Five 50W Combo Amps
Article from Making Music, November 1987
King Of Thing Jerry Uwins bends his ears (and his back) over five 50 watt guitar combos, each for less than £200. So where do they come from, Jerry?
Three British, two Korean. All rated at or around 50W RMS, single 12in driven, with reverb, and any one — excluding footswitch(es) — yours for under two-hundred smackers.
If these are the similarities, the differences (given just £23 between cheapest and most expensive) are significant. Whether assessed by sheer number of knobs and sockets, or each combo's relative proficiency at producing a spectrum of clean to filthy sounds. And continuing to do so under the duress of high volume settings.
A perusal in affabeck lauder.
Colt 50R: Dimensionally, the most compact. And proof that good things often come in small, if in this case hessian-fabric covered, packages.
Keeping to the essentials, Custom Sound have designed an amp which can overdrive like a good'un and still produce decent clean sounds. A combination of attributes not to be taken for granted.
In fact the Colt's Boost, front-panel or footswitch activated (via a single stereo socket which also controls reverb on/off), supplies the best range of distortion of all the test combos. Solid, tight and forward. Only brickbat is the reverb's rather limited range.
Gorilla CG110: Divide catalogue number by two to obtain true power rating of this Korean contender. Good range (helped by treble High Boost switch) of clean sounds at moderate sound levels but unpleasant, randomly ragged break-up as the wick is wound up — even through Normal channel.
A much better bet for hooligan stuff. Tube Stack, used with the quirky Mid Boost switch which overrides the Middle setting and automatically whacks it up to max, is aptly named. Convincing valve-like overdrive, the biz for chaps steeped in shades of the blues. Otherwise, slightly fizzy distortion, so be cautious with treble boost. Excellent reverb range but overly cavernous at maximum.
Laney Linebacker L505: One of the most feature packed. Two channels (the only amp so equipped) — separate, switchable or mixable, and an FX loop make this a very versatile combo. Fashionable too, with its cut-back cabinet fascia.
Paradoxically, it took longer and required more concentration to line up some decent sounds. They're all there, though — classy if not ear-piercing clean tonalities, controllable overdrive breakup, and commendable distortion. It's just that the many available permutations of channel(s) versus master, Gain boost, EQ, etc, demand more time be spent figuring things out. To my ears Presence adds little, except a modest contrast between 0 and 10.
Like the Colt, the Laney needs a stereo-jacked double footswitch to operate, in this case, channel change and reverb. Reverb quality and usable range earn top marks.
Marlin 50RC: Korean, the cheapest and, like the Laney, a lot for your money including an FX loop and a switchable on-board Chorus whose quality, given the combo's price tag, is more than adequate.
A quid pro quo for all this may be cost savings in the combo's construction. Although largest of the five, the Marlin's cabinet uses only ½in chipboard; the others are either ⅝in or ¾in. In a 'throwing combos into the gig truck' contest, the Marlin may not fare too well.
In other respects it acquits itself well. Broad, sparkly clean sounds, and scope enough in the (sometimes fizzy) distortion genre. There are a couple of (Korean again) quirks.
When using a footswitch, overdrive switches automatically to full-on rather than to the setting you've already dialled up. That becomes the Off position. Also the reverb, like the Gorilla's, is over-endowed and can become too cathedral-like. With either, though, at least you'll never run out of reverb!
Vox Venue Lead 50: With only a master/channel volume means of overdriving, the compact Lead 50 appears a poor contender against the others' bells and whistles. Unfair to an extent. Since, set against the annoying absence of any switchable boost, the Vox simply does a dependable job.
It's as loud as the rest, and has good clean sounds that can be retained up to a decent level. And the overdrive, whose quality I'd rank only marginally below the Colt, can be wound in progressively.
The reverb's OK too. Overall, a success for minimalism.
Hard one this. Some excel at specific tasks, but in absolute terms there's not a duffer among them. A prompt verdict must go thus, and is based on playing criteria.
For predominantly clean work, the Marlin or Vox. For dishing the dirt the Colt or, for the same usage plus sheer flexibility, the Laney.
If pressed to put folding stuff somewhere near my gob for a personal overall favourite, I'd have to elect the chunky little Colt. It's unfussy. Good noises for all repertoires are ready and waiting and, most important, it feels kinda supportive.
Gear in this article:
Review by Jerry Uwins
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