One of my biggest concerns while traveling (either teching or playing) is having a decent and reliable amplifier to work with. If your band is doing one show or a short run that involves a lot of hectic travel you’re probably not going to have your normal rig easily accessible. Unless of course you have the options of relying on a friend to borrow their gear, or sourcing out a decent deal with rental equipment. Either way you go it’s safe to say that you don’t really know what sort of situation you will be getting yourself into. There could be shot tubes that you don’t know about, or even worse you could end up with a piece of gear that you would never normally play. There are a lot of popular trends in the gear world today but one that I hope sticks around for a while is compact and lightweight guitar amplifiers.
I have been on a quest for the perfect amplifier for festivals, one-off gigs, and as a back up for some time now. I can now safely say that I have finally found that small piece to the puzzle. Weighing in at two pounds, hailing from Santa Ana, California, I introduce to you the Quilterlabs 101 Mini Head. Now, a lot of you are probably wondering who or what exactly is Quilterlabs. Well, they are indeed gaining a lot of traction in the last few years with what they have been creating. However, they have been routed in the music equipment world since the early days. So first let me feed your brain with some background of the company before I get to the amplifier of today’s discussion. Below is a segment taken from the Quilter website that overviews the history of the company and it’s founder, Patrick Quilter.
QUILTER SOUND COMPANY
In 1967 a musician friend complained that a good bass amp cost five times more than the $250 he had in his pocket. Pat Quilter a college student with a passion for audio electronics agreed to give it a try. Before long “Quilter Sound Things” were beginning to find a place in the musical landscape of Southern California. Soon amps were placed in several clubs on the emerging music scene of the Sunset Strip. Musicians raved about them. “They were the loudest amps around, and only one out of four blew which was more reliable than most.” said Quilter of those early days. But despite some close brushes with fame and fortune, the race went to better known brands. And so the young company refocused on the pro audio market.
QSC AUDIO PRODUCTS
“One morning I got the call that someone had cut a hole in the roof and stolen our entire inventory. To add insult to injury, they took the time to cherry pick the good guitar strings.” Quilter recalls that this was a defining event in the partnership’s decision to change direction. This began one of the most impressive success stories of pro audio. Through the intervening years, Pat never lost his passion for what got him started in the business to begin with. His often heard quote, “Every spring, the sap would rise and my thoughts would return to how to get even better tone from solid state technology.” This passion would continue to burn for many years and late nights and weekends would often find Pat in his lab, surrounded by world class audio engineering equipment, diligently experimenting. Ultimately this led to a series of increasingly impressive prototypes, culminating in a now-legendary run of “Slantmaster” amplifiers, built to celebrate QSC’s 40th anniversary in 2008.
On the first day of 2011 Pat Quilter, along with a select team of industry professionals, announced the revival of a dream over 40 years in the making. Pat’s experience as a musician, a tube amplifier expert, and one of the foremost engineering minds in power amplification, has uniquely qualified him as the one man who can truly crack the code of solid state. This new generation of technology has unleashed a powerful new set of tools for guitar players that breaks through the traditional limitations of tubes or solid state. Called “Gen 3” by its inventor, it is an entirely new take on what a guitarist can do with tone. That is why it has attracted the attention of many of today’s top artists as well as many of the greatest legends of guitar history. It sounds incredible, it doesn’t let you down, it works under any condition you can throw at it, it is portable, powerful, doesn’t drift or change. This is the future of guitar amplifier technology, and the future is bright.
Well, now that we have the introductions out of the way, lets dig into this workhorse of an amplifier shall we? I should have prefaced this article by saying that this is not an amp simulator or “emulator” by any means. But, it does allow you to pack 5 of the best sounding guitar amplifiers into one small two pound enclosure that is no bigger than a Line 6 DL4 or Strymon Timeline guitar effects pedal.
It’s streamlined, allowing for easy setup, without worrying about bad voltage or tiny stages. All you simply have to do is plug it in, turn it on, and dial in your desired tone and you will be amazed as to what this small amp will do. Everything you thought you knew about tube amplifiers or amplifiers in general will forever be altered after hearing one of these amps.
Diagnosing the Specifications:
Let’s look at this amp from left to right. First we have the input Gain control. Pretty self explanatory, if you have ever used a guitar amp before then chances are you know what this knob does and how it works. Tri-Q allows you to have a flat EQ response right at twelve o clock, or you can adjust to either scoop the mids or cut the low end out entirely by adjusting clockwise.
Now onto the fun stuff, the Voice control knob. First we will start with the top setting known here as “Full Q”. This voicing delivers 50-watts of Marshall esque tones, cleans up nicely and can get you creamy saturation with a quick adjustment of Quilters “detent-o-touch” knobs to feel your way to the right settings. The “Tweed” voice is exactly what you would think it would be. Next up is where the amp gets a little more interesting. The “Jazz” and “Surf” settings kick out an additional 50-watts, so yes that does mean this thing has the capability of pushing out 100-watts. How is that possible? It’s pretty insane right? As you could also probably imagine, the “Jazz” setting is based on a clean solid state amplifier (i.e. Roland Jazz Chorus), while the “Surf” setting is reminiscent of a Fender Bassman. Lastly for all you shredders, the “Lead” channel goes back down to 50-watts for pure, unadulterated, saturated lead guitar tone.
Hi-Cut does simply what it shows with the EQ graphs depicted around the knob. All the way to the left is a flat EQ response. Working your way towards the middle you get more of the Hi’s cut out and as you continue to move the control up to 10 you cut out almost all of the high end. Pretty neat! I have noticed however that at low volumes the hi-cut sounds very hissy an almost digital like when turned all the way to the left (off). A simple solution is to just adjust the level up to eliminate that hi end hiss, there is basically too much hi-end and not enough power to push it out, so that’s why it sounds like that.
If you thought that this amp couldn’t bring you anymore features then you were dead wrong. For all of you effects junkies that rely heavily on an effects loop, this little critter has one built in directly to the front panel of the amp. I don’t think it can get any easier than that as far as effects loops go.
I have to be honest, one of the main components that sold me on this amp is in fact the power section. Now I’m not talking about the power section found on a typical tube amp (because as stated, there are NO TUBES). I’m talking about where you actually plug this thing into the wall to make sound. Everything quilter does has universal power, meaning you can take it anywhere in the world and it will work. All you need is the proper IEC cable for the country you are in. This also means you can turn this thing on without even having a speaker cable plugged in. Nothing will break or blow up if you accidentally turn it on without a load going in. That being said the this has dual 1/4″ speaker outputs for variable loads of 16 to 4 ohms.
What more can I say about this cool little amp? I love it and bring it with me everywhere as it’s an easy carry-on and I can plug in to any cabinet or interface that I want. I will be dedicating an entire episode to this amp as I demo all of the sounds it can achieve. I’ll use a few different guitars, some effects to showcase the effects loop and plug it into a speaker as well as direct in to my Focusrite 2i4 to hear how it sounds in a recording setting. Contact me if there is anything more you want to hear from that episode.
Reverb also published a great article recently about Patrick Quilter and the tech behind Quilter labs. Do yourselves a favor and check that out.