Engl has powered its way up the ranks to become one of the most prominent and popular manufacturers of high gain amplifiers in the world over the last few years. The company is primarily known for its massive all-tube heads which kick out a fat, saturated distortion that’s become instantly recognisable in many hard Rock and Metal recordings in recent times, but now they’ve stripped it back to basics with the Thunder series of amps, which promise all the tonal quality of Engl's flagship heads but with ultimate practicality, versatility and simplicity of use.
The Thunder 50 Driven E322 is a three-channel 50 Watt amplifier featuring three ECC83 preamp tubes as well as one EC83 and two 5881 power amp tubes. All three channels have separate gain controls on this model, but they share the same three band EQ. There’s also an effects loop that’s series/parallel adjustable and everything’s pumping through a Celestion Vintage 30 - one of the all-time great Rock guitar speaker designs.
The styling of the combo is right on the money for me, with a rugged, understated vibe created by the thick black vinyl covering, metal corner covers and metal grill cloth. Aside from the great aesthetic it’s also abundantly clear that this amp has been designed with the gigging musician in mind - a very solid construction that will obviously hold together through a few accidental batterings in the back of a van during transit!
Although Engl is primarily known as a high-gain specialist, I think it would be fair to say one of the reasons for the brand's widespread popularity is the quality of their clean channels, which can be a weakness for some other amps of this type. The Thunder E322 is no exception, with a fantastic clean channel that had plenty of bite and character to it. Although crystal cleans were definitely possible with the channel, I felt that it excelled when being pushed to achieve a ‘dirty’ clean sound that really punched and gave just a hint of the Blues. Funky clean tones could also be sculpted to a high standard if this amp was paired with a decent compressor.
Channel two kicked straight in with a light Blues crunch that went right through to a full-on Rock distortion as the gain was increased. In Blues territory the amp had just the right amount of singing sustain and the honky mid range sounded truly authentic, especially for emulating the Texas blues tones of legends like Billy Gibbons and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Once cranked, Channel two really nailed the ‘brown’ sound of late '70s Van Halen and responded well to being cleaned up by rolling down the volume on the guitar.
The moment I engaged Channel three it was obvious why Engl have made such a name for high-gain tones - the voicing of the channel is superb and the level of saturation that it’s possible to achieve by turning the gain up whilst still maintaining clarity and note definition is a feat that few amps can match. This is an ideal modern Rock lead guitar channel that can also really cut it for Heavy Metal rhythm guitar.
Despite the difference between the three channels it’s actually surprisingly easy to get them to match up and sound convincing as you switch between them owing to the universal three band EQ which helps to stop problems such as the clean being too bright in contrast to the crunch and vice versa. Although Engl is primarily associated with heavier Rock and Metal styles, I actually felt that this would be a great amp for Blues Rock players, function players and cover bands as it really does cover the full spectrum of sounds you would need in those kinds of situations.
My only (slight) quibble about this amp is that there's another version available that sacrifices the crunch channel gain control in favour of an inbuilt spring reverb. It would be nice to have both. Any chance, Engl?
Overall this is a great amp, easy-to-use but versatile with some fantastic tones and a reasonable price tag. If you’re a Rock player in the market for a combo amp to gig with you could do a great deal worse than to audition a Thunder E322 for yourself.