Review: Randall NB King 100 Nuno Bettencourt Signature Series Amplifier
Randall Amplifiers, randallamplifiers.com
The NB King 100 is an ideal centerpiece for a massive stage rig.
Randall has a long and successful history of providing some of the most celebrated guitar heroes with highly specialized amplifiers. Dimebag Darrell was renowned for his extensive use of solid-state, über-gain Randall heads, and Kirk Hammett and George Lynch currently use their own Signature Series Randall MTS (Modular Tube System) amplifiers. Recently, Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt stepped into this fold with his own custom-designed Randall masterpiece. Bettencourt’s NB King 100 is an all-tube, 100-watt retro-modern dual-channel amp that boasts a uniquely shimmering Clean channel, Marshall-style gain voicings, Boost mode, a programmable MIDI footswitch and speaker-melting gain reserves.
The new Randall’s look is a cool and thoughtful departure from traditional amplifier styling, falling somewhere between a Forties-style radio face and a piece of science test equipment. It’s hard not to think of Back to the Future when this jewel of engineering is at your fingertips. The backlit VU meter may be more decorative than practical, but it accurately displays the amp’s output power in real time. The grille face, to the left of the control panel, is secured with a group of hook- and-loop patches that makes removing the panel easy. This gives access to the four EL-34 power tubes, making it easy to replace them without removing the rear panel.
The control panel layout is divinely simple: the Clean and Overdrive channels each have their own bass, middle, treble, level and drive attenuators, while the Solo mode shares the Overdrive channel’s voicing and features its own level and drive knobs. The enormous master dial sets the amp’s ultimate output. The two channels and the Solo mode can be switched with the front-panel push-button, which also doubles as a MIDI store switch, or the three-button programmable MIDI footswitch. Of course, the beauty of this footswitch is that it can also be used to trigger outboard MIDI-compatible effects. Rear-panel features include MIDI In and Thru jacks, bias test points for power tube adjustment, send and return effect loop jacks with a level switch, and three speaker output jacks.
The Nuno head’s Clean channel tones are big and bright, but not with a harsh or annoying presentation. Funk and blues shine through, with sparkling, detailed presence, especially when using a neck-position single-coil or P-90 pickup. Bridge-position humbuckers can quickly push the channel’s treble-rich overtones to unpleasant levels, but they sound ideal when the Clean channel’s drive level is maxed, transforming the channel’s angelic chime into a “plexi”-style crunch. These are the exact tone signatures that most people will remember from Nuno’s late-Eighties work with Extreme.
The Overdrive channel delivers its thick distortion with more grit than snarl, excelling at low-register note definition. It’s delightfully dirty, raunchy and notably aggressive in the upper midrange. Shredders aren’t going to flock to this amp because it largely lacks compressed saturation, but players who enjoy a touch-sensitive, open-harmonic experience will find this style of distortion very satisfying.
Engaging the Solo boost viciously extends the bass presence and grainy distortion characteristics, much like using an old distortion or fuzz box in front of a Marshall-style amp. These edge-of-destruction tones make speaker choice critical. The NB King 100’s matching cab is loaded with Greenbacks, whose relaxed tones complement the amp’s penchant for teeth-clenching mids and highs. My results were almost as good with Celestion 30s, but any speaker above that wattage rating—like the 70s, 75s, 80s and 100s that I tried—unglued the tone’s grit from the grind.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In true Randall fashion, the Nuno Bettencourt NB King 100 is an oddly distinctive and exciting tube amplifier. The simple control layout, with its functional and decorative VU output meter, is a joy to operate. Shimmering EL34-derived tones span funk, blues, rock and old-school metal genres, with more raw tube expression than refined circuit compression. Add in the programmable MIDI footswitch, and the NB King 100 is an ideal centerpiece for a massive stage rig.
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