In the past six years we’ve focused mostly on used gear, but occasionally included new stuff that works so well it’s impossible to ignore. This month’s entree, the Trademark 60, fits the bill. This guitar amp sounds incredible, looks great, is lightweight with tons of cool features and a reasonable pricetag. This means, of course, it’s a Gigmeister-sanctioned piece!
According to the accompanying owners’ manual, the Trademark’s builder, Andrew Barta, is a New York City guitarist turned engineer whose first product, the Sansamp, became a big favorite of recording guitarists everywhere. The palm-sized amp emulator, introduced in 1989, allowed players preset authentic recreations of the Fender, Marshall, and Vox amps so beloved by electric guitarists everywhere. Best of all, these tones were authentic enough for many “name” artists like Mick Jones and Carlos Alomar to record exclusively with the Sansamp. What would happen if the same or similar circuitry was made available in a 60-watt combo amp? The result is the Trademark 60. Released with understated advertising about two years ago, the Trademark 60 has quietly become one of the most popular new amps in many years.
The Trademark 60 is a channel-switching amp, employing a 100 percent analog (solidstate) circuit which produces 60 watts into a 12″ speaker. What’s unusual is the active tone controls designed to help create those wonderful vintage tones aboard the Trademark 60. The top mounted controls, from left to right, include a single input jack, channel, and bite pushbuttons, Channel 1 drive, punch, and level controls. Channel 2 features a sweep pushbutton, drive, growl, level, while the Master section sports Link, Boost, Reverb, Low (bass) and High (treble) controls, pilot light, and the on/off toggle switch. The back panel has a three-amp fuse, headphone, eight-ohm speaker, effects send/receive, ground lift, A/C convenience, footswitch and direct out jacks. The back panel controls aren’t the most convenient locations, but they get the job done without making the amp hard to figure out.
Each Trademark ships with a laminated cardboard overlay with suggested settings. It’s so easy to get your favorite tone with no programming. I dialed in the American Combo (clean) and British Stack (dirty) and found a killer Fender/Marshall tone right off the bat. Regardless of the guitar type (Fender or Gibson), the Tech 21 sounds uncannily tubelike. You can mimic other amp tones like a Vox AC-30, Mesa Boogie, Polytone, etc. easily and accurately. The three-spring reverb adds an authentic touch without noise.
Barta must be a Gigmeister at heart, because this amp is dripping with cool features. If you’re recording in a sensitive environment, use the headphone jack to bypass the speaker. Using the dedicated Direct Out allows you to play as loud as you wish and still send a faithful representation to a mixer board, tape deck, etc. You can use a foot volume pedal on the effects loop and keep a shorter jack between the guitar and amp for maximum top-end clarity. This also allows two units (or more) to be slaved together – a terrific idea for big stages. The three-button footswitch works with any 1/4″-plug guitar cable, ending the need for a special type of footswitch cable. The three buttons are LED-equipped to visually remind you what is switched on or off, and the buttons are close enough together to hit all three simultaneously. At the same time, depressing only one switch isn’t awkward. Best of all, the footswitch allows you to 1) switch between clean and dirty sounds, 2) invoke the outboard effects loop, to add chorusing, echo, etc; and finally, 3) boost your volume without changing the tone. This third feature is so cool I wonder how I did without it all these years! How many times have you been playing a rhythm part when you needed a louder volume but with the exact, same tone? With the Trademark 60 you can do this easily. It works great “live” and even better on tape. A link feature permits you to boost the volume and reverb simultaneously, just the volume or just the reverb. The effects loop is quiet and permits footswitching an outboard effects unit. Having the A/C convenience outlet in back of the amp lets you put the rack device atop the amp and power your rig from just one power cord. Cosmetically, the black tolex and brown grill cloth with white piping recall many of the best classic amp designs. All corners are covered with chrome protectors and the amp chassis is stainless steel. Clearly, nothing was left to chance with this amp.
This little 36-pound wonder sounds incredible! Unlike some companies who make one-tone amps, the Trademark 60 is extremely versatile. The clean channel sounds wonderful, while the dirty channel runs the gamut from Vox to variac’ed Marshall stacks. Some of the sample settings include George Benson/Larry Carlton (jazz), B.B. King (blues) Clapton Bluesbreaker, Santana – Clean Rhythm/Lead, Stevie Ray/Metallica, Hendrix Little Wing/Purple Haze, and 4 X 12 Clean/Van Halen I. My favorite sample American Combo/British stack sounds incredible at bedroom or recording volumes. However, when playing live with my Yamaha SA-1100, I reduce the gain and distortion from the factory settings because it’s too muddy. Fortunately, the active tone controls permit you to customize tones without programming or scrolling though midi menus.
There are some frustrating things about the Tech 21. The amp may be rated at 60 watts, but it doesn’t sound like 60 watts. In fact, I have to elevate it onstage to be heard over my drummer. The company encourages giggers to run it through a PA system for greater coverage. I also wish the tone would remain the same as the master volume increases. Separate bass and treble controls for each channel might help in this area. The A/C cord should also be increased to nine (preferably 12 feet) in length.
These minor quibbles detract in no way from the Trademark’s performance. I like this amp so much it’s my main guitar amp now. You can find them new for around $525 – even less used, and they do crop up occasionally on the Internet. If you need one great sounding amp that’s light enough to carry in one hand and doesn’t take a degree to program, the Tech 21 company has made your amp. Happy gigging, friends!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’99 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.