Swart AST combo and AST Mark II head review.

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by Gear-Junkie, Feb 4, 2011.

  1. Gear-Junkie

    Gear-Junkie Supporting Member

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    Both amps are all-tube hand-wired designs, about 18-20 watts each, and both have outstanding reverb and tremolo. Thought I would post this for anybody trying to decide between the two...

    Swart AST: The retro styling and the "space age" theme make perfect sense for an amp that seems to have time traveled from the last mid-century into the modern era. The AST easily produces some of the best tweed-style cleans and overdrive I've ever heard. It truely has that classic late fifties all-American sound. This amp is voiced beautifully. It's mid-focused with a sweet top end, chimey overtones, and loads of even order harmonic content. The warm high end, fat mids, and complex harmonic structure remind me of my favorite medium to low powered "tweed" era amplifiers. Plus, you get the added bonus of built in reverb and tremolo, both footswitchable, and the ability to use 6V6's or 6L6's without rebiasing. The AST has an overall tonal complexity that is hard to match. With the amp's volume on full the highs are sweet and singing, the overdrive is fat and wooly with lots of sustain. It's always smooth and very musical throughout its range. The amp cleans up nicely as you back off the volume knob, almost into blackface territory. Yet it still retains a very complex character throughout. This amplifiers magic is in its rich mids and high end detail. If you want a bigger/tighter bottom end, you may have to try a speaker swap or go with the Mark II version. The AST comes with a "vintage" voiced Mojo BV25 (British style) speaker. An interesting choice given that the AST sounds like it is voiced more American than British to me. But the BV25 is truely magical in this amp. We tried many speakers with the AST and always kept going back to the Mojo as the overall favorite. The AST is a great medium to low wattage blues or old school rock amp, some guys are even using these for slide and harp. I thought this amp was alot of fun to play. Using humbuckers with the amps volume and tone knobs cranked, you get an overdrive reminiscent of so many classic recordings its hard to believe that you're not playing an amp thats 50 plus years old. The AST gives up the "good" stuff early, and at more comfortable ear-pleasing playing levels making this amp a reasonable choice for most players. While its not as "big" sounding as simular wattage combos in larger cabinets, it's compact size makes it extremely portable, a perfect grab-n-go combo.

    Swart AST Mark II Head: This is the AST on steriods. You get the sweet, complex tweed style cleans and overdrive of the AST combo but with alot more gain on tap. The ability to switch out 6V6, 6L6, or EL-34's (without rebiasing) and a very unique completely bypassable tube driven master volume. The head format gives you a lot of speaker/cabinet options to choose from. Also, this amp just sounds bigger/louder than the AST combo. That could be due to the spacious Swart designed 1x12 cabinet. We really dig how you can see the glow of the power tubes through the oval cutout on the front of the cabinet, very cool, and it makes switching out power tubes a snap. Also, the forward facing control panel makes knob twisting a little easier while jamming. Playing the Mark II you get the feeling that it isnt just simply the AST combo's chassis in a head cabinet. There is a noticible difference between the two. The Mark II has more power and authority than its combo cousin. This little beast wants to roar!!! Important note: experimenting with different speakers really made this amp come to life. I didn't feel that the stock Mojo speaker did this amp justice, it sounded nice, but it simply just didnt show off what this amp is fully capable of. We found several speakers that made this amp sound AMAZING!!! It was noticably louder, more articulate, and had a much bigger and more defined bottom end. You may have to try out several speakers before you find "the one", but it will be well worth your efforts. The Mark II head is a blast to play. We had alot of fun playing Chicago and Texas style blues through it. But what really suprised us was the killer Marshall-like overdrive when cranked. Using humbuckers with the volume and tone cranked (turn off the reverb and tremolo) puts you somewhere between Brown Deluxe and 18 watt Marshall territory. Thick, complex, harmonically rich distortion. Think 1974 Marshall or that early Jimmy Page cranked Supro on the first Led Zepplin albums. You can totally get your plexi fix without making your ears bleed (as much). It satisfied my Rich Robinson, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Cream era Clapton licks without needing a wall of Marshalls. The Mark II head is an extremely versatile, great sounding amplifier.





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    Last edited: Mar 4, 2012
  2. X - Road 28

    X - Road 28 Member

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    I'll say it first Gear-Junkie, thanks for the great review.
     
  3. thesjkexperienc

    thesjkexperienc <<== I made this Gold Supporting Member

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    Thanks as well. I have an early AST PRO, but dream of the MKII head & Cab as well as the SST 30.

    The funny thing is with my PRO I can only run the tone around 4 before it gets too bright. I use JJ 6V6 when I want it to stay clean a little longer and Tung Sol 6V6 for earlier OD and more mids. I use Tung Sol 12ax7 and a JJ 12dw7 with a 5y3 rectifier.

    Gear-Junkie, do you remember what tubes or speaker was in the amp you played? Often I feel I cant get away from too much high end. Some of the difference could be the stouter Celestion G12H30 Heritage in my amp holds the highs better.

