Harmony 8418 Combo Amp Review

Cost: $399.00 new from Reverb.com!

Huge thanks to Ben from BandLab Technologies for loaning me this awesome combo amp!

How it Works and Final Score: 8.5

Harmony’s recently released 8418 combo amp was one of my most anticipated amps of 2019. I’ve been dying to try it since I first saw it was available for sale last Fall. Luckily, Harmony agreed to loan me one of these 5 watt beauties for review. The 8418 is a reissue combo amp that boasts the same looks, circuitry, and construction as their original 8418 amps from decades ago. 6V6 vacuum tubes paired with an Italian-made 6″ Jensen speaker provide classic ’50s and ’60s guitar tones in an apartment friendly package. The amp has two input lines, but only one controllable parameter. A volume knob lets you go from subtle tube tones that never really get clean to Jack White-friendly crunch that never really gets distorted.

The Harmony 8418 next to a soon to be reviewed guitar in my home studio (AKA an empty bed room)

Sound: 7.5

Harmony’s 8418 provides some very interesting sonic soundscapes. It kind of sounds exactly how I imagine every amp in Dan Auerbach or Jack White’s garage sounds like, just much quieter. The tones you can produce are phenomenal but lack clear note to note definition. This should be expected though as this classic ’50 amp is meant to provide a ton of vintage vibes. It’s got an almost radio-like quality to the tone, and I mean that as a compliment!

I noticed that after the launch of the amp, the 8418 was advertised as doing two things: taking pedals great and having plenty of headroom for clear tones. First off, this amp does take effects, especially drives and fuzzes, incredibly well. You can warp the fuzzy, crackly tones from the the amp with ease through a Blues Driver or Big Muff. However, I really didn’t feel it actually had much headroom and the clean tones still retain some sizzle (which sounds great!) and lack note definition. Overall it limits the versatility of the amp to be a true practice amp unless your playing styles are limited to the blues and crunch-drenched rock. BUT, every tone you can get of this amplifier is otherwise fantastic and inspiring!

Durability & Construction: 9.0

Despite an incredibly budget friendly price, this amp boasts the original handmade construction and wiring of the first 8418s. That craftsmanship is evident and the amp not only looks awesome, but seems perfect for a bedroom or studio setting. The Tolex wrapping, compact size, and lack of complicated wiring make me think these things will last a lifetime. Sometimes it is hard to judge an amps durability in comparison to a guitar, but considering this amp isn’t likely to hit the stage soon, I’m a big fan of the job Harmony did here.

Value: 9.0

In addition to stellar vintage tones, the 8418 is also incredibly affordable. Coming in around $400, this makes the amp even more appealing for players who want a smaller combo amp to pair with their main gigging amp. In my opinion, it isn’t quite as versatile as something like a Vox AC4, but it has just as much, if not more character and magic inside. Overall, Harmony knocked it out of the park with this one and perhaps even I’m being too hard on this little amp. Check out the 8418 soon as they are only a limited edition reissue!

Vox MV-50 AC 50-Watt Tube Head Review

The MV 50 packs a lot of AC30 tone into a small amp head!

Cost: $219.99, new but look for a deal on a new or used one on Reverb.com HERE.

How it Works and Final Score: 7.8

The Vox MV50 is an interesting and unique take on the classic Vox AC30’s chime and jangle. The 50 watt head fits in the palm of your head, but provides maximum volume thanks to the use of a Nutube in the preamp that emulates that classic tube performance. On the AC version of the MV50 you’ll find gain, master volume, and tone controls all on the front panel.

The back gets a bit more interesting, an “eco” mode switch sets the amp to automatically turn off when not used for 15 minutes. A normal standby switch is next to an interesting EQ control that has two settings, deep and flat. Deep lets you get a little extra low end when played through a smaller cabinet while flat is a more traditional signal path. You can also alternate between 50, 25, and 12.5 watts thanks to an attenuator switch on the back. Tones are in no shortage here on this solid state meets Nutube hybrid amp, plus the power supply is included! Also, there is a very convenient headphone/line jack on the back as well.

Sound: 7.5

Right off the bat, I’m surprised at how nice it sounds for such a small, almost toy-like amplifier. It does a really nice job getting that classic AC30 chime and harmonic richness, especially with the gain and volume around the 12 o’clock. This is a really good emulation of the sound for a real fraction of the price. Single coils and P90s definitely sound the best through this head, no matter what cab I used, as they really bring out the top end and brightness that the MV50 AC sets out to achieve.

