Kustom Double Cross Head
Originally published in Guitar World, April 2010
Kustom's Double Cross has a very useable and versatile clean channel, but the amp is best used for dominating a stage with overwhelming levels of gain and distortion.
Bud Ross founded Kustom Amplification in 1966 by combining his interest in guitar amplification with the hot-rodding attitude of California’s Kustom Kulture. His amps quickly became some of the most recognizable gear on the world’s stages, thanks to their padded Tuck ’N’ Roll coverings, which were offered in many sparkling colors, as well as flat black. The company’s diverse customer list included such acts as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Jackson Five, Johnny Cash and Herbie Hancock.
But Kustom never pushed its amps into the hot-rodded realm until amp designer James Brown joined the team a few years ago. Brown is best known for designing Eddie Van Halen’s original 5150 amp, and he’s now used his gifts to engineer the extreme high-gain Kustom Double Cross. This three-channel tube-driven 100-watter provides a multi-era tone tour—from yesteryear’s Kustom solid-state sounds to today’s crushing gain tones.
The Double Cross isn’t covered in sparkling upholstery, but the high-performance-auto theme is part of its look: fans of exotic road machines will recognize the Double Cross’ raked-metal fascia and tube-cooling honey-comb mesh as a nod to the wind-sucking grilles of today’s supercars. The glossy black Plexiglas control panel makes reading the descriptions and multiple LED illuminations easy.
The Double Cross generates 100 watts from its six 6L6 power tubes (EL34s can be substituted). That’s two more power tubes than what is usually required to generate 100 watts, but this design ensures plenty of headroom and bass projection. Five 12AX7s and a single 12AT7 fuel the ridiculously high-gain preamp.
The Double Cross has Normal and Tight inputs, each of which provides its own response (more on this below). The amp’s three channels are Rhythm, Lead I and Lead II, and each has its own hexagon-shaped knobs for volume, gain, presence, treble, middle and bass. In addition, the Rhythm channel has tone-shaping slider switches to boost the drive and brightness. The two lead channels have switches labeled Thick Stage, Tight Stage, Bright and Gain, which are uniquely situated on the arms of each channel’s Celtic cross logo. Activating the Tight Stage and Thick Stage circuits blends various 12AX7 tube stages that are optimized for specific tonal results. It’s an effective and organic approach to altering gain and response, and it’s different from the usual resistor/capacitor networks that other amps use to achieve similar results. The front panel also has master output control, a volume boost level knob and a manual channel selector.
The back end has send and return level knobs for the series effect loop, an XLR-style direct output with two speaker cabinet emulations and a level control, a MIDI connection and dual speaker outputs. The included five-button footswitch activates the three channels, effect loop and boost.
I was surprised by how different the Double Cross sounded when I switched between inputs. The Normal input provided a looser feel with comparatively scooped mids, while the Tight input increased the midrange attack and focus considerably. However, neither choice altered the amp’s great clarity and note definition. The Rhythm channel has a lot of gain on tap, but it’s also capable of delivering boneclean sounds and can be set up to overdrive only when the strings are hit hard. There’s an inordinate amount of treble and presence available in this channel, so it’s important to adjust the amp carefully.
Lead I is voiced for modern metal players and downtuners, and it delivers plenty of compression and evenorder overtones, plus enough buzzing gain to scare off a hive of Africanized bees. Tight Stage adds noticeable chunk and punch, while Thick Stage increases the overall density and harmonic bloom. Lead II is more for the old-school crowd that wants modded British tones mixed with intense gain tones. Its distortion style is almost identical to Lead I’s high-octane chainsaw tone, but there’s a wider dynamic range, more gain and greater clarity. Both lead channels can push the bass weight to rib-crushing levels.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Kustom's Double Cross has a very useable and versatile clean channel, but the amp is best used for dominating a stage with overwhelming levels of gain and distortion. Yet its thick tonality and searing delivery is musically pleasing and rich.
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