Brian Carstens started his amp career in doing mods and repairs at The Chicago Music Exchange. Being a proud Chicago native, Billy Corgan has teamed up with Carstens Amplification for a high gain, single channel amp; The Carstens Grace.
Carstens Grace: An Epic Legacy
Brian Carstens got his start doing amp repairs at the Chicago Music Exchange. He has worked with some big names in the music industry, doing work with classic rockers like Fleetwood Mac, Billy Gibbons, and Mike Campbell. But he has also worked closely with The Deftones and proud Chicago native Billy Corgan.
While Brian Carstens started in just mods and repairs, he has started designing sparse looking, hand-made amplifiers that are tailored to a specific sound. These amps may be spartan in appearance, but they are definitely full of professional specs and features.
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Billy Corgan asked Brian to produce an amp for him that can cover any amount of gain that he could ever want. I think that Billy might have got his wish.
The Carstens Grace: Specs and Features
The collaboration between Carstens and Billy Corgan started way back in 2018. Billy Corgan has always had a passion for gear, and using his gear to make unheard-of sounds. Every album has a distinct guitar tone, and Billy will use anything to get the tone he is after. However, Billy has always struggled to recreate the sounds of The Smashing Pumpkins albums in a live setting.
Corgan commissioned him to make a high gain amp, that has more distortion and gain than any other amp in the boutique market. An amp that could cover specific territory and become his signature sound. Corgan said:
“I wanted an unheard-of amount of gain, high headroom and distinct tone”
The Carstens Grace is a single channel, 100 watt amplifier that may look very unassuming. The amp is compact, and only has a few knobs. But it has a a lot under the hood that makes it a different beast than other minimal amps of it’s ilk:
- 100 watts
- Single Channel
- Simple Controls: Tone Stack EQ, Presence, and Bright Switch
- Headroom Knob
- Four 12AX7 Tubes
- Four EL34 Power Tubes
- Mercury Magnetics Transformer
- Signed by Billy Corgan
The new Grace amp is available in different Tolex colors: Red, White, and Black. Every amp is handmade in Chicago, and signed by Billy Corgan. While this sounds like a collectors item or a gimmick, I assure you it’s not.
While on paper it sounds like Billy and Carstens just wanted to make an amplifier that is loud and obnoxious, what they really created was a guitar amp that handles high gain with tons of headroom.
But what does that mean? It means that while this is a high gain amp, it achieves the sound without clipping too soon. All headroom is, by definition is how loud your amp gets before its starts to clip and distort. Most metal amps do the opposite of the Carstens Grace.
Any traditional amp that has tons of gain relies on multiple tubes to reach different gain stages. The new Grace does that same thing, while leaving room to have clarity in the distortion tone. The idea is to have an insane amount of distortion, without clipping too early when you crank the amp.
Billy Corgan wanted to have a huge distortion tone, without sacrificing that clarity. He also wanted an amp that does both rhythm and lead playing, all on a single channel, controlled by your volume knob. The Grace is articulate and works on multiple levels.
Carstens attributes this amount of clarity, headroom and gain to the Mercury Transformer which filters the signal, and is a hand-wound custom piece.
Big Sounds, High Gain, In A Simple Package…
The Carstens Grace is small and compact with simple controls that could be mistaken for being too limiting. But there is something to be said about how the design was approached, and Billy even mentioned it in the video.
You have to know how to play.
And he’s absolutely right. I think we rely too much on pedals and other wizardry these days. Actually using the volume knob to clean up your sound is a lost art. Using the knobs to manipulate your sound was the only way to get by when electric guitar first took off. As metal players, we rarely ever use the controls on a guitar, and that should change.
Is The Carstens Grace hand made?
Yes. Every amp is hand made in America.
Does the Carstens Grace have Billy Corgans actual signature on every amp?
Every amp, regardless of color is signed by Billy Corgan Himself.
How many colors does the Carstens Grace come in?
The Carstens Grace currently has three colors: Black, Red, and White.
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