The History of Suhr
Few brands carry authentic boutique status across their entire product range as much as Suhr. Far from just a builder of some of the finest guitars on the planet, John Suhr has lent his Midas touch to the boutique amplifier and pedal market as well.
Attention to detail, innovation, and a good sense of tradition are just a few of the many reasons why a range of contemporary guitarists look to Suhr to power their sounds.
Since its release, it would be fair to acknowledge the boundaries that the Suhr PT-15IR has pushed, showing the lengths John Suhr will go to provide modern solutions to modern problems. All the while, amplifiers such as the SL-68 and Badger series take a familiar sound that’s steeped in history and give it a fresh new lease of life.
A large component of what skyrocketed the Suhr brand to the steeple of the boutique industry was the introduction of high-quality, meticulously designed and, moreover, immaculate-sounding guitar pedals.
When used in conjunction with the highly sought-after Bella amp range, the full spectrum of Suhr sounds are at your disposal, and this is what we will discuss today.
In the late 1980s, John Suhr was gigging in New York part-time and discovered that he needed a large array of sounds from his rig to accompany the songs he was playing on stage. Finding himself frustrated at the available options of the day, Suhr took it upon himself to dive into the textbooks and try his hand at modifying his Marshall amp head to his exact needs.
After showcasing his new modded amp to Bob Bradshaw (designer of the Bradshaw switching system), Suhr was commissioned to design a three-channel rack-mounted preamplifier, as well as the OD100 amplifier amongst a slew of other equipment for Bradshaw’s company, Custom Electronics.
It’s clear to see that Johns’s ear for tone and eye for design propelled him into the upper echelons of amplifier construction. When John Suhr decided to branch out and use his name and reputation to his own line of products, musicians would have confidence knowing the same attention to detail would remain in the ethos of his designs.
Fast forward to where we are today, and the Suhr amp and pedal line-up is magnificently expansive and comfortably allows you to unlock any tone you want.
What is the Suhr Bella?
Based in the roots of traditional ‘American’-style clean amps, the Bella series of amps are point-to-point, hand-wired pedal platform amplifiers. In typical Suhr fashion, this is an all-handmade amplifier that spares no expense.
A real gigging musician’s delight, the Bella is an extremely clean and transparent amplifier with ample headroom and a core sound of classic, pristine clean tones. Powered by two 6L6 tubes, it pushes out up to 44 watts maximum output or can be dropped down to 22.
Incredibly simply controls make it simple to tailor your sound to the different pedals or guitars you may use going into it. It’s an extremely functional design, with nothing more than two tonal shaping options in ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ parameters for the pre-amp section, and a dedicated ‘presence’ control in the power-amp section.
A non-master volume-controlled amplifier, the Bella uses a single volume control meaning that to coax any amount of gain from the Bella amplifier, you will need to drive the volume control until the power amp tubes distort in a very vintage and traditional sense.
There is, however, a foot-switchable boost to coax a modest level of additional grit and bite to your preamp but on the whole, remains very clean.
The last of the few features is a true hallmark of a pedal-platform design – a tube-buffered effects loop to implement time-based effects from your pedalboard or modulation effects.
The tube design of the effects loop preserves the tone perfectly with no degradation, no matter how long of a cable you use between your pedals or even through complex chains.
The tube-buffered effects loop is essential to our deep dive into the interaction between the Bella and a range of Suhr pedals, and therefore can’t be overstated how important the signal clarity is throughout this switchable circuit.
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Which Suhr pedals?
To unlock the full range of tones in the Suhr range, the three pedals we will be looking at are the Koko Boost ReLoaded, Rufus Fuzz and the Riot Mini. Each one of these pedals interacts with the Bella to unlock a different gain range, everything from a gentle push in the front of the amp, to a classic distortion and then to full-on fuzz.
Koko Boost ReLoaded
The Koko Boost ReLoaded is a highly versatile, two-mode boost pedal. With both a clean-boost mode that can drive the front of an amplifier for additional break-up and grit into the preamplifier and a targeted mid-range boost for extra cut and sustain, it’s the perfect pedal for capturing vintage, edge of break-up blues tones.
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Riot Mini Distortion
The Riot Mini Distortion transforms your clean sound into a wall of vintage and crunchy distortion. Emanating the sounds of classic British-style high-gain tube amplifiers, the Mini pedal has two voicing switches to change the character of the mid-range for any style of tone.
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Finally, the Rufus Fuzz is an innovative two-mode fuzz pedal with a scooped voicing and then an extremely mid-range heavy voicing to cater to every style of playing or amplifier that you will be connecting into.
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What tones can we get?
So now we have our amplifier, the Suhr Bella, and our pedals, what kind of tones can we expect to get?
Starting with a very clean, typical pedal platform amplifier that (in typical Suhr fashion) spares no expense, the Bella can only be described with one word – “expensive”. It makes your solo guitar sound like a million dollars. The core tone of the amplifier is rooted in the classic American clean sound.
Hypersensitive to changes in the guitar volume, it’s an expressive amp that lends itself to all manner of guitars that go into it. Using it with a traditional Stratocaster-style guitar, you’ll have a smooth clean blues sound a-la John Mayer, or use it with a hollow-body guitar perfect smooth jazz-style playing.
Heading into the lowest gain of the three pedals, the Koko Boost ReLoaded takes the idea of a Rangemaster-style treble booster circuit, and tweaks it slightly before it becomes its own beast. Instead of focussing on treble, the Koko Boost focuses on the mid-range bite in your guitar.
