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Tech 21 NYC Trademark 60 Amplifier Review
Standard Retail Price: $609.00
Typical Used Price: $350 to $500
Features: 2 channels; 60 watts; one Celestion® Seventy80 Model speaker; all-analog circuitry; effects loop; footswitch; spring-coil reverb; built-in SansAmp technology for speaker emulation
Controls: Channel select button; CH1 - Bite on/off button and Drive, Punch, and Level knobs; CH2 - Weep on/off button and Drive, Growl and Level knobs; Master - Link on/off button and Boost, Reverb, Low, and High knobs; SansAmp ground lift on/off button; Footswitch - Boost/Reverb on/off, CH1/CH2 selector, and Effects Loop on/off button
Famous Users: Les Paul (solo); Alex Skolnick (Testament, solo)
Further Information: The Official Tech 21 Website
Way back in the mists of time (around 1989 or so), Tech 21 made a splash in the guitar technology scene with their now-legendary SansAmp pedal. This device utilized analog components to simulate the sound of a cranked tube amplifier's tone inside of a footswitch-sized box. Players were astounded at how closely the SansAmp was able to generate great sounds in both a studio or live setting, without the use of a speaker or cabinet.
It was only logical that Tech 21 would eventually incorporate this early modeling technology into a full-fledged amplifier, and with the Trademark series, that's exactly what the company did. Among the first major amp builders to delve into the murky world of soundalike gear, they boasted that their amplifiers would bring guitarists Fender's glassy tones, Vox's chiming sounds, Marshall's growls, and even Mesa's fire-breathing howls... all in a single, solid state amp.
Needless to say, there were and remain serious skeptics of these claims, but one thing is for sure: Tech 21 opened a Pandora's box that not only remains open to this day, but has turned into a whole field of technological research and development--and commerce. The Trademark 60 was basically the company's flagship model, not as big as some of the later discontinued high-wattage amps, but large and loud enough for gigging guitarists: with such sonic versatility, working guitar players in cover bands were the target audience for these products.
The amplifier is significantly lighter than almost any tube or hybrid amp of comparable size, but the construction is fantastically sturdy. (Note the metal corner-guards--a nice touch that Vox doesn't even have on all of their mid-to-high range amps.) The cosmetic styling is classic-looking bordering on dull, however, with black tolex and a blond basket-style grill covering. One thing that must be said, however, is how nice this amp looks from behind: that gleaming brushed-steel chassis and black decal on the speaker look futuristic, in contrast to the front's more staid appearance. The control panel's layout looks a little intimidating at first, but any player of modern gear will quickly grasp all functionality. And the super-rugged 3-button metal footswitch is just badass.
Ease of Use
There's a lot of depth to the Trademark 60, and fortunately, its designers clearly put a lot of thought into simplifying the control layout and making it easy to access a wide range of tones quickly and easily.
Each channel has 3 controls. For instance, Channel 1 has:
- A "Bite" on/off button. This changes the channel's character from a warmer, rounded, mellow tone to something with a little more mid-range and treble for a slightly more aggressive sound.
- A "Drive" knob, which essentially functions as a gain control. However, unlike many amps, 12 o'clock is set for gain unity, and you can cut the amount of drive by turning the knob to the left, or boost it by turning it to the right.
- A "Punch" knob, which refines the character of the Drive sound. Turning it to the left produces a softer, smoother breakup tone, whereas turning this knob to the right results in a harsher, more jagged sound.
- A "Level" knob sets the volume of Channel 1.
Channel 2 features a very similar set of controls:
- A "Weep" on/off button provides a bit of thickness to the sound, overall, by introducing more even harmonics (yeah, I don't know what that means, either, but turning this switch on makes your tone fatter).
- A "Drive" knob that functions differently than Channel 1: since Channel 2 has no clean sounds, there is no gain unity and turning the knob to the right from the minimum position mixes in more dirty, simulated power amp gain.
- A "Growl" knob, which is really more of an advanced Mid EQ control. Turn it all the way to the left for that famous scooped-mid sound used by the likes of Metallica; turn it to the right to mix in more mids and go for more of a Queens of the Stone Age-flavor.
- A "Level" knob that controls the volume of Channel 2.
In addition to each channel's controls, there's a Master section on the control panel. Its knobs adjust the global parameters of the amplifier, and it features:
- A "Link" on/off button tells the supplied footswitch if the user wishes to toggle both the Reverb and the Boost functions, just the Reverb, or just the Boost. Turning the Link button on means that stepping on the Reverb/Boost button will enable both effects simultaneously.
