REVIEW: Rex Bassking
The story of the Rex Bassking sounds like a legend, or at the very least a Da Vinci Code style tale of investigation, serendipity and discovery. The amp’s origins lie in the 1930s when the late Frank Lamberti arrived in Australia from Italy. Working at the Astor radio factory in Melbourne, where he assembled valve radios and communication equipment for the Australian military, Mr Lamberti transferred these skills to his own company in 1946 when he teamed up with his brother Anthony to form Lamberti Bros. The company’s North Melbourne workshop began producing valve radiograms, televisions and a range of guitar amplifiers beginning with a 6 watt amp released under the Rex brand name.
So this brings us to today. The Bassking is a simple but undeniably classy looking combo. The review model was finished in vintage red vinyl which was found in the workshop along with the amps. The two channels, Bass and Normal, each have their own dedicated pair of inputs, and controls for volume, bass and treble. A Celestion G12H twelve inch speaker has been fitted as part of the redesign. High quality electrolytic capacitors have been fitted, and matched valves from Electro Harmonix form the heart of the amp’s power and tone. The Bassking is driven by two 12AX7EH valves in the preamp and two EL84EH valves in the power section. There’s a jack on the back panel for an additional speaker cabinet, and I would love to see a matching extension cabinet built in the same cosmetic style.
I first plugged into the Bassking’s Bass channel with a Cole Clark Guardian. The tone was extremely clear and warm, with a tight yet thick low end and a rounded high end. Nudging up the treble control added a little bit of musical sharpness to the signal, and plugging in my Telecaster I was immediately reminded of blues legend Albert Collins’s famous “icy” tone – clean, loud, sharp, expressive and musical. Bringing down the treble again, this channel was great for jazz lead lines and chords, and its high headroom ensured there was no distortion to muddy up the purity of the tone.
The Normal channel has a similar basic character to the Bass channel, but the low end is more subdued, the highs are glassier, and the midrange is a little thinner, resulting in an almost acoustic guitar style shimmer to chords and double stops. With a little experimenting, I managed to coax an authentic recreation of Mark Knopfler’s “Sultans Of Swing” tone from the Cole Clark, while slightly edgy blues tones were also on tap in an almost Steve Ray Vaughan vibe. I then tried the amp with a DigiTech Bad Monkey overdrive pedal to see how the circuit and speaker handled dirtier tones. Again the sound reminded me of Stevie Ray, this time his slightly edgier tone from “Pride & Joy.” The absence of a midrange control on the amp didn’t prevent it from exhibiting a perfectly voiced midrange to fill out the pedal’s tone, and the combination of a particularly responsive overdrive pedal, playing dynamics and the Bassking’s great preamp meant changes in phrasing were reproduced with expressive accuracy. It’s great to plug into an amp that doesn’t just compress and distort every note, and by carefully choosing how hard you pick any particular sound, you can get a huge variety of sounds without even touching the tone controls.
In the 1960s a lot of amps, such as the Marshall Super Lead, had two channels with twin separate inputs like the Bassking, and players soon discovered that running a small patch cord between the inputs of the two channels allowed them both to be used at the same time. I set the Bassking up in this way, and the resulting tone was amazing. There was a pleasing natural compression, and the tone fattened up considerably. The ability to set separate bass and treble frequencies for each channel, then blend the volumes of each for the perfect mix, allowed me to create a thick and deep tone that still had huge amounts of treble. This sound would be particularly useful to bands with only one guitarist, because it allows you to stake out a huge amount of sonic real estate.
The 20 watt Rex Bassking is the great lost amp of Australian music history, and you can hear the history and heritage with every note. It’s fun to play, looks great and is built to a very high quality standard. It’s bound to be an Australian classic and I can’t see the limited edition run of 100 lasting long in stores before being snapped up by boutique amp collectors and blues and jazz guitarists.
POWER: 20 watts
ELECTRONICS: Bass and Normal channels, 2 12AX7EH preamp valves, 2 EL84EH power valves.
SPEAKER: Celestion G12H
For more on Rex Bassking amps, check out OzValveAmps.com.