Written by George VanWagner
Inspired by the classic tweed and blackface 1950s and mid-1960s combos, the Milkman Sound Creamer 20-watt guitar amplifier rides the line between the two classic sounds beautifully. The Milkman Creamer 20 approaches the tweed’s full-throated, raw sound, as well as the blackface’s versatility and note articulation at higher gain levels. The Creamer 20 delivers crisp, snappy response in the clean range and a satisfying advance into vintage-style breakup in the upper third of the volume knob.
The tweed and early to mid-1960s blackface amps, like the Deluxe and Super Reverb combos, are two frequent touchstones for Americana, roots and blues players. The original tweed sound is due in large part to cathode-biased output tubes with voltages pushed near the tubes’ limits. It is also thanks to the minimal number of components between the input jack and the output transformer. The blackface sound comes from a more versatile tone stack in the preamp stage and what’s known as a “long-tail” phase inverter that dampens the amp’s low-end a little as it feeds the power tubes.
The Milkman Creamer combo amplifier uses a tweed-like, cathode-biased output section that can switch between 6L6 and 6V6 output tubes. With the 6L6s, the Creamer delivers 22 watts. With the slightly lower power, spongier 6V6 output tubes, the Creamer delivers about 18 watts.
The Milkman Creamer amplifier’s front end is more closely akin to the blackface design. It has separate treble and bass tone controls, and tremolo and reverb circuits. These deliver distinctly musical sounds without the control range issues common in the original 1960s designs. With those designs, a hint of reverb could be overwhelming, or the tremolo speed might have a less-than-useful range.
While the Milkman Creamer amp is a stretch for metal tone, you’ll find flannel grunge distortion above 7 on the volume knob. Like most amps in this class, roll back the bass at higher volumes to keep the sound from getting flabby. At all volumes, there is a nice amount of air without things getting crispy or spiky. That’s even true with a darker semi-hollow guitar like the ES-345 I used in testing. Like most amps based on a blackface-style front-end, it takes pedals really well. The results from a couple of the D-style overdrives I have were comfortably warm, round and touch-responsive.
Speaking of touch-responsive, this little combo has it in spades. If you play with wide dynamics and use the volume and tone knobs on your guitar, you’ll feel like your playing has expanded into new realms. I found it easy to go from clean spank to a smooth breakup with just the guitar’s volume knob. That’s especially true at the Creamer’s sweet spot. For both my ’65 Strat and G&L Legacy, that was at about 6.5 on the volume knob. That’s about where it was on the blackface Deluxe I played for years. Good job, Milkman!
In the studio, it’s a joy to work with. I tracked with my usual guitar miking setup. I set up a CAD Live D80 dynamic about a half-inch from the Creamer’s grill, aimed at the juncture of dust cap and cone. I placed a CAD Live D82 ribbon midway between dust cap and cone edge about six inches back. The results were excellent across a variety of guitars and playing styles from jazz to chicken pickin’ country and some boogie-based blues-rock.
Compact and surprisingly light at less than 20” wide and 32 lb., the Milkman Creamer is no lightweight when it comes to output. Taking it out on a couple of gigs with a drummer-less blues trio, I brought along a reactive load and attenuator. This let me play in the amp’s sweet spot without blasting out the audience in the mellow 100-seat venue. The stock Jupiter ceramic 12” speaker pumps out more than enough volume with excellent coverage.
While its price point puts it in the realm of serious professional tools, the time and care that goes into the Milkman Creamer combo is obvious. Made in a one-man shop in San Francisco, the Creamer amp has hand-selected top-quality parts. It is hand-wired with point-to-point turret board construction and mounted in a finger-jointed solid-pine cabinet. This type of construction, fit and finish makes me regret having to bring it back after the review.
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