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Real-World Review: Sound City SC20 Combo

Reviewer Rich Tozzoli says, check out the Sound City SC20 Combo if you’re looking for a solid, hand-assembled, tone-shaping tube amp.

The SC20 from Sound City Amplification is an all-tube combo amp for both studio and stage use. Weighing in at a manageable but sturdy 35 pounds, this 20-watt amp features a matched pair of Mullard 6V6 power tubes, a 12AX7 Tung-Sol, two 12AX7A  and two 12AT7 Ruby Selected preamp tubes, and a special design 12-inch, 50-watt, 8-ohm Sound City Power speaker.

On the top control panel you’ve got Input, Normal and Brilliant Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass and Reverb, which is a tube-driven Accutronics three-spring reverb. The lineage of this amp is actually quite interesting. “Sound City started as a music store in London that was owned by Ivor Arbiter, of Dallas Arbiter fuzz face fame,” said owner Neal Ostberg, who resurrected the brand with renowned amp designer Steven Fryette. “The original Sound City amps were designed and built by Dave Reeves, who later went on to start Hiwatt. Townshend, Entwistle and Jimi Hendrix used the original Sound City 100 amps, so these new amps are an evolution of those big amps. The SC20 was envisioned by us as an SC100 scaled down to a Deluxe Reverb/Vox AC15-type package. They are hand built in LA with great attention to detail: Even the serial number is hand stamped into an aluminum plate on the back of each amplifier. The speaker is made by Eminence and is a custom design we developed with them.”

Note that the Brilliant and Normal Volume knobs can be blended together to create a variety of tones and voicings. You could even turn one off and just use the other. As Ostberg noted, “The Brilliant Volume control is not bright; it actually pushes the mids. It’s the Normal Volume control that pushes the bottom end and sparkle on the top.”

He added, “If you have a single-coil guitar like a Strat, you want to favor more of the Brilliant Volume because it fills in the thick mids, whereas when you have a humbucker guitar like a Les Paul, you want to push more of the Normal Volume control so you get more top because of the mid-range content inherent in humbuckers.” Interestingly, there is no standby switch, and they note that you can leave it on or turn it off in between sets or sessions.

Putting it through its paces both on a live show and up at Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, NY, on a TV scoring session, it delivered on its promise of versatile, thick tone. This amp has a super tight low end and a wide-open, dynamic sound. Since it features a solid-state rectifier, when you push it hard into saturation, it still remains tight and “clean.” I did use my Les Paul Custom with it, so favoring the normal volume, I got what I like to call a classic rock tone like an enhanced Fender. I also noticed that it takes pedals quite well; I drove it hard with a number of distortion pedals, including a classic Ibanez Tube Screamer, Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire and my J Rockett Audio Designs Rockaway Archer overdrive/EQ. It gives the amp a whole new attitude, and the reverb never swims, even when you turn it up. If you’re looking to try a solid, hand-assembled, tone-shaping tube amp, check out the Sound City SC20 Combo.

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