The unique sounds of lesser-name vintage valve amps are becoming less and less of a secret, so this handsome US-built 24W reissue is well-timed indeed. Review by Richard Purvis
Description: 24W 1×12″ two-channel valve combo with tremolo; 2 x 6973 and 5 x ECC83 valves, solid-state rectification, Eminence speaker. Made in USA
Contact: JHS – 0113 286 5381 – jhs.co.uk – suprousa.com
There are those who had a tremendously good time in the ’60s, and those who wish they had but didn’t – either because they weren’t around yet, or because their parents wouldn’t let them. Both groups seem equally eager to buy into the modern mania for ‘authentic’ old-fashioned gear, but the big names have already reissued pretty much everything short of the sandwiches their early engineers had for lunch… so now it’s time for the lesser marques to take a second grab at glory. The reborn Danelectro brand has shown there’s a market for the sort of guitars that, let’s be honest, many of our heroes chucked under the bed as soon as they could afford a Strat or Les Paul.
Can it work for the near-forgotten amp maker once favoured by Jimi Hendrix (when he wasn’t yet Experienced) and Jimmy Page?
Launched in 1954, the original Supro Dual-Tone was a popular budget choice among players across the USA. It had two pickups, a floating bridge… and it was a guitar. The two-channel amp of the same name didn’t arrive until later, and disappeared when Valco, owners of the Supro brand, went under in 1968.
These days Eastwood has the rights to the Supro name and is already making an ‘official’ reissue of the Dual-Tone guitar, but it appears that those rights do not extend to amplifiers – and so Absara Audio, owner of stompbox specialist Pigtronix, has stepped into the fray. They’re making their new amps in New York, with former Fender Custom Shop chief Bruce Zinky in charge of design, and the aim is clear: to nail the spirit of the ’60s so closely that young Jimi will rise from the dead and beg to have a go himself.
All of which brings us to the ‘1964 reissue’ 1624T Dual-Tone, a lightweight 1×12″ combo shoving something like 24W through a specially designed, US-made Eminence speaker. It’s claimed this is effectively the same amp Page used on the first two Led Zeppelin albums, as his 1690T Coronado had the same output stage – using a pair of rarely-seen 6973 valves – and was modified from 2×10″ to 1×12″. The accuracy of that claim may or may not be worth fretting about, but the new amp looks period-correct. The denim-blue vinyl and sparkly grille cloth are bang-on, and the Supro logo adds just the right dosage of vintage charm.
On the top panel we find Volume and Tone for each channel, plus Speed and Depth for the valve-driven tremolo… and then we notice that one input is for channel 2 and the other is for 1 and 2 together. Assuming both channels are voiced the same, this means the ‘both’ input is basically there to add a whole lotta gain. Hmm, if we use an A/B switch for hopping between inputs, will the Dual-Tone be able to show us some clean/dirty channel-switching skills?
First, a look at the inside. As you might have guessed from the sub-£1000 RRP, there are printed circuit boards in there. It’s just as well: handwiring would have lifted this into ‘boutique’ territory, and that would have been far from the spirit of the original. The circuitry is simple but has been arranged over two perpendicular planes, a bit like an AC30 but inside-out, with some of the valves hanging downwards and some pointing at the speaker baffle. All are PCB-mounted, as are the pots. Don’t be concerned by the lack of markings on the speaker and the underside of the chassis – our amp is a pre-production sample and not in full racing trim.
The first thing we hear is hum, and plenty of it, suggesting an unhappy earth connection. Well, as your grandma always told you, there are very few noises in this world that aren’t best covered up with some nice loud guitar, so let’s plug in and see if the Supro mojo is intact. Going directly into channel 2, we begin with some decent clean tones and then hit a sweet spot around 10 o’clock on the volume dial where the body of the tone fills out and the shimmery top end just hints at breaking up. The bottom end is solid and the midrange has a classic American scoop – so far, so blackface Fender. Now add some gorgeous throbbing tremolo, with a waveform that can dip a lot deeper than some but has not been designed to go unmusically fast or slow at either end of the speed control. This is very ’60s, and very nice indeed.
So let’s push those mysterious output valves a little harder. By 11 o’clock the crunch is getting more assertive, and it’s closer to the throaty overdrive of a 6V6-driven Fender than a British amp with EL84s. It’s not hi-fi, though: even at moderate levels, using humbuckers or P90s in the middle or neck position there’s a looseness in the low end that feels distinctly ‘garage’. By the time we reach the last third of the volume dial the amp is feeling positively spitty, but in a cool and usable way; there’s not a lot of headroom, and full volume seems barely any louder than half.
It only takes a basic A/B pedal and a couple of extra cables to turn the Dual-Tone into a proper twin-channel amp, and it’s well worth doing. Channel 1 turned up to halfway adds a moderate spoonful of dirt to channel 2’s clean sound, and the lack of headroom is useful because there’s virtually no difference in output level. In fact, this is about the most natural-sounding channel-switching you will ever hear. The separate tone controls also come in handy because you may want to knock some treble off the overdriven sound when things get a bit naughty.
If you want to go beyond naughtiness into sheer delinquency, crank both channels to full. It’s wild, as you might expect, but doesn’t collapse all the way into full-on spluttering unless you pummel the front end with an overdrive or boost pedal. The tone is thick and thunderous, and about as distorted as 99 per cent of guitarists will want to go.
It’s tricky judging an amp that’s trying to recreate a sound that wasn’t considered great in the first place, but were those original Supro users who spent their first royalty cheques upgrading to Marshalls, Voxes and Fenders making a mistake? Maybe some were. If we take off our rose-tinted earmuffs to judge the new Dual-Tone on its merits, it’s a light, practical combo that delivers big, raucous tones with a warm American heart.