in a slot at the rear of the top surface. Packed into its 17in x 15in x 9in chipboard frame is a reverb, plus effects loop, 'phones, ext speaker and monitor level outlets, features usually associated with pricier products.
All corners are protected by metal guards, the mains switch is a large red neon job and this one came in an attractive cream, stipled vinyl covering. The aforementioned controls include bass, middle and treble eq, a gain for channel B, two gains (pre and master) for channel A, a filter and a reverb level.
The two extras (and damn fine ones too) are a rocker switch that selects between channel A, channel B or both, and an EQ option that lets you use the three controls or bring in a factory pre-set EQ, especially suited towards thick, creamy fuzz lines.
The Sessionette has a vast array of tones, made possible by the channel switching system. They all tend towards the raucous shout of transistor technology, but there was very little that this combo couldn't manage. Winding the gains to full produce ridiculously long sustain (though occasionally squawking feedback problems) and it could be bright, harsh, mouthy, muted, grumbling or belligerent depending on the EQ and filter, the latter helping to trim out the irritating upper frequencies.
It would crack up unpleasantly when fed too much treble, but the 12in speaker ensured a full bodied sound, despite the compact dimensions. However, there was trouble in store.
On the original review sample the chunky Celestion seemed too weighty for the Sessionette, and two of the restraining bolts had broken away from the baffle, distributing alarming lumps of chipboard all over the floor.
Axess assured me this was a problem no one else had encountered and put it down to a dodgy lump of wood plus rough transport. To be honest I've not heard anyone else lodge similar complaints, so I could have been unlucky.
The only other fault was in the fineness of the controls. They all reacted violently at the start of their travel so it was tricky to get small amounts of distortion, hints of reverb and so on. A wider spread would have helped.
The tone controls were okay, though not especially powerful, but I was well impressed with the overall variety of sound, mixability and size. It shouldn't be long now before the Sessionette bass is on the market, an equally well equipped combo with a seven band graphic EQ. The Sessionette keyboard combo is surely not too far behind...
When beer was thrupence a pint and you could get legless for half a crown, combos would be stood at the side of the stage pointing at the audience — they were as much PA as backline. If there were adjustments to be made, you'd sidle up behind the amp, that's why early makes like Vox had controls facing the rear of the cab.
These days Vox is under the auspices of Rose-Morris. They've re-issued and re-vamped some classics in the series, retaining the Fifties/Sixties orientation, but the Escort falls into the style of today's combos with the controls facing front.
In fact it's a bit of a cheat as what they've really done is to turn the panel overlay through 180 degrees leaving the electronics in the same place, so you're now faced with an amp that reads from right to left.
The first knob after the mains switch is the master volume, followed by treble, mid and bass EQ, then the pre-amp volume and finally the inputs. Something of a mental teaser, but not insurmountable.
The Escort is in two minds about its personality. At low levels it's quiet and withdrawn. The cab is shallow, about eight inches from back to front, which may contribute to the clean settings being thin at the top without much space in the bass. The middle tone control has little effect and the initial impression is of a cold and ungenerous amplifier.
But when cranked up, those features which appear to flaw its quieter voices virtually save the day. The compact cab prevents the bass from fluttering and breaking up, and restrained treble isn't in danger of running into screaming feedback. A distorting Escort is a gutsy, hard edge little devil. It burns but it doesn't do too much more.
There are no additional stops to be pulled out. It doesn't possess the mellowness for creamy fuzz lines, nor the low frequency bloom that can shake the earth for a rock 'n' roll chord. Great if you like a thrash, but not for the sensitive artists...
There's something about a hulking great valve head and 4x12 cab that just can't be captured by transistors, silicon chips, even bottle powered combos.
They go for it.
Valves don't know the meaning of the word "Can't"! Even at their electrical limits they keep trying to push out more power, producing the unique and legendary distortion tone that sets them apart.
The Roost is a good example of the compression exhibited by a valve head. There's a stage where hitting the strings with a pick or a pickaxe won't secure any more volume but will supply extra overload. It's that reaction and sensitivity many guitarists miss in tranny amps. For the "science" of it, see page 76.
There are volume, bass, mid, treble, master and presence controls on the all black Roost head which has plastic protectors at each corner and grilles at the top and rear to cool the six KT77s. The speakers in the slope fronted cab are 12 inchers, protected by steel grilles and trollied about by permanently fixed castors, lockable at the back (neat touch).
The side handles are essential since the head alone is as heavy as some combos. Four by twelve set ups aren't so popular these days but Roost, a British firm, have proved they still have a sound all their own — and that Marshall aren't the only people in the market.
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