Tone King Imperial MK II

Vintage American 1x12 Combo Tone for Modern Players
Pros: Beautiful Blackface,Tweed and early Marshall tones. Super lightweight with great build construction. Built-in Ironman Attenuator that can run in Series or Parallel. Two Footswitchable Channels and Footswitchable Reverb and Tremolo. Fantastic "Grab & Go" amplifier for Medium to Small stages.
Cons: Takes some time to master the settings between the Ironman Attenuator and each channel. Needs to be coupled to the floor to get it's full Bass response.
I was an immediate "Fanboi" of Tone King Amps ever since Mark Bartel started his company back in 1993. The Tone King Imperial MK I (It was simply called the Tone King Imperial back then) was a lauded amp by Pro's and Weekend Warriors alike along with some of the other amps Mark had designed. But in '93 I was gigging a mint condition '65 (OH) Fender Deluxe Reverb that I had owned since 1988. It was a one-owner amp when I bought it (even had the original cover, death cap, two prong electrical cord and sales receipt). The gentleman that owned it used it for Sunday Church gigs only in a town about 20 minutes East of me. Even Skip Simmons, a noted Fender Amp Guru in Northern CA (Sacramento) said it was the "cleanest BFDR he'd ever seen (I took it to him as I tursted nobody else to remove the aformetioned Death Cap, replace power cord and give her a clean bill of health).

I absolutely loved that BFDR amp and gigged it at 80%-90% of all my gigs as they were in Mid to small size venues (and took great care of it) for some 20 years. But then prices began to really skyrocket and the last thing I wanted was that amp damaged by beer, drunks or worse; me doing something stupid. At the time, Tommy Castro (Blues/Rock guitarist extraordinaire) was one of my local "Guitar Heroes" in the S.F. Bay Area and with his help I was able to coax some of that famous Deluxe Reverb mojo out of my amp that I became so accustomed to. But when there was a local FS ad for a Tone King Imperial (MK I) for a mere $1200.....that was just too good to pass up for one of Mark's Flagship Amps. The '65 went into my studio, and the Imperial became my Grab & Go amp.

Unfortunately, the early model had a wide Volume variance between the Rhythm & Lead channels. The Rhythm Channel could not be properly balanced out with the Lead Channel. But I managed by first using pedals on the clean side only which still gave me my BFDR fix. Then I used a Bad Cat Unleash (V.1) and I was able to set it up to balance out the two channels even though it took a little bit of Tap Dancing. But after Mark built his 20th Anniversary Handwired Imperial, (whihc sold out pretty quickly) he started production on the MK II modeled after the 20th Anniversary version but a hybrid build design. I was sold.

What made the latest version of the Imperial amp so great was that Mark incorporated his own take on an already highly praised Stand alone Attenuator (The Iron Man) but when he installed it in a way on the MK II that you could use it simultaneously on both the Rhythm & Lead Channels, or your could assign it to the only the Lead or the Rhythm, this was lights out. This design allowed me to have an even dB output for both channels, so then when I wanted to play lead, I just used a Boost to accent the Mids and provide just a bit more SPL's (about 3 dB) and then I had what I considered the best Working Mans 1x12 Combo amp made.

The key to the Lead Channel's Tweed or early Marshall Plexi tone is all in the Mid Bite. From the Noon position, set the Mid Bite almost all the way counter clockwise to get conservative, then slightly raise it to get into light up to dirty Tweed tones. Or, move the Mid Bite clockwise and the further you go the moe creamer and plexi type sounds the tones begin to sound.

Here's a great Demo by Shawn Tubbs illustrating the best of what the TK Imperial MK II can do:
  • Like
Reactions: RocketKing
WITHOUT A DOUBT a very - very nice amp with the exact tone I look for BUT with a price tag of $2600.00 before tax & shipping it's too pricey for me - Love my BLACKSTAR HT series tube amp. Maybe one day when price isn't an issue I'll pick up a Tone King - Thanks for sharing.
If anyone is looking for a Tone King 20th Anniversary Imperial, I have one for sale
in mint condition. It comes with the manual, foot switch, foot switch cable and a Studio Slips cover. It’s black with tan. I’m asking $2,200 shipped.

Latest Threads