Review of the Rivera Knucklehead Guitar Amp

I’ve owned my Rivera Knucklehead since 1998. It’s a small part of my guitar amp collection which consists of more than 5 amps. I’ll tell you how the Rivera Knucklehead performs both on stage and in the studio.

Not surprising, Rivera is owned by some guy named Paul Rivera. I guess it’s a little surprising that his name is Paul, but that’s about it. While I hate to spread rumors about facts I don’t know, this is press, and that’s that the press is all about.

The rumor on the street is that Paul Rivera worked for both Marshall and Fender for years modifying guitar amplifiers for the rock stars that could afford to have them modified. If this is true, it will explain a lot about the Rivera Knucklehead.

The Rivera Knucklehead is a 100 watt, all tube, 2 ? channel guitar head. Each channel has a gain boost. Both channel switching and the gain boosts can be controlled by the footswitch. As with every 100 watt head, this thing is ferociously loud. It contains an effects loop with control of input and output for effects and whatnot.

The Knucklehead uses 5 12ax7 tubes for the preamps and 4 EL 34 power tubes. Each channel contains tone controls and a Focus and a Presence knob are global, which means they effect both channels. It would have been nice to have a spring reverb on the Rivera. That’s the only feature that it’s lacking.

American Channel (Clean Channel) First off, I must say that the clean channel isn’t so much like a clean channel, necessarily. It’s more like a Fender channel. I mean that if you crank up the gain on the clean channel, you will have a very distorted sound in the way that a Fender distorts. This sound is not going to be what you want for metal in most cases, although it might pull off an Iron Maiden type of sound.

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Turning the ?Ninja Boost? off and backing the gain down brings you back down into Fender territory. It’s not an exact clone of the Fender sound, necessarily. The tubes used are not typically found in Fenders and even if you had the same tubes, the Fender sound is quite different from amp to amp.

You have tremendous options in your tone. I mean TREMENDOUS!!! You have the typical bass, mids, and treble. By pulling out the treble pot you engage the ?bright boost? and when you pull out the mids you engage the ?mid scoop?. The tone controls are the most sensitive that I’ve ever seen on a guitar amplifier. In fact, the tone knobs can be too sensitive.

Plugging a strat or tele gives you the real deal tone. It’s pretty much a Fender amplifier. Plugging a Les Paul or PRS is a different ball game. The tones are absurd on this channel. You should be able to get anything you want out of this Fender side that you would expect a Fender to do. This amp is very sensitive to different guitars and it’s tone will change more drastically than other amps.

Distortion Channel (Marshall Channel) Alright, I called this side of the amp the Marshall channel. The tone is not exactly a Marshall. I own a 1971 Marshall Super Lead. It’s sound is quite a bit different than what you hear in the Rivera. I wouldn’t say the tone is necessarily better or worse, but different. When you get to this caliber of guitar amplifiers, they are all good, it’s just a matter or preference.

The distortion channel has a gain boost, bass, mids, and treble. Once again, these tone controls are as sensitive as you will ever find in a guitar amp. It’s stupid how much control you have over your tone. This amp has too much gain, if you want too much gain. With a Les Paul, I don’t think I’ve put the gain past 12 O Clock, ever. You would not believe how different this amp sounds when you take the mids to 0 and then up to 10. It’s a night and day difference. With the gain boost turned off, this thing feels like a good medium to low gain distorted amplifier.

As I said, choosing the right guitar and tone settings can be time consuming, but getting whatever you want is a possibility. It’s worth trying all your guitars with this amp. There will be some that obviously shine more than others. In this setting, it’s no problem at all pulling off tones such as AC/DC and other 70s tones. I’d probably go with my 1971 Superlead first for this application though, just because of the tone differences, but I could make a guitar player looking for that tone very happy as well.

When you engage the gain boost, this thing is all out death. I’m talking deathmetal death, if that’s what you are looking for. In my opinion turning up the gain to a stupid amount, cranking the lows and highs, and scooping out all the mids is tremendous overkill. I’d say it’s unusable. The kid down the street may totally love it, though. I guess that’s the great thing about this amp. You can make the sound too thin or too thick….too bright or too dull. It’s up to your playing, your guitar, and your tone settings.

With the gain boost on and the all settings on 7, this amp is a full blown rock machine The tones inside this amp are impressive. You will find a sound that you like. It just takes some time to find that perfect combination. This takes more time than a Marshall does. Sometimes the mids on 5 are too much when the lows are on 6. But lowering the lows down to 5 might require a little more mids, for example. I’m saying that the tone controls are high dependent on each other.

This amp would always be my first choice playing out live. It’s a mammoth sound if I want and gives me 4 great sounds with the footswitch. Going from mega gain to dirty clean is just a step away. Going from pretty clean to low gain distortion is also just a click away. I’d say it’s one of the best live amps you can buy.

In the studio…. well, this thing gets used on just about every project I do. I haven’t found a project that it didn’t work well on. I’ve recorded country, rock, and death metal with this amp and every single one of them was very happy with it.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t change a thing about the Rivera. It is worth every penny.


Brandon Drury has helped recording studios all over the country with his audio recording articles.