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leftybassman392

Small valve amps. Caution; guitar related content

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The current Cornford Hurricane is too big, too powerful and waaaaay too heavy for my anticipated future needs. That said, I don't want to skimp on build quality and tone. Sooooo....

I'm in the market for a small valve combo that I can PX the Cornford in against at something close to a straight swap. This suggests a value in the ballpark of £500. (Yes I know the Cornford is worth a lot more than that in a private sale, but the last time I put it up, everybody loved it but nobody wanted it. 9_9)

As an indication of the sort of thing I'm after, a quick dig around t'interweb has coughed up this Blackstar.

I know them by reputation but don't recall ever plugging into one. This is currently at the top of a list of about two.

Opinions about this amp and its close relatives, plus thoughts about possible alternatives, are sought.

I don't need power (been there, done that - 10w max), I don't need separates (small, simple, portable and as light as can reasonably be managed for a valve amp is the name of the game here). I've played guitars since I was about 12, and over the years I've had any number of Marshalls, Fenders, Laneys, Mesa Boogies and the like, and have a pretty clear idea what I'm after.

All I really need is some advice as to the state of the current market in small, quality valve combos. The rest I can do for myself.

Feel free to begin your responses with "If it was me..." :)

Edited by leftybassman392

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The Marshall DSL5C is a good little amp, and has a setting on it where you can reduce the power to 0.5 watts, so ideal for home use (tho still pretty noisy, halfway at 0.5 watts is regular TV viewing volume).

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I had a Blackstar HT20 set up some years back, I have to admit I was totally uninspired by it, in the end I brought a Fender Superchamp XD which I still have and record with, I guess it depends on whether you are a Marshall fan or a Fender fan the Blackstar is definitely more Marshall than Fender.

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I've not actually watched this properly but it's been regularly cropping up in my YouTube suggestions for a while.

I know from looking at something else that the Rift combo comes in at about two grand, but I think the other amps they cover are mostly under the £500 mark.

 

Edited by Cato
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Nicest small valve combo for guitar I've tried is the Peavey Classic 30 - I snagged one in Crack Converters dirt cheap a few years back and foolishly moved it on.   

Currently using a mid '80's Mesa Boogie mk 3 short head with 1x12 Boogie Thielle cab, but I do miss the Peavey.

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Thanks for the replies so far. Blues junior might be worth a look. Bit more power than I was really looking for, but good for size and weight. Video was very interesting. Thanks for posting @Cato. I'll have a proper listen through my in-ears in a while. I've had quite a few Marshalls at one time or another. It's a very specific sound, and TBH I'm not so sure it's a sound I want any more. Peavey is a great amp (I had the good fortune to have the use of its big brother the 50 for a while some years ago), but just too much for my needs.

In an ideal world I'd keep the Cornford because without wishing to be unkind to any of these amps it's in an altogether different league IMHO. Simple fact is that I haven't used it in anger for some years and can't see myself doing so again anytime soon. At 30Kg or so it's a major mission to hump it around from place to place these days if I'm not using it. Also, if things go to plan over the next little while we'll be moving to a new house that's a bit smaller than the one we're in. Keeping the Cornford would be an indulgence that I can't justify. Hence, and with some reluctance, this thread.

Edited by leftybassman392
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Dunno if I should have said this sooner, but I don't need high gain. I'm looking for fairly clean (I do love the sound of lightly compressed strat), through to a bit of bluesy grind with the 335. Barring a miracle it's all for my own pleasure anyway. I know most modern amps can do high gain, but I'm really more interested in basic tone so I can just plug in and play.

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I'll be ridiculed for suggesting this... but if you want a 'bedroom blaster' with a rich selection of real valve sounds, I've got a Vox Valvetronix 25 (curiously it's 30W), which I think is great. My brother with his Marshall JCM, Fender Deville and Orange Terror valve amps takes the fosters - but for me it's loads of fun.

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1 minute ago, Stub Mandrel said:

I'll be ridiculed for suggesting this... but if you want a 'bedroom blaster' with a rich selection of real valve sounds, I've got a Vox Valvetronix 25 (curiously it's 30W), which I think is great. My brother with his Marshall JCM, Fender Deville and Orange Terror valve amps takes the fosters - but for me it's loads of fun.

All opinions are equally valid at this point, Stub. :)

Having said that, I'm going to commit sacrilege myself by saying that I've never been a fan of the Vox sound. Not entirely sure why, but I've never been able to get on with them. My loss I'm sure, but there it is. :/

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If it were my value for money I'd look for a Kustom defender either the 5h or 15h. I use a 15h for bass at home and it's a seriously underrated piece of equipment!

