Chances are your first electric guitar will come in a packaged set with an amp, case, cable, picks, tuner, and maybe even an instruction manual. Mine did – and I still remember the excitement I felt opening it that fateful Christmas morning. The Bilt Starter Pack is a classy, high-end, custom guitar/amp combo set designed to recreate that thrill for players with more sophisticated tastes. And while the Starter Pack isn’t exactly designed for budget-conscious beginners, unless you already own a Bilt guitar, it’s the only way to get your hands on the new Bilt amp.
Bilt’s first amplifier is a modern love letter to the 5E3 tweed Deluxe circuit created in collaboration with Tim Marcus of Milkman. One interesting feature is that a given Bilt amp is made with the same wood and finish as the Bilt guitar it is paired with, at least if you are a new Bilt customer opting for the Starter Pack. But whether you buy the Bilt Amp as part of a matching pair – or to go with the Bilt you already have – it’s a great take on the tweed Deluxe circuit.
Bilt Amp Review by premierguitar
All clips recorded with Shure SM57 in an SSL 2+ interface.
- Recorded using a Bilt Relevator with Lollar JM pickups, neck position. Amp tone at 12 o’clock, bass at 5, then cycle through the bass knob settings (4, 3, 2, 1).
- Recorded with Creston T-Style with Lollar Gold Foils, mid position. Amp tone at noon, bass at 5, bright off, down, then up.
- Recorded with Creston T-Style with gold leaf Lollar, neck position. Your cut, then noon, then pushed to the bottom. Bass knob at 5.
- Recorded with Creston JM with Lollar JM pickups, middle position. Amp tone pushed all the way up, then lowered to 12 o’clock. Bass at 5, full volume.
- Recorded with Creston JM with Lollar JM pickups, neck position. Volume at 4, then 6. Bass at 5, tone at 6.
Made to match
The design of the Bilt Amp cabinet is sleek, with rounded corners and a large C-shaped cutout with white piping reminiscent of many vintage Gretsch amps made by Valco. Sitting alongside a matching guitar – which for our demo starter pack was an alder, Shoreline Gold Relevator with a dazzling quilted maple fingerboard – the pair makes a major statement.
The Bilt Amp is top quality workmanship. Our amp’s alder cabinet was built at the Bilt factory in Iowa and fitted with a 12″ Celestion alnico gold speaker. The electronics are hand-wired by Milkman in San Francisco at using Jupiter capacitors, Mercury Magnetics transformers and JJ tubes 12-15 watts cathode Class AB biased tones are generated through a 5Y3 rectifier tube, two 6V6 power tubes and two 12AX7 preamp tubes. include high and low impedance inputs, an illuminated 3-way switch, power switch with standby setting, and three oversized RCA-style knobs for volume, tone knob, and bass contour.
Click for bass
As a desperate tweed Deluxe aficionado excited for any good 5E3-style amp, I’ll admit I gave the Bilt’s bass knob a look. The unique tone control of an original 5E3 is, after all, an essential part of its sound and operation. But the Bilt’s bass knob, which clicks into its five preset positions, proved to be a plus, not least because the Bilt amp tends to be louder in the low end than a typical tweed-style amp. Deluxe, which might have something to do. with its largest enclosure (24″ x 9 1/2″ x 18 1/4″).
Even without extra gain, the Bilt easily achieves the hallowed saggy compression that makes tweeds so legendary.
When I turned the Bilt on with relatively neutral settings to begin with – volume low, tone at noon, bright switch on mid/off setting – I immediately recognized the relatively quick, mid-focused response of a Deluxe Tweed. at low volume. At this setting, the clean tone is warm and clear with well-rounded highs. It’s so natural sounding that particularly low volumes almost sound acoustic. It is a comfortable and organic experience. At moderate volumes, the luxury of the Bilt still shines. There’s noticeably more treble to my ears, but the mids are just as robust.
More tone, more volume
The Bilt’s tone knob offers a wide range. This works dynamically with the volume control, and at low and moderate volumes the addition of treble also adds bite which can push the amp into overdrive. At high volume settings, those highs are an essential part of that signature, open, overdriven tweed sound. And while I can handle all of my treble needs with the tone knob alone, there’s a 3-way illuminated switch if you need to take it a step further.
Tossing a tweed-style amp is a hugely glorious feeling and the Bilt delivers on that promise. There’s a little more body to the Bilt’s voice than a Deluxe Tweed. That’s a good thing, though, especially when pedals are involved. Paired with overdrive and reverb, the Bilt turned into an overdriven rock ‘n’ roll monster. But even without extra gain, the Bilt easily achieves the hallowed saggy compression that makes tweeds so legendary.
Although the power rating is the same as a Deluxe, the Bilt sounds like a more powerful amp, which could have something to do with the larger size than the tweed-Deluxe, the alder construction or the top 50 watt speaker. Uninitiated players might be concerned about low power, but the Bilt will give most players all the volume they need to get above a band – louder might actually be too loud.
There is a certain danger in making an amp look this good. I’m not precious with gear, so I’d be concerned about scratching the amp’s finish at gigs, even though it comes with a sturdy padded nylon case. And with an amp that sounds this good, I’d want to play it anywhere. I also wish I could buy it whether or not I was looking for a Bilt guitar. So, yes, there are obstacles to practical possession of the Bilt Amp. Hopefully Bilt will consider a more flexible purchase plan in the future.
Purchasing limitations aside, the Bilt Amp is a finely crafted boutique amp. It looks amazing and does a great job of manifesting the essence of a Deluxe tweed – an impressive feat in itself – while adding more flexibility to shape tone. Do matching amp and guitar woods sound better together? Of course, playing the corresponding Relevator was cool. But every guitar I played on the Bilt sounded equally fantastic. That said, I won’t mind watching tone nerds hash this discussion out in the forum threads.
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