Nuno Bettencourt has always had an ear for punchy, listenable distortion tones. Check out his sound on the Dramagods album Love, or Extreme’s latest, Saudades De Rock, for great examples. Nuno’s standard combination of bare-wood guitars and high output pickups means his amps need to be able to handle the kind of ultra-fine tonal detail that such features demand. and after years of collaboration, Nuno and Randall have introduced the NB King 100.
The NB King 100’s styling is unmistakable: it simply looks unlike any other amp in the world. For starters, all of the controls are over on the right hand side (the left features a badge of the logo for Nuno’s post-Extreme band Mourning Widows – and dude, you really have to check out their two albums), and the control panel is dominated by a seriously oversized volume knob and a VU meter. The design scheme is mirrored on the matching speaker cabinet. The matching NB412 speaker cabinet includes four 12″ Celestion Greenback 30s and is made from 3/4″ void-free birch plywood. It’s also freaking heavy.
This 100 watt amp is driven by a quartet of EL34 power tubes. There are two channels – Clean and Overdrive – plus a switchable Solo section. Controls on each channel are Bass, Middle, Treble, Volume and Gain, while the Solo section has only Level and Gain controls but makes use of the Overdrive channel’s tone stack. The Overdrive section incorporate a unique IC (integrated circuit) design which works in conjunction with the preamp tubes to create an inbuilt version of an amp-plus-overdrive-pedal sound. Around the back you’ll find MIDI in and out, an effects loop (not MIDI switchable – bummer) with a line/instrument level switch; bias points; and speaker outputs.
The NB King 100’s clean channel is really interesting (and I don’t mean that sarcastically). You can dial in some sparkling but somewhat compressed ultra-clean sounds with a nice shimmer to the high end and a good amount of ‘string zing,’ but crank up that gain control and you’ll get a smooth, creamy overdrive without a hint of malice in the high end. It’s great for classic rock and blues, and you can even get some interesting country tones out of it, as Nuno does on the track “Take Us Alive” from Extreme’s most recent album, Saudades De Rock. Some players will never need to stray from this channel, especially if you’re into the blues.
That said, the Overdrive channel is the real star here. If you want Metallica Black Album-style crunch, it’s here. If you’re after hot-rodded California tones, they’re here. If you want Nuno’s distinctive rhythm tone, well, you’ll still need a Bill Lawrence L500 pickup like you’ll find in Nuno’s signature Washburn models, but the tone is still very ‘Nuno.’ The low end is tight, the high end cuts without hurting your ears, and the midrange is full, present and woody. There are a few very usable tones available here but perhaps the best one is achieved by simply turning everything to 10 – try that with some other amps and they’ll sound like absolute ass, but here it really works. Palm-muted notes are punchy and percussive while chords have a definite bite to them. It all cleans up nicely from the guitar’s volume pot too.
The Solo boost, however, is a bit of a letdown. Think of it as a separate set of gain and volume controls for the Overdrive channel, rather than something particularly tailored to a lead sound, although Randall promotes it as providing ‘unparallelled harmonic sustain.’ It’s great for a volume boost for solos, and it’s nice to have two levels of gain available at the tap of a foot, but I feel like more could have been made of this channel. At the very least, a pedal-style tone control would be a welcome addition as it would allow you to shave off some of the amp’s treble, which works great for rhythm tones but which can make leads sound too hairy. This channel feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Dissatisfying solo boost aside, the Clean and Overdrive channels are more than good enough to sell this amp with. If you’re a Nuno fan you’ll appreciate the up-front punch and scream of this amp, but you don’t need to be a Nuno freak to enjoy the amp or even its retro-cool styling. It sounds great for blues, hard rock and some kinds of metal, and it plays very nicely with overdrive pedals if you choose to achieve your lead sound by goosing the Overdrive channel’s preamp.
[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]This is an extended version of a review originally published in Mixdown magazine.[/geo-in]
[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]Want your own? You can buy the Randall NB King 100 from Music123 here.[/geo-out]