Ceriatone Chupacabra Inside and Out Review

Ceriatone are known for great amps... but how good is this Ceriatone Chupacabra? And what is that hand wiring like? is this a Marshall in disguise?

Ceriatone Chupacabra Hand Wired Inside and Out Review

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Ceriatone is a company that has been around for years and are based somewhere in the far east (probably Malaysia). Known for their amplifier designs that take the original amp and develop it way beyond anything that the original could have conceivably ever been and often mimic the leading amps from many makers including Marshall, Dumble, Hiwatt, Fender and others. Ceriatone sell their amplifiers as either part kits, whole kits or fully built amplifiers. If you have any requirements for that sort of amplifier then Nick the owner is there on hand to help.

Get a problem building one? Nick and his team will step in and solve it. Period! And with their experience in tube amplifier construction and development I can tell you from first hand experience that Ceriatone really are as good a company as they say - I have personally experienced their support when I built what was basically a Dumble clone (Overtone HRM).

About the Chupacabra

Factually the Chupacabra is very similar to the other amp in the series - the Yeti. It is even possible to convert one amp top the other with just a few components and the schematic layout that Ceriatone will supply (or you can download from their website at www.ceriatone.com ). So what is this amp really? Where on earth does it come from?

Originality is a really great thing to have in an amp and although the Chupacabra started out as a 50w Marshall Plexi style of amplifier, today it has been worked on until you have what is under review on this page, a mutated, distorted twisted mutation of the original amp. But let's not forget that Ceriatone have crafted that original design in to the Chupacabra - an amplifier that has no equal among tube amps out there today. Don't believe me? Hmmm looks like there is some convincing to do, but by the end of this review you really will have 'seen the light'! Maybe this is the amp Marshall should be making today? Even with a PCB it would be awesome.

This 50w loosely based on a Marshall Plexi amp but takes that original design and you end up with one ferocious animal (or goat sucker) that is neither one animal or another that exists (so some say) in Latin America and as you might guess sucks blood (like a vampire) from other animals. In reality of course the Chupacabra amp does not suck anything... but it has one hell of a bite as you will see later on the video playing.

This is what Ceriatone have to say about this amp:

"Our British series of amplifiers has been overwhelmingly popular, and is still the backbone of our amplifier line. We have been pleased to provide many players access to our unique take on these legendary amplifiers. With excitement, we are branching out into another series – the HRP series (“hot-rodded Plexi”)".

"Our first release in the HRP series is the Chupacabra 50W. If you don't already know, the Chupacabra is a mythical creature known for its violent attacks on animals and penchant for drinking the blood of its victims. Sounds evil, right? Well, so does the amplifier at hand. Don't let the name fool you, though, because it is capable of much more. This amplifier particularly draws upon the lineage of famous 1980s amp technician Jose Arredondo, but with modern twists and refinements. We've voiced the power section to be larger and more dynamic, and the preamp to be more versatile. We've added unique features like a passive FX loop in between the preamp and power amp, individual power tube bias control, and DC regulated preamp tube filaments for lowest noise floor possible."

I could not have said it better! And remember that the other amps in this series are equally as exciting.

The Chassis

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Well it looks like a 100 watt Marshall chassis especially covered with that finish to protect it from rust. As you can see, there's the output and power transformers (by the way those were sourced in the UK) three preamp tubes (yes just three!) and a pair of EL34 power tubes. Note the choke and the capacitors also. But hey, there are more knobs on the front of that amp than there ever was on either a 50 or 100 watt Marshall... so what the hell...

Inside The Amplifier

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From the very first view inside this Chupacabra amplifier you just know that this amp is something different. While that basic layout remains vaguely reminiscent of amps of years gone by, its plain to see that this amp is a point to point hand made amplifier utilizing some of the best components available today - and that is no exaggeration of the fact! As you will see if you look at the large image the quality says it all really and for the price of this amplifier you might just wonder how they manage to do it all for the costs involved - which can be shockingly low (no pun intended) for such an amp these days. So let's take a little closer look.

