Ever since his self-titled debut album in 1990—plus a huge boost from his head-turning performance on Austin City Limits in 1999—Monte Montgomery has been synonymous with pushing the boundaries of amplified acoustic playing. Accompanying his massive chops and strong songwriting has always been his role as a sonic adventurer, adding overdrive, distortion, feedback, and a variety of other effects to his acoustic stylings.
Reproducing all that in an amplifier is not a simple feat, and that’s what makes the AER MM200 such a cool piece of gear. This is the same model through which Montgomery channels his electric-acoustic mayhem and mischief. I wanted to see if it was indeed up to the task, so I threw a bunch of guitars and effects at it, including a Larrivée dreadnought, a high-strung Babicz Identity Jumbo, and a 25th anniversary Ovation cutaway, plus a variety of overdrive, modulation, and dynamic effects in an attempt to Monte-fy it. Here’s what I discovered when I tested this new amp, along with its smaller companion, the Compact 60.
The MM200’s enclosure is smart and compact, not to mention aesthetically pleasing. It’s lightweight, the footprint is tiny, the controls are logically laid out on the top panel, and the cosmetics are understated and elegant. When I plugged the Larrivée directly into Channel 1, the tone was big, full, and loud. I swapped in the Babicz and then the Ovation. They both sounded great as well, and the MM200 brought out the things that make those guitars what they are: The Ovation was a little boxier; the Babicz had a modern, high-end zing. So far, so good.
The three-band EQ on Channel 1 is powerful and musical. Even extreme settings are still pretty pleasant. I liked bumping lows at softer playing levels, and as I turned up, I dug what happened when I notched the bass slightly. The treble control is especially sweet. You can really crank it without things getting piercing. Then there is the Colour button, which dips mids while boosting both bass and treble—a cool option for helping an acoustic sit in a mix. I found myself engaging this switch and then boosting the mids slightly for a sound that was bright and full.
Montgomery’s ferocious, borderline violent attack informed the input section of the MM200. It’s designed to be a forgiving, soft place to land for the heavy picking and big-time transients of modern, piezo-driven acoustic playing that can take so many acoustic amps to the dark/quacky side. Because the dreaded piezo splatter is one of my least favorite sounds in the world, I was eager to put this to the test. With the Aura-equipped Larrivée, I played Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” using the same attack I would on my Strat. What came through the speakers was punchy and focused. It’s easy to see why Montgomery likes it, given how fun and rewarding it is to be able to dig in on acoustic and play loud.
The MM has four onboard effects: one long and one short reverb, a delay, and a chorus. You can only use one at a time, but you get level and pan controls for it. It’s great to have a nice reverb on tap if you don’t want to lug any outboard gear, but pedals are a huge part of Montgomery’s mojo, and I was eager to plug some in. I grabbed a Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive, an Xotic EP Booster, a Source Audio Nemesis delay, and a Source Audio Ventris reverb and ran them all into the MM’s front end. It was an absolute blast to play a flattop with a crunchy overdriven sound, and this amp reproduces that tone beautifully.
I pushed the volume higher and got great feedback, which I could kill at any time with the footswitchable Monte Mute—a super-handy feature. There was no problem putting all the pedals in the front of the amp, but because the MM200 has a switchable effects loop, I got fancy and ran the boost and overdrive in front and the delay and reverb in the loop. To be honest, I didn’t notice that big of a difference, but it’s a nice option.
Bigger Than It Looks
When you factor in the MM’s mic channel, aux in, tuner out, and DI output, it’s pretty clear that this is all a singer-songwriter would need to gig just about anywhere. Well done. But if you don’t need the 200 watts of firepower that the MM provides, the fourth-generation Compact 60 might be perfect. This uber-popular model offers pretty much the same ins and outs as the Monte in a smaller and lighter package. Upgrades from prior versions include a DI out that is now switchable pre- and post-effects and an aux in for running backing tracks or playing prerecorded music during breaks.
At 60 watts through a single eight-inch speaker, it doesn’t have the full Monte muscle, but this amp is still really loud. It could no doubt keep up with a full band and it would certainly fill any coffeehouse. I plugged in every acoustic-electric I could get my hands on, cranked up the amp, and was very impressed with the results. The Compact 60 is indeed compact and lightweight, but it sounds much bigger than it looks.
As with the Monte, the Compact 60 doesn’t feature any sort of feedback reduction. Montgomery and many other acoustic stylists keep the howling at bay with a soundhole cover, and from my experience that’s a must-have. It definitely allowed me to turn up louder before things got out of control. These are two very well thought-out and musical acoustic amps.I wouldn’t hesitate to use either on any gig.
AMP Two-channel, 200 watts (2 x 100-watt class-D power amps); (Inst channel) 1/4″ input, gain, 3-band EQ with Colour switch; (Mic channel) XLR/1/4″ combo input with mic/line switch, 2-band EQ; (back panel) RCA auxiliary input with level control, XLR DI output, 1/4″ headphone jack, 1/4″ line out, 1/4″ footswitch jack, ground lift switch, 9-volt phantom power switch, 1/4″ effects send and return jacks
SPEAKERS Two 8″ twin cone
OTHER Reverb (2), delay, and chorus effects with pan and level controls; footswitchable “Monte Mute” mute switch, 14″ x 11″ x 16″; 33 lbs
MADE IN Germany
PRICE $1,999 (MAP)
AMP Two-channel, 60 watts; (Inst channel) 1/4″ input, gain, 3-band EQ with Colour switch; (Mic channel) XLR/1/4″ combo input with mic/line switch, 2-band EQ; (back panel) RCA auxiliary input with level control, XLR DI output, 1/4″ headphone jack, 1/4″ line out, 1/4″ footswitch jack, ground lift switch, 9-volt phantom power switch, 1/4″ effects send and return jacks
SPEAKERS One 8″ twin cone
OTHER Reverb (2), delay, and chorus effects with pan and level controls;
13″ x 10″ x 11″; 19 lbs
MADE IN Germany
PRICE $1,199 (MAP)
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.