After Kevin Holbrook and rock guitarist Tommy Skeoch began working on a custom amp, the former took several trips to visit the latter, lugging prototypes between California and Florida. But, the mastermind behind Holbrook Guitars and Amplifiers was ultimately rewarded with something unique in a crowded sea of boutique amps.
Based loosely on Skeoch’s modified ’70s Marshall 2104 and a classic Marshall 50-watt plexi, the hand-wired Holbrook TS50 Tommy Skeoch Signature Head offers an ultra-high-gain “exceeds 11” dual-control preamp and a Metroamp zero-loss effects loop. The TS50 is available in a variety of tolex colors, but the tester arrived in white with gold piping dressing up its Mojotone cab and heavy-gauge steel chassis. Components include Classic Tone transformers, Allen Bradley resistors, Synergy Royal Mustard capacitors, Cliff jacks, CTS tone and gain pots, and a PEC master-volume pot. The tube complement includes three Sovtek 12AX7s in the preamp, a JJ cathode follower, and a pair of Tung-Sol 6550s in the power section, producing 50 watts.
The TS50’s face-plate layout consists of Power and Standby switches, dual Gain controls, and a tone stack to tweak Presence, Treble, Middle, and Bass. The rear panel has an impedance selector, dual speaker jacks, effects loop in/out (with bypass toggle), and a detachable power-cord socket.
The TS50 was tested with a Marshall 4×12 cab with Celestion Vintage 30 drivers, a Les Paul Standard with Burstbuckers, a Fender 1960 reissue Strat, and a reverb pedal patched into the effects loop.
With the Strat plugged in and the Gain controls on lower settings, the TS50 captured that classic, open Hendrix plexi tone – ringing chords and singing single notes. Turning up the Gain gradually pushed the overdrive into a lush supersaturation while it maintained good note-to-note clarity and separation.
With its British-sounding saturated overtones, punchy midrange, and ton of chime, the TS50 is classic plexi. With both guitars, its tone stack responded in a smooth, subtle manner, offering enough control without over-coloring. And the dual Gains offer thick, blistering overdrive to accompany near-infinite sustain when cranked – no need for an external OD pedal to push the front of this amp.
Speaking of, that front end proved very touch-sensitive, cleaning up nicely by altering pick attack or rolling back the guitar’s Volume. While the Master Volume did a good job ratcheting-down overall volume, with the master dimed, the amp absolutely sang with overtones. The effects loop performed well, too, adding no noise and robbing no signal or gain.
Lest you think the Holbrook TS50 is just another plexi clone, our takeaway was that it’s more like a plexi’s slightly evil twin with a “goes to 11” attitude and plenty of overdrive, while never losing that plexi chime and vibe. All those miles logged by Holbrook were well worth it.
This article originally appeared in VG April 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.