Traynor AM Custom Amp Review

AG 230 February 2012 Cover

Posted by Adam Perlmutter

It used to be that electric guitarists had all the fun when it came to amps and effects while acoustic guitarists had a paucity of amplification options. However, acoustic amplification has become as sophisticated as electric, and there is now some awesome equipment designed for the acoustic guitarist who wants to shape his or her sound or be heard above the din of an electric band. An example of that is the AM Custom by Traynor, a Canadian company that has been in the business of making fine amps for nearly 40 years. The flagship of Traynor’s acoustic series, this 225-watt all-in-one powerhouse has the brawn and versatility for nearly any context, is easy to cart around, and, most importantly, possesses a very fine sound.

Impressive Construction, Outstanding Sound

When I removed the AM Custom from its shipping box I was pleased not only by its compactness relative to its power—at 121/2 by 20 by 13 inches, the amp weighs 35 pounds—but by its handsome looks. The oxblood cabinet covering, golden control panel, and crème and black knobs are very nice cosmetic touches. And with a metal speaker grille and ample corner bumpers, the amp feels solid and roadworthy. Containing high-grade glass epoxy circuit boards, low-noise metal film resistors, and gold-plated jack contacts, the innards are similarly top-notch.

At first blush, the top-mounted control panel, which contains more than two dozen knobs and about half as many plugs, was overwhelming. But once I plugged a Martin DC-28E with Fishman Aura electronics in to the 1/4-inch jack of the first channel, operating the amp was intuitive—perfect for operating on the fly in a live context. With the AM Custom’s tone controls—bass, lo-mid, hi-mid, and treble—set flat and its master volume at three, the sound is instantly rewarding, clean and clear, thanks in part to the eight-inch woofer and dual neodymium dome tweeters.

The basic tone is woody and warm and the amp does an excellent job of capturing picking- and fretting-hand nuances on everything from delicate fingerpicking to forceful strumming; it sounds just as good for Nick Drake–style fingerpicking in alternate tunings and Neil Young–approved bashing in E minor. And the EQ section allows for maximum tonal versatility. By boosting the highs I was able to add a stridency-free shimmering quality to some ringing open arpeggios and got a laser-like edge on some single-note lines in the upper register while retaining some woodiness in the sound. By minimizing the highs I got a sound befitting more subdued accompaniment styles and even coaxed from the Martin an almost archtop-like sound perfect for jazz soloing.

Like any acoustic amp, the AM Custom is not without certain limitations. It has a wide spectrum and a realistic acoustic sound yet doesn’t quite sound 100 percent pure. And it is no stranger to feedback at higher volumes. But I found this problem could be attenuated easily enough by adjusting the feedback notch on each channel, lowering the bass, or simply positioning the Martin farther from the amp. Feedback notwithstanding, it was clear that the amp will deliver ample volume for contexts ranging from a solo appearance in subway station to an electric band setting in a large club.

Versatile Effects and Input Capabilities

The AM Custom boasts 16 different built-in 24-bit digital effects, from a hall reverb to a compressor, handily configured in two separate units—one for channels one and two and the other for channel three. These effects will not suit every player, but a judicious application of one of the three types of reverb—hall, room, or plate—can add a nice hint of depth in even the most traditional setting. More radical effects include a harmonizer, which adds intervals of an octave or a fifth, down or up, and a rotary speaker, which re-creates an electric–organ–like pitch-shifting effect. While all of the effects sound lush and natural, more intrepid guitarists will wish they had more control over them. Each effect is adjustable only in terms of wetness and, via the modify knob, a single parameter—for example, decay time on the reverb. Also, it would be nice if a footswitch were included for the effects.

While the AM Custom has a low-noise balanced XLR out for sending your amplified sound to a PA system, singer-songwriters will appreciate that the amp itself can function as a PA system, able to amplify guitar and vocals at the same time. Channel three contains the 48 volts of phantom power required to use a condenser microphone. Vocals sound very good with a Shure SM58 mic plugged into this channel, especially when glazed with a touch of reverb, and the EQ and gain controls help achieve a perfect blend with the guitar signal.

For performers who incorporate prerecorded material in live performances, the AM Custom has an RCA input independent of the three channels that can be used to plug in a device like a CD or MP3 player, with the signal arriving at the amp directly before the master volume control. I tried this largely noiseless feature in conjunction with an iPod (and the required cable converter) and found that it makes a handy and fun practice tool for jamming with recordings.

Powerful, Feature-Laden Amp

Not every acoustic guitarist has complex needs when it comes to amplification, but for those who do, Traynor’s AM Custom has a boatload of features: three separate channels with dedicated EQ sections, two digital effects processors, phantom power, and much more. At 225 watts, the amp has an ample amount of headroom for medium-size clubs, and it can even be used as a PA system in smaller venues. Its super-solid construction and premium components will ensure that it survives the rigors of the road, and its outstanding sound will please musician and audience alike.

SPECS: Three input channels with separate four-band equalizers and feedback notch filter controls. 225 watts. Additional auxiliary RCA CD/MP3 input. 48 volts phantom power. Eight-inch woofer with two-inch voice coil. Two two-inch neodymium dome tweeters. 24-bit digital effects with footswitch. XLR pre-EQ DI output with ground lift. Post-EQ line output. Solid plywood cabinet with all-metal grille. 35 pounds. Made in Canada.

PRICE: $1,399 list/$1,119 street.

MAKER: Traynor: (716) 297-2920; traynoramps.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar February 2012

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