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Hurricane Review - Guitarist Magazine

Cornford's new Hurricane combo confirms the company's position not only as Britain's top boutique builder, but also as one of the world's best. By Nick Guppy ("Guitarist Magazine" - October 2001)

Building guitar amps for fun is one thing, building them for a living is quite another. Luthiers often moan about their lot, but compared to the small amp builder they don't know how lucky they are. Just ask Paul Cornford.

"It's an absolutely mad job - anywhere from 75 to 90 hours per week. And all the time you're wondering what's around the corner, will I still be doing this six months from now? But I'm pretty sure I am, so I guess we're doing something right!"

Indeed they are. From the original 6 watt Harlequin recording amp to the meatier MK50H head and cab, Cornford have become a byword for Brit boutique amp tone. In fact you hear a Cornford MK50 head or Harlequin every month on our CD. Six watts may not sound much, but the Harlequin's blend of preamp gain and power amp drive delivers one of the coolest sounds we've ever heard.

Inevitably, some Harlequin users started to wonder what a beefed-up version of this astonishing little recording amp would sound like. And after much design and deliberation, here's the highly anticipated reverb-equipped Hurricane, now evolved into a completely different circuit with a pair of EL84s pushing and pulling 20 watts through a single Celestion Vintage 30.

The Hurricane is typically Cornford in its construction. The cabinet is solid pine covered in rich burgundy tolex with a tough steel grille to keep that cone intact, and the loud speaker baffle is permanently dadoed 9mm birch ply. The Hurricane's chassis- a heavy steel box with welded corners coated inside and out with a thick, cream coloured enamel - is fixed into the back AC30 style, and then secured with two enormous bolts.

Remove the back plate and you'll see a totally point-to-point hand-wired circuit mounted on tag-strips - just one of the reasons why these amps are rather special. Properly put together, an amp built this way is impervious to the vibration and hot/cold cycling that inevitably seeks out weak points in mass-produced PCB designs, and the Hurricane has been put together with great skill and attention to detail.

The wiring is neat and economical. For example, the heater wires are twisted and pushed into one of the chassis corners to keep AC hum to an absolute minimum. All the resistors are metal film for high stability and low noise (essential for high-gain circuits, yet only a few manufacturers use them), and every component has been perfectly mounted and soldered.

Aircraft-style locking nuts with nylon inserts secure all the hardware - from the porcelain valve sockets to the hand-wound military-spec transformers - so nothing, but nothing is going to fall off a few years down the road when you're playing that gig in the middle of nowhere. From an engineer's point of view, it's a rare delight to see this kind of attention to detail, and just goes to show we Brits can do it as well as anyone. There are neutrik jack connectors (the best) for the loudspeaker and reverb leads, super smooth heavily damped pots that stay where you put 'em and... well we could go on but by now you've hopefully got the picture: this is one superb assembly job. "I honestly couldn't do it any other way" says Paul Cornford. "We started building these amps purely for our own pleasure, and in many ways we still do - I couldn't take money off someone and give them an amp I wouldn't be happy using myself".

The Hurricane's control panel is simple and immediate with six knobs for gain, reverb, bass, mid, treble and master volume. There's a pair of hi/lo input jacks and a pair of send/returns for plugging in suitable line level effects. Underneath, a trio of speaker jacks let you connect a variety of different cabs, and there's a single footswitch jack to toggle the smooth, well - tuned reverb spring on and off.


Plugged in and revved up, the Hurricane's tone don't take very long to dial in. Like the better boutique amps, the Cornford has its own distinctive tone that's characterised by dark, chocolate brown distortion with just the right amount of edge to make you want to grab a note and hang onto it forever. Clever and careful tuning of the gain spread means you can use low preamp and high master volume levels for a sweet, chiming clean tone, or wind up the gain for some of that magnificent Cornford filth, without having to revisit the tone controls. Despite its 20 watt rating, there's enough clean headroom to cope with a fairly polite drummer, and thanks in part to the high sensitivity Vintage 30, when you push up the Hurricane's master it's loud - almost indecently so. There isn't a great deal of variation from EQ, again something many boutique amps have in common.

Chatting to Martin Kidd, Paul's right hand man and the Hurricane's design engineer, gave us something of an insight into the Cornford way of doing things.

"We purposely set out to make our amps sound different," Martin explained, "and it really comes from our idea of the perfect sound - which most guitar players, including us, hear inside their heads. A lot of modern designs over - EQ the sound with way too much treble. We wanted a much more balanced tone, but we don't look to other amps and say, That's what we need, but with more of this or less of that, we just develop circuits until we get them how we like them."

"But we want to hear the guitar too," added Paul. " I want to hear a Tele go 'sprannnng' when I plug it into one of our amps, and I want to hear the difference between my PRS custom and my Gibson Les Paul, even with loads of dirt. Most guitarists who plug into our amps tell us they can hear that." And after pushing this beauty to its limits, we have to agree.

The reverb is one of the best we've ever heard: rich, deep and plummy, without ever going into mush. But if you need more effects, there's a top panel-mounted send and return loop and alongside the hi and lo inputs.

A huge amount of effort has been expended on wringing the best possible sound from the Hurricane, and the result is just superb. Without modern channel switching , push/pull knobs or digital effects, there's a tone for almost any style.

However, players used to push-button preset security will need to learn how to drive an amp the old-fashioned way to access it all. While many modern amps don't sound any different if you hit the string harder, the Hurricane does, and it's this responsive three-dimensional effect that really makes the magic.

Joining those US boutique boys up on the top floor of the skyscraper of tone, the Cornford Hurricane actually outplays them at their own game. We can't help - but think that players like Walter Becker or Robben Ford will want one as soon as soon a they hear it, along with a lot of other famous users who already own a Cornford or two. There will be a big demand for this amplifier.

If you're after a truly great 'real' guitar sound, and an amp that will work perfectly after years of fun, then look no further than Whitstable in Kent, and order one right now.

TEST RESULTS: Build quality * * * * * Features * * * * * Sound * * * * * Value for money * * * * *

We liked: One of the best guitar tones money can buy - and built to last forever.

We disliked: Lack of a standby switch, but otherwise hard to find fault with this one.

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