ToneQuest Report: April 2024 – Vol. 25, No. 6


Mark Bartel, after over 30 years of dedication, has crafted three guitar amplifier models: the Sugarland, Starwood, and Roseland, each offering distinct tones and features. Bartel’s amps provide options for players, ranging from ’60s Fender sounds to Plexi crunch, focusing on harmonic richness and natural touch responsiveness. Fane speakers, particularly the A60, complement Bartel’s amps, favored by musicians like Luis Maldonado. Pete A. Flynn, a seasoned musician and pickup maker, has developed exceptional humbuckers, including the Flynn Low Wind A2 Bucker Set and Flynn A5 Bucker Set, praised for their vintage tone and reasonable prices.

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MARK BARTEL’S MASTERBILT GUITAR AMPLIFICATION – Having dedicated 30-plus years and well beyond 10,000 hours later, Mark Bartel is delivering on the tones that he always heard in his head. Mark is a ’70s rocker type inspired and influenced by his upbringing and ’70s vinyl. He builds three models, the 12 watt 2x6V6 cathode biased Sugarland, the 28 watt 2x6L6 cathode biased Starwood and the 45 watt 2x6L6 fixed bias Roseland with beefier transformers, all tube rectified and each with a similar preamp design. The Starwood has reverb, and the Roseland has reverb and tremolo, the Sugarland being straight, no modulation effects. These amps are interactive and present players with many options for shaping their sound. You can get a mid-scooped ’60s Fender sound, or a range of thicker tweed-like voicings, or even some Plexi crunch. Mark delivers a purist design that is all about harmonic richness, note bloom, and a natural touch responsiveness.

THE BARTEL PURE SUGARLAND – Our notions of the Sugarland had us anticipating Kossof and Angus at top speed and they’re both present, but Lifeson and Joe Perry also come to the party. While those vibes are really more about the player and their phrasing, this amp can span the spectrum from beautiful, round cleans, to late ’60s gained up rock. The transition is smooth as butter, with three distinct voices that can easily be dialed-up as starting points. However, that’s only where the journey begins, as there is plenty of fun in between tweaking just four knobs, Volume, Treble, Bass, Master. No frills and no mid pot necessary. With a consummate tinkerer and tweaker of tones like Mark, it would serve you well to spend a little time with a Bartel.

BRITISH GOODNESS OF A DIFFERENT KIND – FANE ASCENSION SERIES DESIGNER FOUAD ABIDI – We have been aware of Fane speakers for some time. However, after Mark Bartel professed finding the perfect match for his amps and cabinets with the A60, we figured you would enjoy learning more about the design motivation for the Ascension Series and how Fane creates a musical, dynamic, and well-balanced range of speakers with all the subtle nuances of finely crafted tube amplifiers, while staying true to classic Fane tone. Think classic rock and blues style heard on the recordings of Dave Gilmour, Rory Gallagher, Mark Knopfler, and Jeff Beck. Fane is a tight-knit family and highly skilled team where knowledge and know-how is passed down through generations. Quality, consistency, and repeatability are critical. Every part of a Fane speaker is built by hand. The AC60 pairs well with a broad range of amplifiers and works well across a broad range of playing styles. A desirable choice for sound and performance.

LUIS MALDONADO WEIGHS IN ON FANE – We asked our friend Dave Noss at Avatar Speakers which players were using the Fane Ascension Series. He pointed us to Luis Maldonado, a tasteful ripper and tone hound who has spent 30-plus years writing, recording and performing on stages with the likes of John Waite, Glenn Hughes, Train, and a current member of Foreigner, just wrapping up the 2023 tour at the time of this conversation. We went deep on the rigors of the road and its toll on gear, going straight in and cranking an early ’70s stock Marshall Super Bass, and what speakers can handle that 100-plus wattage pummeling for north of 100 dates a year. How Luis went about dialing in Mick Jones’ tones led to nothing more than simply a Marshall SE-1 attenuator and a Pelham Blue Murphy Lab ’64 SG that rivals his buddy’s real one. We spent a little time on life in general, revealed a deep thinker and warm soul. Here’s a short take on Luis’ dance with Fane speakers.

INTERVIEW – PETE A. FLYNN – Pete A. Flynn has been making music for decades, playing drums and guitars with quite a few famous players, and opened a guitar store allowing him to get his hands on incredible vintage gear and chase the tones of modern pickups from the late 1950s guitars. Pete bought every conceivable humbucker out there since 1985 and was even a Duncan dealer. Larry DiMarzio made the pickups for his Flynn Guitars, but he never found anything that sounded like a real PAF. Pete decided he had nothing to lose by building his own, and worked with Seymour Duncan and César Díaz, even. Everyone wants the ultimate PAF clone. Pete felt he cracked the code and received validation when he sent them to people who have the finest vintage collections, like the Frankie Sullivans of the world, major players, and others who have vintage PAFs. Not just another guy making pickups. Everything is hands on and made the P.A.F. way for players who know vintage tone.

PETE A. FLYNN PICKUP REVIEWS – What may seem to have taken just a couple years, was really a lifetime of Pete Flynn’s path. It is both interesting and amusing that his initials are PAF. We had Pete send a couple sets, the Flynn Low Wind A2 Bucker Set and Flynn A5 Bucker set down to Texas after his fascinating interview and have spent more than half a year with these pickups listening to them in various guitars and evaluating them. We can certainly say that his work is excellent, and if not, we would have kindly declined to write about them. Pete has been working on perfecting what he considers the ultimate humbucker cover, which would not take out the high end and output, and four of them were sent for review a couple of months after the humbuckers. These pickups are stellar, and his prices are beyond reasonable. You might want to get them while you can before he gets swamped by the wild and rabid seekers.