What you’re looking at is a couple of 5E3 Clones. The two of them together form a nice pair and will handle most volume levels I’m likely to encounter in stride, but sometimes one might wish for a little more clean headroom than they are able to deliver.
In an earlier post I reviewed the Badcat Unleash, which allows me to get the sound of a 5E3, but scaled up to a degree that prior to the existence of the Unleash would be complicated and expensive to accomplish, and I’m not sure at quite the same sound quality as you get from the Unleash. This is sort of an update and how I’m currently using the Unleash and some of the gear I’m now using it with.
I’ve been using the Magic Valve (The black one) clone to use as a speaker cab in my living room for my two “Poodle Amps”, a Fender Greta and a Vox Lil’ Night Train. I’ve also been using it with the Unleash, since I don’t ever really turn up the volume. I decided to put an Eminence Texas Heat that I’ve had sitting around unused into the cab, as I thought it might be a decent match for the Lil’ Night Train, which sounds a bit shrill through the Jensen P12R in the MVA cab. I’ve had the Texas heat in the MVA cab before and it adds a different flavor to the 5E3, but since I’ve been using the speaker with three different amps, I thought I’d experiment.
While doing this it occurred to me that I should try this speaker with the Unleash, since it’s capable of handling 150 watts, and then it dawned on me that I should try it along with the Jensen Tornado that lives in the Coronado 5E3. The Unleash’s Class D amp will deliver a full 160 watts into a 4 ohm load, so I thought “Why Not?”.
Well, I now have a very interesting rig, to say the least. The 2X12″ speaker array with all that power behind it can deliver a major punch on the bottom end. The kind of full, robust, grand piano like bottom that one usually associates with amps like a Twin Reverb. The Twang it can deliver with a Tele plugged in is almost baritone like. In fact, it makes me want to get another baritone. Setting the 5E3 (either one) to around 2 on the volume control and then turning the Uneash up to set the volume, I can play squeaky clean rhythm guitar at any level I can imagine I’ll ever encounter the need for. Imagine a tone between a stock 5E3 and a Tweed Twin and you’re probably close to what this sounds like.
I like the Fulltone OCD because it can be nearly transparent at low gain settings and it also seems to blend in well with the distortion in the 5E3 in a very organic, natural way. I use it more as a tonal flavoring than anything. The Barber Electronics Barb-E-Q is a equalizer that gives you a three band tone stack with an additional three preset personalities: Tweed, Blackface, and Marshall, it also has a pull boost feature on the Mid Pot which I don’t often use with a 5E3. Again, more for tonal variety than anything else. Popping the Blackface setting into the mix really enhances the pseudo-Twin personality and goosing the Treble pot on it invokes a “Bright Switch” ambiance. The OCD and the Barb-E-Q go into the front end of either one of the 5E3 amps.
Time based effects sound so good through the Unleash effects loop that I’ve recently upgraded them to a a TC Electronics Flashback +4 Delay and Hall of Fame Reverb. The clarity of the loop is such that you can hear the effects quite distinctly even if you turn them down to levels where they would be rendered into mush by sending them through a distorting poser amp stage.
What you hear in the Unleash loop sounds much more like what you’d hear on a recording where effects are added post amplifier. There are some delays in the Flashback with a slight chorusing effect when applied to a clean signal results in this stunning shimmering sound. I’m still experimenting here and look forward to when programming software for both the TC pedals comes out next month.
Going back to the original premise of this post, the thing to keep in mind is that all of this is totally scalable; raging distortion at bedroom levels to thunderous cleans and everything in between. For very low levels, where people do not hear bass at the same intensity as other frequencies, you can stick an EQ pedal like a BOSS GE-7 into the loop and get as full a sound as you want at whisper volumes.
The Texas Heat and the Jensen Tornado didn’t strike me as an obvious combination, but they work quite well together and provide a nice contrast with the Jensen adding a little more bottom end than the Eminence. The Texas Heat is rated as being more sensitive then the Jensen, but I don’t really hear that with them sitting side by side. You do get that interesting sense of motion though, that you get when using two dissimilar speakers. There’s a sense of more harmonic complexity as well along withe impression of the sound source moving in location.
Of course, I had to try the Greta and the little Vox through the Unleash with the pair of 12’s and once you get over the novelty factor of having so much power on tap with those little amp’s personalities behind it, you start to focus on the differences between the two. The Greta is more touch sensitive and the change from clean to distorted is more gradual; it really thrives in that area before you get a lot of fuzz added to the basic tone, you can get a nice sustain with very little hair on the notes. You find yourself using the guitar’s volume pot to exploit the amp’s touch sensitivity.
In contrast, the little Vox thrives on more aggressive sounds, and the key to using it with the Unleash is getting the right balance between the setting of the Vox’s Gain and Volume controls. Since the Vox has separate Bass and Treble controls and the additional gain control, it takes a little while to dial it in with the Unleash. It sounds “Bigger” than the Greta and to my ear it sounds more Marshall than Vox, but that may be my own preferred tonal settings more than any intent on Vox’s part. It makes me play more in the rock idiom and less towards the blues and of the spectrum.
I’ve yet to try the Vox in a full band setting and will hold off on doing a full blown comparison of the two. At levels I can deal within my house, I prefer the Greta to the Vox at this point. I think that has to do with the fact that the touch sensitive thing stands out when you are just playing by yourself. For now, I’ll just say that they are different enough that having both of them makes sense, they sort of compliment each other.
Comparing them to the 5E3 clones, the Greta at times sounds fairly close the the 5E3’s, but just a tad more scooped in the mids and maybe a little more gradual in the transition between clean and distorted. The Greta also has a different flavor to it’s distortion, not quite as chaotic or complex (depending on how you look at it.). Cynical types my call the tone out of the Greta “Generic Fender”, in the same way one might view a Telecaster set up with three pickups Strat style——- But in reality it’s just it’s own voice, Fender-ish for certain, but really something new, and especially when pumped up with a powerful amp.
The LNT is just begging to be played through a 4 x 12″ cab. That’s the sort of thing it makes me think of whenever I plug into it. I’ve found myself playing stuff like the chords to “Sweet Jane” or “You Shook me All Night Long“, or maybe “Baba O’Riley“. I admit I haven’t spent much time working with the clean side of the amp. What do expect from someone who has played mainly Fender, or Fender Style amps all his life?
I’ll eventually work through this and get it out of my system, but for now it’s too much high gain fun. “Hmmm, I wonder that with would sound like with the fuzz box in front of it?”