By Jack Devine
Welcome back readers! Here’s part II of our column on Sommatone amps.
For those who are late to the party, we’re taking Jimmy Somma’s newest design for a spin. The Outlaw.
The latest offering from the Sommatone workshop, the Outlaw, is a high gain head designed with one purpose…kicking ass. Utilizing a pair of 6550 power tubes and 4 12ax7s in the pre-amp, the Outlaw produces a lot of gain and plenty of volume. The head is voiced and dressed in a distinctly “rock” manner, perfect for modern, heavy, in your face, crunch tones.
Like it’s stablemate the Roaring 40, the Sommatone Outlaw is built on a heavy gauge welded aluminum chassis. Once again we see top quality components and construction through out. A handwired turret board, Hammond transformers and a pair of 6550’s crank out 70 watts of power. The amps solid state rectifier, and overbuilt power supply in conjunction with the Hammond transformers give the Outlaw a ton of heft and tight, low end punch. Yet somehow this amp still feels organic and musical full of rich, tube crunch. I quickly noticed how defined and clear the tone was, even with lots of gain. Transient response and attack are very clear and percussive with the amp, making it an ideal choice for rhythm guitar.
Once again the controls are intuitive and effective. The amp has a gain and a master volume. These two work together to determine the amount of drive and overall volume. There are the usual controls for Treble, Middle and Bass frequencies, as well as one called Focus, which changes the amount of negative feedback to the power tubes. Effectively tightening up the low end when using dropped tunings with humbuckers.
I liked the way the feel of the amp as much as it’s sound. Some high gain heads seem to only work for one application, but I was impressed at the mid gain crunchy sounds and the lead tones on tap too. The overriding vibe of the amp is that it’s tight, fast and articulate with as much gain as you could want. It does like to be driven hard. With the gain up this thing gets very thick and intense, but there’s still a tonefulness there at the core of the sound. I think it sound best with the Master volume at around 12 noon.
The clip shows the amp doing it’s thing pretty well I think. There’s one track of guitar playing big crunchy rhythm chords in drop D. Here the gain is at two o’clock for that track and it was recorded dry through my 2x12 Scumnico cabinet miked with a 414. I had the focus knob on just a little to shave off some lows so that things stayed tight in the low end. I knew I’d be double tracking certain sections and this really helped keep it punchy. I used my 335 on the bridge pickup. The guitar on the right side of the mix is the same 335 with the neck pickup volume off and a wah wah pedal in line. The amp is set the same as the other track to create the doubling effect during the intro and verses. I used a little delay to create a little space during the breakdown section and to exaggerate the off/on toggle switch trickery in the chorus section. The lead track was played on an SG Junior with a single P90 pickup in the bridge. I used a different cab for this track, a 4x12 with G-12 H30 speakers, and found the amp sounded better with darker speakers. The Gain is full out on the lead track and the Treble is set at noon, while the Middle and Bass knobs were up around four o’clock. I miked the 4x12 at a distance with the 414 again and, like the other tracks, ran it into my Chandler Limited mic pre-amplifier. I added a little delay and reverb in Pro Tools to add a little space and ambience for the solo/melody.
There’s a lot of grunt and crunch in the amp, which makes it a real natural choice for rhythm playing. But, an abundance of upper order harmonics allows for playing aggressive lead guitar too. My only gripe relates to the amp's lack of clean headroom, but then again…that’s not what this amp is about. So it’s not really a gripe so much as a heads up to potential buyers. This sucka likes to rock…not play nice. So, if you play loud, modern rock or metal, and are in the market for a new amp, this amp bears serious consideration.
It’s nice to see Jimmy Somma taking the time to design circuits that optimize the amp for specific genres and end users. The Outlaw and the Roaring 40 live in different wings of the Sommatone estate, and represent different tonal factions. The exciting thing is that Jimmy has managed to do both sounds justice and present us with new options as players. That’s why I like Sommatone amps I guess.
Stay tuned and stay positive.