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Why Are There So Many Knobs and Switches and Jacks and Push-Pull Knobs and even an XLR Output Why Why?

The answer is not complicated. Just look at this image:

A Sunn Solarus

A Sunn Solarus

Sunn had been around since the mid-1960s, making amps to a more audiophile standard than the gritty workhorses being built by the likes of Fender and Marshall. They had great success with their bass amps and especially their speaker cabinets, but their guitar amps never really caught-on. I remember people saying Sunn amps were “ball-less”. Actually they were made to a hi-fi standard because bass players need a lot of power headroom, but also a lot of low end definition that a guitar can’t even reach. What was “ball-less” about the Sunn design was you could crank the amp ‘way up and it wouldn’t distort.

Sunn was one of those companies like Ampeg that came along when rock-and-roll needed massive amounts of amplification to play football stadiums. Some of their amps put-out 200 watts and players would have a row of them behind them on stage. These were the days of giants like the Marshall “Stack” and the Ampeg juggernauts, the Hiwatt towers and the huge Fender Dual Showman. It was all going really well, too, until bands like the Grateful Dead started building better public address systems. I once saw the Rolling Stones playing through the Dead’s massive piles of speakers and I swear you could feel the breeze it generated. Along with these massively improved PA systems it turned out the economics of massive stadium tours and summer-long festivals was not self-sustaining, and the reach of a band started to come more through mass media rather than filling seats in a stadium. MTV came-along and made the experience of consuming music at once more intimate and more boundless. Venues shrank and so did amplifiers. Some casualties were inevitable.

When the newly reconstituted Fender, finally free of the shackles of CBS’s corporate overlordship and in need of actual product bought Sunn in the mid-1980s they acquired the company name and the contents of a factory in Oregon. but not the factory itself, and the equipment was trucked to the environs of the picturesquely and strangely James Fenimore Cooper/New York State-soundingly named Lake Oswego, Oregon. And apparently there were a lot of those plastic rocker switches in the “contents” of the old Sunn factory, because Fender would be using them for a while.

It’s New but It’s Traditional but It’s Loud

In recognition that the stadium-era was waning and in response to the latest advances in technology in the studio the designers at Lake Oswego decided to build an amp that could be everything to everyone – a panacea for all the ills of the amplifier marketplace of the time. And because they were building on the remnants of a Sunn factory there was no way to avoid Sunnesque elements creeping-in. One was the power rating of 100 watts RMS. Another was was some hi-fi-like appointments like a balanced line-out and switchable impedance. And another was those plastic rocker switches right where they would be on the end of a Sunn faceplate.

But they went further: you can adjust the freaking bias voltage for your power tubes right from the rear panel. On the front panel, in an attempt to more quickly use up those plastic rocker switches, there is a switch to toggle the amp between full power and a more domesticated quarter-power mode. Realize, however, that this is about 6 db less than full power, but the preamp is corking right along like usual so it’s not as if the difference in volume is that great – and of course you chop-off all that beautiful headroom wattage that makes the notes chime. What else did they sew onto this monster they nurtured there in the dank woods around Lake Oswego? Well there is the Gain knob and the nice serial effects loop – both appointments that were rare as hens’ teeth in the Fenders based on Leo’s designs. And of course the knobs are not the traditional chicken-head pointers or skirted black plastic with white numbers. No – they look like something you would find on a solid-state Peavey or something. And they’re red. The redness of the knobs caused no end of turmoil in 1988. It seemed as if the Fender that everyone knew and could recognize, even through the horrid early 1980s and the worst of the CBS transgressions, this once proud beacon of hope for the unfettered joining of music and consumer marketing in an ever-growing fully-capitalized wonderland of refined free-market civilization, was truly gone, banished as a consequence of a false bubble of “trickle-down” economics that never truly established a recovery from the oil-shortage crises of the late 1970s and that was only a short-term vision of a solution to a long term systemic problem – but we don’t want to get into that. Suffice it to say, when the black-and-red “The Twin” hit the trade shows it set-off a wave of “Fender is dead” talk that wasn’t hushed-up by the poor quality of the company’s guitar offerings.

And the Red Twin was loud. Really incredibly loud. Like a Sunn. But the first channel had that unmistakable Fender clean chime – if you could survive turning it up to hear it. And actually the second channel, even with the gain knob, also has a nice dollop of the traditional Fender spank to it, like a kid slapping a rolled-up newspaper against a concrete wall. And if you spend the time figuring them out the crazy push-pull knobs and freaky way channel selecting is done will get you some classic Fender tones, as well as some new ones that are strange-sounding at first until you realize it is the amp attempting to distort to a really noticeable degree.

Is That an XLR Connector or are You Just Happy to See Me?

One interesting feature of The Twin is the inclusion of a balanced line out in the form of a three-pin XLR connector – like the amp was some kind of microphone or something. But that was the idea: there was no need to use a mic on stage. The player could get his or her usual experience of the amp speakers blasting and be connected to a mixing board directly, sending just the final preamp signal massaged for the balanced line. From the mixer the signal could go to anywhere, but hopefully into the PA amps at least. Or maybe into a recording setup, or a live television signal. The Twin was really designed for these kinds of scenarios. As an example take the unusual three-jack send/return loop. The additional “Through” jack for the power amp is specifically designed to connect to the power amp “In” jack on a slave The Twin, so you can chain them together if you really must go from Unbelievably Loud to Ungodly Loud.

But The Twin is just chock-full of other goodies. Follow along on the guided-tour of the front an back panels for more.

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