Price paid: $ 900
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Sound — 10
My 2 main guitars are a 1991 Fender American Strat Plus Deluxe with a red burst finish, with Wilkinson roller nut, Schaller locking tuners, and a trio of Lace sensors Red, Silver, and Blue. My other guitar is a 2006 Schecter C-1 Classic with PAF style humbuckers. With either guitar the B-52 let's the natural sound of each guitar come through. The Strat gets that bright clean shimmer on clean settings, and sweet and tight attack with more distorted tones, and signing leads with lots of saturated gain. The Schecter has the classic humbucker oooomph, and it sounds best with very high gain to let the sustaining notes and heavy chords punch through. The versatility of this amps settings is very very wide and can get tones like many other classic tube amps. I can get nice clean shimmering chords similar to Fender tube amps with plenty of tube overtones that define a tube amp versus solid state. Solid state amps can be very clean, but often they sound clinically clean as they lack those upper harmonic tones that only tubes can give. At the biggest gain settings, using the "contour" knob this amp is in the realm of HOT Marshall amps, but to me it's got the more guttural punch and attack like a Mesa Boogie rectifier, and that's what really sold me on this amp. There aren't many amps that can do a smooth moderately distorted blues tone, and then light it up with monster gain like a Boogie. Another beauty factor is that this amp can maintain a great tone over a wide range of volume levels without losing the tone you just setup at a lower volume.
Overall Impression — 9
I play a very wide range of musical styles which means a wide range of tones form clean and light finger picking to hear the nuances of flesh on metal, to distorted electric blues, slightly broken dirty-clean fusion jazz, all the way to full bathed in high gain saturation. I do tend to really enjoy that ultra high gain tone while playing those other styles of music. I just love the added character of high gain while playing jazzy chords or blues riffs and solo's. It's different but I enjoy it. Over all this is one hell of a sweet sounding all tube amp that has an impressive arsenal of tonal altering ammo. It's an overlooked and under appreciated amp, and I think it's mainly because it sounds so much like the much more expensive recognizable names like Mesa, Marshall, Soldano, Fender, etc, but it's so much lower in cost. It's hard for people to accept and harder to appreciate the sounds and tones this amp can give at such a lower cost. And that makes for negative comments that attribute so much negativity to the B-52 amps. Yeah, they could be built a bit stronger, but the the prices would go up. Frankly, B-52 should consider a more robustly built line of amps to quell the fears of gigging musicians. Charge a bit more for the extra work, but make sure to keep the B-52 sound, which is easily comparable and right up there with all those other amp names.
Reliability & Durability — 8
I never used this amp to gig. It's strictly a stationary set up in a home studio and rehearsal space, so I can't comment on how well it will do on the road. I've heard and read from others that if you want to gig with this amp it's best to have a tech open it up and go through all the wiring and reinforce all the connections, then it hold up as well as any other tube amp. Besides, a tube amp really needs to be moved around with care even if it's a totally hand wired nearing $3000 Plus Vox AC. Tubes can be robust, but in a sense they are also fragile, after all, they are made of glass and that's not something you just bash around. My AT-100 has had no problems at all. It's quiet, no hum, no noise. More often than not, humming and other odd noises are not coming from the amp, it's usually coming from the guitar, cords, pedals, and all those other interconnect cables. If it's the amp, then it'll hum before you even plus anything into it. If it's quiet when fully on and nothing is plugged in, and then there's noise once you plug in, then looks to something other than the amp. Many people replace the stock tubes. I bought a whole new set of JJ's and some Sovtek tubes, but I never installed them as the amp sounds great as is. I might put the new tubes in just to try them out and hear what changes come about.
Features — 9
I purchased my AT-100 head and B-52 slanted cab in 2006 for $900 w/tax at Guitar Center. This is a VERY versatile and dynamic all tube amp. It has a great range of tonal adjustments and can sound great with shimmering clean overtones to downright drenched in gain. It comes with a nice foot switch to change channels and to turn reverb on/off. I really like the overall look of the AT-100 with nicely weighted knurled knobs, and the aluminum front plate with cool blue internal lighting. The slanted cab is nicely made and frankly loos and feels like most other 4x12 cabs. Granted the speakers are not higher end Celestions or other well known speakers, but for the price they are pretty darn good all on their own. The cabinet is made of 13 ply Baltic Birch, so it's not cheap, it's pretty darn solid and has great low end extension. The 4-12" speakers are non brand, but they are nice and tight and clear. If they can be faulted, then it might be that they handle the amps power too well and don't lend much "break up" to the overall sound, as some people may prefer. To me they sound just fine, though I've not tried the head with a different cab and speakers. A buddy of mine said he tried my AT-100 head with an old late '60s-early '70s Marshall cab and really liked the sound.