REVIEW: Bogner Alchemist

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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.



16 Replies to “REVIEW: Bogner Alchemist”

  1. Peter, how well does this amp work in an at-home situation? I see u playing it in a bedroom like situation. I will probably not be playing it in session or stage situation a lot, but do am looking for this kinda sound and versatility. I am also looking at a Koch Studiotone. Almost the same price, versatile, but not by far like te Alchemyst.

  2. Hi Peter,

    Great review. I was wondering how this amp would work in an at-home situation. I won’t play out much, but do am looking for the versatility, brown sound and finally a real tube amp ;)

    Thnx!

  3. Thanks! It sounds very good at home volumes (that’s my loungeroom by the way – Mrs I Heart Guitar has a strict ‘no guitars in the bedroom’ policy). It definitely sounds better at louder volumes but it’s still quite usable around the house. You might want to increase the input just a little bit with a clean boost pedal to get higher gain sounds from the rhythm channel if you’re playing at house volumes though, otherwise it doesn’t QUITE get into that cool chunky heavy rhythm zone on that channel.

  4. Is it me or is the Mercury channel lower in volume than the gold ?? I just got a 212 combo and the difference in volume between the 2 channels is noticeable in my opinion. For example with both channels set up exactly the same the clean on 3 compares to the mercury on lets say 5. Is that the norm or could there be a problem? Please respond.

    BOB R

  5. I notice the exact same thing with my Marshall DSL50 – the rhythm channel is louder than the lead channel. I guess the circuits are different enough in each channel that each has its own volume characteristics. Also in the case of the Bogner Alchemist the Mercury channel has 'softer' tone than the Gold channel so it kind of feels like the Gold channel 'jumps out' a bit more, if that makes sense. So I don't think it's a problem, just a symptom of having two very different channels in the same amp.

  6. Peter, I'm considering buying an Alchemist. The price has been reduced to $899 and that seems like a great value for a tube amp with this versatility. In your opinion, is there anything else I should check out in that price range? I need 2 channels, FX loop, ability to dial in very clean, crunch, and very distorted tones. Thank you!

  7. I'd definitely also check out the Blackstar HT Club 40. It has a lot in common with the Alchemist tonally, but is really good at aping the response of other amps too, whereas the Alchemist always gives you at least a bit of that Bogner vibe at all times.

  8. I feel like the Bogner amps are going down hill. It seems like they are moving away from the boutique side of things from my point of view.

  9. Let me dispute your statement about the “build quality” of the alchemist …. in my case, the 1×12″ combo. It is HORRIBLE. The DESIGN is excellent; the SOUND is excellent; the versatility is excellent; but the Chinese build and component quality is absolutely terrible. In my case, first the pre-amp tubes were all rattling, buzzing and failing, so i had to swap them out. Next, the power tubes failed; swapped them. Next, and the most significant of all, the PCB in this amp was soldered horribly. EVERY SINGLE solder joint had to be re-done, because the power kept cutting out completely. Plus, the actual solder material itself was of a type i’ve never seen before … it was all gray looking, not your typical shiny metallic appearance. After the PCB was “repaired” (!?!), the amp’s power stayed on, but NOW, the channel-switching is failing. With or without the footswitch, the channels cannot be switched …. UNTIL the amp’s been on for 5-10 minutes, then at least for now, it begins to work properly. But for how long? SO ….. in my case, i’d have to shame Mr. Bogner for not keeping up with the QC, and therefore, his good name is taking a BIG HIT. This amp is DEFINITELY not ready for Prime-Time.

  10. Wow, that’s extremely unfortunate. The one I had to review was bulletproof but I’ve heard of a few issues like this since then.

  11. I bought my Alchemist mid-2009, and nearly 3 years later have had zero issues with it. I suspect ajb got a dud, but that isnt indicative of all Alchemists out there. Mine is the 2×12, and has done a fair amount of gigging (including the travel associated with getting from A to B and its resulting knocks), and I havent even had to retube as yet. It is now retired from active duty due to the arrival of a Shiva, but dollar for dollar would still be a very hard amp to top, especially if you have to cover a wide range of tonal territory.

  12. hello mate ( peter) check out my pic of fellow aussie brett garsed and myself many moons ago@ one of his l.a gigs.. the pic was taken @ the famed BAKED POTATO ( in n. hollywierd )
    quick question: im looking to run stereo and need a great amp to pair with my bogner alchemist
    any suggestions.. i hear great things about cornford/engl/ tons of this cats that make there own versions of modded marshalls etc… main thing is i run the bogner 80″s style x-actly like the
    manual presets suggest.. mids maxed no bass/no treb… so that sound is covered.. so do i go the other way…and get the other frequencies that are missing so to speak…so by blending both amps i have the best of both worlds ( singing v. h. right now :=) or just get another bogner or simular amp and set them the same.. and then run the cabs in a wet/dry config. any advise/suggestions would b greatly appreciated, thanks mate, sincerely alex loda

    p.s. u can check out some past tunes and the brett pic @ http://www.myspace.com/mojostinkmuff
    and in your bio it says u write for a number of publications etc,, please let me know… after giving me a listen etc.. if u could get me some much needed x-posure press, intereview/album review etc.. i have an instrumental rock album avail. for review and my new band Deja Voodoo debut album will be out very soon…but i can for ex. send u a track or 2 for review..b4 i upload it to i-tunes/cd baby etc…..

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