BOGNER HELIOS 100 WATT HEAD

BOGNER AMPS ARE OFTEN THE PRIDE AND JOY OF TOP-END RECORDING STUDIOS, AND PETER HODGSON FINDS OUT WHY.

 

OUR ANALYSIS

Long before he was known for the amplifier and
pedal brand that bares his name, Reinhold Bogner was famous for his legendary amp mods for players like Jerry Cantrell, Steve Stevens, George Lynch, and more. One of his most high-profile jobs was restoring Eddie Van Halen’s main 100 watt Marshall Super Lead - yes, that Plexi. Bogner’s amps - like the Ecstasy and Uberschall - have their own rabid fans, but everyone wants to get their hands on a Bogner-modded Marshall. The Helios (named after the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology) isn’t the 'next best thing’ after a Bogner-modded Marshall: it’s even better.

“If you’re a Marshall lover - especially in the Plexi
era - you will love this amplifier,” says Marcello Grassi of Australian Bogner dealer, Eastgate Music. Reinhold Bogner is a very big Marshall fan: the JMP45, the Plexi era, and different versions of the JMP as well. He’s influenced by a number of them, and this amplifier came about because he wanted to capture the wonderful Marshall eras of many different guitar players. He also wanted to include some of the fantastic modifications he did for players like Eddie Van Halen, Michael Landau and Steve Stevens while keeping the integrity of the original amplifier.”

THE MOD SQUAD

The Helios is a two-channel EL34-powered head which is available in 50 and 100 watt versions. Your guitar sound enters via one of two differently-structured gain stages: Plexi and Hot. The Plexi input is designed to give you a nice, clear and clean tone on Channel 1, or a traditional Plexi-style gain on Channel 2; while the Hot input has a different gain structure which lets you get all crunchy on Channel 1, or even raunchier on Channel 2. This effectively gives you four channels to work with, although there’s no way to switch between the inputs - at least without using an A/B box between your guitar and the amp, and Bogner doesn’t recommend that. You’ve gotta figure that when the designer says not to do something, there’s a good reason for it.

After the inputs, your signal hits a Pre EQ switch for Plexi Bright, Normal and Bright modes. From there, it goes into either Channel 1 - which has a Volume control and 3-way Bright switch - or the more tricked-out Channel 2, which has Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and Volume controls. Then there’s a 70/80 voicing switch which lets you select between 1970s or 1980s voicing, plus an EQ bypass which effectively puts everything on 11 for maximum crunch, chunk and growl. There’s also a Presence control which operates across both channels.

Around the back, you’ll find a Bottom control with a Punch switch for extended low end response and a tube buffered series effects loop with return level control. And if you’ve got the 100 watt version, you’ll see a JMP-100W or JTM- 30W mode switch, while the 50 watt model has a Variac mode for lowering the amount of power reaching the amp in the first place. You can

use a foot switch to select channels and toggle the effects loop. “If you engage the loop, it can work as a master volume,” Grassi explains. “It can increase the level or drop the level. There’s a switch which lets you bypass the effects loop, and then there’s a Punch switch which you can dial in with a potentiometer for extra bottom, so you can really get a nice thump.”

The covering is black Levant for a traditional look, and while it’s a beautiful amp to look at on the outside, it’s even nicer on the inside. “It’s beautiful inside there,” Grassi says. “It has a traditional cloth-knitted turret board and resin- soaked transformers, all lacquered and with a suspension washer under them to help reduce the hum and prevent vibration, because when you use a high-powered transformer, it tends to vibrate the chassis.”

CLEAN TO MEAN TO SCREAM

Channel 1 starts with a Vox-ish full midrange on the Plexi input, but can be coaxed into a twangy, punchy clean tone which is great for getting some real oomph out of a Telecaster (especially when you dial in the Punch switch). On the Hot input, you’ll get more of a chunky hard rock crunch: think George Lynch’s rhythm tones, which are never as distorted as they sound. This tone also cleans up really nicely from the volume control of the guitar, and it sounds so great that you won’t really miss the absence of a more traditional full-range EQ section. If you have a great-sounding guitar, this channel presents it in its best light without any fuss. Oh, and it seems to love P90s.

As for Channel 2, it sounds amazing. It’s pretty much impossible to make this channel sound bad. The tone stack is very interactive and wide-ranging, to the point where small changes can have a big effect on the end tone. The '70s mode has great punch for those big clear classic rock overdrive tones - think Les Pauls, humbuckers, big pentatonic bends and bigger open chords. Switch over to 80 mode,

and the tone becomes much more compressed and over-the-top, but in a completely manageable way that easily adapts to everything from “Unchained” to “Them Bones” to “Symphony Of Destruction”-style tones. The midrange is very rich and musical.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This is an incredible, world-class amp which embodies the spirit of a great-sounding, heavily-modded Marshall, but with enough flexibility to help you find your own tone. The construction quality is second to none, too If Bogner hadn’t already earned his place in some kind of Mount Rushmore of amp builders, the Helios would put him there.

WHY YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO WANT IT

It’s like a room full of amps in one, from classic unmodded Plexi through to a hot-rodded '80s beast with all the trimmings. It’s also able to get extremely loud, but doesn’t need to be cranked up to sound good; even at home levels, it sounds amazing.

WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FIRST

It would be great to have an inbuilt way
of safely switching between the Plexi and
Hot inputs: that would instantly broaden the flexibility of this amplifier from an onstage perspective. Some players might also wish there was a reverb included.

IN-DEPTH SPECIFICATIONS

The Helios is a 100-Watt amplifier head with four EL34 power tubes and eight 12AX7 preamp tubes, made with point-to-point hand-wired construction. It has two inputs (Plexi and Hot) which offer different gain structures, and two channels for everything from spanky cleans to over- the-top distortion. Tone shaping is further enhanced by switchable ‘70s or ‘80s voicing, and there’s an EQ Bypass switch for punchy tones. There’s also a tube-buffered effects loop with return level, 100/30-watt switching, and footswitch for channel and effects loop selection.

BEST IN THE HANDS OF

Professional guitarists who love the Marshall sound, but want to put more of their own stamp on their sound,
or who long for the days of modded ‘60s and ‘70s Marshalls but don’t want to alter an original, museum- quality piece to get there.

WHY IT’S ON THE TOP SHELF

Everything about this amp’s signal chain is carefully thought out and flawlessly executed, and the build quality is phenomenal. Bogner has really outdone himself with this one, making an amplifier that sums up where he came from as well as where he is now. The quality justifies the price. Speaking of pricing, contact Eastgate Music for more info on how much you can expect to pay for this work of art.

CONTACT

EASTGATE MUSIC

Ph: (03) 9817 7000

www.eastgatemusic.com.au