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RK100 Review - Guitarist Magazine

With the RK 100, Cornford Amplification has managed to pull off quite a unique trick. As you can imagine, it's never easy when dealing with the idiosyncrasies of a signature artist to come up with a product that will both ideally suit the artist's needs and have enough mass appeal to translate into sales. After all, it's hardly worth the bother of producing a signature product if a company is only ever going to sell to the artist himself. With the RK 100 Cornford has not only succeeded in creating a fine-looking head and matching cab, but it has actually managed to come up with something unquestionably simple that should appeal to a wide range of players. You might be surprised to learn that, for a player of Richie Kotzen's versatility, the amplifier features just a single channel. No mess, no fuss, just a 100W single channel amplifier of the purest configuration. Its only concession to modern day design is an attenuation switch, but more about that later.

RK 100: When compared to the control panels of many modern amplifiers the RK 100 looks decidedly sparse. There are no push buttons or switches, no flashing lights or MIDI store buttons. You won't find any voicing switches, reverb controls or indeed anything other than the gain, our ubiquitous triumvirate of passive bass/mid/treble tone controls and a master volume. An overall presence control governs the nearness of your tone, but that's your lot for the front panel. For all its modern attributes in terms of styling and gain structure, this amplifier certainly harks back to the simpler amp designs of yesteryear. To the left of the brushed stainless steel control panel a single guitar input sits above the jack socket for the footswitch. Richie specifi ed a frontmounted socket to save having to fiddle about round the back of the amplifier when setting up at shows. Above the heavy-duty footswitch button the label reads 'Hot', which makes one naturally assume that it is some kind of boost switch. In fact, the opposite is true. Once you've set up a sound to your taste this pedal reduces the output of the first gain stage and has the same effect as rolling back the volume of your guitar a predetermined amount. So you're actually getting a cut, which of course can be viewed as a boost when approached from the other direction. Geddit? Most valve amp players would agree that the best clean tones are often born of a dirty sound 'cleaned-up' by backing off the volume, and this design supports that thinking. In terms of nuts and bolts, the RK 100 follows the time-honoured, hand-wired, point-to-point convention of all the truly great guitar amplifiers. Not a printed circuit board in sight, just heavy-duty transformers and ceramic valve sockets bolted firmly to the bombproof steel chassis. This arrangement is then housed in a 19mm lock-jointed plywood sleeve topped off with a chunky, leather carry handle.

As you can see from the internal shots, as much care has gone into the layout and neatness of the electronics as it has the external cosmetics. Both front and rear panels feature additional brushed stainless steel plates to help distinguish the RK 100 from the rest of the Cornford range. Richie Kotzen's signature unobtrusively adorns the front and appears again on the plate at the rear of the RK cabinet. Also round back we've got a series FX loops with respective send and return sockets, twin speaker output jacks and a switchable speaker impedance selector (four, eight and 16 Ohms). We've also got a pair of output valve failure fuses that protect your remaining valves should one of the quartet of JJ Tesla EL34s ever throw a seven. Should a failure occur the amp will continue to function but at half power (50-watts).

The amplifier head is covered with 'Kotzen' black Tolex as opposed to the usual Cornford ox blood, and with a black amplifier it was only fitting to create a black cabinet. Richie's input in this area resulted in a straight-fronted, mono cabinet (he's not fond of angled cabs) loaded with a quartet of Celestion Vintage 30 1 x 12 speakers. The vintage style woven speaker cloth is a bit of a departure from Cornford's usual punched-metal kick grilles and, according to Cornford designer and 'ear' Martin Kidd, the cloth provides just the right kind of filtering for the voice of this amp. "The metal grille would have sounded too harsh for this amp," adds Cornford boss Paul, who proudly goes on to explain the choice of speaker cable socket fitted to the cabinet. "Richie played so loud during testing that the air pressure created inside the prototype closed-back cabinet was sufficient to literally spit out the speaker cable from its socket," he says, adding with a wicked grin: "The production cabinet remedies this with a Neutrik locking speaker cable connector, so you can play at trouserflapping volumes all day."

Sounds: One of the more notable features in terms of tone is the choice of EL34 output valves as opposed to the 6L6 valves of the Cornford MK50 whichinspired this amp. On the whole the EL34s seem to compress a little more readily than 6L6s, are less hi-fi in terms of EQ and exhibit more upper-mid raunch, more British-ness. If we were to relate the sound to EQ curves then 6L6s would be a smile with tons of bass and high end and the EL34's would show more of a swelling in the midrange. A simple bias switch enables you to switch tubes to 6L6, 5881 or Richie's own choice of EL34 valves fitted here. To fully appreciate a 100W amp like this it's essential to run it at a decent volume, so you can hear the tonal contribution of the power output valves. In that respect it's obvious this amp is aimed at loud live performance and not bedroom players. That said, it is possible to get a terrific saturated gain sound (Cornford's brownest?) at reasonable volumes for practice.

We began testing the RK-100 set to a clean tone using Richie's signature Telecaster. In this instance the attenuation from the footswitch is already in place. By selecting neck and bridge pickups simultaneously, and with the humbucker in phase, the bold, glassy authority of the tone is unleashed. The sound is incredibly clean and crisp with impressive percussive attack in the low end and an overall air of greatness that is as satisfying in its immediacy as it is in its promise of even better things to come. When tailoring a tone it's worth remembering the way that passive controls work. With all tone controls on maximum the amplifier is speaking its true voice. All adjustments are then to your taste. We were genuinely surprised at the vast array of tones on offer from this simple set-up and were able to conjure everything from jangly rhythm parts to growling blues and mean 'n' dirty bar-room brawl. With a quick toe-tap on the 'Hot' switch, the attenuation is lifted, the brakes are off and this baby smoothly accelerates to full speed. Playing the RK 100 is enlightening in its purity. With such an uncluttered vibe and wholesome sound you're reminded of the incredible versatility of a simple, well-designed guitar, partnered with a simple, well-designed amp. No matter how much of the seemingly unlimited gain you dial in the guitar's character shines through and note definition remains paramount. Individual notes, even on heavily distorted chords, leap out with a clarity and transparency that few amplifiers can match.

Verdict: Guitar Amplification like this can be compared to a Formula One car. It takes a skilled driver to get the best from a race car and it's the same with the RK 100. Experienced players will be able to fully harness the ample power on tap and use the controls on their instrument to fully direct the sonic action. While this amplifier is ideally suited to high-gain, balls-to-the wall playing, the more subtle tones with lower gain settings cover a far broader tonal palette than we expected and offer unparalleled depth of tone. If you desire a creamy, overdriven, sustaining solo sound or a biting rock rhythm the RK 100 is a terrific place to start. It can kill passing pigeons at 100 yards when set to a clean sound, the headroom is just so massive, and if it's a truly spirited high-gain performance you're after Richie's amp is utterly inspiring. Compared to US boutique amps, where much of your dollar goes towards importing the unit, Cornford's value looks favourable. It's not cheap by any standards, but rest assured that every penny spent is an investment in tone, performance and British amp supremacy.

Cornford RK100
GUITARIST Rating 4.5

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