Transformers

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Power Transformer - Click for larger view

The transformers on this amp all have been sourced from the UK - a company called Danbury Electronics that have been making this stuff for years. Very reminiscent of the older Marshall stuff but seemingly beefed up accordingly. Visit www.danburyelectronics.co.uk for more info on them but unfortunately at the end of 2016 Danbury Electronics owners have retired... a great company in the UK tradition of making quality equipment.

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Output Transformer - Click for larger view

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And the Choke - Click for larger view

Obviously Ceriatone also sell transformers and chokes suitable for the Chupacabra, but so will any number of suppliers be capable of supplying this heavy metal for your amp. By the way it's a 3 Henries choke similar to those used on some Marshall amps.

The Chupacabra Circuit Board

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Notice that you have only high quality components located on a very high quality PCB. Brands like TAD, Ceriatone and nay others that will be well known to point to point amp makers that regularly look inside these things. This really is an amp to be reckoned with... and some makers especially from abroad offer something very similar for three times the price of this amp. Ask yourself why, if Ceriatone can do it then of course those other guys could do it too (we have all heard of them) but their amps are in comparison often ridiculously over priced.

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Ha... it all looks so familiar... I could swear that those diodes and associated resistors and capacitors were on the end of a PCB from a Plexi amp! As you will see later it is quite amazing how this amp is so different (if you want it to be) than the original.

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Closer view of the Chupacabra left hand side of the amp pcb. On inspection you will see that overall quality everywhere.

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And a closer shot of the right hand part of the chassis. Overall I don't really think that for an amp of this type that there could really be any complaints about the quality - but I always knew that even before I bought this amp... they are an incredible bargain for the price - but more of that later.

Controls on the front of the Amplifier

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Well this does look (sort of) like a Marshall amp that has sprouted extra knobs and funny switches... so let's run through them quickly. 

The obvious stuff comes first... 

  • On/Off switch and Standby Switch 
  • Resonance
  • Presence
  • Bass
  • Middle
  • Treble

Hmm all seems pretty ordinary so far right? Notice that the tone stack is all for one channel... because it's a one channel amplifier just like in the 'old' days.

Lets check the rest out...

  • Master - and underneath an ERA switch
  • Gain 2 - with a Bright 2 switch
  • Gain 1 - with a Bright 1 switch

But also hidden on the Gain 1 is a push pull switch 

Master Setting

OK the master is exactly that an overall master gain for controlling that volume and make no mistake you will need it!
No, that ERA switch operates in one of THREE modes as follows:

  • When in the middle it switches the amp in to a mode that has you covered for the late 60's - just like a Plexi!
  • But When flipped to the right the ERA switch will give you an 80's modded Plexi sound - you have heard it 1000 times right?
  • When flipped to the left the ERA switch will bring this amp right up to today - thoroughly modern tones as heavy and metal as you could ever want it!
  • These modes all affect the master control's taper so you can get varied levels based on the ERA switch setting.. but hey... who really cares!

Gain 2 and Bright 2 Settings 

Gain two is very much like a saturation control... it's feeding the third tube stage in the preamp so drives stage three harder the higher you turn it. It's affected by the bright 2 setting also so be careful with that or you can get oscillations and feedback that is harder to control. The bright 2 switch in the middle is off, but flicked to the left will boost your upper mids and high frequencies and will also add even more gain! When bright 2 is flipped to the right it adds ultra high frequencies... less gain, but more of that Plexi treble. When the bright 2 is engaged (left or right) it will with the gain 2 setting change the bottom end... lower gain 2 more obvious the effect really is.

Gain 1 and Bright 1 Settings

Gain one is the first gain stage in the preamp and as such feeds gain to the other stages. But gain 1 also can help with shaping highs and lows depending on the bright 1 switch's position. As bright two, when bright one is in the middle it does nothing, but flip it to the left and the effect will be to boost upper mids and highs and of course will also add more gain. When the bright 1 is flipped to the right and working with bright 1 can also trim the bottom end.