    I noticed two things on the Swart website in that they say the MKII is "less sweet" than the AST though I imagine it is much louder due to the bigger speaker box. Also, they now offer a MKII Combo! Pretty killer :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2011
  4. ruger9

    ruger9 Supporting Member

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    huh... I've always read the G12H30 was pretty warm in the AST. I guess the Mojo could be warmer, but...

    I'm not a fan of treble either. I want a Swart BECAUSE of it's warm and tweed-like. You're the only person I've seen that has said it can get bright... altho, even if you had the treble OFF, as long as you like the tone coming out of it...
     
  5. TMock

    TMock Silver Supporting Member

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    Try to find some of the older threads on the AST PRO. thejkexperienc is not the only one who has noted a tendency toward spiky trebles with the G12H30 in the AST PRO.
     
  6. farlowhigh

    farlowhigh Gold Supporting Member

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    I would love to hear about the differences in the cleans between the original AST and the new Mk II combo...I love the idea of being able to have the bypassable master on the AST, but I do love the cleans on my older AST.

    I love the idea of the master and some extra gain but wouldn't want to lose the magic of the old cleans...
     
  7. jjp

    jjp Senior Member

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    I'll let you know, just as soon as mine arrives, which will hopefully be some time late next week. I ordered the AST Master, as it is now called, with the Celestion G12 Gold.
     
  8. Gear-Junkie

    Gear-Junkie Supporting Member

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    The difference in treble is definitely the speaker. The AST combo I played had a stock Mojo BV25 speaker. To me, this is a very smooth and dark sounding speaker with not alot of emphassis on the high end. But, it is magic in this amp. It sounded great!!! It really brings out that vintage tweed "vibe" of this amp. I think it was a really good choice if thats the sound youre going for. Otherwise you may want to try a few other speakers to get the sound where you want. We had the tone knob on the AST combo set right around 3 o'clock or higher to get the warm sparkle out of this amp. Of course a brighter speaker will not need the treble set as high. To me the G12H30 is a very aggressive sounding speaker, I can see how it might be too bright for the AST. As with any speaker, the G12H30 can sound absolutely stunning in some amplifiers and too bright, harsh, or aggressive in others. I havent heard the AST combo with a G12H30 but it may be a better match with the higher gain Mark II head. Speaker choice can really make-or-break a great amp. And of course, everyones tastes are different. You have to find the speaker that sounds the best to your ear and for the style of music you will be playing.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2011
  9. SKYHIGH

    SKYHIGH Supporting Member

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    What is AST MASTER??? Can you explain.
     
  10. ruger9

    ruger9 Supporting Member

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  11. jjp

    jjp Senior Member

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    Its the AST MkII in a 112 combo. Michael Swart has made these in limited runs, and is now offering it sa it's own thing, the AST Master 112 or 210(?)
     
  12. farlowhigh

    farlowhigh Gold Supporting Member

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    sounds great! can't wait to hear your impressions...would also be interested in hearing about differences with 1x12 vs. 2x10 speaker options...
     
  13. Rick360

    Rick360 Member

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    Howdy,

    Thanks for the detailed review, Gear-Junkie. I almost went for the well regarded AST sight-unseen. Instead I opted for a Carmen Ghia, since I'd actually played one. One reads nothing but flattering things about Swart.
     
  14. Gear-Junkie

    Gear-Junkie Supporting Member

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    The Carmen Ghia is another great amp. Theres alot of tone packed into that little amp!!!
     
  15. jjp

    jjp Senior Member

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    Mine should be here this week!
     
  16. SKYHIGH

    SKYHIGH Supporting Member

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    Have you played regular AST? I'm curious to how you find them different and similar. Please let us know.
     
  17. jjp

    jjp Senior Member

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    No, I actually haven't played any Swart amps. It was my first blind faith purchase, hopefully I won't be disappointed.
     
  18. gatornavy

    gatornavy Member

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    You shouldn't be disappointed at all. The AST is an amazing sounding amp. I just got a Night Light a few days ago and have fallen in love all over again. Clean and over-driven tone to die for. I too bought my AST without trying it first. Nearly 6-7 months later and I don't regret it at all. I'd do it again.
     
  19. Jacobpaul81

    Jacobpaul81 Member

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    Those of you with these, how close is it in tone to a Brownface Deluxe. I'm running the book-end amps to that (Princeton - Tremolux) but really wanting a Deluxe amp, but I like having the head-cab setup of my tremolux. Wondering if the MKII AST is the right direction to go rather than locating a vintage model with potential vintage problems.
     
  20. daacrusher2001

    daacrusher2001 Silver Supporting Member

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    I used my AST last night with a Grosh EJ (P90's)...I love this amp, but I also find it somewhat dark at times. At volume, overdriven, it's just flat out great.

    I've been wondering two things but can't seem to get any feedback from anyone...

    Is the Pro Panel worth getting - I'm going to just take the back off and see if it changes the sound

    What's a good replacement for the Mojo stock speaker. I think it sounds ok but not great. Sometimes it almost sounds as if the amp has a blanket over it. I was wondering if a 12A125 or a Gold would be better in this amp...anyone have any input on speaker selections?
     

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