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Review: PRS Sonzera 20 Combo Amp

(Image credit: PRS Guitars)

GOLD AWARDGuitarists frequently ask me to recommend a gig-worthy combo amp that sells for less than a thousand bucks. The question is never quite that simple though, as players often stipulate that they need great clean tones with plenty of headroom and that work well with pedals, a solid overdrive/distortion channel that really projects on stage, and really good reverb would be nice, too.

While there are a few amps on the market that meet those requirements, the new PRS Sonzera series has jumped to the top of my list of recommendations.

The PRS Sonzera 50 Combo is particularly well suited to the stage, but my personal choice would be the Sonzera 20 Combo for its smaller size that’s easier to haul to gigs, lower output that’s better suited for the studio and its “American-style” voicing thanks to its 6L6 power tubes (the Sonzera 50 features EL34 tubes).FEATURES
The Sonzera 20 is an all-tube 20-watt combo with a single Celestion V-Type 70-watt 12-inch speaker housed in sort of a hybrid open/closed back cabinet. The tube complement includes the aforementioned pair of 6L6s along with one JJ ECC83 and three Ruby 12AX7AC5 tubes for the preamp, overdrive and reverb sections. What’s really cool is that the Sonzera 20 Combo offers features like three-spring reverb (instead of digital reverb), custom-wound transformers, and even rear-panel mounted bias adjustment section with test points—the kind of features usually found only on amps costing more than twice as much.

Each of the two channels have their own independent EQ controls, with the Clean channel providing bass and treble controls while the Gain channel offers bass, mid and treble controls. The Clean channel also has a volume control, while the Gain channel has level and drive knobs plus a bright switch.

Both channels on the Sonzera 20 share the presence and reverb controls. The rear panel provides five 1/4-inch speaker output jacks (16-ohm, a pair of 8-ohm and a pair of 4-ohm), 1/4-inch mono effects loop send and return jacks and a 1/4-inch footswitch jack for the included PRS FS2S footswitch controller for switching channels and turning the reverb on or off. A mini toggle located on the front panel also allows users to switch channels manually.PERFORMANCE
If I had to pick just one word to describe the tone of the Sonzera 20 it would be “brawny.” The Clean channel is lusciously thick but crystal clear, and individual notes possess impressive body that makes single-coil pickups sound assertive and huge. The Clean channel starts to break up slightly around 11 or 12 o’clock (depending on pickup output) but even in fully dimed “crunch” mode the tone retains delicious sparkle, vivid clarity and lively dynamic response. This channel is the perfect platform for a pedal-based rig.

The Gain channel sounds even bigger and beefier, with fat but never muddy midrange that punches through a mix like a ninja’s fist. At its highest setting the Gain control pushes the amp just to the edge of super-saturated distortion, but the tone remains dynamic and uncompressed. The distortion is a little bit hotter than classic Seventies distortion, but not as over-the-top as a hot-rodded high-gain head. The tone controls deliver a wide variety of natural-sounding tones and textures.

The reverb is a revelation, providing sweet ambience and three-dimensional depth without smearing the definition of the tone whether clean or distorted. This is the best sounding spring reverb I’ve heard since the Twin Reverb, and it may actually be even better than that. When it comes to versatility and value, the Sonzera 20 Combo truly delivers with a full complement of features that all perform exceptionally well.STREET PRICE: $799

• Two fully independent channels provide punchy clean tones that work perfectly with pedals and overdrive/distortion tones with responsive dynamics.

• Three-spring reverb provides luscious reverb tones that provide impressive depth without reducing the clarity or attack of the primary guitar tone.

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Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.