AMT Electronics SS-11A, SS11B & SS-10 preamps
This triumvirate of AMT Electronics preamps share a lot of common features, providing slight but essential differences for the discerning player. ie: obsessive tone geeks like you and I.
SS-11A & SS-11B PREAMPS
First let’s check out the SS-11A and SS-11B preamps. These fully valve-based 4-stage overdrive pedals each feature twin 12AX7 preamp tubes with three separate channels – Clean, Overdrive and Lead, the latter two appearing under a shared ‘Drive’ category. You can select between Clean and Drive with the chunky footswitch on the left, and toggle between Crunch and Lead with the right switch. There’s no bypass, but this unit is not designed to be used like an on/off distortion pedal. Each pedal has an effects loop which is always engaged. The pedals are designed to be used as a true preamp – that is, either feeding an amp’s power amp via a preamp input/effects loop return jack, or feeding an actual rackmounted power amp. There’s also a switch to select between amp and mixer outputs, so you can crank these babies through your desk either live or in the studio. The mixer output features a transistor-based guitar cabinet impulse response emulator to provide a natural-feeling response. I tested the pedals both ways – through a Marshall DSL50 and various AVID Mboxes – and the results were great either way. Recordists will appreciate the ‘plug in and simply sound great’ nature of the emulated out, while live players will dig the ability to completely revoice their amp by effectively excising their existing preamp and replacing it with one of these bad boys.
The Clean and Drive channels of the SS-11A and SS-11B are actually identical, according to AMT’s website, and the key difference lies in the voicing of the Lead channel. The SS-11A is the more classic rock friendly of the two, voiced a little higher in the midrange, while the SS-11B’s Lead channel is darker, chunkier and alltogether more metal-friendly, especially for rhythm guitar. It’s kinda ironic that a lead channel excels at rhythm, but hey, we all know metal’s all about killer distortion, right? Hehe.
So, those clean sounds. The SS-11 pedals have a very workable, responsive clean channel. It doesn’t quite break up like a full tube amp, but it’s not voiced to do so, and if you really need to those edge-of-distortion grind tones you can find them elsewhere in the pedal. The clean channel here is really meant to be just that, and it does it very well. It quite happily accepted the full range of my Ibanez 7-string, and while you can dial in a huge amount of bass, there seems to be a magic zone in which you get full, rich bass without overwhelming the other frequencies. You can coax nice acoustic-like depth and range from this channel, especially with single coils.
The Crunch channel is great at early 70s rock tones, especially when you keep the gain around the 10 o’clock mark. Chords have nice detail but also a great ‘bark’ which really responds well to transient techniques like slides and bends. Notes take on an almost three-dimensional quality. This channel is also great for the deep articulation required for Jeff Beck-style fingerpicking, and I put this to the test by plugging in my Fender ’62 Stratocaster Reissue and giving it my best ‘Live at Ronnie Scotts’ impression. Higher gain levels bring out tougher, edgier grind, up to some quite decent saturation, and you’ll get great metal distortion in the upper reaches, if you need to save the Lead channel for actual lead work.
So, on to those differing Lead channels. The SS-11A can be pushed into an almost fuzz-like rage reminiscent of a non-master volume valve amp being pushed into meltdown by an old-school treble booster pedal – great for Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin riffs. You can dial down this fuzz vibe and still be left with a great full, chewy, raunchy lead sound.
The SS-11B is voiced for a more modern sound, and it loves low tunings. The sound is a little chunkier and great for heavy rhythms (I tested this with my 7-string, hitting the pedal with the full force of the guitar’s low B string), and it adds a nice Eur metal sheen to lead parts. Go crazy with the arpeggios and harmonic minor scales on the neck pickup and you’ll see what I mean.
SS-10 GUITAR PREAMP
Now on to the ProStudio Series SS-10 three-channel rack mounted preamp. Much like the pedals, this unit uses 4-stage preamplification via two 12AX7s to deliver its tone via Clean, Crunch and Lead channels, which can be selected via front panel switches or the optional AMT FS-2 footswitch. The Clean channel has its own tone stack, while the Crunch and Lead channels share a set of tone controls. Additional sculpting is available for each mode via voicing switches. Around the back you’ll find jacks for footswitch, headphones, cabinet emulated line out (The cabinet simulator is entirely different to that of the SS-11A and B), output, an effects loop with level control, and an additional input jack (handy for keeping your rack tidy in the front).
The Lead channel is very punchy and powerful, and it loves being hit with hyper-fast licks so, y’know, unleash the shred god within! You can dial round, flutey tones or big bright growly ones, and the channel will hang in there and not mush up. The Crunch channel, by contrast, is not as sensitive as the Lead channel, and you can use this to your advantage by dialing in creamier, softer tones and thicker rhythm voices. You can then switch between the two. It’s also great that each channel has plenty of gain on tap, so you can go with either a warm rhythm sound and a sharp lead sound, or a dry, bright rhythm setting via the Lead channel and a smooth, vocal solo voice via Crunch.
The Clean channel has a nice sparkly high end and solid low end, with good natural compression. It stays mostly within the confines of ‘clean to very clean’ although you can get a little bit of snarl around the edges if you try very hard and use high output pickups.
So which one is right for you? That’s really hard to say! Whichever one of these preamps you choose, you’ll get high-quality, extremely interactive tube tone. It’s very cool that AMT has chosen to add such fine variations to the formula – each of these units sounds like each of the others to a certain degree, but they all have just enough variation that no matter what variation you require on the basic AMT preamp sound, you’ll find it in one of these units.