Review: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb
The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb guitar combo sees the boutique amp makers from Helsinki branch out into a new and interesting direction.
All the Bluetone models we have known thus far have been (and still are) produced as pure and genuine custom-made valve amplifiers.
This means that each new amp is ordered by the customer based on a certain Bluetone configuration on their website – like an à la carte-menu. The chosen model is then tweaked according to the customer’s wishes, and there are plenty of different options available – from the details of the amplifier’s internal specifications all the way to the type of finish of the cabinet and the font on the control panel.
Due to the nature of custom amps, such as these, every Bluetone Custom amp is built completely by hand, starting with a clean slate – meaning: an empty metal chassis, and an empty fibreglass eyelet-board.
The board is then riveted at the right spots to take all the necessary wiring and electronic components going into this specific custom order. Everything is soldered into place by hand (point-to-point).
This is a very involved and time-consuming process, requiring a steady hand and a keen eye, which of course is reflected in the price of a Bluetone Custom amp. The advantage of building this type of point-to-point amp is, of course, that it gives the customer free reign to have his dream amp built.
Bluetone’s dynamic duo – Harry Kneckt and Matti Vauhkonen – have recently decided to launch a second model range alongside their strictly custom-made amps. The new range will include a few models that will be made and sold “as is”, with only very limited options to choose from.
These new amps will be made using so-called hybrid boards.
Bluetone’s hybrid boards are very sturdy PCBs made of fibreglass, and are of a considerably higher quality than what you’d find in mass-produced valve amplifiers. Each component’s place on the hybrid is clearly labelled, and some of the “wiring” is already incorporated into the board itself. In contrast to many mass-produced affordable amps, Bluetone’s new range will see all tubes and transformers mounted securely to the metal chassis (like on their custom-made amps, too), and not directly on the PCB (like on many affordable Far Eastern designs).
The rest of the building process is virtually identical to the more costly custom-made amplifiers – the components are fitted to the hybrid board by hand (from the top) and hand-soldered to the board. Thanks to the hybrid board the new amplifier range will be much easier and faster to produce, which will be reflected in the pricing of the new hybrid amps vis-à-vis the point-to-point custom orders.
The first new Bluetone-combo is called the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb (approx. 1.500 €).
This compact and handy combo takes a lot of inspiration from Fender’s legendary “Blackface” Princeton Reverb (version AA1164), but due to the Bluetone’s many refinements you can’t really call the Black Prince a straight copy.
In addition to the basic version in wine red tolex, you can also order the Black Prince Reverb in genuine tweed, or with an oiled cabinet made from mahogany (both at extra cost).
I very much like the businesslike and sober look of the Blacktone’s front panel. Everything is clearly labelled, which can be a great plus on a dimly lit stage.
The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb offers two different inputs for singlecoil and humbucker-equipped guitars (High and Low). The EQ-section is a three-band affair, with an additional Bright switch to liven up dull sounding pickups.
Even though the Black Prince Reverb is such a compact combo, it still featured both a genuine, valve-driven spring reverb and a tube tremolo.
Bluetone uses a post phase-inverter master volume in most of their designs, because it has the least negative impact on an amp’s tone and feel.
There’s a Fender-style open back on the Black Prince.
The back panel sports outputs for additional speakers, as well as the jack for the combo’s two-button footswitch unit (included).
This is what the Bluetone looks like with the open back removed.
The Black Prince Reverb combo is an all-valve machine, loaded with the following tube types (from right to left):
The first 12AX7 is the combo’s preamp valve. The spring reverb circuit uses a 12AT7 and a 12AX7 valve. The 12AX7 works as the amp’s phase-inverter and tremolo tube.
The Black Prince leaves Bluetone’s workshop equipped with a pair of 6V6GT power valves, which will translate to about 20 watts of output. You can also re-bias this amp for a pair of 6L6GCs, which would boost the output to almost 30 watts.
This combo’s short reverb tank is supplied by MOD.
Bluetone have chosen a Warehouse Guitar Speakers Retro 10-speaker for their new combo, even though this model is distinctly different from the old Jensen speakers in vintage Fender designs.
This choice is, of course, deliberate and based upon many listening tests:
The WGS Retro, which is made to withstand far more output than this combo can deliver, keeps the Black Prince Reverb’s tones clean and dynamic under all circumstances. This speaker’s British character also makes the Bluetone-combo sound larger and fatter than you’d expect.
Oh, boy, this is a sound you cannot get enough of! At least in my case only a minute or two of playing the Black Prince was enough to make me consider getting myself in debt.
It’s hard to put into words what that special ingredient is, but this is what a clean electric guitar should sound like! This combo sounds clean, fresh and dynamic, but never clinical, cold or brittle. There a good dose of chime, but it doesn’t hurt your ears. The bass strings sound big, but never mushy.
The sound of the short MOD reverb tank is surprisingly dense and complex, and there’s more than enough of it to satisfy Surf Music fans. The Black Prince Reverb’s tremolo works like a treat, too, offering you anything from slow and soft to machine-gun mania.
Here’s a clip, recorded with a Fender Telecaster, gives you an idea of the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb’s dry tone, as well as its spring reverb and tremolo effects:
The Black Prince also excels in keeping your guitar’s own character intact. These three clips feature a Fender Telecaster…
…an Epiphone Casino…
…and a 1970s Japanese “lawsuit” copy of a Gibson ES-335:
This combo’s fantastic clean tone is a fantastic platform for pedal addicts. The demo track was recorded using an analogue chorus pedal, a tube screamer-type overdrive, as well as the amp’s built-in reverb and tremolo.
The rhythm parts were played on a Fender Stratocaster, while the lead was played on a Hamer USA Studio Custom:
In my view, Bluetone’s Black Prince Reverb is a top-drawer choice as a combo for use at home or in the studio. It’s also great for smaller gigs, when too much noise on stage can be a problem, or you can mike it up for larger venues.
The Black Prince Reverb is a nicely compact boutique-grade valve combo offering fantastic cleans, as well as fine reverb and tremolo effects.
This amp hasn’t been spoiled by unnecessary “tube voodoo” or distracting graphic. I’m all for the clean and understated looks this Bluetone has to offer!
This is a handmade, Finnish boutique combo, offered at a very fair price.
Bluetone Black Prince Reverb
Contact: Bluetone Amps
+ value-for-money ratio
+ handmade in Finland
+ fine spring reverb and valve tremolo
+ master volume-control