Now, there isn’t a tremendous amount of application using just a mid-range boost into the pristine clean of the Bella amplifier, other than it cutting slightly more in a large band setting. But it’s the ideal pedal to run in front of a chain of distortion pedals to add cutting midrange and sustain to your tone.
One trick or combination of settings you can use is to drop the Bella’s output wattage down to 22 watts and engage the boost. This way, you’re getting the maximum grit and breakup from the amp as possible before hitting it with a mid-range boost from the Koko Boost ReLoaded.
Similar to how the king of Texas Blues set up his driven fender amps with a tubescreamer style pedal, the pushed mid-range helps to add the fullness and sustain needed to nail SRV licks and tricks.
Unlike other very clean style amplifiers, the Bella’s tone controls can be driven to the maximum and still have a very useable tone. This means that, when using the Koko Boost in overdrive mode, you can bump the low-end all the way to the maximum to compensate, without hearing any of the unwanted flabbiness.
Onto the Riot Mini and to our knowledge, in compact form, there’s no other distortion pedal that offers as much amp-like gain. Everything from classic British-style amplifiers, to searing, over-the-top American style high-gain amps.
A highly reactive tone dial works in tandem with the two-way voicing switch to offer vast amounts of flexibility to be ready for any song in your setlist. Flipping the voicing switch to the right, you get a more tight and compact sound with gobs of distortion, ideal for emulating hair metal bands of the ‘80s like Van Halen or Ratt.
Because of the ultra-transparent nature of the controls on the Bella, for this style of music, it would be best to cut some Bass and boost some Treble for a searing tone that cuts through the mix.
In the left position of the voicing switch, the Riot becomes more open sounding and classic. In this mode, lifting up the brightness switch of the Bella will help take the focus away from the mid-range and open this setting up to a more HiFi sound. In any staple setlist, you’d expect one or two AC/DC songs, and this combination is the perfect raunchy Angus Young tone.
The final patching of the rig is the Rufus Fuzz. A super modern fuzz pedal with full, three-band EQ control for more control as well as two distinct modes. Green mode offers a more scooped mid-range with a more pronounced low end and sizzling high end. Red mode offers a very fat mid-range with a heavy push to cut through.
The three-position treble switch makes this pedal incredibly easy to dial in the signature sound of blues-rock from the ‘60s, cranking the treble with the sweet fuzz creates a wall of sound that will cut through a powerhouse trio band. Using it on position four of a Strat-style guitar in Red mode screams rock and roll guitar. If Hendrix is your thing, this simple amp and pedal combination gets you there instantly.
The Rufus is an extremely transparent fuzz, whereby it’s extremely reactive to volume rolling and even plays nicely with the Riot Distortion running into it. Using the Riot as your main rhythm distortion and then adding another layer of sustain with the Rufus is perfect for searing leads.
How does this setup fare in real life?
Whilst giving a picture of what kind of sounds you can get from this rig is ideal on paper – it doesn’t give a true sense of the possibility in this setup. Taking some real-world scenarios that guitar players face, let’s break down the Suhr rig’s role.
Feeling inspired when playing at home is important to ensure you are practising your material the way it needs to be played. Ideal for a wide variety of applications, Bella also features a half-power switch. This is ideal for either removing some of the headroom of your amplifier to breach into distorted territory quicker, or for reducing the overall output level for at-home practice.
As the Bella is such a clean amplifier, your tone will be consistent through the range of Suhr pedals at any volume.
Where other tube amplifiers need to be at a fairly decent volume to get some power-amp sag and saturation, the Bella doesn’t. This makes it ideal for feeling inspired when you’re at home as your tone will be consistent across every volume level.
As a small added bonus, the Bella’s tonality will remain constant throughout the volume levels, meaning you can dial in your pedals at home to get the sound you want from your rig.
When you start to crank the volume at rehearsals and gigs, you’ll be greeted with the exact same tone.
This is perfect for when playing live on the stage, as you won’t need to make any changes to your settings to compensate for the change in character in your amplifier with the increase in volume.
The ultimate test of your rig is getting on stage and performing a set. We’re happy to advise that this Suhr rig is a deadly combination of flexible and outright sonically sublime. The tremendous amount of headroom from the 44w output ensures that you can easily crank the volume to the levels needed to match a live drummer for some on-stage sound, without ever entering the range of power-amp distortion.
The clean headroom of the amplifier ensures that the settings you have dialled in on your pedals will not need to be changed. Cranking the volume will only drive the output up, so it’s going to take an extremely loud and likely not useable on-stage volume level to drive the power-amp into distortion.
For more traditional cover sets that require a range of different gain levels, guitar tones, and playing – the Bella combined with the Suhr pedals is exactly what classic, no-frills guitarists need.
As each amplifier in the Bella range is hand-wired point-to-point, the signal is extremely responsive to changes in your guitar volume. If you’re a gigging musician seeking versatility, you can seamlessly transition between vintage cleans to overdriven tones even when running through aggressive distortion and overdrive pedals.
Whether you’re matching between different guitar pickup sounds or between different guitar pedals, the Bella features a three-way brightness switch to dial in the perfect amount of treble in your signal.
This is ideal when using the Rufus Fuzz pedal, as these will often have the brightest upper harmonics when driven. So reducing some of the brightness with the bright switch is a quick and perfect way to dial in your sound between songs.
Find out more
Any contemporary guitarist looking for the authentic tube-driven amplifier experience whilst needing an array of different gain-stages for a setlist should look no further than the Suhr range.
It’s powerful enough to carry above a live drummer, responsive enough to work with your playing and a different range of guitars and, most importantly, delivering stunning audio quality – we can’t recommend Suhr enough.
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