Peavey ValveKing Combo 50 Review

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.

Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III

I pretty much dug the Hot Rod Deluxe III as soon as I laid eyes on it. It looks dignified yet rugged, with smart black and grey appointments and an understated Fender logo at the top. The top-mounted controls keep the look super clean from the front. At 45 lbs. it’s a very reasonable schlep while still feeling substantial, and the “dog bone” rubber handle is easy on my banged-up hands.

I plugged in with a Gibson Les Paul and ES-330, a PRS Modern Eagle II, and a Feiten Guitars T-Pro and gave the Hot Rod a spin. The clean or “Normal” channel sounds gorgeous: big, full, and round. It feels great too. Every guitar did exactly what it should through this channel. The Bright switch, which only affects the clean channel, is voiced very musically, adding a subtle shimmer with no piercing ice pickiness. It’s awesome for humbuckers but I also loved what it did with the 330’s P-90s and the Feiten’s Tele-style pickups. Adding some depth from the big spring reverb only made things cooler and the Celestion speaker sounds great and is a welcome addition.

Fender says on their website that the HRD Ill’s clean channel is also very pedal friendly, and they’re not kidding. Source Audio OFD and Blackstar LT Dual distortion boxes both sounded amazing. You could easily do a gig on just this channel with a few stompboxes and be completely happy.

That, of course, would deprive you of the other great tones lurking within the III, courtesy of the footswitchable Drive and More Drive flavors. These channels share EQ with the Normal channel, and at first I struggled to find a tonal balance between them. The Drive tones seemed a little bright when I had the Normal tone dialed to my liking. Soon enough I was able to strike a happy medium, however, just by kicking in the Bright switch on the clean side. There’s a lot of gain on tap in Drive land, and my favorite rhythm tone was with the Drive knob about halfway up. That gave me a punchy grind that was very dynamic, and worked well with all the test guitars. Then, if I needed more drive, I could hit the (wait for it) More Drive switch. That pours on a preset amount of distortion and adds thickness and sustain. I like what it does to the tone quite a bit, but because it doesn’t have its own level control, I would have a hard time using the More Drive setting for my lead tone (I like a pretty hefty level boost for solos). Another way I set the amp up was to set the Drive control at 2 or 3 for a barely dirty clean tone, then hit More Drive for my crunch tone, then use the Normal channel with a distortion box (set for a massive boost) for my lead tone. Lots of great-sounding options.

It’s easy to see why so many people love these Hot Rod Fender amps. Portable, great sounding, easy to use, and plenty loud enough to gig with. A proven winner that is only getting better.

Supro Model 1624T Dual-Tone

The revitalized Supro Amp brand stirred up a major buzz when announcing its reissue-based lineup (which included the 6L6-based Thunderbolt and Coronado models), late last year. With so many othergreat vintage American amps long available in reissue form, the Supra voice, despite being responsible for countless classic golden-era tones, had very much been missing from the contemporary guitar palette. Supra was acquired by Absara Audio (parent company to Pigtronix) from amp maker Bruce Zinky, who had previously used the name on his own original designs. Zinky has stayed on in an engineering role, working with Pigtronix sound designer David Koltai, to bring to life this 1964 reissue Model 1624T Dual-Tone 1×12 combo, which represents perhaps the most legendary of all vintage Supra amps. The 1624T (also called the Model 24 at times) is generally credited as the amp behind many of Jimmy Page’s legendary Telecaster-driven guitar tones on the first two Led Zeppelin albums, and originals have become hot items as a result.

This Zinky/Koltai reworking stays true to the most significant aspects of the circuit, including the fabled 6973 output tubes, while adding some convenience and efficiency, and saving costs by using all printed circuit board (PCB) construction. Rather than leaving you to manually jumper the two channels fora hotter, thicker sound with easier breakup (a popular trick with the originals), the amp’s first input automatically links channels 1 and 2, which you can then balance to taste using each channel’s controls. An A/B pedal (not included) can also be used for old-school channel switching between clean and crunch. The amp does its thing with the help of four 12AX7s, rather than the original’s three for preamp, tremolo, and phase-inverter duties, and rectification is solid-state rather than tube.

The reissue Dual-Tone looks the part, in a groovy blue rhino hide vinyl covering with white piping, pinstriped grillecloth sourced from the original maker, and raised plastic “Supra” logo. Cartage Is a breeze at 34 lbs, and its rugged leather handle is another improvement on the originals.

