Carlsbro & Deanvard Amps
COBRA 90 BASS: £231
The Original Carlsbro bass combo was a damn popular piece of machinery and it's now been upgraded twice — to a 60W version you may still find in the shops and a 90W parametric alternative.
It's essentially a 60 watt amp standing 26in high in boots of ¾in ply. The panel of controls that used to lie at the back now form a sloping face at the front. The old 12in Powertone speaker has been dumped in favour of a 15in version, and all corners and the top and bottom outside edges are protected by heavy duty plastic guards.
The Cobra's careful construction shows in touches such as the carrying strap. It hasn't been screwed to the top of the cab but set into the wood and is backed by a reinforcing strip of ply. Just as well. The Cobra weighs nearly 60lb according to the bathroom scales and is about the limit for a comfortable one-man carry.
At first glance the controls are daunting. Alongside the hi/mid/lo tones and a volume are six pushbuttons. The five black ones are additional tone filters, each executing preset degrees of bass, midrange or treble boost. The final red one reinforces the lowest frequencies, below the borders of the bass control.
The 15in Powertone has given the new Cobra more rumble than its predecessor, and it handles the bottommost notes with a free and easy feel. The deep switch does a great job here.
But wait until you hear the treble: there's as much top coming from the Carlsbro as I've heard from several guitar amps.
A brief experiment with slapping and cracking the strings proved that the Cobra could be a distinct health hazard. I certainly don't remember the old model being as razorlike as this, and the 15in cone plus the deep switch means you can still retain a throaty roar in the nether regions.
If there was one criticism of the 60W it was that the tone circuits created hiss and that could cause problems in the studio. The more sophisticated 90 has the roar of its predecessor but quieter electronics, plus a compressor. The tone switches are replaced by a parametric control that tunes in to the frequency band you want, and the amp is augmented by effects loop sockets and a headphone output. There's also a Scorpion Bass which is a cheaper 20W version still with the Carlsbro sound.
The Deanvards are distinctly economy packages, yet dressed with a rugged exterior that belies their price. Both are solidly constructed combos bearing attention to detail usually overlooked at this level.
For example, there's a hardy speaker grill instead of the usual flimsy cloth, a thick, comfortable carrying handle, 'phones and line outputs, bright and normal inputs and wood... yes, rather a large amount of wood.
Where many budget amps are given the minimum of tree to do the job, each of these Deanvards had chipboard to spare around the 10in Fane in the VA30 and the 12in in the VA60.
Plenty of room on the control panel as well. The facilities match up — a single gain control, bass and treble tones, plus a parametric for the middle utilising a centre frequency of 1,000Hz on the guitar version, and a 500Hz alternative for the bass.
The frequency span isn't that wide on either and there's not a great deal of cut or boost available, yet that's no bad thing. Parametrics invariably turn impractically squawky or boxy at their extremes, and the Deanvards' circuit is useful without becoming a special effect.
Both have a clear, substantial and straightforward tone. The large cabs and the parametric assist in removing the cramped middleness that often afflicts lower priced amplification. The VA30 stands up well as a rhythm guitarist's amp, but doesn't have quite enough get up and go to make it for lead players.
Maybe I'm getting spoilt by all these distortion circuits, but the VA30 seems hard to shove into overdrive. You'd need hefty pickups to make up for the low gain at the front end of this amp and bearing in mind the price range, most guitars at a similar fiscal level wouldn't be hot enough to do the job.
Same goes for the VA60, though here the 60 watt claim isn't so convincing. I'm also dubious about the finish, a dazzling snowy white that may look impressive fresh out of the box, but would very soon gather grime, dirt and scuff marks. Black is boring, I know, but at least it usually stays clean.
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