CUSTOMER REVIEW FRENZEL DP525 BY PERFORMING ARTIST JIMMY RYAN - 4/3/2020
Dear Jim & All At Frenzel, I’m sorry for my delay in responding with feedback on this amp, but I wanted to really put it through its paces and see how it stacked. Thanks for your patience.
As a preface, I’ve played professionally for over 45 years, releasing 10 albums (working on #11 before CDs finally go the way of the 8 track), guesting on dozens of others and currently doing TV and film work. I’ve been up for multiple GRAMMY nominations over the years (alas, never making it to the final ballot) and I just snagged an endorsement from Knaggs Guitars (they’re doing a build for me right now). I’m not saying this to be prideful; I just wanted to convey that I’ve developed and honed a specific skill set when it comes to creating and performing music on the guitar.
My first surprise came when the box arrived. When I opened it up, I found the head was cradled and completely isolated by custom-fitted foam inserts, and the cardboard used in the box itself was the thickest cardboard I’ve ever seen. I’ve had several deliveries in the past that suffered from shoddy packing, creating all sorts of avoidable hassles, delays and frustration due to damage that could have been avoided if the packing was done correctly in the first place. No problem here; I could’ve dropped that box from the roof and nothing would’ve happened to the head. Well done! Your attention to detail and well thought out execution in your prep and packing gave me a good indication of what I could expect even before I even plugged the head in.
First of all, the overall construction is retrocool, heavy duty, solid, tight and bulletproof. Even the handle and the rubber feet are industrial grade. The vibe of the head with the custom bottom I have is PERFECT (thanks for the nameplate as well; I’ve attached a picture of the rig above). The instruction manual, complete with personalized and signed certificate of sale (a nice touch!), was detailed and concise, not to mention the laminated sticker on the bottom of the head with the complete tube complement, socket assignment and signature. That was an unexpected and welcome additional twist, and a practical one to boot. This level of attention to detail is just fabulous. Stated simply, PEERLESS
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always taken things apart (and since I always put silicone vibration dampeners on every tube, I had to do this anyway). When I removed the black top, I noticed immediately that the flange on the front & rear bottom of the removable top kept it in place when I unscrewed it…again, a simple yet well thought out nuance in the design.
I really loved that the bias switch was where it should be but never is: located INSIDE by the tube complement itself…not only reminding you it’s there, but also ensuring that an externally-placed switch wouldn’t be accidentally hit in transit or during setups and teardowns. Also, the fact that your design can accommodate a myriad of tube substitutions on the output stage expands the customizable potential of this amps’ flexible attributes and the resultant tonal palette.
The front control complement is simple yet deep. I was - and am - so impressed that you were able to “one off” an input bridge switch for both the F and the M circuits for me, eliminating the use of an A/B switch (to say I had fun blending them on the fly is an understatement).
My philosophy has always been “you’ve got to get the cleans right first”. Needless to say, you accomplished that in spades. The Bright pull on the F Volume combined with the Deep pull on the Bass takes me from hyperclean Stratified jangle to a full-bodied comping tone without twisting a knob! They actually WORK, and interact in a supremely musical way. That’s new territory for me...and the surprises kept coming.
The Plexi/JCM800 pull on the M volume is a real treat; that extra gain stage is like having another amp. Between the two, I can go from mild grit to full-on crunch (without that annoying Marshall-esque “fizzle” that I expected) to High-Gain Land when pulled and dimed.
The Edge footswitch really turboboosts the higher-gain M tones, particularly the JCM800 side. Yikes…it’s like going from impulse to warp drive when the tone stack is bypassed (that’s where it works best for me; to my ears, the F channel has more than enough range without ever needing to engaging the Edge circuit…again, a credit to the circuit’s architecture). Singing, infinite sustain and even-order harmonic feedback are all on tap, and all you have to do to pull it back from the brink is to roll back your volume. SWEET.
At all times, clean to dirty, the interaction between the B, M, T and P controls actually WORK. The attenuation and boost on each control are smooth with no drop-offs or peaks. They don’t step on each other either (!) and all of them seem to be set within the sweet spot of human hearing. I’ve had several amps where the EQ controls’ overall effect on tone sculpting just didn’t “get there”, falling short of the desired effect. Not so here.
