Sunn Amplification is bringing back the Buzz Osborne-approved PL-20 Beta rack-mounted preamp

Sunn Beta PL-20 Preamp Rackmount
(Image credit: Sunn Amplification / Instagram)

Sunn Amplification’s comeback continues apace with the US bass and guitar amp brand confirming that there’s another new take on a classic design on the way and it’ll take the shape of the rack-mounted Beta PL-20 preamp – a preamp unit that is for many players a repository of holy grail electric guitar tone.

Among them is Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, who has long incorporated them and Beta Lead heads in his live and studio setups. The PL-20 comes hot on the heels of a slew of product announcements as the brand’s return was announced – and facilitated – Fender, who in partnership with Mission Engineering will be manufacturing new Sunn amplifiers and speakers in the USA, and promising options at various different price points.

Thus far, Sunn has unveiled the 100S and 200S tube amp heads, Beta Lead and Beta Bass 100-watt amp heads and preamp heads, Concert Lead 1 and 2 full-range monitors with onboard amps, plus 1x12” and 2x12” speaker cabinets, all of which are scheduled for release by the end of 2023.

The Beta PL-20 Rackmount is so new it’s not even on the website yet. Sunn announced its return on Instagram yesterday, 20 August, ending what would often be a futile search for players looking for this hitherto out-of-production model and super rare model online. 

Of course, there is one Sunn amp that has yet to be announced, and it’s arguably the amp when people think of the brand, the Model T. How could they bring the brand back without the Model T? 

Well, they aren't. That is to say the Model T is coming, with Sunn leadership confirming to Andy Ferris, aka The Guitar Geek on YouTube, that it is very much front and centre of their thoughts. The reason why it hasn’t been announced yet is they are still deciding whether to do a historic reproduction or to update the platform for the modern player.

“There is going to be a Model T,” said Mike Eldred, chief marketing officer, Sunn Amplification. “We are definitely going to come out with a Model T but we’re not going to do it haphazardly, or quickly. We want to research that. We want to go into it – and that is what we have been doing since we got the license. Every meeting we have we talk about the Model T, and what platform it’s gonna be.”

The Sunn leadership team said they wanted to make the amplifiers as accessible as possible while maintaining true to their original sound, but James Lebihan, the company’s CEO, cautioned that an exacting replica could be prohibitively expensive for many players.

People freak out that these are not tube amps. They sound great

Buzz Osborne on the PL-20

“We could absolutely make an exact copy, and we have to design all – or some – of the components from the ground up to do that, but it could definitely be done,” he said. “But it is gonna be an expensive amplifier. Could we make a Model T that’s just like the original and sell it for $500? No, absolutely not. So our question is how do we do that, how do we get a Model T into the hands of everybody who wants to have them.”

For now, the wait continues. But for those players who have been weaned on the downtuned riffs of the Melvins, the PL-20 – price and release date TBC – represents a new avenue for tone-sculpting, and perhaps might even usher in a new appraisal of solid-state amp technology.

Osborne’s Beta PL-20 preamp heads are from 1979, and with a little TLC from a tech, they are in perfect working order still. 

Speaking to Premier Guitar in 2015, Osborne said people had a “mental block” when it came to solid-state amp tech that changes once they give it a chance for themselves.

“There’s no tubes in this setup at all. People freak out that these are not tube amps,” he said. “They sound great. The thing is, I’ve A/B’d and I can’t get the same thing with a regular setup, and anybody that I know – the guitar player from Honky, who also plays in Down [Bobby Landgraf, now ex-Down], they toured with us, said, ‘I don’t know if I could use these!’ 

“But once we tried it – ‘cos he’s used to Marshalls and stuff like that – he said, ‘Oh my God! These are are amazing.’ Once you can get past that mental block, of aluminum [guitars] and no tubes. Oh, I record with everything. I’ve got a bunch of different amps, though. This is what I use live, though, [with] Crown power amps.”

Head over to Sunn Amplification for more details of the brand’s new lineup.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.