Not many worship guitarists have heard of Top Hat Amps and with reason. Top Hat is a small operation located in North Carolina and they have not yet broke into the worship scene. That being said I stumbled upon these great amps while watching a live Switchfoot show back in 2012. After doing some more research and scavenging YouTube I did not find much to answer my questions about them. What the YouTube videos did do is peak my interest. I had to try one out. I ordered a Club Royale 1×12 Combo in Fawn Tolex and Fender Oxblood Grillcloth.
The build time on the amp was very quick compared to other boutique amp companies I have ordered from. The amp arrived well packaged and upon opening up the box my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. The tolex and cabinet build was exquisite. There were no gaps or overflows of tolex. The grill cloth was perfectly tight and the light up logo. Come on anything with a light up logo has to sound 10 times better. Just kidding but seriously, the Top Hat logo is pretty hot!
I really appreciate Top Hat’s attention to detail with their labeling on the control panel. It has this cool retro feel that really meshes with the Top Hat logo. Another thing that I always look for is how well the tolex was wrapped around the back panel. This is often times a shortcut for guys looking to cut corners. Top Hat used the same attention to detail on the back panel as they did on the front. The big thing I want to highlight is that this amp is 100% point to point hand wired. There is no PCB boards in this amp. There are a lot of amp builders out there that say handwired and they are handwired. These other companies utilize turret board construction and are not 100% point to point. While these other company’s amps are still spectacular they do not have the volume and clarity that a point to point amp has.
Now it was time to plug it in. Upon talking to the owner I had some expectations of it sounding like a Vox AC30. I plugged it in and found it to be way different than what I expected. In fact I didn’t like it by itself. This particular amp did not have a lot of clean headroom and I found that the amp sounded it’s best with the master cranked and the volume at about 30%. To me it had some base tonal characteristics of a Vox but was more gainy like a Plexi. The bass boost switch took it into Fender land and had some similar characteristics to a Blues Junior.
When I say I didn’t like the amp by itself I mean that it wasn’t bad, I just prefer a really high headroom clean amp. I did however run it in stereo with my Matchless SC-30 and that is where the magic was. Those two amps were the best stereo combo I have heard to date. The Matchless added some clarity and headroom that the Club Royale was lacking and the Club Royale added some smoothness, low end and gain that the Matchless didn’t have. Running some ambient reverb and delay with a little bit of transparent overdrive was something most guitarists only dream of.
Needless to say I was extremely pleased with the amp as a great addition to my stereo rig. It was a bit too dirty for me to use it by itself. I don’t want to discourage those who could find this amp perfect though. For those that are looking to run their amp with just a little breakup this would be a great amp. For those that love the Blues Junior but want a little more clarity, volume and quality this would also be a perfect option. The other great selling point for me is that at under $2000 they are one of the best priced options if you are looking for a true point to point hand wired amp.
Here is a great review by Chicago Music Exchange: