Amp shopping

I’ve been playing through a Peavey Valveking Royal 8 for many years now, but despite a number of mods, I’ve never been really satisfied with the sounds I get out of it. I think it’s the combination of 8″ speaker and cheap output transformer. The sound is quite boxy and mid-rangey, and the cleans are far from spectacular. My wife wanted to give my something nice for my birthday, so we went amp shopping. I had the following requirements:

  • Combo
  • For bedroom use, but giggable volume would be a plus
  • Preferably a 12″ speaker
  • Good cleans, overdrive can come from pedals
  • About €800 maximum price

I compiled a long list that looked like this:

  • Fender: Blues Junior IV, Bassbreaker 30R (I have played the Bassbreaker 15 and wasn’t impressed with the cleans), Hot Rod Deluxe IV, Blues Deluxe Reissue
  • Blackstar: HT-5, HT-20, HT-40, Studio 10
  • Marshall: Origin 5, Origin 20, Origin 50, DSL 20, DSL 40, SC20, SV20, Mini Jubilee (2525)
  • Orange: Rocker 15
  • Vox: AC15C1
  • PRS: Sonzera

I narrowed this down to a short list, with the most likely candidates in boldface:

  • Fender: Blues Junior IV, Bassbreaker 30R
  • Blackstar: HT-5, HT-20
  • Marshall: Origin 50, DSL 20, DSL 40

Round 1

Test round 1 was at Bax in Rotterdam, were I was given access to one of the test booths and told to simply grab the amps I wanted to test – and so I did. The test guitar was a Surf Green Vintera ’60s Stratocaster, which had a nice thicker C-shape neck and decent setup. Here are the amps I tested, some of the longer, others for just a minute or so, until I had gotten an impression of them:

  • Marshall Origin 50. A lot of headroom, not much overdrive here at lower level even with the gain boost on. I like how transparent this amp stays, as I quite dislike amps with a muffled sound due to excessive mids. I also like the looks very much. I’m not much into reverb so I don’t miss it here.
  • Fender Blues Junior IV. Actually pretty close to the Origin 50. I was expecting better cleans. Not much overdrive even with the gain fully open. I don’t understand why Fender didn’t include an FX loop, which all the competitors have.
  • Marshall DSL20: Two channels, hence pretty versatile. Pretty good cleans, overdrive channel has more gain than I need.
  • Marshall DSL40: Like the DSL20, just more: two channels with two sound modes each, two switchable master volumes (with additional footswitch that is not included). Great features for a gigging amp.
  • Orange Rocker 15: Not impressed, may partly be due to the 10″ speaker. First channel only has a volume control. A bit expensive compared to the competition.
  • Fender Bassbreaker 15: An amp I’ve played before. Back then I didn’t like the cleans. Cleans were Ok now, but at higher gain settings it seemed very muffled.
  • Fender Bassbreaker 30R: The newest addition to the Bassbreaker range. Once again, not the Fendery cleans I was expecting. Overdrive channel not exceptional.
  • Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb: Just wanted to check out the clean sound, not impressed.
  • Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue: Just wanted to check out the clean sound, not impressed.
  • Marshall SV20H with the SV212 cab. Loud! They really should have added a master volume. Sounded good, but may be due to the cab with two V-type speakers.

Clear favourites were the Origin 50 and the two DSLs. A bit disappointed by the Fender offerings, I was expecting better clean sounds. No Blackstar in the store.

Round 2

Round 2 was at Bax in Goes. The test guitar was a Candy Apple Red American Original ’60s Stratocaster, just like the one I own. Amps tested were:

  • Fender Blues Junior IV. Sounded a bit boxy, especially with more gain.
  • Marshall Origin 50. Like round 1.
  • Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue. Cleans were pretty good. Gain channel wasn’t very impressive. The overall sound was a bit too dark for my tastes. Might work better with a Telecaster or a ’50s-style Strat.
  • Blackstar HT-20. This amp has a lot of great features, especially regarding the connectivity (recording out and aux in). I was positively surprised by the clean sound. By the overdrive sounds, not so much. The OD channel was much darker and boxier sounding.
  • Fender Hot Rod Deluxe IV. I can understand why this amp sells well. Cleans are pretty good and the overdrive channel is pretty decent, too – but there was no “Wow!” moment for me.
  • Marshall DSL40. These are great amps, with four sound modes and a feature that is awesome for live playing: two switchable master volumes. The only issue is that there is only one set of tone controls for the two channels and four sound modes. Sounds are good, with much more gain on tap than I will ever use.

In the end, it came down to the Origin 50 and the DSL40. The DSL40 is more versatile, but the Origin 50 sounded a bit warmer and more pleasing to my ears. Since I play at home only, versatility isn’t that important, and “channel switching” can be achieved with pedals – so I went with the Origin 50. That this amp looks great is just an added bonus.

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