It Ain't 'Alf 'Ot, Mum!
Gallien-Krueger's micro monsters
Gary Cooper sets fire to his SG and incinerates his bass with the help of two Gallien-Kruegers!
I'd heard them before, but only in snatches. More to the point, I'd listened to various professional players raving about these micro-sized Gallien-Krueger guitar and bass combos, and some even claimed they'd abandoned their stacks for them! Give up a stack for a guitar combo measuring 13¾" x 9" x 7½" — what sort of madness was this?
It's thanks to London's Allbang & Strummit that I've finally been able to find out what all the excitement's about, and why G-K has become the hottest amp to appear in the USA since Mesa Boogie. Allbang recently secured UK distribution for this revolutionary range, which includes tiny, high-power combos for bass, guitar, keyboard and PA, plus rack mountable head versions and various powered and unpowered extension cabs.
It's ridiculous. The Gallien-Krueger 250ML isn't much bigger than a middling sized transistor radio, much smaller than a ghetto blaster, and yet somehow the little monster delivers a 50 watts per (stereo) channel into its twin mini speakers! Despite its Lilliputian size, the Gallien-Krueger is anything but flimsy, in fact the whole amp is encased in sheet steel, and the speakers are protected by a strong metal mesh. Even the carrying handle excels by being metal fastened at its ends. But despite this enormous ruggedness, the combo weighs a mere 22lbs.
Starting with its front panel, the Gallien-Krueger offers a single jack input, followed by a push button which selects either channel A (clean) or channel B (overdrive). Channel A's controls follow with two more push-buttons, one switching in a built-in compressor, the other activating gain (high or low) to suit, say, either typical single coil pickups (Strats etc) or humbuckers (Gibsons). There's no compression facility on channel B, but there is a push-button gain switch which is followed by this channel's volume control.
The volume and gain stages for both channels are followed by four rotary tone controls which deliver unspecified amounts of cut and boost at 8 and 2kHz plus 500Hz and 120Hz. and after this come two further push-buttons, one for the fixed level 'echo' effect, the other switching in a predetermined level of chorus. Both channels feature red LEDs to show which is selected, as do the echo and chorus functions and the speaker-isolating headphones jack.
The 250ML's back panel carries a thoroughly professional line-up of features. Mains input is via the usual IEC plug-in lead (with a mains fuse situated above it), and a rocker switch allows you to select either 8 or 16 Ohm extension speakers. The input/output facilities appear above these, providing aux in/stereo out, FX send & return, extension speaker jack for the left channel, an XLR (Cannon) socket for direct output, and extension speaker jack for the right channel.
One possible problem with such tiny combos as the Gallien-Kruegers is that they're not at their best when down on the floor. G-K have solved this very neatly, by offering an ingenious mounting bracket which enables you to fix the amp to a speaker stand and then angle it to the optimum position. This not only serves to let you get at the amp's controls but also ensures that the projected sound reaches out into your audience. But enough of such details. It's time to get down to the bit where I started enjoying myself!
What an amazing guitar sound! Channel A is near-perfection for clean rhythm use, the remarkable effectiveness of the tone circuitry capable of tailoring the output from every guitar I tried it with to its ultimate performance level. With a Tele the treble I was getting was quite capable of downing a bat at 20 yards, and yet the warm Jazz/Blues sound from a Gibson 335-S's neck pickup was wonderfully reminiscent of late nights and too much whisky!
The built-in effects are unusual in two respects. Firstly, for some unfathomable reason G-K call the reverb 'Echo', and secondly neither it nor the stereo chorus and compression are adjustable. On the other hand, they've been set and 'voiced' to expertly chosen levels, so not having the usual control isn't perhaps the loss it might have been.
It was channel B's astonishing overdrive sound that gave our team of maniac scribes the idea for the headline 'It ain't 'alf 'ot, mum!' — and they're not exaggerating either! I began testing for distortion with my Strat/Seymour Duncan combination. This can be an awkward proposition, because not many amps can take its relatively low output (around that of a good 'vintage' Fender) and reproduce the essential harmonic purity of a Strat with the asbestos-burning level of overdriven attack which makes a Strat so sought-after.
Well, the Gallien-Krueger can — especially when you punch in the reverb and chorus. Swapping over to my SG, the sound went through the roof — er, let me re-phrase that. What I should have said was that it went out through the windows, screaming down the road, laying rubber like a bump-started Formula One! My SG doesn't need much excuse to take off at the best of times, but the combination of it and the G-K brought my cheque book out in a rash.
