Palmer Fat 50 Combo – small, black and fat at 50 – a test report from amazona.de
Oh man, how time flies! Has it really been over thirty years since I first heard the English-sounding name Palmer, and then finally found out that it is actually a German company? Since then, this company which was founded in Neu-Anspach in 1980, has popped up on my radar again and again. Whether it’s related to their legendary speaker simulations, interesting detail solutions in pedals or other nifty little helpers, which are often required, but rarely found.
The fact that this ten-person company also manufactures full-fledged amplifiers in combo and head/cabinet formats, I have only just realised, my bad, in the last few years.. In addition to interesting new developments, there is also a classic, two-channel tube amp called FAT 50, which is available as a combo or head. The 10-member company is consistently committed to the "Made in-Germany" statement, not only in the R&D department, but also in the sense of "Designed, engineered and assembled in Germany" as proudly expressed by the label.
Palmer cannot complain about the lack of competition in this category, since whole armies of traditional competitors or new upstarts are jostling with this company from the north of Frankfurt to be the buyer’s top choice. To score points, design, craftsmanship, and last but not least the sound must be among the very best, if you don’t want to be outgunned by the impressive advertising budget of the competition.
Sound samples can be found here: http://www.amazona.de/test-palmer-fat-50-combo/
When you take the Palmer Fat 50 Combo out of its packaging for the first time, you basically have a classic combo, which to the eye appears quite compact with dimensions of 580 x 500 x 270 mm; however due to its design, it still weighs almost thirty kilograms. Delicate female arms will probably throw the towel in here. The combo is covered in durable, black imitation leather and features the usual reinforced corners: it is very well crafted. A 12-inch Governor speaker from Eminence is used; its red basket sets it apart visually from the overall black look of the amp. The massive magnet suggests lots of headroom and turns out to also be a magnetic holder for the foot switch.
The Palmer Fat 50 Combo offers two channels, with both channels divided into Low and High Gain. The combo is operated by four 12AX7A pre-amp tubes and two 5881 power amp tubes, a more robust version of the 6L6. All four sounds share a four-band sound adjustment (Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence), with a Bright Boost providing for an upstream shaping. In the master section, we find a controller for Reverb and Master volume while two mini-switches alternate between the four basic sounds. There is a Spring Reverb in a pocket at the bottom of the combo. So far, so good.
However, if you look at the included foot switch on the rear panel of the combo, it gets really interesting. The foot switch itself shows once more that Palmer is concerned with the small details, which are ultimately so important. It is not only the fact that the switch appears to be a heavy-duty version; the bottom plate, which ensures stability through a rubber coating on smooth surfaces, is extended on the front side and offers the possibility to screw the switch onto a pedalboard by means of two small holes. If you are used to playing live, you know how important such apparently minor details can be!
In addition to Gain, Channel and Reverb, there is also a volume switch on the far right side, with which to recall a second Master volume previously set on the back of the amplifier. If you are not working exclusively with a fixed FOH, or if your cranky colleagues immediately demand more oomph just after the solo, then a second master is the icing on the cake. The FX loop is also a very nice touch, as it can seamlessly blend between serial and parallel operation via a rotary controller. The right stop stands for serial operation (modulation effects etc), the left stop for parallel operation (spatial effects etc.).
Should you want to rely on the support of cabinets when performing on big stages, no problem. A total of four different sockets allow for a variety of connections such as 1x 8Ω, 2x 8Ω, 1x 16Ω and 2x 16Ω.
When you turn on the Palmer Fat 50 Combo, a large yellow LED provides information on the mains voltage applied. Already, from the first sound, any experienced guitarist will know what’s coming. But hold on, something is different. In my opinion, the 5881 amp tubes modify the sound of the combos more than I had expected. The parallels with the 6L6 are quite evident, nevertheless, the increased headroom seems to give the amp a bulkier, more open sound. The variation may be marginal, but I consider this amp tube to be a great success; when combined with the Eminence Governor, it’s a real pleasure.
This amplifier truly deserves the name FAT 50. Seldom have I heard an open combo which has generated such a comparatively strong bass boost with just a 12-incher. The basic sound is dense, compressed and strong bass, but without smashing below 500 Hz, as is likely to happen with the 6L6 competition from the States. Even if the California sound orientation is omnipresent, the Palmer Fat 50 Combo manages to provide quite a substantial British intonation without having to resort to the otherwise mandatory "EL34", when needed.
Let us start with the clean channel without any Gain boost. Here, Palmer manages to maintain the pearly tone, even at a high volume level, and you may even want to add some initial sliding Crunches to the volume. The amp stays pretty bony and edgy and will give musicians quite a good work-out for a neat and proper sound. No glossing over, no dead compressed scope froth: very tasteful and direct personal sound design.
When activating the Gain level, the volume potentiometer comes into play. Here you can indulge in the fine art of distortion levels using the volume controller, still the most organic way to shape the sound. No matter how many channels you have on your panel, nothing (!) beats working with the volume controller! It’s very delightful how Palmer has designed this amplifier.
In the Drive channel of the Palmer Fat 50 Combo, the sound approach is quite different. The basic sound is softer and generates beautiful "old school" hard rock sounds in the normal mode, and via the additional gain stage, it steps up to become a great lead sound which beautifully captures and delicately cross-fades with the harmonics.
Both channels are very well coordinated, both acoustically and in terms of volume. You never have the feeling that a further sound adjustment is necessary, since all four basic sounds work hand in hand. All are available via foot switch, in different volumes and if necessary provided with a good sounding Spring Reverb – what more could a musician’s heart desire?
With the FAT 50 Combo, Palmer has introduced a real gem into their product range. The Combo combines the flexibility of four basic sounds with the distinctive character of individuality like no other combo. The sound of the Palmer Fat 50 Combo is excellent, the craftsmanship superb. Accessories and detail solutions show the vision and experience of the manufacturer and for a product completely manufactured in Germany, the amplifier also has a very moderate pricing.
For me, an absolute highlight in the hotly contested combo segment: a must try!
Test Setup: Flaxwood Äija– SM57
Source: Amazona.de, Germany 3/2013: http://www.amazona.de/test-palmer-fat-50-combo/
Author: Axel Ritt
For more information on the Palmer Fat 50:
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