Full disclosure before beginning, I am a “Quilter artist”, which means I am on their webpage as a player and have been mentioned in their social media. I am not an employee of Quilter or involved in any marketing or advertising company. The “free stuff” endorsement deals of yesteryear don’t exist anywhere anymore. In other words, I use and like their product. but they’re not paying me to do that. But….
They did send me one of their 101 Mini heads to beta test for them. I was not allowed to discuss, photograph, or video the little beast until the product was announced. Which just happened a few days ago. Alas, if I’d only made a video before sending it back. *sigh*
Quilter 101 Mini Head Review
So, one day I get a big box from Quilter delivered to me. I open it up, and there’s a little box inside; no, wait, that’s the amp.
This little guy weighs two pounds, which considering that it’s a metal enclosure, made me wonder if there was anything inside. My point of reference is my Quilter MicroPro Head, a 200 watt monster that weighs a back breaking (OK, pinky bending) 7 lbs. Quilter’s other tiny head, the Tone Block seemed tiny enough at 4 lbs, and I considered it basically the stripped down engine of the 200 watt MicroPro and Aviator lines. And where I had thought of the Tone Block as primarily intended to be a power amp, with it’s gain and EQ controls, some users look to it as a neutral mini-head to put stompbox signals into.
Anyone using or thinking of using the Tone Block as a mini head owes it to themselves to check out the features the the 101 Mini has to offer. First the gain is there, but there are more tone shaping controls on the 101. While I’m a traditional amp guy, and prefer the three knob EQ plus Presence of many amps, the Tri-Q and Hi-Cut allow for a lot of options using only two knobs; absolutely necessary for the tiny amount of space to mount full size knobs. A sweep of the Tri-Q all the way counterclockwise gives scooped mids (not my favorite for most) at noon the frequencies are flat and all the way clockwise cuts the bass (my preferred for many of the sounds on this rig had a bit of bass cut). Likewise, the Hi-cut is just what you’d imagine, a sort of anti-presence or anti-bright switch for possible ice-pick frequencies.
Running through the amp voicings: Those familiar with the Quilter Full-Q sound (the sound of the Aviator line and the default setting for the MicroPro voicings) will not be surprised or disappointed, it is the full bodied Quilter sound. On my demo (serial number 101Demo02, I believe) the setting now called Tweed was then named “Blues”. This was also a familiar setting, though I felt a bit of difference between it and my MicroPro Tweed setting, but both remind me of 5E3 Deluxes. I’m not a huge Neil Young fan, but I can’t help crank the gain and play the opening to “Cinnamon Girl” on this setting.
The Jazz setting was something new to me, and of course made a bit more “dark” and “mellow” of a tone, even rounding out the sound of my single coils to play some tasty Telecaster jazz. The other clean sound is Surf, which I imagine to be shaped after some Fender Blackface sound… it had a bit more bottom end for my taste for that sound, but after adjusting the EQ, became a toss-up between it and the Full-Q for my most used sound.
Initially the most confusing one for me was called “Metal” on my demo but now called Lead. Like “Blues” to Tweed, this name change is a very good call, as the first thing I did when I saw the name Metal was to set it to the scoop setting and crank the gain. Not at all satisfying… while you can get a nice gritty sound, no Quilter amp yet made is “high gain” by any stretch. Putting some distortion in front (in my case a VFE Dark Horse) Changed that dramatically. I tuned the guitar down to baritone range and had a good amount of fun going “chugga-chugga-djent-djent” for awhile. While you can get those sounds, you have to use a good stompbox. “So why did they call it Metal?” I thought to myself. Taking the Tri-Q settings out of scoopville and playing open chords and some lead lines, I got it. This was classic rock land very similar to my old ’78 Marshall 50 watt master volume. Using just a bit of overdrive got some nice sustainy leads of the late 70’s to 80’s hard rock variety. So Lead is a better name; but just like an old Marshall, you can play all kinds of heavier music through it if you know what pedal you like.
Some of the first people to see this have said “where’s the reverb”. 1) There’s no more room on the face for knobs. 2) it’s a huge sounding head that weighs less than 2 pounds. 3) The suggested retail price is just under 300 bucks. 4) If you gotta have reverb, get a pedal and use the effects loop. Wait.. what’s that? Yeah, that’s right, this also has an effects loop.
Since this was such a tiny beast, I strapped it to a Pedaltrain Mini, then put a tc electronics HOF mini reverb and a Flashback mini delay in the effects loop. I set the reverb toneprint to a nice spring reverb amp sound and switched between some slapback and some spacious delay sounds. It just plain worked. It gave me great sounds out of each voicing and at a variety of gain settings. Likewise, putting a Fly5 rig or an Ethos preamp into just the return turned the 101 mini into a power amp (though if I remember correctly, it was more than the Hi-cut… I think the voicings, which still affected the tone, which I found surprising. Best to set to Full Q and leave the rest neutral for your pre-amps or modelers, I presume).
Power? Rated at 50 watts and up to 100 on the clean (Jazz and Surf) settings. How loud? Plenty enough for club shows, blues jams, and a pair of outdoor shows. The only time I opened it up all the way was at one of the outdoor settings where the band before us invited me to do an Allman Brothers tune, and the guy had two (!) Dr. Zs onstage and was playing way, way louder than I prefer. Loud as the MicroPro through the same speakers? Let’s just say no. I’ve never come near opening up the MicroPro all the way.
I was sent this amp to try out, because I was asking Chris at Quilter about the Tone Block. I think there are a few people who were considering Tone Block and now seeing this new device are wondering what to get. My suggestion is, if you’re looking for something to power pre-amps the Tone Block still may be what you want, and does still make a good, if bare bones, guitar head. But, if what you’re looking for is a mini head, especially if you have stompboxes, you might prefer 101.
What does the ToneBlock do that the 101 can’t? 200 watts class D and a DI out.
What’s different about the 101 Mini from ToneBlock? 5 amp voicings, Hi-Cut (more tone shaping), effects loop, headphone out, smaller and lighter.
So how did they pry it out of my hands? Well, after all, it was a demo, and not mine. I did notice a tiny amount of noise at zero volume and reported it as any good tester should. Quilter immediately asked to check it out at their facility, they followed up to me that they confirmed the issue already corrected in the production run.
I still wish that I’d gotten video before I returned it. And once I get past my current condition known as “poverty”, I’m still balancing which Quilter device I’ll get next, but at the $300 range, this is an astonishing deal.