- A "Boost" knob that controls how loud the volume increase will be once the Boost function is enabled (via the footswitch).
- A "Reverb" knob that controls the amount of spring reverb (from an actual spring tank in the bottom of the amp's cab) the player wants to mix into the signal.
- A "Low" knob that controls the amount of bass frequencies present in the guitar signal.
- A "High" knob that controls the amount of treble frequencies present in the guitar signal.
In addition to these, there is an output on the bottom of the amp's chassis, in the back, that allows users to connect an XLR cable to a speaker simulator to make recording a breeze (no microphones necessary!) or even to run your amp directly through a PA without having to mic it up. There's a ground lift on/off button for the SansAmp output, too. The Trademark 60 even features an Effects Send/Return in-and-output set, allowing players to put specific pedals into the Effects Loop and switch those and only those pedals on or off via the footswitch.
If this sounds like too many options, it's understandable. But in practice, it's really easy to figure out what does what, and the Tech 21's super-sturdy mini chicken-head knobs are fun to twiddle in search of the perfect sounds.
Speaking of the sounds... When I utilized the Trademark 60 in solo practice and writing sessions, I found it incredibly inspirational. While it doesn't have the attenuator-type of technology found in, say, Vox's hybrid amplifiers--meaning that like a true tube amp, the Trademark 60 sounds better the louder you push it--even at low volumes, I had no trouble finding tones and sounds I really liked, making it a lot of fun to play through.
Recording was a fairly easy proposition, too, as the amp sounds great either miked up (I suggest pointing your microphone directly at the center of the cone, though, because the thick basket-weave grill cover does absorb a certain amount of sound that typically passes right through cloth covers) or when connected directly to a recording source via the SamsAmp's XLR output. In fact, when comparing two tracks played with the same amp side-by-side--one miked up, one sent through the SansAmp output--it was a little difficult to tell which was which. In the end, the miked track had a little more "air" to it, giving it a tiny bit more of a realistic feeling, but this is unlikely to be something an average listener would notice.
In a live context, Tech 21's creation becomes a little more of a complicated proposition. While the amp sounds fantastic on its own, and is more than capable of keeping pace with a full band (I had several scenarios where I had to turn it lower than expected so as not to deafen a drummer), when playing on the same stage as another guitarist who has a tube amplifier things can get trickier. It's then that the solid state thinness of the tones become a little more noticeable, and while you can compensate somewhat via the EQ knobs, it still lacks that fundamental punch that comes with real tubes.
With that said, this amp has some pretty cool tones that are uniquely its own, and it makes one wish after awhile that instead of going the modeling route, Tech 21 had pursued the creation of an analog-circuit solid state amp with a singular character. This can be done--witness Roland's famed JC-120--but in choosing instead to mimic well-known classic amps, modeling technology always comes up just a bit short, leaving one a bit disappointed when in fact one might be elated if one were not expecting the sound of a cranked Marshall half-stack (as is always promised in the instruction manual).
Another minor issue is the fact that the footswitch requires players to choose to toggle the Reverb, the Boost, or both via a single button. Had they built in one more switch and given each of these independent controls, these features would be just a bit more useful. It's not uncommon for a guitarist to, say, have the Reverb enabled for a verse section, then want to switch it off and simultaneously toggle the Boost on to slam when the chorus section hits. Again, not something that'll happen all the time, but it would have been nice to divide these.
Finally, the only other gripe I can come up with is the global EQ knobs, which are shared by the two channels. Shared EQ is almost always a concern for me because what sounds good on your clean channel (say for instance a fairly low amount of bass to emphasize a sparkly clean part) may not sound good on your dirty channel (with your bass knob so low, Channel 2 just sounds like angry bees buzzing in a can). Again, it's not something that can't be worked around with a little experience and know-how, but it would have been nice for each channel to have had its own EQ knobs.
All in all, Tech 21's Trademark 60 is a reasonably-priced, great-sounding amplifier that is sure to surprise some tube purists with its lively tones. Its versatility, light weight and sheer power--did I mention that this thing is damn loud?--make it a great choice for working guitarists who are sick of lugging around heavier pieces of gear that don't get them the full range of tonal options they're seeking.
It's a design that isn't without a few drawbacks, but what you get as a tradeoff will likely make this an amplifier for which you'll develop a lot of affection in a very short span of time. And even if you never gig with it and just use it for recording or practicing, the Tech 21 is a superb value if you can find one on the used market. And as ever, the fact that there are relatively few available on the used market speaks to how much the Trademark 60 is loved by those who own one!