Humbuckers pushed the clean tone into a pretty nicely overdriven, crunchy sound that I really liked. However, with these high output pickups I felt like the MV50 AC lost some of the chime and note to note definition you want from a Vox AC30. Regardless of pickup choice, the gain produced by that Nutube simulation just doesn’t quite get the touch sensitivity and fizzle that I love from my Vox AC15. It’s not a bad tone at all, in fact it comes far closer to tube driven crunch than most solid state amps do, it’s just not quite at the level of the Vox AC30. Therefore, I recommend it to players who absolutely can’t afford to go out and get a real deal AC15 or AC30.

Durability: 9

This is always hard to judge in the short time frame that I have gear for review, but I can’t find any type flaw or construction issue so far. The wiring seems good and the mirrored front plate material seems to be sturdy itself. However, I’m not overly familiar with Korg’s Nutube and how it holds up over time or on the road. It certainly sounds good, but Korg is known for producing pretty tough stuff, so I’m not too worried about taking this 50 watt head out on the road so far.

Value: 7

In terms of the $200 or so price tag, it’s definitely a great value. The MV50 AC sounds great, seems built to last, and supplies a ton of sound and tone in a micro package. With any head though, you have to spend money on a decent set of cabinets so you want to factor those expenses into the equation. Part of the reason I can’t give it a higher score is that I feel it really only emulates the cleaner Vox tones well, not so much the dirty, overdriven tones. And I know they make an MV50 that’s specifically for crunchier tones that is labeled the “Rock” model, but you want versatility in any amp that you’re going to rely on for live use. If this is limited to your practice amp then you might as well spend the same money and get a nice little combo like the Orange Crush 20W. Overall, the MV50 AC sounds great and costs next to nothing, but you’ll be boxed into clean chime and extra expenditures for the cabs.

Devilcat Amplifiers Jimmy 50W Tube Amp Review

Check out this monster of a 50 Watt tube amp in this sick ’57 finish!

Cost: $1499.00 street, prices may vary so check Reverb.com before you buy! When purchased new you do get a lifetime labor warranty however!

How it Works and Final Score: 8.3

Devilcat Amplifier’s Jimmy is a 50 watt tube combo amp that is huge in stature and sound. Jimmy is somewhere between a 3 and 4 channel amp, with 3 true channels labeled “dirt”, “clean”, and “overdrive”. However, with the included foot pedal, you can kick on the “dirt” channel as a boost for both the clean and drive channels, giving it 4 distinct sounds. You do get some nice extras like a true spring reverb and an effects loop, but I have to say the first thing you’ll notice is how large and heavy this is for a 1×12 amplifier. Other features include an external speaker out that can be set to 4 or 8 ohms, a Celestian Vintage 30 speaker. You’ll find 5 12AX7’s, a 12AT7 phase inverter, and 2 6L6’s giving you huge tube amp tone.

Re-using this image because how freakin’ great does this combo look??

Sound: 9

The highlight of the Jimmy has to be the tones you can coax out of it. It’s both straightforward and varied in how it can be used. If you’re a simple guitar into amp rocker, just keep the overdrive channel on and use the pedal to click on thick walls of “dirt” channel boost. That’s where this amp may be most practical, as the 50 watts is loud and built for live settings. Don’t let the vast number of knobs confuse you, it’s really an easy amp to use and produces everything from warm, vintage overdrives to more modern, saturated distortion. It really can be quite diverse, it all just depends what you need the amp for.

While I think the amp is more practical for live use and earns a living through the overdriven sounds, don’t sleep on this clean channel! In some ways, the heavy and bulky size of the amp may make it best suited to be left in a studio, even if the tones and volume are more suited for the live stage. When you pull out the master volume switch, you activate the “bright” mode, giving the amp more of a chime, especially useful at lower volumes to add character to your sound.

The huge number of knobs present are actually all simple to use. It’s literally just basic EQ for the clean and drive channels, gain control for the “dirt” channel, and master volume and reverb. You can get a huge number of sounds from shimmering cleans to warm jazz tones and modern distortion sounds. The clarity and crispness in the clean channel is phenomenal, and as you increase the volume and push the tubes, you get amazing touch response. The 6L6 tubes give it a very American, almost cranked Fender sound that was really inspiring.

Construction & Reliability: 8

I debated going higher or lower here a lot, and I’ll try to explain my reasoning without being too repetitive. The construction of the amp has some premium highlights, the effects loop and speaker out included. Furthermore, the finish is just killer, I mean that ’57 color scheme draws eyes and screams vintage American tone. Lastly, the build quality is top notch, there isn’t a lot of excess noise, nothing sounds loose, the amp just seems built to last! But it’s so damn heavy for an amp that only has one speaker…It’s listed at 68 pounds, but I have an almost 68 pound dog that was way easier to pick up than this thing. The sonic options are superb, but I’m not sure I’d realistically want to lug this thing from venue to venue, and it’s tone wouldn’t get the face time it deserves locked in a studio. Not a big deal, but honestly something to consider for picker players, especially at this price range of $700 (used) to $1000+.

