Illinois-based Butler Custom Sound recently introduced its Chicago Blues Box amp series with the blues player very much in mind.
Company president Dan Butler has repaired and modified countless tube amplifiers for many years, for many great players. From this experience, he has come to understand that most players would just as soon forget the bells and whistles and settle for nothing less than a reliable amplifier with enough raw guts to cut through a band mix and enough pure tone to ignite artistic inspiration.
Butler offers two amp models – the Halsted (18-watt 1×12″ combo) and the Roadhouse (50-watt 4×10″, also available as a 2×12″). We recently put to the test the bigger Roadhouse.
Physically and in terms of features, it measures up to its Fender Super/Bassman-inspired brethren, with its four 10″ speakers, two power tubes, reverb, tremolo, etc. But beyond that, it shares few aesthetic qualities with any other amp; purple tolex, matte silver faceplate and grillecloth, and Q-parts knobs with purple mother-of-pearl inlays all add a hot rod element to its streamlined two-tone appearance – just enough flash to make you anxious to give it a test “drive.” And when you dig a little deeper, it shows a personality and flavor all its own.
The Roadhouse uses five 12AX7 tubes (three in the preamp, one for the reverb and one for the tremolo), and a choice of tube configurations using 5881s, 6L6s, KT66s (which ours had), or EL34s, and the 5AR4 rectifier. The solid pine, fingerjointed open-back cabinet is loaded with four Jensen C10Q speakers in parallel/series configuration.
Front-mounted controls include a High/Low treble boost switch, passive Treble/Middle/Bass tone controls, Tremolo Speed and Intensity, a Reverb Level, and the Power and Standby switches. Parked on the back panel are a Harmonic Boost switch (essentially a power amp governor) and the footswitch and speaker jacks.
Hands Upon The Wheel
To test the tone of the Roadhouse, we recruited a Strings-n-Things single-cut loaded with Seymour Duncan single-coil pickups, a Carvin TL60 with three stock single-coils, and a Tradition S2004 with Alnico humbuckers (“Gear Reviews,” March ’04).
Plugging in, it was easy to get a big, open sound from the Roadhouse. And immediately apparent was its sensitivity to a player’s pick attack. With the Harmonic Boost turned on, the amp opened up even further, offering plenty of sustain without buzzy distortion or noise. The more we dug in, the more the amp reacted – exactly what a player likes to hear (and feel) in a “blues” amp.
Regardless of how hard we picked the strings of any of our test guitars, the low-end stayed tight right up until the volume control was dimed. On the other end of the spectrum, the Roadhouse cleaned up nicely using only the guitars’ volume controls, all but eliminating the need for channel switching. And any tone or gain changes can be also be accomplished at the guitar, or by simply altering pick attack.
The High/Low/Bright switch worked well when we changed guitars from the single-coils in the Strings-n-Things to the humbuckers in the Tradition. The switch added just enough sparkle to the humbuckers so we didn’t have to mess with the amp’s tone controls. The reverb and the tremolo were top-notch in terms of sound – the reverb is smooth, lush, and did not wash out, while the tremolo has a smooth, deep swell that doesn’t change the tone of the amp.
In all, the Roadhouse is a monster blues amp with a cool look and a very expressive tone. Keep yer’ eyes on Butler Custom Sound!
Butler Custom Sound Chicago Blues Box Roadhouse
Type of Amp Semi-open-back 4×12″ combo.
Features All tube circuits, point-to-point wiring, 20-foot power cord, reverb and tremolo, Jensen speakers.
Contact Butler Custom Sound, 770 N. Church Rd #1, Elmhurst, IL 60126, phone (630) 832-1983, www.chicagoblues-
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.