Price paid: $ 389
Purchased from: http://www.surprisesoundlab.com/ssl-27_003.htm
Features — 10
The Rock Block is a 1 watt tube amp head that doubles up as a distortion pedal. The knobs that are available for tweaking your tone are: Gain, Volume, and output volume (I think this is for the distortion volume). Furthermore, there are a few switches that further tweak tone. They are: bass boost, (gain) boost, a "voice" switch and most importantly, the power switch.
The main feature of this tube amp is, well, TWO TUBES. The really big deal is that it's about 1.5 times the size of a standard stomp box. The tubes have 2 metal hoop/rails to protect them (but I will probably keep this in the blue drawstring pouch provided). The pedal is a rather striking blue. If that matters.
Sound — 10
I am currently running this into my full setup, which is:
Xotic SP Compressor --> Voodoo Labs Sparkel Drive --> Xotic BB Preamp --> TC Electronic Nova Delay --> Visual Sound Volume Pedal --> Strymon Blue Sky (borrowed from a friend) --> Surprise Sound Lab SE-5 (a speaker emulator) --> sound board.
The main reason for grabbing this amp, for myself, was the extreme portability. I do not have to break a single sweat from carrying an amp from gig to gig (dumb reason, it's just one trip. But I can be that lazy). But since I might travel and do "gigs" for mission trips, I somehow find much more comfort in using a real tube amp head compared to my Vox Tonelab ST (although I do love that pedal). Call me a purist, whatever.
The TONE! The most important part. I've heard that Vox users have sold their amps. I would be one of them, except that I'm a bit too busy right now to put my night train up for sale (and somehow I still have time to write this review, because I feel rather indebted to the manufacturer, Kim. More on that later). Suffice to say, it definitely fits my purposes, which is to find a tube amp tone in a portable set up.
Reliability & Durability — 10
This pedal is all metal. I think. 'nuff said. I'd consider using it for self defence, but I might want to take out the tubes first. I'm pretty sure those might crack over someone's skull. I really need to add that the service from surprise sound lab, which I believe is a one man show run by Kim (God bless his soul), is stellar. I was a bit impatient waiting for the amp to arrive in Singapore, but it came within a week or so.
As if it wasn't enough, Kim continued to patiently provide advice when I asked him about the amp. In all honesty, I'm writing this review even though I'm running a fever now because I think Kim deserves a stellar review for, firstly, thinking of and pushing through with a terrific product, and secondly, for providing such excellent service.
Overall Impression — 10
I play mostly church music, did a couple of gigs for pop rock. I use a telecaster, but I actually don't like the twang tone that much and my tone is actually rather fat. I've been playing for about 10 years, and I kind of became a tube amp purist after I got my Tonelab SE (hey, it really does sound tubey to me!)
The only question I asked was how much the rock block would cost if I bought an SE-5. In truth, I should have just told Kim to shut up and take my money. If it were stolen/lost... someone will get hurt real bad. But yes, I'd definitely buy it again. I love the TUBES about it the most.