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.


VIDEO: My Bogner Alchemist demo

Here’s a little video of me test-driving the Bogner Alchemist 40/20 watt 2X12 combo amp.

For the first 2 songs I’m using my 2006 Ibanez Jem7VWH. For the last one, I’m rocking my Ibanez RG7420 with a Dimarzio Tone Zone pickup in the bridge and a Blaze in the neck. I plugged the Bogner into my AxeTrak speaker cabinet for recording, but the recording still sounds very accurate to the Bogner’s own speakers.

My review of this amp will be in issue 178 of Mixdown magazine, out this week here in Australia.

CLICK HERE to buy the Bogner Alchemist Series Tube Guitar Amp Head for $1,099.99 from Music123.

CLICK HERE to buy the Bogner Alchemist Series 212 40W 2×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp for $1,399.99 from Music123.

CLICK HERE to buy the Bogner Alchemist Series 112 40W 1×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp for $1,199.95

My favourite stuff of 2008

I’m back from my little Christmas exile, and I’m in a reflective mood, so here, for the heck of it, is my list of stuff I liked this year, in the world of guitar. 2008 was a pretty cool year for me. I wrote about a squillion articles for Mixdown and Australian Guitar, recorded a few tunes, wrote a huge batch of songs for my new band (watch out for us in 2009), interviewed Joe Satriani, John McLaughlin, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Page Hamilton, Max Cavalera, Bryan Beller, George Lynch and more, and started this here blog (with encouragement from the ever clever Mrs I Heart Guitar, who is an avowed blog-reading fiend).

2008 was also a pretty bitchen year for the world of guitar. We had releases by Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, the reunited Extreme, Guns N’ Roses, and even a freaking Van Halen tour (which never made it down to Australia or anywhere else outside North America for that matter… hopefully that will be rectified in 2009, but I shan’t be holding my breath for that one). There were also some very cool gadgets released during the year. So here’s my list of cool stuff in 2008. Click on any of the links to buy the stuff if you like.

General stuff

Meeting Paul Gilbert in person after many years of email communication and two interviews – he was just as cool as I could have hoped.

Hearing from Mike Keneally that he’d checked out my blog. In an email he said “Your website is EXTREMELY readable! Lots of cool articles.” I think I still smile in my sleep about that one.

Attending an album preview party for Trivium, and almost accidentally making a baby with the back of Corey Beaulieu’s head thanks to an uncomfortably posed photo.

Buying a crapload of new pedals while the Australian dollar was at 98 US cents. I went on an MXR spree and bought a Dyna Comp, Custom Audio Electronics Boost/OD, EVH Phase 90, Carbon Copy Analog Delay, and Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz. Now the dollar sucks again, so I’ll have to hold off on buying a Dunlop Buddy Guy wah and an eBow until it recovers. Dammit.

Music

Extreme – Saudades de Rock

After going their separate ways to join Van Halen (Gary Cherone), farm alpacas (Pat Badger, and with a name like that how could he not be an animal lover?) and release stunningly awesome albums under various band names like Population One, Mourning Widows and Dramagods (Nuno Bettencourt), these guys finally got back together for one of the best rock albums of 2008 and one of the best moments of their eclectic career. I freaken love Nuno’s guitar tone here, all natural and gusty, and the live feel helps smack this one over the line as my favourite new release of the year.

Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson – United States

This unexpected new direction follows two highly successful instrumental albums from Gilbert. Sounding like a cross between Queen, Paul’s own solo stuff, and a tiny dash of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge-era Van Halen, the songs are memorable, the performances are powerful, and the shredding is noodletastic. You should also totally check out Gilbert’s ‘Silence Followed By A Deafening Roar’ CD, which was released earlier in the year. The link above will take you to CDJapan.co.jp, but you can also buy it at Amazon.com now too by clicking here.