Hidden Focus Switch

The hidden focus switch is located on gain one control. To engage it simply pull it out. When it's in it's off but once pulled out this reduces bottom end and saturation but will increase the mids and picking attack will become more enhanced

And its all on what is basically a single channel amp! But its not over yet! There really is more. Let's examine the back of the amp.

Controls on the Rear of the Amp

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While many of the controls on the back of the Chupacabra are seemingly regular to any amp like this, there are one or two that are not... let's take a look.

Pussy Trimmer

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Well someone had to do it! The Pussy Trimmer has the ability to control those 'pussies' that can't handle the incredible drive that the Chupacabra is capable of... so those 'pussies' can turn it down a little. I have to say that this has appeared these days on the back of the amp but historically was an internal control and found on the 'Yeti' amp. However, here it is in all its glory... and trust me, you have to drink Carlsberg to keep it fully on :)

Other controls are more common and include:

  • FX send and Return
  • Speaker outputs
  • An output selector for the ohms range of your speakers
  • Bias test points
  • Mains and HT fuses and the mains input

There that was not so bad... but the 'Pussy Trimmer' wins the prize for the most original control on ANY amp!

Other considerations

Do bear in mind that this amp is likely to have no CE approvals or RoHS markings or even country of origin, all generally (it seems) because there is no requirement for kits to meet those approvals. In the case of this amp a UK company built it and they did a reasonably good job. However, if I was buying another I would buy a kit from Ceriatone and really take my time getting the amp in perfect condition. Obviously you have to have the ability to even consider buying a kit and remember that you can easily be killed by one of these amps with likely over 400 volts winging its way through the amp. Notice also that the chassis is big and you would need an original sized head cabinet from a 100 watt Plexi from the earlier years just to get the chassis in the cab. This one was 'hacked' to make it fit the cab its installed in to.

The amp supports 240 volts but generally these type of amps and kits support most voltages and its often a matter of just changing over a few wires.

Overall Score

Obviously if you love Jazz... then its likely that this amp is not for you... man even the snake skin might make you throw up! However, if you are in to classic rock, modern rock, metal and anything in between then this is likely to be an amp for you and at an incredibly lower price that say some of those overpriced boutique amps that I could talk about all day that offer far less than the Ceriatone Chupacabra. 

But I like rock music! And I like to see a cool amp when I see one - and this Chupacabra speaks to me about overall quality. From the smallest component right through to the biggest fattest transformer this amp oozes in quality. You could not go far wrong either even if you had Ceriatone build one for you and you just ship it... you will have an amp that will probably last a lifetime. I don't see guys reinventing excellence any time soon do you?

So the score for the Ceriatone Chupacabra is a gleaming 10 out of 10 score and it completely deserves it! And that pussy trimmer is a killer feature if ever there was one.

Here's what I liked:

  • High quality of the components
  • Point to Point for a low cost!
  • Marshall and Marshall tones by the bucket but also much more!
  • High build quality
  • Effects Loop!
  • Multiplicity of tones from early Marshall to beyond anything Marshall make like this today
  • Snake skin covering
  • The 'Pussy Trimmer'
  • The price

and here's what I liked less:

  • Overall amp weight
  •  JJ tubes (but I can ditch them I suppose)
  • Cheap and not so nice Marshall knobs that are nothing like the real deals (I later fitted genuine)

Conclusions

Finally, after going through this amp with a tooth pick I can confirm that if any of the above sounds good then you need to seriously consider the Ceriatone Chupacabra amplifier... I can't really recommend it enough... and its simple enough that if at any time you do get issues then any tech can easily fix it. The amp can take pedals too, but you might as well throw away the gain pedals as you really won't be needing them... in fact you might get more for them than it costs to buy this amp!

Absolutely recommended!

Don't forget that the video below includes playing of the Chupacabra and I'm sure that you will like those tones - but I also run through many of the features I have covered in this pretty long review.

Meanwhile, here is the original video review I completed from my YouTube channel.

 

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