Bedrock Royal Series

Steve and G.E.'s Excellent Adventure
Steve and G.E.'s Excellent Adventure

One of the standouts at this year’s NAMM Show in California was the new retro series of amplifiers from Bedrock. Derived from an uncommon formula (in other words, not just another tweed Fender wannabe), and putting 100 percent effort into an original sound and look, the Royale Series literally had people crowding into the corridors for a look-see and maybe a demo.

The Bedrock Company, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, is one of the few amp manufacturers that straddles the line between being a boutique company (all amps are handmade from cabinets to electronics) and a “biggie,” with more than a few employees and a regular production schedule, just like Fender. Story has it that the entire Royale series is based on an older suitcase amp with the moniker “Symphony,” which was discovered at a TV store in Buffalo, which despite its age and funkiness, had a special warm sound and appeal to the ear of owner Jay Abend.

“We couldn’t duplicate the exact circuit, because it used oddball [7C5 output tubes] and some parts which were just plain unobtainable, so we designed our own circuit to try and capture that sound,” relates Bedrock designer Evan Cantor.

The results are mucho amp in a very small package. The baby brother, which we admired at NAMM and tested with G.E. at his loft, is the Royale Deluxe, a squarish combo amp with impressive aesthetics, including a two-tone blue rough-type covering (“Sealskin Vinyl,” for the uninitiated), appropriately retro knobs mounted on the top panel, and a very cool textured grillcloth that forms a real 1950s look. Very hip. The cabinetry is superb, using 1/2-inch Birch ply, with no extra glue or rough edges inside, and the speaker (our Deluxe had a single 12-inch custom Bedrock, while the Special has two 10-inch customs) is mounted with cleverly designed, formfitting clamps, rather than bolting directly through the frame.

“We’ve found that the clamp mounts allow for quicker speaker changes should one [speaker] blow onstage,” explained Bedrock’s Phil Pender. “Plus, the added benefits of better vibration damping and less deformation of the frame allow the speakers’ sound to be really heard.”

The electronics are… interesting. All high-quality components are used throughout, and the circuits of this class-A baby are all hand-wired. My favorite power tubes, twin 6V6s, are used to put out 28 watts using a twin 12AX7 preamp section with a 5Y3 rectifier tube. Paper bobbins and interleaved output transformer design are part of the formula contributing to the vintage sound.

The controls are intuitive and effective, consisting of a single input with volume, bass, midrange, and treble. The secret weapon is the cascading circuit, which is unlike Fender’s Western Electric and produces some potent tones with a broad range of guitars. A pull boost on the volume pot yields an extra gain stage that packs a hefty punch at low volumes, and delivers a creamy “woman tone” at high volumes. Yum.

Incidentally, Bedrock is about to put into production the big brother with onboard reverb, but their feeling was that most folks would appreciate the less-is-more approach that the Deluxe takes in its looks and sound. Besides, you can always use a separate reverb tank or a stomp box, right?

When I lugged the Royale into G.E.’s living room, his eyes bugged slightly, and he reached silently for a screwdriver. Now here’s a guy who loves amps! We investigated the innards (“Good job on the hand-wiring,” he pronounced) and went on to a fullbore test with an arsenal of guitars, including a Talk-ovich creation, a 1950s Esquire, and an early Les Paul Junior, looking pristine. (“This is one of the first ones Gibson made,” smiles G.E., “And it still looks like it was made yesterday.”)

At low volumes, the Royale Deluxe has a full, sweet sound with lots of overtones and character that was definitely its own – much tougher than a Fender Deluxe or Harvard, with better definition and balls. At higher volumes (sorry, neighbors and Mayor Giuliani) this little guy screams. The Talkovich sounded better, less dark, on the single-coil settings and gave us a glossy, balanced onslaught on chords with fat low end and an authentic crunch that was a delight to the ears. Switching to the LP Jr. opened up a whole new field of possibilities, with enough gain for blistering single note leads, and a rich blast with full chording.

“This amp really rocks,” agreed G.E.

Our only disappointment was a tube and screen-resistor failure, later diagnosed at the factory as something exclusive to the early prototypes like our loaner (production models have even higher-value components than the prototype and have not experienced any test or field failures).

“This series complements our full line of amplifiers, which range all the way from compact and affordable combo amps for the gigging musician, with effects loops and channel-switching [the 600 series has EL84s], all the way up to full stacks [the 1000 series],” Phil relates.

We were certainly impressed, and can’t wait for the Royale, coming soon with onboard reverb (I know, I want it all). Our test amp lists at $1,095, so while this baby ain’t cheap, it sure does sound purty. Check with your nearest Bedrock dealer, or contact the company directly at 1600 Concord Street, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701, or call at (508) 877-4055.

G.E. Smith wails away through the Bedrock on a spring Soho morning. Photo: Stephen Patt.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jun. ’96 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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