Two channels, a decent chunk of power, built-in effects, and all for a smidgen under the ton – Carlsbro’s mid-sized Kickstart makes a convincing bid for the beginner’s market. Review by Huw Price
Twin channel 30W solid state combo with a single 10″ speaker, Line/MP3 input and Phones output. Made in China
Contact: Carlsbro – 01908 281072 – www.carlsbro.com
Carlsbro have certainly gone for the ‘boutique’ look with the Kickstart series. We’ve got salt and pepper grille cloth, a sturdy faux leather handle, and a brushed metal control panel. The textured black tolex is well applied, and metal corner protectors should keep it looking good. Cosmetically at least, things are off to a good start.
The figure ‘30’ refers to the quoted output power generated by the solid state circuitry. Other models in the series are rated at 10, 15, 50 and 100W, so Carlsbro seem to have all bases covered. The models with 15W and above have two footswitchable channels labelled Overdrive and Clean. Both share the Bass, Middle and Treble tone controls, but they have separate volume controls. The overdrive channel also has a Gain control for the preamp section.
For extra tone shaping, a Mid Shift switch notches out the midrange by 15dB. There are onboard effects too, and they’re described as spring reverb, digital delay and analogue chorus. When we spoke with Carlsbro there was some uncertainty about whether the reverb and chorus are analogue or digital.
The reverb sounds as if it’s generated by a genuine reverb tank because you get the tell-tale ‘broing’ noise when you bump the cabinet, but we couldn’t see any kind of tank inside. The jury remains out on the chorus, and a Reverb/Delay switch dictates you can’t use both effects simultaneously. A separate switch activates the chorus effect, and there’s a dedicated Effects control; unfortunately it’s dedicated only to the reverb and delay, so the chorus is an ‘on or off’ thing. As for the effects control, it merely sets the volume of the effect. That’s pretty much what you’d expect for the reverb, but the delay time and number of repeats are fixed.
The control panel also accommodates a channel switch, the input socket and the on/off switch. Mini jack sockets are also provided for line/MP3 input and headphones. Plugging in headphones mutes the output to the Carlsbro-branded 10″ 8 Ohm speaker.
It’s a tall order for any analogue guitar amplifier to compete with digital modelling amps for versatility, but Carlsbro have given it a good shot. Since the Kickstart 30 is solid state, switching on is instantaneous… and the clean channel really is a genuinely clean-sounding channel. With single coils there’s only a hint of overdrive even at maximum volume, but a large portion of that is probably coming from the speaker rather than the amp itself.
The clean tone is clear, natural and quite pleasing, with the natural sound of our test guitars coming straight through. The tone controls are quite powerful, but even at maximum treble the clean channel manages to stop short of harshness. With a hint of reverb dialled in and a semi-solid or fully hollow guitar in hand the Kickstart 30 produces a very credible jazz tone. We also enjoyed turning the treble and bass up high with the mids turned right down to obtain some scratchy and bright funk and surf tones.
Ultra-heavy and crunchy distortion is certainly on the menu but, like most budget solid state amps, the Kickstart 30 does veer towards a raspy fizziness that sounds nothing like valve distortion. This starts to become apparent when the gain control is turned up past 11 o’clock. Below that point the dirty channel has a far smoother and more useable overdrive, with a sound that’s more modern rock than blues.
The distortion characteristic will leave you in no doubt that this amp is designed for crunch, and the Mid Shift switch is a key component. The effect is dramatic, as you’d expect from a 15dB cut; in fact, you may find it’s a little too much. The Mid Shift also works on both channels, but we’re not convinced that it does anything particularly beneficial for the clean side.
The reverb is a welcome feature and we liked its sound. Chorus is like the Marmite of the effect world, but again we found the preset very useable in a Teen Spirit sort of way. The delay is less convincing because you can’t alter the delay time nor the number of repeats. We’d estimate the delay time at around half a second – not a very well-judged setting as it’s long enough to mess up a groove and not short enough for rockabilly slapback.
On the plus side the Kickstart 30 has a lot of useful features, it’s extremely versatile, and it’s cheap; then again, onboard digital effects, a line input and a headphone socket are all fairly standard on entry level amps these days. It may be rated at 30W, but you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on that, as when you compare this amp with lower-wattage amps in its price range the Kickstart 30 isn’t very loud at all. The clue is in the name: Kickstart amps are probably targeted at guitar players that are starting out.
The build quality exceeds expectations at this price and you get a decent clean tone with just enough volume for small gigs. The overdrive channel gets a bit nasty, and not in a good way, but we enjoyed using stompboxes for overdrive and distortion on the clean channel.