Check out the full review here
1648RT Saturn Reverb
By Joe Gore
he original Supro amps were produced by Valco and
sold through department stores in the ’50s and ’60s.
Despite their built-for-beginners status, these humble
amps have often served as secret weapons for great guitarists,
notably Jimmy Page during Zep’s early years. Supros lack the
power of Marshalls and the rich, balanced tones of Fenders, but
their explosive presence and rude overdrive have lent a punky
edge to many great recordings.
Valco folded in 1968. But about a decade ago, famed amp
designer Bruce Zinky revived the brand. The Supro name
changed hands a few years ago, and now Dave Koltai of
Pigtronix fame runs the show, releasing new Supro models while
retaining many of Zinky’s innovations.
New Supros aren’t clones—they’re made from modern
materials using modern manufacturing techniques. But
don’t mistake them for generic amps with a bit of retro-cool
window dressing. Consider the new Saturn combo: It’s not
based on a particular vintage model, and its innards are strictly
21st-century. Yet it nails the unvarnished aggression of the best
Supro combos while adding meaningful refinements. If you love
the Led Zeppelin I sound, chances are you’ll dig this amp.
The U.S.-made Saturn is the smallest amp in the current Supro
line, a single-channel combo with tube reverb and tremolo. It
puts out 15 watts via a pair of 6973s—tubes found in many
second-tier ’60s brands, and currently experiencing a bit of
a renaissance. (The rectifier tube is a vintage-accurate 5U4.)
Saturn’s solid-wood cabinet houses a 12" custom-voiced
Eminence speaker. The amp’s controls are simple: volume, bass,
treble, reverb level, and tremolo rate/depth. The knobs, logo,
grille, and “rhino hide” vinyl provide an authentic ’60s look.
15 watts via two
6973 power tubes
PREMIER GUITAR MAY 2015 127
Bass and treble
Inside is a different story: Parts are
assembled on a pair of modern circuit
boards, with board-mounted pots and jacks.
(The components in old Supros are linked
via terminal strip.) The boards are oriented
at a 90-degree angle to each other, with
some tubes pointing down toward the floor
and other face inward toward the speaker,
though they’re all accessible without
disassembling the amp. The transformers
are custom-made to Zinky’s specs.
But despite its modern construction
techniques, Saturn’s creators seem to have
designed the amp with reverence for the
colors and quirks that make Supros special.
Biased for Badness
Like old Supros, Saturn is a cathode-biased
“Class A” amp, and the trademark qualities
of that architecture are front-and-center here.
Tones are lively, responsive, and loose. Highs
crackle with energy. The amp transitions to
distortion at relatively low levels.
On the other hand, Saturn isn’t
particularly loud. It’s definitely powerful
enough to annoy your neighbors, but
it may not be sufficiently beefy for
gigs with aggressive drummers unless
you have good monitors and a reliable
sound person. You can pretty much
forget about obtaining crystalline tones
at anything more than modest volume.
And while Saturn’s lows aren’t thin,
they’re hardly weighty—this amp doesn’t
do “chunk.” (Actually, modern Supros
tend to have noticeably stouter lows
than original models, but still, don’t
expect to see many metal players using
them. However, blues hounds, early Zep
freaks, antique R&B aficionados, and
indie troublemakers will probably relish
For the players likeliest to cherish amps
of this type, these traits are features, not
bugs. Saturn doesn’t thump like a Marshall
or spank like a Fender, and that’s part of the
point. Instead, you get blunt, ultra-present
attack and an attitude I can only describe
as “snotty” (in the best possible punk-rock
sense). Tones tend to feel literally in-yourface in that “Communication Breakdown”
way. And recording guitarists will love how
Saturn delivers high-octane overdrive at
relatively low levels.
128 PREMIER GUITAR MAY 2015
Set the Controls for… Whatever
Saturn’s 2-band tone controls are limited
but effective. The bass pot’s taper is a
bit odd—lows come on suddenly and
strongly at around 10 o’clock, as opposed
to easing in gradually. But chances are
you’ll just dial in a setting that suits your
pickups and park it there. Meanwhile,
like the best small Fender tweeds, Saturn
boasts phenomenal dynamic response.
Many users will simply turn the amp up
till it growls and then scarcely touch the
thing, sculpting tone via their hands and
guitars. In fact, players of this persuasion
are likeliest to dig Saturn the most.
For all the snippets in my audio demo
(see the online version of this review),
I simply set the tone controls at noon,
advanced the volume 80 percent, and then
scarcely touched the amp except to tweak
the reverb and tremolo. I felt no need to
alter the volume or tone settings, even when
switching between the ’63 Strat, ’80s Les
Paul, and Gretsch-like “parts” guitar heard in
the demo clip.
Wet and Wobbly
A hefty, four-spring tank delivers gooeygood reverb. The tremolo is equally
lovely, if quirky in a signature Supro
way. It’s relatively restrained—maximum
settings throb, but never chop. Also,
the response varies according to the
Again, these are features, not bugs: As
Dave Koltai explained to me, these traits
are inevitable side effects of the Supro
circuit, which employs output-tube
tremolo, and whose modulation depth is
limited by the cathode-bias architecture.
Want to play an accurate cover of “How
Soon Is Now?” Get a damn Twin Reverb.
Meanwhile, I dig how Saturn delivers
a cool variation on the familiar Fender
flavor. You can toggle the reverb and
tremolo via footswitch (sold separately).
Saturn delivers a great mid-century
American sound in an authentic-sounding
but technologically innovative way. Some
might balk at spending $1,400 on a small,
circuit-board amp, but Supro didn’t simply
clone some vintage circuit—Saturn’s
creators clearly invested much time and
ingenuity in capturing a classic color while
delivering such meaningful improvements
as lower noise, greater bass response, and
roadworthy construction. At this price,
you could buy an original Valco amp—
maybe more than one. But frankly, Saturn
is likely to sound better than any of them,
and it definitely stands a better change
of surviving the stage and the van. It’s a
compelling option for guitarists seeking
cool vintage tones from outside the
WATCH A REVIEW DEMO of this amp at
Supro 1648RT Saturn Reverb
Ease of Use
PROS Vibey Valco tones with
CONS Not cheap for a circuit-board
amp. Footswitch not included.