Plenty of people will tell you that 6973 output tubes are a lot like EL84s simply because they have a similar appearance and use the same 9-pin sockets. Don’t believe it. 6973s are rated at a maximum plate voltage of 440 volts DC compared to something in the low 300s for EL84s. As a result of this and other factors, they sound considerably different: bold, firm, round, and warm, with a thick crunch when you push them into overdrive, and not so much of the EL84’s glassy high-end bite.

Tested initially with a ’57 Fender Telecaster, single-coils seemed to bring out the all-round best in this amp: ballsy yet clear with the Volume knob short of noon, and a sweet grind when cranked up further, without losing much definition. As such, the Dual-Tone rolled from impressively crisp clean tones on channel 2 alone, to meaty, thick overdrive that screamed classic rock with the two jumpered, yet remained surprisingly taut throughout. A Les Paul sounded great for raw vintage rock ‘n’ roll or warm, clean tones at lower volume settings (on Ch2 in particular), but, while sounding cool throughout, occasionally produced too much low end. Whatever the guitar, kicking in the tremolo gave me goose bumps every time–this is one of the swampiest, most hypnotic vintage-style tube tremolos I’d heard in a while.

On the whole, the 1624T Dual-Tone is an extremely hip and well-conceived reissue, with boatloads of tonal goodness and bountiful retro chic. All said, it’s an extremely welcome rebirth of a much-missed classic.

Blues Cube Artist – A Guitar Amplifier

At july’s summer namm show in Nashville, Roland surprised everyone by proclaiming that, starting in 2014, the company was going to establish itself more forcefully as an amplifier maker. While Roland has certainly produced its share of fine amps throughout the years–from the legendary JC-120 to truckloads of Cubes–the brand is also not considered by many musicians as a consistent and major player in the quest to provide professional amplifiers for studio and stage. And that is a perception that Roland took to heart.

The new Blues Cube Artist and Stage amps are therefore the company’s messengers for celebrating its amp-making history while simultaneously providing pros and hobbyists alike with an amplifier they can embrace as seriously as the industry’s other time-honored amp brands.. Roland means business here, because the Blues Cube Artist is one ferocious amp, and as far from a home buddy or tech toy as you can get. I plugged into the Artist with a diverse collection of guitars that included a Framus Mayfield Custom, a Fender Stratocaster, a Danelectro DC 59M NOS, a Collings 290, a Guild X-160 with Filter’Trons, and a Gibson Les Paul Jr. armed with P90s.

With its tan/brown color scheme, front-mounted nameplate, and open-back cabinet, the Blues Cube Artist looks like a retro-styled, stage-worthy amp with a California vibe. The top-mounted controls are still rather cutesy “Cube like,” but if that bothers you, at least the audience can’t see them. The Blues Cube seems pretty road tough. There are no tubes to unsettle, as Roland’s Tube Logic processing provides the amp tones, and when I tossed the amp into a few car trunks and “accidentally” kicked it over on its side, there were no ill effects.

The overall sound of the Blues Cube Artist is warm and robust. Roland obviously didn’t want any hint of perceived “digital sizzle,” and the engineers did a fantastic job at ensuring the amp translates performance dynamics in a very tube-like manner, reacts to volume adjustments like a tube amp, and doesn’t ever sound thin, brittle, or overly bright. To that end, the EQ is voiced subtly, but is still effective for adding a touch of boom, attack, or shimmer to your guitar sound. The Boost switch on each channel should not be mistaken for a studly “solo” boost, but it does add some nice grit to the signal. The onboard power attenuator is a very cool added feature for keeping raging tones rocking at all volume levels, and the USB output beams those sounds directly into the workstation of your choice.

During session tests, the Blues Cube served up extremely pleasing clean tones that went from utterly pristine to vibey and roughed-up by adjusting my guitar Volume or pick attack. The overdrive sounds were simply stunning–feral, sustaining, beefy, or delightfully rude, depending on the settings. Being able to “layer” clean and distorted sounds with the Dual Tone feature (which combines the Clean and Crunch channels, and lets you adjust the balance with each channel’s Volume controls) is like having the power to simultaneously play two “overdubbed” amp sounds (without the two amps and switcher), and that rules. There are so many cool sounds in this Cube–and no bad or unusable sounds–that I would proudly gig this amp anywhere and everywhere. Mission accomplished, Roland!