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18 hours ago, leftybassman392 said:

All opinions are equally valid at this point, Stub. :)

Having said that, I'm going to commit sacrilege myself by saying that I've never been a fan of the Vox sound. Not entirely sure why, but I've never been able to get on with them. My loss I'm sure, but there it is. :/

It's a <hushed voice> modelling amp so it does lots of other sounds as well including Fender and Marshall to varying degrees of convincing, but dial in Fender Twin Reverb with a slow leslie speaker effect and valve overdrive and you get a good Rust-era Neil Young sound.

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1 hour ago, Stub Mandrel said:

It's a <hushed voice> modelling amp so it does lots of other sounds as well...

Mkay, point taken, but I've done the modelling amp thing as well. I had a Line6 AX212 at one point (absolute monster of an amp but a front panel that could have come from the starship Enterprise - not to mention a footswitch panel from the same school), and I still have an original Pod (the kidney-shaped one) that I haven't used in years.

No, I've reached a stage in my life whereby I want an amp to enjoy without the need to update any software. If it helps, another amp that I find interesting (admittedly for slightly different reasons than the Blackstar) is this. Probably a bit too spartan - and too loud - even for my needs, but you get the idea. Blackstar make a range of 10W amps that I'm also looking at and which are almost as spartan as the Pro Junior. Tone is everything, and with no disrespect to your suggestion I've never used a modelling amp that I find properly convincing in that regard. Nothing against the technology you understand, just not for me is all.

 

Edited by leftybassman392

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I love my Blackstar Artist ! I had a Rat modded Epiphone Valve Jr but the Blackstar is so much nicer. I have it doubled up with a Yamaha THR10 and an AB switch and between them they can do everything and together are sublime.

 

Good price here :`

https://www.pmtonline.co.uk/blackstar-artist-10th-anniversary-edition?utm_source=google&utm_medium=shopping&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyIjluYTM5QIVg7TtCh3V_wnJEAQYASABEgIrRvD_BwE

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6 minutes ago, edstraker123 said:

I love my Blackstar Artist ! I had a Rat modded Epiphone Valve Jr but the Blackstar is so much nicer. I have it doubled up with a Yamaha THR10 and an AB switch and between them they can do everything and together are sublime.

 

Good price here :`

https://www.pmtonline.co.uk/blackstar-artist-10th-anniversary-edition?utm_source=google&utm_medium=shopping&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyIjluYTM5QIVg7TtCh3V_wnJEAQYASABEgIrRvD_BwE

Nice! This is one of the amps I'm interested in so it's good to hear an opinion from somebody who uses one. Thanks for posting.

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Quick search on Thomann reveals that most of the small, all-valve combos around £500 or less come from the usual suspects. Strip out the Bugeras, the Marshalls, the Blackstars (because they either sound like Marshalls or a bit generic) and the Voxes and you're left with:

Cornell Traveller 5 (5w)
Fender Bassbreaker (7w)
Fender Bassbreaker 15*
Fender Blues Junior IV (15w)*
Fender Pro Junior IV (15w)
Fender Superchamp X2 (15w)*
Ibanez TSATV5R (5w)*
Laney Cub 10 (10w)
Laney Cub 15R*
Supro Blues King 8 (1w - yes, that's 1 watt)

* = On-board reverb. All digital except BJ which is a tank reverb.
 


Thoughts

s-l300.jpg

Ibanez TSATV5R

* The Ibanez is the cutest little thing you ever did see but the image isn't - er - good for metal. The wife might like it, though. IIRC Kiwi here touts a brace of Ibanezs and likes them. 

* The Cornell's probably the closest thing to an affordable 'boutique' combo, the maker's got a good rep and the amp steps down from 7w in increments down to 0.5w. But will an 8" speaker sound a bit boxy? Have to try it.

* Nobody apart from Tony Iommi ever got excited about Laney amps but I've played a couple of Cubs and they're actually not that bad. The Cub 15 has a reverb but it's digital (as you'd expect at this price).

* The Supro is only 1w (12AU7 power valve) with a 'boost' switch which could mean anything from nasty diodes to pulling the tone knob out of the circuit. I don't know.

And so to the Fenders:

The Juniors

Industry standard small combos with big rep. The new Mk IV iterations of the PJ and the BJ claim to address the perennial complaint of low headroom before everything goes 'groarrgh'. This doesn't fix the problem of price headroom as both amps hover around the £500 mark. Older s/h models go for £300-400 depending on the usual stuff and there have been entire websites built just on the subject of PJ and BJ mods (speakers, tubes, circuit, re-cabbing). Just a thought.

