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Bogner Alchemist – Ultimate Sleeper Amp?

by vaughn skow October 01, 2015 4 min read

Bogner Alchemest - Face Pannel

Hi-diddly do fair blog neighbors!  In my first couple years of this blog, I often featured amps that I considered “sleepers” … amps that could be bought for fairly cheap money and deliver more than expected.  I think it’s time to revive the sleeper-amp concept!  Let’s dig in with this week’s choice, the Bogner Alchemist.  Ready?  Let’s go!

I clearly remember when the Alchemists first appeared in stores like Guitar Center, and the supporting ads in the guitar mags.  Man, they really caught my attention, at over a grand or so, they certainly were not inexpensive, but they WERE a lot less than any other amp to bear the Bogner badge.  I’d played other Bogner models and knew they were truly top-shelf amps.  However, at the time I already had a stable plum packed full of vintage Fender and Marshall amps and had just started making my own glorious tube amps, so I just couldn’t justify purchasing an Alchemist. 

Fast forward to 2015.  The $1000+ Alchemists now routinely sell used for in the $400 range, some as low as $250 to $300 … now that’s a DEAL!  An Alchemist head showed up in the local Nashville Craigslist for cheap money “or trade”.  A deal was struck and I finally had an Alchemist!  The amp had a highly microphonic pre-amp tube and a tired set of 6L6’s, so I did a total re-tube and bias.  While I was inside her, I checked for sloppy solder joints or anything else that looked sketchy, and found everything looking excellent.  I’ve heard stories of these things looking kinda sloppy inside, leading to failure, but I can attest to the fact that this one looks excellent, with a layout and design that seems very tech-friendly; more so than most modern PCB construction tube amps.  If reliability is a concern, I’d say just take an Alchemist to a decent tech for a quick look-see, but don’t expect him to find much to “fix”.  It’s a good solid design and implementation.

Bogner Alchemist Chassis

By this time Bogner/Line6 had ceased production on the Alchemist line, and I noticed that Bogner was blowing out empty Alchemist 1x12 combo cabinets for a hundred bucks, so I bought one.  I figured having the option of a head or 1x12 combo was a plus.  As it’s turned out, I put her in the 1x12 and haven’t looked back.  As you might imagine, I tried every speaker imaginable in the cab, and I chose the WGS ET65.  This speaker really brings out the uber-rich honest and organic vintage vibe of this amp.  It really tips the scales towards making this amp a true top-shelf boutique rig.  I can’t help but feel as though the Vintage 30 speakers, with their overly charged upper-mid spike, that came stock really did a disservice to these amps.

Okay, so … apart from the afore mentioned poor stock speaker choice, let’s talk about why the Alchemist never really got the respect I believe it deserved, and still deserves.  In a word, the Alchemist is a race car, and those accustomed to driving more pedestrian vehicles just couldn’t handle it.   Let’s talk about that.

I’m a Fender guy through and through, and I love the way you can take most any vintage Fender amp, set all the controls most anywhere, plug in, and sound great.  The Alchemist ain’t like that!  Here is a quick quiz to see if an Alchemist is right for you.  If you answer “no” to any of these questions, stick with something simpler!

  1. I understand (and maybe even like) the idea of highly interactive tone controls.
  2. I like very powerful (ie touchy) first gain stages.
  3. Reverb that changes it’s intensity with amount of pre-gain doesn’t scare me.
  4. A “Boost” switch that boosts certain frequencies (not just gain) is something I can work with.
  5. Switches to re-shape Treble, Middle, and Bass controls does not throw me for a loop.
  6. When all is said and done, if the knobs are at crazy looking settings, but the sound is perfect, I’m a happy camper.

There ya go!  The long and short of it is this:  be prepared to WORK a little more for your ultimate tone.  If you get an Alchemist, plan to spend a fair amount of time learning the amp before you take it out on your first gig.  Here’s what I have found.  Yes, channel one in the “clean” setting CAN nail a super fat-n-juicy blackface Super Reverb tone, but ya can’t be afraid to twist some knobs.  In the “crunch” setting it can totally nail a Marshall Plexi … but again, don’t expect to simply flip the switch to crunch and expect it to be there.  Same goes for channel two; this channel can go from slightly driven singing Dumble Overdrive to full on Scooped Metal … but again, don’t be afraid to do some serious knob twisting and switching.

On to effects.  Personally, I find the delay with tap-tempo and digital reverb with hall, plate, and spring settings to be the ultimate choice for a gigging amp … I consider Reverb and Delay to be the “meat & potatoes” of guitar effects … with things like tremolo, phase shifting, etc to be “spice”.  One area where folks dis on the Alchemist is in the fact that the Reverb and delay intensity changes with the input gain settings.  Personally, that doesn’t bother me a bit, because it’s exactly the same as running a verb & delay pedal in front of a driven tube amp … something I do all the time!

Okay, so is there anything I DON’T like about the amp?  Yes, there is one:  It’s HEAVY!  As a 2 6L6 all-tube amp with big-iron transformers and heavy-duty cabs, these things ain’t light, but the top-shelf tone, combined with the current bargain-basement prices, make it worth the heavy load-in. 

Bogner Alchemist Ultimate Sleeper Amp

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