Baltimore’s Tone King has dabbled in putting some raw, Marshall-like tones into some of its combo amps’ lead channels, but the Royalist is the first outright attempt to cop the classic big British stack sound. Hoever, designer Mark Bartel‘s goal wasn’t to simply clone the hallowed plexi–that’s already been done–but rather, to package an accurate rendition of that tone in a format that’s convenient, versatile, and more applicable to the needs of today’s guitarists. As such, the Royalist doesn’t mess with the basic tone controls, bu what this amp does deliver is a lorry load of performance-enhancing features that suits the Royalist to a far wider range of studio and gig situations than any stock plexi is prepared to tackle.
Its looks might lean a little more toward an early JTM 45, but the Royalist aims more squarely at late-’60s JMP 50 Lead amp territory. For the most part, the tube complement of three 12AX7s and two EL34s uphold this (forget, for now, the odd 6V6 tucked in there). It’s a crank-and-go head that requires very little tweaking, while promising all the versatility this vintage format is known for. Said versatility increases exponentially when you account for the built-in Ironman Reactive Load output attenuator, which negates the need for a master volume, plus the tube-buffered series effects loop, line-out Jack, and handy rear-panel test/adjustment points for both tube bias and screen voltage.
Now, what about that 6V6? It’s not in the signal chain at all, and instead is the secret ingredient in Bartel’s clever screen voltage regulator.
“It allowed me to eliminate any trace of sag,” he tells us, “while maintaining a nice, compliant feel that’s not at all stiff or hard. Sag isn’t really a desirable characteristic for this style of amp, and eliminating it by traditional methods can result in a hard feel which I find unpleasant. With this design you can actually dial in a tighter or looser feel as you wish via the adjustments in the back.”
Such creative design hints at quality build throughout, and a closer look confirms it. The internals reveal a blend of printed circuit and hand-wiring, but this is high-quality PCB, not your mass-manufactured stuff by any means. Quality components, tidy wiring, heavy transformers, and a shock-mounted chassis all follow suit.
Using a Les Paul and a Stratocaster, I tested the Royalist 45 head through Tone King’s own Royalist 2×12 cab with Eminence speakers, as well as a Port City 1×12 OS with a Scumback M75-65 speaker and a generic open-back pine 1×12 cab with a Celestion Greenback. Running the gamut from snappy and clean, yet almost blackface-like, tones with the Stratocaster and the Volume around 11 o’clock, to classic thumping British stack grind with the Les Paul and gain accelerated to 2 o’clock or beyond, the Royalist 45 quickly and confidently proved it could do an awful lot of great tricks in the classic-rock, hot-blues, and contemporary alt-rock spectrums. Throughout its range, I loved the grit, edge, and girth of the tone, the way it retained great note clarity amid full chords, and the way–just as Bartel promised–it never mushed out even when cranked right up.
With the attenuator bypassed, the Royalist 45 is a loud amp. I’d like to see further gradations of attenuation available, such as notches between the -3dB and -9dB jump and the -9dB and -15dB jump, but the Ironman does its job well. The loop functioned as desired, and the Dl worked smoothly and sounded good. The bias and voltage test and adjustment points made it easy to swap in 6L6s and KT66s for varying shades of flavor, too, and to fine-tune the feel and response of each tube to the amp. All in all, the Royalist 45 impressed mightily, proving itself a juicy and powerful performer in league with the mighty Marshall plexi.