REVIEW: Swart's Immaculate Atomic Space Tone

Atomic Space ToneHandmade Quality, Atomic-Age Styling, Delicious All-Tube Tone

When I first stumbled onto Michael Swart’s handsome tweed tube amp, via the Swart Amplifier Co’s website, I may have been instantly struck by the retro-cool look of his handiwork, but I had no inclination that I was gazing upon one of the best sounding tube amplifiers I was ever likely to play.

In fact, as a dyed in the wool “tube freak” it’s almost embarrassing to admit it, but until I got the Atomic Space Tone in for review I apparently had no real idea of just how good a tube amp could sound – Fender, VOX, Boogie, Ampeg, I’ve played plenty of mass-produced tube amps, but in my opinion not one of them can match the lush tone of this surprising little amplifier. Blue Jeweled Atomic Logo

While I realize that may be saying a lot, well… what can I say? Michael Swart’s got a good thing going here.

100% tube circuitry, a 12AX7 tube tremolo unit, tube reverb, point-to-point hand-wiring, and a hand-made/finger jointed pine cabinet are just a few of the features of Swart’s Atomic Space Tone. It’s a stunning amp, made even more so by its diminutive size, old-school style, and seriously soulful 12″ speaker–the aptly named Mojotone British Vintage Series BV-25m.

It’s all about the tone!

I’m going to tell you this right off the bat: the Atomic Space Tone puts my tweed Fender Blues Deluxe to shame. In fact, I’m not even sure how I’m going to go back to the Fender once I send this puppy back. Not only does it put my Fender to shame, but it does so with less weight, smaller dimensions, a heck of a lot more style, and without ever breaking a sweat.

And as far as I’m concerned, the benefit of this amplifier’s smaller size & weight shouldn’t be discounted… I don’t know about you, but these days I’m a lot more interested in making good music than I am in hauling some back-breaking, ear-splitting 4×12 combo in and out of clubs all weekend long. The Atomic Space Tone does away with all that, because it packs more tone & volume into its light-weight chassis than you would ever expect to find there. This thing is an absolute monster of tone.Swart ReverSwart Reverb Knobb Knob

And while I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about electronics (hey, I’m just a guitar player,) from what I gather a big part of the the Atomic Space Tone’s incredible tonal personality lies in a pair of JJ 6v6 tubes (pumping out 18-22 cathode biased watts of power,) and in the amp’s complete lack of of solid-state rectification.

But whatever the magic ingredients, the Atomic Space Tone is quite simply a highly dynamic piece of machinery. I found it to respond flawlessly to whatever I threw at it, from punchy chord comping (the harmonic subtleties are phenomenal) to crunchy rhythm work, soaring leads, and even some blistering fingerpicking insanity.

And yeah, while you’re never going to get a modern high-gain sound out of this amp (short of a pedal, of course,) just try dropping your guitar’s volume down to nothing, pump the Space Tone’s volume 3/4s of the way up, and then slowly bring your pickup volume back up: now you’ve got access to the full range of what this amp can do–roll that volume knob just a bit higher and you can go from clean rhythm to screaming solo with just a quick movement of the fingers.

Of course, truly organic dynamics aren’t the only thing this amp has going for it–real tube-driven tremolo & reverb units ensure that the Atomic Space Tone pumps out the kind of authentic, retro rock & roll sound you’d expect from an amp built 50 years ago or more. It’s a twang-lover’s dream.

Back-Of-Atomic-Space-Tone“Lush” is about the only word that comes close to describing the tremolo on this thing, and if you’ve never had the pleasure to work with a tube tremolo unit then trust me, you’ve got a really pleasant surprise coming. The sound, which can run from a high-speed rush to a long & slow sonic wave, is reminiscent of the tube-vibrato voicing of Fender’s venerable Vibroverb and its ilk. It’ll add entirely new sonic possibilities to your playing.

Rounding out the options on the Atomic Space Tone is its incredibly deep, almost echoing tube reverb… and this is where my Fender Blues Deluxe really comes up short. While they spring reverb on the Fender is so twangy and springy as to be almost unusable at anything other than a very low setting (perhaps three on the reverb knob,) Swart gives you a reverb unit that just keeps on giving.

At its lowest setting the tube-reverb is light and airy, adding just a hint of extra sustain. At its highest setting it sounds like you could be playing in the Taj Mahal. The entire spectrum of reverb is somehow musically/harmonically pleasing in a way that no digital reverb has ever come close too. It just works. A two-way footswitch (one switch for reverb, one for tremolo) makes jumping back and forth between settings easy.

And it looks good too.

Yep, there’s no doubt that Michael Swart outdid himself with this one. While the Atomic Space Tone is an absolute beauty to play, it’s also incredibly easy on the eyes. The finger-jointed pine cabinet is covered in that classic vintage tweed you expect to see on amps from the ’40s & ’50s, and the whole thing is then lacquered for durability and topped off with Oxblood siding–a truly unique touchAtomic-Space-Tone-Logo3-2

Turn the amp around and you have easy access to the exposed tubes (nice touch, but watch your fingers–those things get hot!) and also to the amplifier’s five simple control knobs (Volume, Tone, Space, Speed, and Depth,) High & Low cable jacks, footswitch jack, blue jewel power lamp, and Power & Launch toggles (Launch = Standby.)

While the super cool Atomic Space Tone logo may just be icing on the cake, it really does bring the aesthetics of the hardware together. Another great touch, Michael!

Final word…

While Gangsta’ Rappers & Metalheads need not apply, the all-tube Atomic Space Tone is a no-brainer for nearly every other style of music you can think of, including Country, Alt-Country, old-school R&B, Soul, Blues, Jump Blues, Swing, Reggae, Ska, Rockabilly, Funk, Jazz, Fusion, and just about any form of good ol’ Rock & Roll.

The small size & weight of the amp belies its ability to pump out a huge amount of what can only be described as full-on tube tone–the kind of nuanced, dynamic, and truly musical guitar tone that many guitarists spend their entire careers searching for.

The Atomic Space Tone’s going price of around $1,775 is incredibly reasonable, considering that you’re purchasing a hand-made amplifier that will more than likely last you the rest of your guitar playing days–providing equal parts style, attitude, and “quality of tone” that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else.

Go get one now your guitar will thank you.

Manufacturer: Swart Amplifier Company | Model: Atomic Space Tone | Sales: Michael Swart | Telephone: 910-620-2512 | Web Site: www.swartamps.com