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I’ve been a fan of Mark Bartel and Tone King amps since the mid 2000’s when I purchased a TK Imperial.

Bartel recently launched a suite of amps completely revamping the circuits from the original TK’s and boy, this Sugarland does not disappoint. Compact grab and go amp weighing in at 33lbs.

The EQ/Preamp section appears simple with one volume, treble and bass knobs and one MV. This is where the non conventional aspect of the amp kicks in - when dialing in the bass and treble at 10, it produces a Blackface tone that sounds superb. Dial back the bass to 0 and the treble to 5, killer Plexi tones, treble to zero, raging Plexi. Tweaks to the treble and bass knobs will produce Tweed, Blackface, Plexi and even Vox tones. I pasted from the manual, the description of the Preamp.

Great sounding and beautifully designed amp.

Preamp
The preamp design was conceived as a purist 1-channel design with a minimal number of controls but capable of an unusually wide range of classic voicings. Voicings span from a sparkling late 60’s clean tone to a thick, to a woody tweed tone, to a crunchy plexi tone. This full range of voicings can be dialed in using only the bass and treble controls.
The bass and treble controls operate much differently than conventional tone controls. Of course, they perform their intended function (i.e. turning the treble control up give you more treble, etc.), but they also simultaneously affect other parts of the frequency spectrum and affect gain/headroom as well.
If you turn the bass and treble controls all the way up, you obviously get a tone with a lot of bass and a lot of treble, for a “mid-scooped” voicing that’s very much like the classic 60’s clean tone (e.g. Deluxe Reverb for example). Since this type of setting is usually best for clean tones, you’ll find that the overall gain is lowest at this setting, for maximum clean headroom.
If you turn the bass and treble controls to their midpoint (5), you get less low bass and less high treble, which has the effect of making the midrange more prominent. This voicing can be compared to a vintage Tweed tone, and can be tweaked by adjusting bass and treble slightly one way or the other. Compared to the previous setting, you will note that the gain is higher (with less headroom) so that it’s easier to push the amp into overdrive.
Moving on, if you turn the bass control all the way down (while leaving the treble control at its midpoint – 5), you will get even less bass for a sound that’s dominated by upper midrange and treble for a plexi voicing that’s great for an edgy crunch tone. The gain is significantly increased at this setting so it’s easy to overdrive the amp and dial in a classic plexi crunch.
Going further, if you turn both the treble and bass controls all the way down, you get a voicing that’s centered on the midrange and upper mids, but you also get even more gain as well. This adds up to a saturated plexi tone that is more “singing” than “crunchy”.

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I've heard nothing but great things about the new line of Bartel amps. I'll probably never see one in real life. :(

You've got such great taste in gear. You really should move out to the west coast. It is 5C with a bit of rain right now ..........
 
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I follow and have chatted with Mark Bartel, and have had a TK Falcon, and now a Sky King, which I'd describe as an Imperial, Falcon and beyond, all inside one box. This new Bartel amp series shares a lot with the Falcon, in that it's a single channel, but with "voicings" controlled by the Treble/Bass knobs, whereas the Falcon actually has a 3-way voicing switch on the front, with a single "Tone" knob to shape them. The Falcon is also an Ultralinear architecture, very rare in a world of Pentode amps. The Sky King has switchable Pentode and Ultralinear, (crisp and immediate vs. chewy and saggy); the new Bartel ones have Interstage transformers that emphasize low-order harmonics, like Ultralinear, but with more tonal flexibility. They no doubt sound amazing.

These amps have a few unique things going on, in addition to the output transformer. The cabinet's acoustics, like the TK ones, are really sorted out, and the rethought Master volume is a departure from his Ironman attenuator. The level of attention and handmade parts are new, as well. Most TK amps are circuit board (my Sky King is hand-wired, the newest ones are not), but the Bartels are all hand-wired turret board. Who cares...he makes a sturdy circuit board.

I'm fascinated by Mark's work. For me, the Sky King is more amp than I'll ever need, and I'm still blown away by the tonal flexibility of it. When Mark says his amps can do Blackface/Marshall/Tweed and other, just by shaping simple knobs, he's not kidding. Kind of what we all hoped modeler amps would sound like back in the days of Line 6 and CyberTwins.

Please buy one and report back, so I don't spend more money!
 
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