The home of Sweaty Spice, the 'other' Spice Girl

I had hinted rather strongly to my significant other that my rekindled guitar playing was bringing out a problem.

That problem is the amp I have. I have written about my Fender Super 60, a combo unit with a speaker (12" Fender spec loudspeaker) and a very versatile 60 watt all-tube amplifier. Recent efforts fixed the low impedance input, and that really brought back the WOW factor.

But with that wow factor came the downsides of 60 watts. The benefit of tube amplifiers is how they sound when you drive them to clipping. They have warm, luscious distortion. Sure a modeling amp can simulate it, but there is something magic about how responsive a good tube amp is.

I once played through a 100W Marshall JCM head, and two 4x16" cabinets, at volume, and it was a religious experience - but an audiologist's nightmare

Sure, plugging the PodXT into the power amp input sounds good, but it is so, digital.

What I needed (yes, need ;-) ) was a smaller wattage tube amp. There are more than a few. And I will admit that I looked longingly at a Mesa Boogie twin rectifier, alas that is even louder than the Fender. But what a sweet amp...

Then there is Orange.

Orange - the company

In the late 1960's much of the best amplification came from England. Marshall was based there, as was Vox, and others. A company was formed, called Orange, and they build distinctive looking amplifiers, cabinets wrapped in orange tolex (naturally) so distinctive, that they are easy to spot.

They have a wide selection of solid state and tube amplifiers. The designs look simple, the controls are easy to understand, and provide great range of adjustments so you can dial in a tone you like.

They have a reputation for being pretty bulletproof, and high quality. Originally hand crafted in the UK, alas, they have moved to production in China. Keeps the cost down and makes them reasonable investments.

The model

Looking for good room sized practice amps that wouldn't break the budget, not be wimpy solid-state electronics, there aren't too many to choose from.

Searching and reading posts from real people focused me on the Orange Rocker 15. 15 watts of all tube power, but split into two modes, full, and half. Half providing about 7 watts. Additionally, there is a further power sink, that will take that 7 watts down to about 1.5 watts. That means that I could probably power on and play while the wife is asleep and not disturb her slumber.

All the real reviews agreed that it sounded fantastic, was very versatile, and had an "English" feel to it (as in, closer to Vox and Marshall than Fender).

Not cheap, but no tube amps are cheap, it was reasonable, so I tossed it on my wish list and hinted to Santa that I would really like one.

It's Christmas!

It was a poorly kept secret, but my better half spoilt me with the Orange Rocker 15. It actually arrived over a month ago, but I insisted that it remain boxed until the day.

After the family brunch on Christmas, I hauled it in, and opened it up.

First impression is that it is a little less than half the weight of the Fender Super 60. That is a good thing, because when I played out with the Fender it was a back-breaker to haul around.

It is, uh ORANGE. That is a distinctive look.

It looks like it is a Rocker 15 head that is bolted to the cabinet. The controls are all on the top, and they have pictograms instead of words (like Treble, Mid, Bass, Vol, Gain, Presence). There are three toggles, and an indicator lamp. Power on/off, a three-way switch for which output (high, standby, low), and a switch to toggle between the clean channel, and the dirty channel.

Under the amp, there is another toggle for headroom (full output) or "bedroom" (the quiet  mode).

The speaker is labeled Orange, and probably built for them by one of the major speaker makers.

Naturally, I plugged it in, and fired it up. Spent about 30 minutes playing with the adjustments, the tone, and the clean/dirty channels, as well as trying all four output settings (full/half both in headroom and bedroom settings) and it I am pleased to say that you get all the tube warmth, clipping, overdrive and groove at all settings. To do that on my Super 60 would likely cause a rupture of my eardrums in my bedroom.

I only spent a little bit of time with it on Christmas day, but so far I am super impressed. It has all the expected features of a good amp, including effects send/receive, and the ability to plug into external speaker cabinets. Not a low capability amp masquerading as punching above it's weight, it is a gem. And I think that if I so desired it, I could remove the amp component, rack mount it, and drive a 4x12 cabinet just fine. Not that I ever would need that...

The day after Christmas, I spent an hour exploring the amp. And I am hooked. On the 1.5 watt setting, it is plenty punchy for my office/den and the sounds are oh so sweet. The clean channel doesn't run through the tone controls, but it is very neutral, and supremely responsive to the tone/pickup settings on my guitar. And at full volume, it has the coolest clipping sound. Audio bliss!

One thing it is missing is a reverb unit. The Super 60 has a classic spring reverb that many people hate, but I sorta like. I guess, I will need to find a good reverb pedal and add that back in (with a lot more flexibility to boot) to my signal chain.

For the rest of my holiday shutdown, I am going to explore and get intimate with this little amp.

Alternatives

While researching this acquisition, I stumbled across the '57 Tweed amp. Fender sells one, it is a 5 watt small speaker amp with a single adjustment, the volume, and it has some amazing classic sounds that come from it. Check out some of the videos on fender.com, or YouTube.

It was tempting, but it is not flexible enough to cover what I play. And at about $1,100, it is a bit rich for a toy. That said, I could totally see myself buying/building one of these at some point in the future. StewMac sells a kit.

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