REVIEW: Bogner Alchemist
I’ll be perfectly honest with ya, I’d been looking forward to the day when I got to test-drive a Bogner Alchemist like a kid looks forward to Christmas. Then again, I look forward to Christmas like I look forward to cranking tube amps. Anyway, the Bogner Alchemist is the first ‘relatively low-cost’ offering from the eccentric, California-based, German-raised amp genius Reinhold Bogner (if you wanna see how eccentric, go to bogneramplification.com and scroll down the news page). Bogner’s modern classic USA-built amps, such as the Ecstasy and Uberschall, are now badged as Bogner Custom Shop, with the straight Bogner name now being used for the Alchemist series, which are built in China. Straight up, let me say the build quality is very high, so don’t let that ‘Made In China’ throw ya.
The 6L6-loaded, Class AB-powered, 40-watt Alchemist is available as 1X12 and 2X12 open-back combos, and a 100 watt head with matching open-back 2X12 cabinet. I tested the 2X12 combo (and I also ran it through my closed-back Marshall 4X12 cab and an AxeTrak isolated speaker box). Channel 1 (the Gold) channel has controls for gain, treble, middle, bass and volume in addition to slider switches for Clean/Crunch, Bright (treble boost) and Deep (low boost). Next are a pair of switches for channel switching and a solo boost. Channel 2 (Mercury) also has gain, treble, middle, bass and volume controls, along with switches for Punch, Bright and Mid Shift. Next there’s an effect section with delay (Ducking, Analog and Tape) and reverb (Plate, Spring, Hall). Finally, there are power and standby switches, the latter of which has selects between standby, 20 watt or 40 watt operation. The supplied footswitch selects channel, boost, delay and reverb. The effects loop is parallel, meaning that whatever effect is in the loop will be running alongside the unadorned sound. The loop has its own level control, it travels independently of the main signal for improved clarity, and it’s designed for instrument-level effects (ie: stompboxes), although the manual says rack gear can be used too if you’re careful with the levels.
With so many control options, one could worry that the amp is too complex, but after a few minutes it all becomes very intuitive. The Gold channel can go from the cleanest of clean to a grindy crunch that is heavy enough to work for Foo Fighters or even Metallica-style rhythms (at least Kill Em All and Load eras…), or can be backed off for a more classic rock response. The in-between sounds are especially dynamic and controllable: a sparkly, Hendrixy single coil sound can be driven to a toothy bite just with harder pick attack, great for emphasising particular licks and even greater for covering ‘Little Wing.’ The sound may be a bit too open for more intense metal tones but that’s not really what the Alchemist is for.
The Mercury channel bares the obvious influence of the Bogner Ecstasy: anyone who’s heard Steve Vai on the first G3 DVD will recognise certain shared tonal characteristics here. Again the amp responds super-well to playing dynamics, until reaching saturation point where the attack compresses and smoothes out. Lay back a bit and notes seem to grow and evolve with an almost vocal-like midrange envelope. It’s pretty addictive, especially in medium gain levels, where you can wring a wide range of tones out of your strings. It’s also very fingerpicking-friendly, with great articulation for those Jeff Beck licks. Again this is going to work for certain types of players more than others, and may not be suited to more metallic sounds requiring flatter dynamics.
This is one of the most versatile amps I’ve ever played, yet it feels very simple despite its complexity. The cleans can be polite enough for jazz, edgy enough for blues, jangly enough for indie, punchy enough for rock, grindy enough for more traditional variants of metal, and hyper enough for shred. Frankly, I want one!
To hear the Alchemist in action, here’s my video demo, which I posted on YouTube and linked to from I Heart Guitar about a month ago.