Over the past few years there has been a surge in the popularity in boutique amplifiers. Small companies, offering hand built amplifiers with custom features and more "specialist" tones, have started to give some of the larger manufacturers a run for their money, even pushing some of those bigger companies to start offering "boutique" features themselves. Many of these boutique companies have also attracted big name artists and endorsers, chasing exquisite tone and build quality.
German amplifier manufacturers Diezel is the brainchild of Peter Diezel. Like many boutique amp builders, Diezel started out by modifying Marshalls for himself and then for other players around Munich. Peter found the Marshall amps limited in potential for modification and was ready to start work on his own midi switchable four channel amplifier when he met Peter Stapher, a pro guitarist who was experienced also in sales and marketing. The pair went on to start Diezel amplification, with the VH4 going into production in 1994.
Word spread outside Germany with the VH4 quickly finding its way to LA, being used by such artists as Metallica, Neil Schon and now Alter Bridge, as well as by Muse guitarist Matt Bellamy, in the UK. Diezel continued to grow, with other high quality feature packed amps as the Herbert, the Einstein, plus Diezel's first class A amp, the Schmidt, aimed at blues, jazz, country and more classic rock guitarist.
At the 2011 Frankfurt show Diezel launched the Hagen, a direct response to the demands of the modern day guitarist, using different tunings, wanting more flexibility tonally, and with switching, all in a single, user-friendly box.
I was very excited to get my hands on the Hagen, having spent some time playing the Schmidt in Frankfurt and loving the rich, full-bodied classic tones. The first thing I noticed about the Hagen was its weight! This amp is heavy, not that I'm complaining, as to me this is a sign of good build quality, implying a sturdy chassis, high quality woods, plus a high quality output transformer. In fact the entire finish of the amp is stunning, with a thick vinyl covering, black metal front fascia, with the "D" of Diezel cut out of the metal, revealing the inside of the amp, tubes and output transformer as well as supplying cooling and ventilation to the head. The amp uses four EL34 power amp tubes, and six 12AX7 pre-amp tubes.
At first glance, the control panel may seem rather confusing, as it certainly carries a lot of knobs, but to be honest it's pretty straightforward and simple and you can tell this amp is designed by guitarists for guitarists. The format comprises four independent channels, with the controls running horizontally across the front of the amp. The controls for each channel include volume, gain, bass, middle and treble. The four channels offer Clean, Crunch, Mega and Lead. The master channel includes two master volumes that work globally across all of the channels, plus a presence and depth control, for low and high end EQ on the power amp stage of the amp. All of the channels can be selected via midi, or by using the switches on the front panel. There is also a mute for tuning-up.
On the rear of the amp we have the speaker outputs, plus three effects loops, one midi switchable, one serial, and one parallel, with a volume control, so there's lots of flexibility when utilizing this amp with effects.
This amp really did sound great out of the box. In fact I think you would have to work pretty hard to make it sound bad! I started off with the clean channel, which was warm and full, spending some time just turning each of the EQ controls fully on and off. Doing so I could really hear how well voiced the amp is, and how the controls work dialled to any position. I have found that with some amps that the controls only work for a certain portion of their turn, but this was not the case with the Hagen. I should also point out that I did the same thing with the controls on all of the channels, and the results were the same, enabling the user to dial-up a multitude of tones, ranging from warm jazz/funk, to bight spanky Country or jangly Indie. If you push the gain control you can also start to get the clean channel to begin to break up, especially when you hit the guitar harder.
Moving onto the Crunch channel, here I was able to get some great vintage tones, but so much more than just the sound of an old Marshall. The tones were warm and full bodied and the amp cleaned-up beautifully when I backed off the guitar volume control. As you start to push the gain you can go from vintage Cream, to Free and AC/DC, and beyond, as the amp starts to get pretty saturated as you push the gain control further.
Now onto the Mega channel, where we start where the crunch channel left off. Here you can push the gain further and get very thick, modern, high gain rhythm and lead tones: great for power riffing!
Finally to the Lead channel and things are really flying now! Plenty of gain and saturation, but not too compressed or fuzzy sounding, just beautiful, expensive high gain! Let's not forget that with the two, switchable, master volume controls, the flexibility of this amp is pretty amazing.
Check out the video and hear for yourself!
As you can tell, I was really impressed with the Diezel Hagen. The downside, of course, is that it's not cheap, being as well into the upper end of boutique territory pricewise, as it is in terms of its tone. But if you can afford this sort of money, what you are getting in return is superior build quality, the highest grade parts that will stand up to live and studio punishment, amazing flexibility and, the most important factor, the sound: rich, full dynamic and articulate. This is a high end piece of kit for the serious guitarist who demands the best; check it out.