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Review: Headstrong Lil’ King Reverb Amp

There are far more choices than ever when searching for a guitar amp these days. Especially when it’s for recording.

The truth in this day and age is that most name brand amps are ghosts of their past. They tend to sell a lot of amps based on their reputation from decades ago.

For the most part, the major companies are mass producing their amps. They may look like the old ones, but when you take off the mask they bear no real resemblance.

It’s not just visual either. They don’t sound like the amps that built the name.

Eternal Flame

Luckily, there are some small companies like Headstrong that carry the flame.

I first experienced Headstrong Amps at Euphoria rehearsal studios in Manhattan. I had never heard of them before. I didn’t really have a lot of time to Google search or “cork sniff” the amp with the tech. I simply had to plug in and go.

This is often a great way to try out an amp. It doesn’t allow for any “prejudice.” I didn’t know exactly what tubes were in it. Or anything about the circuit. I knew it looked like a Blackface Fender.

Instant Fix

Personally, I need a certain amount of instant gratification from an amp. If I have to twiddle knobs for too long, I lose interest.

That’s not to say I don’t make adjustments. But, a great amp sounds good almost anywhere. Or should I say, you get a glimpse at the true character of the amp with the dials anywhere.

Hearts Content

I fell in love with the Headstrong amp. To the point where I would request it every time I returned to Euphoria. That amp never left my mind.

We Are Explorers

I had recently been looking for another amp to compliment my studio collection. I have some tweeds that have a rich midrange tone, but this time ’round, I wanted something with more of a 60’s Blackface mid-scoop.

I also knew I didn’t want anything too loud. My mind immediately went to the Headstrong amp I played called the Lil King Reverb.

Drew Me A Map

The Lil King Reverb is the AA1164 circuit (Blackface Princeton Reverb). Wayne, the owner and builder of Headstrong Amps, say’s he builds them warts and all to the originals. He wasn’t lying. It’s a dead on ’64 Princeton!!

I opted to have a 12” speaker instead of the standard 10”. This is a common upgrade for many guitarists. It came with a 50 watt Eminence Legend GB128.

I prefer the sound of bigger speakers and it helps increase volume for live settings.

The only other subtle change is the addition of a bias pot for easier adjustment. This of course has no effect on tone and is a long overdue upgrade.

Drip Drop

I wouldn’t say it’s an easy thing to capture that drippy Fender sound. I’ve played through several copies of these circuits and rarely is the reverb captured.

Headstrong nailed it. I don’t have to dime the reverb knob to hint at surf vibe. It reacts just like a real Fender from that era.

You’ll swoon over the tremolo in the Lil King as well. An instant teleport to the dusty Southwest.

Ground Control

The amp comes with a two-button foot switch that turns the tremolo and reverb off (who would dare!!). The footswitch has quite a long cable attached to it too.

I hate when companies are stingy with cable length. Cleary, this amp was built from a player’s perspective.

House Of The Rising Sun

An often overlooked portion of an amp is the cabinet. A lot of big name amp companies don’t use solid wood for their cabinets anymore. It’s often a composite of some sort.

Headstrong is using Finger Jointed Pine cabinets. This allows the cabinet to resonate in a very pleasing manner.

The original vintage cabinets were made this way. This has long since been discarded for mass production.

Starting to see the advantage of small builders?

Hot Tubes

The Lil King, just like the Princeton, has 6V6’s in the power tube section and 12AX7’s in the preamp section.

There is also a GZ34 rectifier tube. I prefer amps with a tube rectifier. There is a squishiness to the sound when the amp is pushed that I find desirable.

Tea And Crumpets

It’s not so loud that you’ll vibrate your landlord’s tea cup collection on the shelves (unless you want to). I can get a nice clean sound (that is not choked) at apartment levels.

The Lil King is a 12 watt amp. Don’t let that fool you though. It’s a loud 12 watts. You’re not going to be able to dime it in your home studio unless you live on the prairie.

Fieldworker

The flexibility of this amp is stunning.  I really haven’t had to struggle with this amp. I’ve used a variety of guitars, pedals and mics. All with desirable results.

Because it’s 12 watts, it’s more controllable. Meaning, you’re not going to plug in your fuzz box and send the roof to outer space.

It’s arguable that the Princeton circuit is the best all around recording amp. You can cover a lot of ground with just this one amp.

On recent sessions,  I have been showing up with just the Lil King Reverb. I have yet to switch amps mid-session.

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at guitaristmarkmarshall.com

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  • Jarrod Guth

    I have been interested in this amp for a while. Have you played out with it? I’m wondering how it would do in a live setting with only 12 watts. I love the Princeton cleans, but they are hard to keep in a live setting.

    • Mark Marshall

      it really depends on how much clean headroom you need. I’ve been using it live a lot. It’s rarely not enough. I like breakup, so it’s perfect most of the times. It also depends on the band. I play with moderately loud drummers and it’s clear. You may have a problem with a less finessed drummer. Having two guitarists and/or horn complicates things too. So far there has only been one gig I was able to dime it on. I’ve been using it in 50-300 seat rooms so far. If you like clean tones, you’ll prob need more watts. They also make a great deluxe.

    • Jarrod Guth

      Thanks for the reply Mark. I have been looking into the Lil King Reverb S for more headroom. I appreciate the help!

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