Trace Elliot has always taken an original approach, as evidenced by the unique look of its gear. However, Trace’s real trailblazing was more than cosmetic. In 1980, there was little competition to the Ampeg SVT, and some players were trying PA-style power amps and studio preamps in an effort to get a big, modern sound. However, it wasn’t always easy to match separate power amps and preamps. Full-range bass cabinets were not yet perfected, which led to the popularity of bi-amping (amplifying the high and low frequencies separately). Trace Elliot came along and tackled these issues. In the process, it came up with innovations that we take for granted today, like blending tube and solid-state circuits in the preamp section, and a slap-friendly PRESHAPE circuit. On the business front, Trace Elliot has survived three acquisitions. Finally, in 2005, Peavey purchased the company and began seeking out key employees from the previous 20 years to help rebuild the Trace Elliot brand.
We put this rig through its paces over a busy week that included rehearsals, a recording session, and a live performance. It was immediately apparent that Trace Elliot engineers have been busy finding ways to improve on their standard design without compromise. The rig’s fit and finish was high quality and appears deserving of the price. The head and speakers come with well-made water-resistant covers and Neutrik LN2 speaker cables. Nice! The AH1200-12 is laid out in traditional Trace Elliot style, with many signature features, like the foot-switchable 12-band EQ and tube circuit with BLEND knob. Also retained from earlier Trace Elliot models is the fluorescent green glow via a backlight with rear-panel dimmer knob.
Interior construction was excellent. Twin multi-speed fans pull air through two metal grilles on the head’s sides. Lifting the hood reveals a large toroidal power transformer and well-placed components that aren’t crammed together. Kudos to Trace engineers for specifying ceramic tube sockets for the two JJ 12AX7 tubes.
On the front panel, the input section has a HI/LO switch to accept active or passive instruments. Around back there’s a three-channel mixer allowing flexible signal routing from both the XLR and 1/4" jacks. The DI has three outputs: PRE ONLY, LEFT, and RIGHT. There are also high- and low-frequency outputs and a FULL RANGE send, which is selectable between SERIES and PARALLEL. There is no headphone output, although the fullrange send could be used in a pinch.
I auditioned the head and each cabinet individually and as part of a stack. With the input and output set to the 12 o’clock position and no tone-shaping features engaged, the Trace sounded hifi with a wide frequency response. With higher settings that approached clipping, the preamp remained neutral while getting progressively louder—just as you would hope.
It was time to move through each feature individually before trying combinations. I could make the sound grittier or even tube-nasty by dialing in the DRIVE circuit, and adjusting its level provided the flexibility to get vintage jazz and blues tones. Adjusting the tube drive circuit’s mix allows settings to retain tight lowend response when the tube is pushed harder.
Next up was the compressor. Being mostly a fingerstyle player, I like to control my dynamics with my hands and have never liked compression in my live setup. I liked this two-knob, dual-band circuit, however, as it provides subtle soft-knee compression that I found quite rewarding.
Engaging the EQ, PRE SHAPE, or COMPRESSOR can be done silently with the well-built footswitch. The interface cable is long enough to enable trip-free routing to the back of the amp.
To test the DI, I routed the signal through a USB audio interface feeding Albeton Live. Playing back the recorded track revealed a strong, clear, and noisefree dry signal. At the live performance, the extensive EQ provided the control I needed to tune the rig to the venue’s acoustics. The folks in the back were grooving, and I wasn’t getting asked to turn down. At one point at the end of our show, this rig was pushing so much bass I broke out laughing from joy. At full-tilt this rig is a beast!
The cabinets, which have recessed back plates offering Speakon and 1/4" connections, kept up with the big power amps in the head just fine. Alone, the 1048H alone has a very strong midrange response—especially with the AH12000- 12 set flat. This 4x10 benefits greatly from adding a 1x15 like the 1518, as deep bottom is not its primary strength. After EQ surgery, I was able to reshape the tone of this cabinet to warm, fast, and punchy.
The 1518 cabinet paired with the AH1200-12 is a killer R&B or soul rig. Favorite grooves like Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and “Skin Tight” from the Ohio Players sounded round and tight, with excellent clarity. There is something about a few hundred watts pumping into a capable 15" speaker. With the AH1200-12 opened up to full power through both cabs, the B string on my MTD 535 was actually shaking the walls of our rehearsal warehouse, clearing shelves every time I hit a note. —Michael Ricci
Trace Elliot AH1200-12, 1048H & 1518
Street AH1200-12, $1,600; 1048H, $900; 1518, $550
Pros Flexible, with everthing from hi-fi to ’70s grit available; powerful compressor; good construction
Cons Backlight dims when loud notes are played except at brightest setting
Trace Elliot 1048H & 1518
Street 1048H, $900; 1518, $550
Pros Excellent power handling and construction
Cons The 1048H’s strong midrange voice may not be for everyone
Input impedance HI, 1MΩ; LO, 100kΩ
Power output 600 watts @ 4Ω x 2
Pre-shape frequency response +6dB @ 50Hz; –12dB @ 400Hz; +6dB @ 5kHz, 6dB/octave slope
Tone controls 7-band graphic EQ
Power amp topology Class AB
Power supply Linear
Weight 48 lbs
Drivers Four custom-designed Celestion 10s
Tweeter 1" compression driver
Power handling 800 watts RMS
Frequency Response 35Hz–15kHz
Weight 77 lbs
Driver One custom-designed 15" Celestion
Power handling 500 watts RMS
Frequency Response 30Hz–5kHz
Weight 60 lbs
Made in China
Warranty Two years