It’s very rare when I’ll plug straight into an amp sans effects and I’ll just keep on playing because the tone is so “there”. This amp is both extremely quiet and SUPER touch sensitive across the full tonal and gain spectrum and responds to both the light touch and the firm hand with equal aplomb. Delicacy, nuance and refinement are rewarded here in a big way. That said, this might not be what some players want as it reveals everything you’re doing…warts and all...and hides nothing. This is fantastic for some (like me); maybe not so much for others.
The rear panel keeps things as simple as possible, but no simpler: one speaker output jack with impedance selector (why some amps have SO many speaker out options I’ll never know), output attenuator, send/return/Edge FS jacks and line out + level. I’ve never liked direct outs that much (preferring a Palmer PDI03 and pulling a balanced feed from that in addition to a Royer 121); that said, I A/Bd your line out (with the speaker disconnected) against the PDI03, comparing the audio. Well, I was surprised…your line out got so close I could barely discern the difference…you worked some real magic on whatever you did here, and I’m [almost] converted. Again, the line out actually WORKS, and is the best speaker-emulated line out I’ve ever used.
The effects loop is dead quiet and the internal levels on the send & return are set perfectly. I use a Landau Chorus > Drybell vibe > Time Machine delay > Lotus Iceverb in the loop, and they enhanced the already rich tones (both clean and dirty) with a clarity (read “crystal”) I’ve never experienced with other amplifiers.* I’m not patronizing you here, Jim…it’s the truth and I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t think true “high fidelity” in a guitar amp was possible. Thanks for proving me wrong.
It was a real treat to work with the front-end effects. I use a Sarno Black Box > Sound City Wah Face > Klon Centaur > Octavia > Cornish TB-83 Extra. This amp was made for these higher-order tone shapers (I never run any of these full bore; usually just a hair above unity). The F circuit (+ Bright + Edge) + TB-83 = Brian May; M Plexi (+ Deep + Edge) + wah + Octavia + vibe = Voodoo Chile Jimi; M JCM800 (+ Edge) + Klon = EVH; M JCM800 (+ Deep + Edge) + Klon = Carlos…in other words, ALL the main food groups, per se. Overall, the well-defined & pristine tones in this head offer the perfect foundation to really get the benefit of what I’m using (I hate the moniker “dirt box” - I prefer “good clean filth”). I can get a ton of sounds out of this aural Swiss Army knife and all of them are GREAT…if there was a weak link here, Jim, I’d point it out, but I haven’t found it yet.
At full output, this amp is LOUD (surprisingly so) and absolutely screams when cranked, and even at the 1/4 setting it holds on to ALL the tone. It might not be “true” power scaling, but it works that way for me...by working with the master and the output level switch in tandem, I can basically play from “not quite bedroom” levels all the way to large stage volume; all you have to do is add a Royer 121 and this amp is theater-ready.
I am completely blown away by the depth and range that this head has on tap. I haven’t needed full stacks, face-melting volumes, chest-high effect racks and nut-busting tonnage to haul around for a long time now. It’s all about the TONE. I wasn’t ready for an amp like this back then, but I sure am now, and this has EVERYTHING I’ve ever wanted in a lower wattage format I can really utilize.
Lastly, the price point…I don’t know how the hell I got this brand new, hand-crafted, built-to-mil-spec, Custom Made In The USA Deluxe Plus 525/540 head at the (all things considered) paltry cost of only $761.97 (including shipping charges and the case-hardened vault it was sent in), but I sure am glad I did. The cost-to-benefit ratio in play here completely blows the roof off of any meaningful comparison to anything else with this build quality, and in my experience it completely defies logic and to accept it as “normal” is a bit of a stretch. That said, I’m happy to accept it, though, even if I can’t fully understand it. Finally…VALUE FOR THE DOLLAR!!!
Thank you, Jim, and your entire team for this elegant piece of audio dynamite. I am in your debt.
Your Completely Satisfied Customer, Forever Friend & Biggest Fan,
Jimmy “Flyin’” Ryan 🎼🎶
Still Alive & Loud®
*I wanted to check myself here, so I A/Bd the Frenzel with my Mezzabarba Skill, tweaked-out Fender HRDX and Bogner Atma. You win…