Value: 8

Even though this amplifier is in the higher price points, you just get so many sonic choices with it. It’s really a good value overall, and that’s coming from someone who thinks the best amp ever costs $800. No matter how hard it is to move Jimmy around, the tones are awesome. Plain and simple, if you can afford it and need a big volume tube amp, the Jimmy has got to be one of the top choices out there. Especially if you get it in that ’57 finish, I’m sad to see it go back to its rightful home!

Joyo Bantamp Firebrand Amp Head Review

An affordable amp head that rips through the mix and looks killer!

Cost: $169.00, new

Huge thanks to Ed from Osiamo for lending me the new Bantamp Firebrand to try out! Get one here!

How it Works and Final Score: 7.7

The Firebrand is super simple and straightforward, making it an ideal option for players who need a practice amp or reliable live option for smaller venues. The three control knobs are pretty straightforward, with gain, tone, and volume as well as a clean and OD channel switch. The preamp is made up of a 12AX7 tube paired with a solid state power amp, making this an affordable two channel amplifier option. You can connect a phone or other device to the amp via the bluetooth switch, allowing you to use the head as a speaker or letting you play along to your favorite songs. In the back, you’ll find an FX loop, as well as an aux input jack. As the Firebrand name might suggest, this is a fire breathing amp that is built for distortion and gain sounds. Just like how each other BanTamP product is meant to model a popular amp tone, this bad boy is meant for cranked, Marshall-like metal sounds.

Sound: 7

The clean channel takes effect pedals very well, with little buzz or or noise, but it sounds fairly sterile and simulated. Some players may like the reliability and clarity of the solid state clean tone, but I prefer to be able to dial in a little bit of chime or shimmer, and that’s not really an option here. On the other hand, the OD channel is great and the amp really shines when used for its original intention of high gain playing. While this limits the versatility, it still is a great overall sound, you just have to be willing to use it for only a handful of tonal options.

The Firebrand provides plenty of layers of thick distortion tones, great for hard rock and metal tones. The amp sounded best through my humbucker-outfitted ES-335 copy and Guild Jetstar. Drop tunings sounded great, with Drop D riffs retaining definition while still cutting through the mix with mid- and bass-heavy punchiness. Once you crank the tone, you can get more of a lead guitar sound with more note to note clarity perfect for sweep picking or tapping. The only drawback on the distorted sound settings was that the single preamp tube starts to lose that clarity and definition when it really is cranked past 4 o’clock making the amp sound a little bit muddy.

Construction & Reliability: 8

This lunchbox amp head seems really well built, and the small size makes it easy to pack, store, or use live. It’s really light as well, and I couldn’t find any noticeable flaws or factory damage. Even better, the amp didn’t have a lot of hiss or extra noise, thanks to a combination of quality wiring and decent parts. You can’t expect much more from a $170 amp that features a preamp tube, it really doesn’t feel like they cut many corners or cheaped out on anything to keep costs down.

Value: 8

As stated above, this is a great amp for the price that features two adjustable channels, solid construction, an FX loop, and bluetooth connect-ability. With plenty of perks and extras, this head is a perfect option for players on a budget who need tube-driven distortion that can from the practice room to the stage with ease. At a $169.00, it’s a great alternative to the Orange Crush 20W combo amp if you’re looking for the same quality distortion sound but in a head/tube powered configuration. For the money, I’m not sure there is an amp head out there that can beat it!

Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 10W 1x12W Review

An American-inspired amp powered by a 6L6 output tube for bright, clear tones.

Cost: $549.99 new, find yours HERE

Generously sent for review by Blackstar, huge thanks to Jennifer for the help!

How it Works and Final Score: 8.7

The Studio 10 6L6 from Blackstar is a fairly stripped down, affordable tube amp that is the perfect size for bedroom players and small stage players alike. The amp features a 1×12 Celestion 70/80 speaker, with 10 watts of output and a built in overdrive channel controllable by the included foot switch or by a button on the control panel.

Controllable parameters include gain, tone, reverb, and master volume, allowing you to dial in a fairly diverse array of tones, even without a typical 3 band EQ. For an amp at this price point, there is quite a bit of features built into the back of the amp as well such as effects loop and three speaker outputs.

Sound: 8.5

Inspired by many of the classic American amps from Fender that predate the Studio 6L6, it follows through on its promise of bright, clear tones. If you crank the gain and volume enough, you get that classic overdriven Fender tweed sound but in a much smaller package, allowing for more comfortable in doors playing. The amp really sparkles with single coils but loses a bit of the natural drive and output I got with humbuckers via a Dean Modern 24 and Guild Jetstar.

The built in reverb in fine, nothing to write home about, but it does lack some of the depth of that Fender or Vox spring reverb tank I’m accustomed to. My amp arrived with a footswitch for the drive channel, but there are also aftermarket ones from Blackstar that can control both drive and reverb. It seems like this would allow great sound shaping without any pedals or cheap sounding, built-in FX.