Mike Keneally – Wine And Pickles

This album is a collection of alternate or extended takes, unused tracks and various bits and pieces, yet it feels like a cohesive statement which can sit just as comfortably within the Keneally canon as anything else he’s done. The best reasons to buy this album are ‘Feelin’ Strangely,’ an alternate version of ‘Backwards Deb’ with different lyrics and hugely differing mix to the version on ‘Dancing,’ and the amazing ‘Inhale’ with Lyle Workman.

Gear

Paul Reed Smith Starla

When I was a kid, I thought Gretsch guitars were the coolest freaking thing in the freaking world. All that metal stuff really looked like it did something, and I couldn’t wait to grow up and get my hands on one. Later my attention drifted to pointy Ibanezes and never really went back, but I still think Gretsches are cool, and the PRS Starla taps into enough of that vibe to make me say ‘dayum’ every time I see one. PRS, if you can find a way to make a Bigsby perform just like a Floyd Rose without changing the look at all, I’ll let you rebadge the Starla as my signature model. Just putting it out there, okay? Cool.

Ibanez FR series

Yep, I’m an Ibanez geek. What can I say? The second I saw Steve Vai hoist that heart-shaped triple neck guitar on David Lee Roth’s ‘Just Like Paradise’ video in, what, 1988 or something, I was hooked. Having said that, I’m not just into spiky neon metal axes, and my favourite Ibanez in 2008 was the new FR series. These Telecaster-inspired axes feature a fast neck and modern pickup switching options while still carrying more than a little old school soul. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone with a lot of sway in the industry picks up one of these and declares it their main squeeze forever more. It’d be me but I think I need to sell some guitars before I even think about buying any more.

MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay

I’m not sure exactly when this pedal was released – it could have been some time in 2007 – but I got mine in mid 2008 and it’s one of the best delay pedals I’ve ever encountered. It’s stupidly simple: controls for delay time, number of repeats, and volume of repeats, plus a button which adds a light warble to the delayed effects if you wish (and a few internal controls to adjust this modulation effect if you wanna, but really, they seem to have selected the most useful settings at the factory). The repeats mush up in a gloriously lo-fi way, and they get muddier and noiser as you increase the time between repeats, but that’s part of the charm of this vintage-vibed, sparkly green little beauty.

Bogner Alchemist series

I haven’t even played one of these suckers yet and already they make me go all a quiver. ‘Real’ Bogner amps are kinda outside my financial reach at the moment, so it’s encouraging to see a Bogner amp out there which the majority of players can afford (I’ll be sticking with my Marshall DSL50 cos we’re totally in love, but that doesn’t mean I can’t check out a hot amp from time to time, right? I’m sure my Marshall checks out other guitarists when I’m not looking). Anyway, the Bogner Alchemist series takes the vibe of the company’s far more expensive and covetous amps, and distils it into Asian-manufactured units for the player who wants to show off with a Bogner logo, but doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to hoist an Uberschall and Ecstasy into the back of the van for a pub gig.

So what were your highlights of 2008? Any gigs that totally did it for ya? Any new gear that you would hock your right leg to own? Favourite albums? Meet any of your heroes?

NEWS: Dave Mustaine signature Marshall?

In an update on the Megadeth forums, mainman Dave Mustaine dropped what appears to be a hint about a possible signature Marshall amp in the near future. Dave has used Marshalls off and on throughout his career, when not using a Bogner Fish, Rocktron Prophecy, or most recently a custom, not-available-to-the-public Line 6 amp.

In the posting on megadeth.com about preparations for the band’s next album, which will be produced by Andy Sneap, Dave said: “On the tech side, I am going to be continuing on with my Dean VMNT’s as my guitar of choice, and I will be using my Signature GHS Dave Mustaine Progressives 10-52 gauge strings, Jim Dunlop Tortex picks and my signature Dave Mustaine Live Wires by Seymour Duncan, and DigiTech‘s killer GSP1101. I am proudly using Marshall Amplifiers and Cabinets, and boy do we have a surprise for you, but I will leave that up to the noble Marshall family to say.”