As part of the next generation of ValveKing series amps, the Combo 50 has been updated with a host of new features, while retaining the basic template of a dual 6L6 output stage and three 12AX7s in the preamp. What you get here, however, is a thoroughly modern take on a tube rig, as not only does the Combo 50 have two footswitchable channels with independent EQ controls, it packs things like 3-way power switching (50/15/2 watts), Peavey’sown MSDI (microphone simulated direct interface)–an XLR direct out with ground lift and speaker mute–a Vari-Class control that allows you to blend in simulated class A response, and a USB recording out for direct feed into a DAW. There’s also a Damping control that simultaneously adjusts presence and resonance, a digital reverb with level control, and footswitchable gain/volume boost for the Lead channel. Lastly, Peavey’s TSI tube monitoring circuitry keeps tabs on the power tubes, and indicates any fault condition via a pair of front-panel LEDs.
Firing up the Combo 50 with a P-90-equipped Gibson ES-330 reissue and a PRS Modern Eagle II, the amp delivered warm, clear sounding tones on the Clean channel that reminded me of the jazzy/bluesy textures that a blackface Fender Deluxe lives for. As always, these tones benefit from a touch of reverb, and the Combo 50’s digital ‘verb sounds so realistic that I actually had to rock the cabinet back and forth to ensure that it wasn’t being generated by springs. This channel takes on a grittier vibe when you crank it up, and this is where it’s handy to have the power attenuation function: Set it to 15 watts for smaller rooms, or even down to 2 watts for practice or low-volume rehearsals. The Vari-Class control lets you take the tones in a more chiming direction, but it’s pretty subtle even when set to max–i.e., don’t expect it to do a Jekyll-and-Hyde number on the Combo 50 and turn it into a Vox AC30!
The Clean channel’s abundant headroom also makes it very cool for pedals, as we found out by sticking a Way Huge Havalina between the guitar and amp. This new fuzz pedal sounded killer through the Clean channel when driven by the ES-330‘s single-coils, and by switching it off when toggling to the Lead channel, the Combo 50 suddenly had three distinct sounds. On its own, the Lead channel delivers classic overdriven tube distortion, pumping out lots of sustain with the Gain knob set to three o’ clock or higher with the Boost engaged. It’s responsive to picking variations and/or guitar volume adjustments, but to my ears it sounded much more open and dimensional with some reverb added. That said, whether going for stinging blues-rock tones from the ES-330, or deploying the Modern Eagle’s bridge humbucker for hard rock and heavier sounds the Lead channel had it covered. This is also where the Damping control made its case when set for a tighter/ presencier sound and feel.
With its wide gain range, bevy of useful features, and relatively light weight, the Combo 50 affords players a flexible amp that can cover just about any style. If you need something to jam or record with around the house it’s totally suitable, and the fact that it can hang on a loud stage makes it a happening rig that also happens to land for less than similarly powered tube amps from other popular makers. It almost goes without saying, but once again Peavey delivers a price/performance winner for working players.