Personally, I found the drive channel to be a bit muddy, especially with any neck pickups or the tone knob rolled off on the guitar or amp. I think having a 3 band EQ would really help this drive shine a bit more, but for the price you can’t get everything. Besides a bit of muddiness, I enjoyed how raunchy and noisy the overdriven channel was, as it really mimics the touch sensitivity of a vintage cranked tube amp.

Construction & Reliability: 9

Nothing to be concerned about here, it seems to be solid as rock thanks to its heavy casing and hefty 32 pound weight. All the wiring seems to be correct and sturdy after cracking it open to inspect, the only issue (and it’s so minor), it seems like some of the washers around the input jack and power switches were a bit loose.

Value: 8.5

This single valve amp really mixes the best of solid state and tube amps together into one affordable package. The 6L6 output drives your lead tones but preserves that Fender-sparkle at lower, clean volumes. For $550, I think it is a bit of an amplifier “tweener” in the sense that it is probably too expensive or low volume to be someone’s amp for their first band, but is probably a bit below some of the other standard tube practice amps that veteran players may have in their house. Overall, it’s really a great fit for players like myself, who have expensive tastes but can’t afford expensive gear, as it mimics the sounds of vintage Fender combo’s at a much more palatable price. But based on quality alone, you are getting more than you pay for with the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6!

Orange Amplifiers Crush 20 Review

Is the Orange Crush 20 the best sub-$200 amp ever?

Cost: $139.00 new, trust me you need to get one of these NOW

How it Works and Final Score: 8.6

The Orange Crush 20 is a stripped down and straightforward solid state combo amp. While solid state amps often get a bad rap, most gear snobs will be impressed by the bruising crunch of the dirty channel that really captures that signature Orange tone. While this amp doesn’t feature the suite of onboard effects other budgets modeling amps do, it has the overall best tone of any sub-$200 amp I’ve ever tried and makes a perfect practice or backup amp with 20 watts of output thanks to it’s 1×8 Orange Voice of the World speaker. Featuring a clean and dirty channel, that can alternated with an affordable Orange foot switch, a 3 band EQ, and gain control, there are plenty of great tonal options at the tip of your fingers.

Sound: 7

While it’s hard to capture the touch sensitivity of traditional tube amps, this solid state amp comes the closest to replicating a classic Orange tone. Like most solid state clean tones, you can turn down the gain and get crystal clear notes, however, most players outside of the Jazz world are not big fans of that perfect clean tone. What’s nice about this clean channel though is the ability to dial in just a little crunch and drive by turning up the gain and using a humbucker equipped guitar. However without an effects loop, I would only recommend running minimal pedals such as a drive, fuzz, or delay into the amp to reduce potential noise.

From left to right: Head phone input, channel switch, dirty channel volume, treble, middle, bass, gain, clean channel volume, and input.

The amp really shines once you engage the the dirty channel and produces spectacular, though one dimensional, sounds. The 3 band EQ and gain knob help you replicate a number of Orange tube amp tones for a fraction of the price, and the amp even produces some of that typical tube sizzle. This is by far the best overdrive or dirty sound I’ve ever heard come from a solid state or affordable amp. From Nirvana to The Clash to Led Zeppelin, I got every sound I could imagine out this amp with a cheap Telecaster, Guild Jetstar, and an ES-335 style guitar. Ultimately, the only thing really holding this amp back is that you can’t use it for much outside of these fantastic dirty and overdriven tones without a full pedalboard. And if you’re gonna spend hundreds or thousands on a full pedalboard, you can probably afford even the cheapest tube amp.

Construction & Reliability: 10

Orange is no small time amp company and has a history of reliability and customer satisfaction. In general I think most customers, including myself, should feel comfortable in trusting an Orange Amplifier to last a long time, especially if cared for properly. Solid states also have don’t have tubes to wear out and replace, meaning you should be able to preserve that classic orange grit for years to come via the Orange Crush 20. So far, I’ve had zero issues with it and expect to zero issues with it.

Value: 9

This is definitely one of the best affordable amps I’ve ever played and I will certainly be putting it to good use as a practice amp and small gig amp in the future. The fact of the matter is that it just sounds so good and costs so little and you can’t find better value than that. It lacks on-board effects, a common feature on most budget solid state amps, but I actually think that may be a good thing. Ultimately, it’s super simple to use with no effect knobs to get in the way, and delivers a straightforward, ballsy rock sound. It’s definitely not a good beginner amp for a want to be shoegazer, but if adding a few external pedals is something you can do, this is a phenomenal beginner or bedroom amp. Check back soon for a full demo video and to see how I’ve been using it to play live or in the studio!