At the beginning of last year, the world lost an icon like no other. David Bowie's career spanned more than 50 years and the electric guitar was central to much of his innovative musical creations. Canadian-born Rob Robson has aimed to capture the essence of the Bowie sound in a semi-assembled guitar amplifier called the Little Wonder.
David Robert Jones – known to most as David Bowie – died just days after his 69th birthday, on January 10, 2016. Over his long career he had an excellent ear for a good many top notch six string pickers, including Robert Fripp, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Reeves Gabrels and of course Mick Ronson. And it's precisely the sassy, guitar-driven sound of Bowie's music that Budapest, Hungary-based Bowie tribute artist and electronics designer Rob Robson aimed to capture when creating the Little Wonder tube amp kit (named after Bowie's song from 1997's Earthling album), while also wrapping it in some Rebel Rebel style.
The combo amp is made to order and ships part built, and is estimated to take about an hour to assemble using the included tools. "It's like getting a high-end guitar amp from Ikea," quipped Robson. "We wanted guitarists to have the satisfaction of assembling their own amp without needing any specialized soldering skills."
The first 120 to 150 hand-wired Little Wonders will include genuine German capacitors from the 1970s that were recently discovered in dry storage in Switzerland. "The NOS German capacitors we use impart an authentic vibe from the height of Bowie's early career," Robson explained. "And the circuit design captures an edgy British rock 'n' roll sound that evokes the guitar-forward character of so much of his music. I chose a UK-made Celestion alnico magnet speaker to further emphasize that character." After NOS stocks dry up, subsequent models will still sport premium components, they just won't be quite so vintage.
"To reduce the typical tube amp hum, I split the chassis into separate power supply and audio subsections, used aluminum to reduce conducted electromagnetic fields, conducted tests to find the ideal 3D position for the output transformer, then designed an upper chassis with a pentagonal cross-section to hold it there, and added copper and steel shielding to the power and output transformers," Robson told us. "And because many performance venues were wired in the dark ages and can have the ice machine on the same circuit as the stage outlets, I added a power line filter to keep external power line noise out of the Little Wonder. None of these are innovative techniques – they've just never been combined in a tube guitar amplifier to my knowledge. It's kind of like reverse steampunk, applying some R&D and reliability engineering into a half-century old equipment genre."
The birch ply cabinet is available in an electric blue transparent finish and has a 45-degree cutaway at the bottom rear that allows it to be sat upright or tilted back like a stage monitor. The two control knobs on the red control panel have the look of a Neve recording console, with low and high gain instrument inputs to the left. It's an aesthetic that specifically references a 1974 Dutch TV appearance by Bowie, where he wore a red jumpsuit and performed in front of a blue background.
To the rear, the Little Wonder's EL84 and ECC83 tubes have been placed behind a safety grille, keeping them safe from the prying fingers of young rockers while also allowing them plenty of air and making for easy replacement. And despite its relatively small size (you can see it lined up with a Vox AC15 and a Marshall "Bluesbreaker" in the image above), the 15-watt combo amp is reported to be "plenty loud," with Robson saying that it also manages to offer full, cranked tube amp sound even at lower volumes.
The Little Wonder amp kit starts shipping this month for US$1,770. Extra options include finish, voltage, speaker type and full factory assembly.
"Bowie fans will appreciate the vibe we've gone for outside and in, but at the end of the day it's a well designed, great sounding, hand wired amplifier made from premium and rare components," said Robson. "It just makes you want to keep playing and playing."
Source: Rob Robson