Think Mike Soldano and you might think of those hot-rodded amps that helped define a generation’s electric guitar tone in the ‘80s, from hard rock and metal to blues and all between, loved by Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen and Mark Knopfler. Even Lou Reed wanted one.
Well the Astro-20 looks very much like an amp that references all those classic Soldano sounds, presented in a user-friendly 20-watt format, and then partners them with modern features such as onboard IRs and MIDI connectivity that allows you to organise your sounds and presets on your laptop for easy edit and access via the control panel or accompanying four-button footswitch.
You can run this amp without a speaker cabinet. Simply sent the signal direct to your mixing desk or DAW and choose an IR to give your sound space. Or you can run it as a traditional amp, pushing air through the speaker. But with three channels, which you can organise into four colour-coded Galaxies (best thought of as voices), this is not exactly anyone’s idea of traditional.
Tube amps can sometimes be specialist items, tools for a particular job, but versatility is the watchword here. Over one clean and two overdrive channels, you can stop at all tone stations from in high-headroom cleans to super-saturated lead tones.
Once you’ve dialled in a sound on the channels you can assign them to four different voicings – sorry, Galaxies. Your Green Galaxy is where you can take those clean tones, with the term “high-headroom” making us think that this would be a good pedalboard platform. The other three are where you can assign your two overdrive channels.
The Blue Galaxy is nominative determinism in action; use this for edge-of-breakup cleans and all that blues guitar crunch. The Purple is voiced for higher gain but with a tight response, while Red is for what we all think of with a Soldano lead tone. Just add a nice delay for those LA spotlight moments.
Despite all this modern voodoo, IRs and MIDI and talk of computers (the Soldano Editor software is a free download), Soldano promises that this is easy to dial in. It certainly looks it once you get your head around the Galaxies, figuratively speaking.
There’s a little Astro detailing on the control panel so that you know which Galaxy voicing is active. The Clean channel is totally minimal, with one tone knob, one volume and that’s that. The Overdrive 1 and Overdrive 2 channels share a three-band EQ and have volume and gain controls.
Global controls comprise of Master volume and Presence dials, and there are three-way Depth and Bright switches for making quick adjustments to how the amp handles low and high-frequencies.
The IR loader has six slots available. There is a headphones output for silent practice and monitoring. Under the hood you’ll find a pair of 6V6 power tubes and a quartet of 12AX7 tubes in the preamp.
The 20-watt Astro-20 head is priced £/$1,999, the Celestion Greenback-loaded 1x12 combo £/$2,299.
See Soldano for more details.