And ever onward. After these two 'classic' guitars, I ran several more fashionable machines through the G-K, including a Charvel, a hot Aria, and a Jerry Bix Ptera. The 250ML obviously loves guitars like these, if anything more than it does the traditional standbys. What it would sound like with a Hamer or a Kramer I shudder to think!
Judged against the best pro-class valve amps (Marshalls, Laney AORs, Boogies, Hi-Watts and suchlike), I did miss the glorious 'touch-sensitive' feel and the smooth sustain they exhibit, but that's really down to personal preference, and enough top players are using these monitor amps to confirm my feeling that the 250ML gets amazingly close to the 'real thing'. Either way, 'can I have one please?' is the best way I can encapsulate my feelings about this giant-killer.
If getting such an astonishing sound from the minute G-K guitar combo defied all logic, then the 100 watt sound of the bass version, the 200MB, was even more amazing. A little larger than the 250ML, the G-K bass still only measures 13¾" x 15" x 7½" and weighs a mere 24 lbs. Entirely metal-clad (like the guitar version), it uses a single 12" speaker, which is what makes the amp a fair bit larger than its cousin.
Most of the 200MB's facilities are shared with the guitar model, the rear panel allowing for effects units to be connected by a pair of send and return jacks. Following these appear XLRs labelled 'wet' and 'dry' which are for direct outputs (either effected or uneffected by the built-in effects) for recording and PA mixer connection. Left and right speaker jack sockets and a push button for turning the G-K's internal speaker on or off complete the picture.
The front panel commences with a single input jack which is followed by a rotary pre-gain control, then 'Contour' and 'Hi Boost' voicing filter but low and Eq rotaries giving cut and boost at 4000, 1000, 250 and 60Hz. The limiter on/off button comes next, with the remainder of the panel occupied by master volume, chorus on/off, rate and depth, and, finally, a headphones jack socket and footswitch socket complete the neat and simple layout.
If the G-K guitar combo sounds amazing what on Earth can I say about the 200MB's uncanny ability to reproduce bass frequencies so cleanly from such a small enclosure? Gallien-Krueger's bass monitor amp is versatile, too. Even using my very basic Jazz bass I was easily able to get close to the John Entwistle growl (and guess which make of amp Mr Entwistle uses?), but it was just as simple to fiddle for a few minutes with the tone controls and get a Mark King-like snap and twang. Likewise, the range available will go a long way down into a dark, rich, Jazzy tone. As if the Eq controls weren't impressive enough on their own, the addition of high boost and pre-shaping 'contour' settings gives you even greater flexibility, the high boost being self-explanatory, and the contour giving the amp a noticeably different 'voice'. Versatile isn't in it!
Naturally, if you drive the G-K too hard you get a certain amount of unwanted distortion, mostly (I imagine) because of the restricted size of the speaker enclosure. Even then, the limiter will smooth things out for you by preventing distortion-producing peak signals. It's a very good limiter too, smooth and unobtrusive in use.
The stereo chorus is a fine one. Obviously it only works in mono when you hear it through the G-K's single speaker, but it feeds a PA or recording mixer with stereo and is audibly stereophonic when the 200MB is expanded by the addition of a 200MP powered speaker, at which point you then get a full 200 watts of stereo bass. Tonally the chorus is in the Boss class — need I say more than that? like the guitar model, the 200MB is a thoroughly professional product with a huge tonal range, exceptional versatility and, above all, a fabulous sound.
These Gallien-Kruegers have come about from a completely fresh look at what professional players need from their amplification. Trying to sum-up their virtues isn't easy because, they have so many. But how many amps can you think of which are this small, this good, and this tough? How many amps of this size can be used for silent practice (with the same sound quality you use on stage), then be taken to a studio for full stereo recording then straight on stage with enough power of their own for smaller gigs and rehearsals and the ability to be added to for really huge volume levels?
You might argue that a lot of combos these days have headphone sockets, that quite a few have effects built in, and that some even have the necessary ins and outs to enable you to use them through mixers. That's true, but it misses the point. Nothing else will handle all these roles in such a small package. Nothing that I can think of is as strongly made and protected, and nothing remotely as small sounds as good. Let me try and sum up my feelings like this: can you imagine being able to get a whole band's amplification (PA included) into the back of a Mini? With a Gallien-Krueger per head, you can, and comfortably, too!
The price for all this is understandably high, and probably restricts the Gallien-Kruegers to professionals and the wealthier semi-pros. Even so, with all they've got to offer, they're worth every penny!
Gallien-Krueger 250ML Monitor Amp Combo RRP £599
Gallien-Krueger 200MB Bass Combo RRP £499
More info from Allbang & Strummit, (Contact Details). Trade distribution by Scott-Cooper Marketing Ltd., (Contact Details).
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Review by Gary Cooper
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