Production Tube Amps
From Fender and Gibson to the basement boutique amp builders, there are a wide variety of contemporary tube amps available for Guitar and Harmonica players. It is obvious to most players that the tube amp sound is richer and warmer than solid state amplifiers.
I'm in the process of reviewing a few contemporary production tube amplifiers. My local music store is a good place to start, so with JT-30 in hand and a B-flat Big River harp, I am taste tasting a few amps.
The amp that first caught my eye for price and style is the Gibson Epiphone Valve series of amplifiers. The low end of this line is the Valve Junior.
Epihone Valve Junior Specs:
The Epiphone Valve Junior is designed to provide Class A, true vintage tone reminiscent of classic low-wattage amplification of the 50’s. Its engineering philosophies represent a great deal of commitment to providing high quality and simple operation while maintaining flexibility in tone. Its single volume knob provides a wide variety of tone extracted from its Class A architecture. At low volumes, it achieves a rich blues tone while at higher volumes it breaks up naturally, delivering clear note separation within aggressive distortion characteristics. Many recordings from infamous guitar players have been captured using nothing more than similar low-wattage amplifiers and a microphone. In fact, modern recordings often feature the Gibson Skylark/Les Paul Junior, the inspirational predecessors to the Epiphone Valve Junior.
Input: (1) ¼” Jack
Control: Single Volume Knob, On/Off
Equalization: Provided by Volume Attenuation
Wattage: 5 Watt, Class A
Speaker: Special Design, 8”, 4 Ohms
Tubes: Preamp (1) 12AX7, Power (1) EL84
The Valve Junior is a simple Class A amp. It uses the EL84, which can push out up to 10 watts. The specs say 5 so I am guessing that they are using a lower voltage to get a smoother sound.
There are no controls on this amp for tone. This is very good news for those of us who don't want any controls robbing tone. What are are getting here is a 12AX7 tube in a small box. The 12AX7 has the sound that you want.
How does it sound?
The first thing that I noticed is that it hums. You don't get hand wired construction on these and the placement of the circuit board and the length of the connecting wires gives it a little 60 cycle hum leaking out to the speaker.
At low volume, 1-4, you get a standard clean tone. This level might be good for practice, but you can get a similar sound by plugging into any cheapo amp on the floor. At these levels it is not loud. Turn the knob up to 5 and you start to get a little bark in the tone and you can overdrive it a little. I had no problem with feedback at these levels.
I turned down the mic and put the amp on 8. Stepping back about ten feet, I was able to turn the mic on full without feedback as long as I cupped the JT-30 well. It had that familiar class A warm rich distortion. The amp barked well, responding to my tongue slaps on the harp and produced the horn tones that I want in an amp. You probably won't have to swap out tubes here when you use a crystal mic. The amp is toned down enough that you can use the 12AX7 just as it is. This gives you the advantage of the preamp distortion that the 12AX7 provides, with hardly any feedback.
The main drawback is that it is just not loud enough to fill a room. Make no mistake, all the heads in the room turned to me when I wailed away on the 8 setting, but it clearly would not cut through a guitar and drums at a jam.
The amp itself, is nicely designed. It looks nice and the cabinet seems rugged enough to stand a little knocking around.
The speaker sounds like it's holding back, so if you can find an old Jensen 4 ohm then you might try replacing the speaker.
The best thing is that it is priced at $119.95 and was on sale for $99.95.
There is hardly any reason not to own one of these little guys. It is the perfect little practice amp for the basement. It is good for gigging if you can mic it through the PA. It is light as a feather, considering that its a tube amp.