Ibanez offers a full selection of guitars, basses, acoustics and even pedals, but one essential item long missing from their lineup was a full-powered, pro-quality tube amp. The company imported Laney amps (Tony Iommi’s weapon of choice) into the U.S. for a while and builds a variety of solid-state amps, including the Tone Blaster Series and highly regarded Troubadour acoustic guitar amps. Still, the head honchos at Ibanez have long known that a fire-breathing, metal-melting tube amp bearing the Ibanez name was exactly what the company needed to boost its reputation over the top. With the introduction of the TN120 Thermion amp, Ibanez’s mission is finally accomplished. The unusual name means “electrically charged particle,” although Ibanez curiously describes the Thermion as “weapons-grade amplification.” Playing through the Thermion could certainly be considered an act of aggression, so don’t be surprised if jealous guitarists declare you a threat when you add a TN120 to your arsenal.
With its perforated black-aluminum grille, illuminated logo, heavyduty metal toggle switches and black-nickel-plated input plate, the Thermion head not only looks like a high-end boutique amp but it’s built like one, too. Top-quality components, including sealed potentiometers, ceramic tube sockets and heavy-duty transformers, are featured throughout the TN120’s construction. The TN412 4x12 speaker cabinet features a genuine cane grille, metal carrying handles and 5/8-inch birch plywood construction. Ibanez obviously built the Thermion with gigging musicians in mind. The head has three handles, so you can either heft this 50-pound beast yourself or share the load with another person. The cabinet’s carrying handles are positioned in the center, so the weight is evenly distributed. when it’s lifted, and its oversized casters make it easy to roll over any surface, including unpaved parking lots (for those gigs at the American Legion). Even the cabinet’s angled corners and head coasters are constructed from metal to survive years of constant abuse.
Four matched Ruby Tubes 6L6GC output tubes provide 120 watts of power, and five 12AX7A tubes drive the preamp section. Ibanez maintains that the Thermion’s design is 100 percent all-tube, with no solid-state devices in the entire signal path, even the effect loop. If you prefer a tighter, chunkier sound, you can easily swap 6550 tubes for the 6L6s thanks to a convenient switch and external bias adjustment interface that lets you set proper bias without removing the amp from its chassis. Two channels—Vintage and Hot—provide the usual selection of independent volume, gain, bass, mid, treble and presence controls. More unusual features are the Vintage channel’s bright switch, which features normal, bright and brighter settings, and the Hot channel’s damping switch, which lets you select between classic tube warmth or a more modern tight distortion with extremely fast attack.
Channels can be switched with the included heavy-duty footswitch (which also controls the damping function and effect loop) or manually via a toggle switch conveniently located on the front panel—very helpful should you ever misplace the footswitch. The effect loop includes a blend/series switch so you can select a 50/50 mix of dry and effected signals or 100 percent wet. It also has a 0dB/-20dB switch for matching levels with stomp boxes or rack processors. Should you desire even more distortion, the effect loop can be used as an additional gain stage on both channels.
The Thermion’s front panel sports a single input jack with a high/low-impedance switch replacing the usual high- and low-input jacks. In addition to the logo, the entire control surface is illuminated by the golden glow of LEDs, allowing you to make adjustments even after an uncooperative soundman has killed the stage lights.
The main problem with many high-gain amp heads is that they generally only excel at high-gain tones. While the Thermion’s Hot channel blasts extreme distortion tones that can compete with some of the most popular amps on the market, its Vintage channel lives up to its name by delivering surprisingly smooth clean and raunchy overdrive sounds. Dialing in sounds is easy. If you want classic crunch, crank the Vintage channel’s master control all the way up and slowly boost the gain. If you want tight, heavily saturated grind, turn up the Hot channel’s gain and set the dampening switch to “in.” The two channels are completely independent, so you don’t have to worry about settings on one channel affecting the other. The Thermion’s low end is exceptionallytight and focused perfect for modern metal tones. Thanks to the Vintage channel’s three-position bright switch, it can also generate more treble than the average head.
The “brightest” setting is not for the weak of heart and can be very piercing at high volumes. I don’t recommend it unless you want to make a hollowbody stuffed with wet rags and strung with 30-year-old flatwounds sound like a Tele.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ibanez took their damn sweet time adding a tube amp to their line, but the Thermion is well worth the wait. Its highgain tones compare favorably with expensive boutique amps like Diezel and Bogner, yet it sells for a mere fraction of the price and is built to last. Ibanez’s “weapons-grade amplification” description is apt: this amp absolutely kills the competition!