Mark Bartel was one of the leading lights of the boutique amp boom. His Tone King amplifiers had an enviable reputation for their wonderful sounds, stunning retro looks and astounding build quality. Now, however, Mark has left the company he founded and embarked upon a quest to discover just how well he can make an amplifier if the need to hit certain price brackets is taken out of the equation.
The result is a gulp-inducing investment, but with it comes an attention to detail that’s staggering to be hold. Getting to grips with the Roseland, it’s as if Bartel has spent a lifetime identifying all the things that have bugged him and figured out a way to fix them.
For instance, the tweed feels like smooth vintage tweed because it has been treated to five coats of hand-brushed lacquer. And while usually, chassis bolt heads sit in cups that often cut into tweed and tolex, here there are rubber spacers to protect the covering.
The tolex itself might as well be sprayed on because we can barely discern any cuts or mitre joins, and Bartel uses hide glue rather than contact adhesive. It’s preferred because it cures hard and doesn’t inhibit cabinet resonance.
Remove the back panel and you’ll see little rubber grommets in the screw holes to prevent vibrations. Inside the chassis, the build quality goes beyond world class into truly obsessive, with custom-cut, bevel-edged turret boards and drilled posts that screw into the chassis to route multiple wires in parallel like miniature telegraph poles.
Bartel is a long-time fan of early Hiwatt amps and the precision of his circuit layouts along with the neatness of every single component and wire make this influence very apparent. As well as cutting and drilling each turret board by hand, the man even moulds his own elegant control knobs – more swan than chicken heads in this case.
With 45 watts of 6L6 power and onboard reverb and tremolo, the Roseland is Bartel’s most powerful amp. Features include paper bobbin layer transformers, silver-plated wire, no negative feedback, a handmade leather handle and an interstage transformer coupled phase inverter of the type more commonly seen on high-end hi-fi amplifiers.
The way in which the Roseland operates is just as unconventional as its build. If you’re thinking there’ll be few surprises with just volume, treble and bass to play with, you couldn’t be more wrong. Beginning with all three set half way, we’re met with a big and room filling sound, with soft trebles and impressive low end girth.
Turning the treble up a touch and rolling off a little bass, we’re lulled into thinking this is just an unusually good Blackface-style amp with impressive clean headroom and improved touch dynamics. Then we test the extremes, and that’s where things start to get very interesting.
When the treble is pushed beyond about two o’clock, the Roseland’s increase in brightness is accentuated by a simultaneous bass roll off. The tone thins out, in a really nice way for mid-scooped chicken picking, funk and cleaner blues tones. You can actually adjust the treble and bass balance using the treble control alone.
So what’s the bass control even doing there? With the treble control set high, turning up the bass a little fills out the midrange while boosting lows, but it also cleans things up. You can compensate by increasing the volume and the Roseland eases its way from crystalline blackface mid-scoop into big-box tweed territory.
Crank the treble a bit more and the low mids begin to roar as the trebles shimmer over the top and we feel the ‘joy of sprang’. Next, we zero the treble and find that gain increases dramatically. There’s a thick, creamy overdrive with a midrange boxiness that evokes smaller, darker tweeds.
Rolling the bass back to minimum lifts the darkness while adding even more gain. Here, the Roseland delivers massive powerchords, huge overdrive and amazing sustain – always clear but without any hint of harshness or shrillness. It’s closer to the tonal ‘neutrality’ that we associate with single-tone-control tweed circuits.
Once you get your head around the way the volume interacts with the tone controls, the extraordinary range of clean and overdriven tones that the Roseland can produce using just three knobs becomes apparent. It may not be instantly intuitive, but you’ll soon get the hang of it and we keep stumbling on great settings.
Although the Ironman power attenuator that he designed during his time at Tone King is highly regarded, Mark Bartel maintains that his latest master volume design “goes beyond the limitations of other volume management schemes by preserving the harmonic balance and dynamic response”.
We think he has succeeded, because the Roseland retains tone and touch responsiveness all the way down to whisper levels. You can also knock back the master volume very slightly to soften transient attack. Clearly things will always sound best when there’s sufficient energy to induce cab resonance and speaker compression, but few amplifiers span loud clean and ultra-quiet overdrive as well as this.
The onboard spring reverb is another triumph, and having mix and dwell controls available is another huge bonus. It’s one of those rare reverbs that doesn’t clutter up the sound or obscure detail – even when it’s cranked all the way up. We particularly like the way that the dwell control can push the reverb into a gritty and splashy overdrive. Being able to mix a clean dry tone with overdriven reverb is glorious, but the Roseland can also emulate a high-end studio spring reverb if you prefer that sort of sound.
Great amp tremolo is really dependent on speed range and feel. We find that the rise and fall characteristics determine the playability – particularly at high-intensity settings where an excessively choppy characteristic can be detrimental to general playing duties. Bartel has nailed it and it’s hard to fault the depth and swampy vibe.
The Roseland is in essence the Bugatti Veyron of guitar amps. The finish, build quality and tone are at the very top end of the boutique league, but to own one you will have to pay accordingly. You might be able to pick up pair of very good boutique US amps for this money and, as with all luxury items, the law of diminishing returns applies. But that said, with just three preamp controls, the Roseland manages loud Blackface cleans, big and medium tweed tones, and classic British jangle and crunch – all in one package.
- PRICE £4,699
- DESCRIPTION Single-channel fixed-bias valve combo with reverb and tremolo. Solid Eastern white pine cabinet body with 12-piece baffle board built from solid Eastern white pine and African mahogany. Made in the USA.
- POWER RATING 45W
- VALVES 3x 12AX7, 2x 12AU7, 2x 12AT7, 2x 6L6, 1x 5AR4
- CONTROL PANEL Input socket, volume, treble, bass, mix, dwell, rate, depth, master volume, standby, power
- REAR PANEL External speaker socket with 4/8/16-ohm switch, footswitch cable socket, fuse, IEC socket
- SPEAKER Celestion G12 Alnico Cream Speaker
- DIMENSIONS 641 x 482 x 298mm
- WEIGHT 21.8kg/48lb
- CONTACT Coda Music www.coda-music.com www.bartelamps.com