Bassbreakers

Fender's attempt to expand their tonal palette into Marshall / Blackstar territory. EL84's and a Celestion speaker. Never played one. Don't hugely like what I've heard on the web - a generic 'hard rock' sound - but what do I know?

Superchamp X2

1314968812_superchampx2.jpg.0b59a86337645384863b27e96173aeb7.jpg

As Mr Stephen Morrissey once opined: 'You're the one for me, Fatty'.

Two channel 15w 1x10" combo on its second iteration. People seem to like them. I played one and it was nice. Loads of reviews of this and its predecessor the XD on YT.

Channel 1 is a traditional-ish straight-through 1x 12AX7 > 2x 6V6 circuit (with digital effects if desired) for something close (IMO) to a Blackface sound. So there's your clean-ish Fender thing sorted. You could always dip the digital FX and stick some pedals in front of the input if you like

Channel 2 is yer bells and whistles digital amp modelling / fx stuff shoved out through the valve power stage so you can dial up a Mesa Boogie sound and stick it through some entirely inappropriate effects if you want. Slightly gimmicky but fun.

USB and line out for recording; software for direct recording and creating / modding digital pre-sets.

One criticism is the stock speaker is a bit toppy / ice-picky (common complaint with smaller Fenders) but the X2 comes in at about £360 (Thomann) which leaves room to lash out £50-100 on a replacement Fender-type speaker (e.g. Eminence, WGS).

It's a shame they stopped making the Vibrochamp XD which was basically a 5w version of this with a single 6V6 output tube but without the pre-amp valve and all-valve path. Vibrochamp XDs can turn up secondhand for around £200 or less.


Conclusion

What would I buy? I'd try everything in the list with the specific guitar I'd be playing through the amp. 

But on paper if I were Lefty I'd go for either:

*  The Cornell (five watts is still bastard loud) and buy a nice reverb pedal

*  The Superchamp XD for its flexibility and features. Maybe get a new speaker if I couldn't live with the stock item

*  A s/h Peavey Bandit and a nice 'amp in a box' pedal, e.g. Wampler Black '65
 

Edited by skankdelvar
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If it was me.... I wouldn't PX the Cornford. I'd sell it separately. You'll get more for it than if you PX and you will be able to buy the replacement outright, which may enable you to negotiate a reduction on the price.

Skank's advice above is sound. You can address the tendency of Fender Juniors to dirty up too quickly by replacing the first preamp valve with a lower gain version (see Phil McKnight's YouTube vid on the topic). I think he's right that you will probably be happiest with the Cornell. You own a high quality combo in your Cornford and standard factory offerings may leave you a little underwhelmed. 

Does it have to be a combo? If you don't mind a separate cab', this - https://www.thomann.de/gb/harley_benton_g112_vintage.htm - is generally reckoned to be something of a bargain (essentially, you get a Celestion Vintage 30 in a free cab). Pair it with a small valve head and you'll be in business.

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Just sold my 1973 champ for 300..I loved that baby...tiny and weighs less than zero...floats by itself into your pocket..lovely clean tone and great overdriven. Don’t hardly play guitar anymore and needed a small bass cab

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50 minutes ago, skankdelvar said:

Nobody apart from Tony Iommi ever got excited about Laney amps

And me and Krist Novoselic...

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10 hours ago, pete.young said:

My son has a Fender Princeton , which is about 12 watts and does that clean fender-y sound very nicely.

I have one too. It's my home practice amp - nice full sound with onboard spring reverb and bias tremolo, nice and light, takes pedals well. Not for you if you want built-in overdrive though.

Note: @pete.young is not my Dad!

Further note: ... as far as I know ...

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8 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

And me and Krist Novoselic...

Good point, well made.

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Power soak to bring the volume down and keep the piece of kit that makes the noise you like?

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Thanks again for all the replies. Couple of matters arising

1.Having done some further research (read as: watched some more YouTube vids):-

  • The Cornell does indeed sound very good to my ears although either a built-in reverb or an effects loop would have been nice;
  • The Ibanez is an interesting idea (especially if you like the sound of the tube screamer - personally I wouldn't buy it just on the strength of the TS but I can understand that some would) although its looks would take a bit of getting used to - a critical assessment might characterise it as form over (or at least competing with) function. Spring reverb is a nice touch though. Hmmm...

2. The Cornford has to go for the reasons I set out in the OP. This has already been decided.

3. Selling it separately remains an option, but I tried that already. I may look at dropping the price and trying again. We'll see...

4. Yes, it does have to be a combo, but thanks for the suggestion. :)

 

Looks like I'm going to be setting up some auditions. Nottingham is my nearest Cornell dealer so I feel a journey - maybe more than one - somewhere in my future.

Edited by leftybassman392

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