The Superdrive Series is the latest batch of US-built boutique amps from Budda. The line includes 18W, 30W, 45W and 80W models available in head, 1x12" and 2x12" formats. We’re looking at the 30W 2x12" combo.
Unpacking the Superdrive 30 revealed the first surprise – lifting it from the box required no fork lift trucks or cranes of any type. Budda use aluminium for their amp chassis rather than the more common steel – it’s primarily a weight issue, and while they warn that although the aluminium conducts heat more readily than a steel chassis and subsequently gets hotter in use, this is not a concern for the player. At 57lbs it’s still no featherweight, but it’s nowhere near as welded to the ground as, say, an AC30.
Once it’s out, we’re left to ponder the aesthetics. Coming on like a pimped vintage combo, the Superdrive 30 looks pretty lush in its swanky vinyl overcoat. The partially open-backed cab is built from solid pine and the black vinyl covering with restrained white front piping in combination with the purple control panel and funky-font’d Budda legend are a neat blend of old and new.
The control layout is deceptively simple – as if they wanted to keep the vintage-inspired looks and cheekier switching options without a plethora of additional clunky switches – and that’s all good to us. Round the back we can see the twin Budda Phat 12" speakers, connected with high-quality Monster cable. The row of EL84 valves dangle next to a meaty 5U4 rectifier below the rear panel which houses an FX loop, slave outlet and level control plus speaker jacks and ohm selector.
The simplified front panel two-channel layout couldn’t be more accessible. The standby has been labelled ‘Rest’ and ‘Go’ feature, which is a nice variation on the norm, while the Master Volume rotary also acts as a push/pull channel selector. This selector is disabled once you connect the supplied one-button channel-changing footswitch, which is also finished in a very attractive purple hue.
Nestled between the Bass and Treble controls is a Mid knob with a push/pull that engages what Budda calls a ‘modern’ midrange control, boosting the bass and treble while rolling back the mids to offer a more scooped tone across both channels. The Drive knob controls the higher-gain channel volume while the rhythm channel volume control also pops out to engage a ‘Brite’ tonal option.
It’s obvious that’s there’s something just a little bit special about this amp. Using a vintage-voiced Strat, the Rhythm clean channel has that desirable core elasticity. All five Strat switch positions are pleasingly transparent with a sturdy-edged bass string response which transfers across to the treble with a hollow, swelling warmth.
There’s masses of headroom, and engaging the ‘Brite’ switch thankfully doesn’t boost the highs to skull-splitting levels but adds a glossy upper harmonic layer. Plugging in a Les Paul confirms that this is an amp made to showcase the tone of whatever guitar you’re using and on the clean setting the oft-ignored neck humbucker revels in the LP’s plummy darkness and jazz-tinged origins.
Kick in the drive channel and it’s more of the same – only much, much more. Budda nicknamed this the ‘Dirty 30’ amp and it’s easy to see why. With single coils or the natural woody warmness of the LP there’s a thickly-sliced layer of valve goodness that brings a decent guitar to life. The punch, dynamics and speaker response is rewarding, and with ample gain at your disposal this amp is seriously loud.
Using the guitar’s volume control to clean up the signal works as you’d always wished it had and finding that sweet spot where the tones are simultaneously crunchy, sensitive but with bags of clarity and sustain depending on pick attack is a breeze. A fiddle with the midrange push/pull – like the ‘Brite’ switch – again errs on the subtle side so instead of a massive jolting drop-out scooped tone, it changes the EQ bias but allows you to dial it in to taste – very sweet indeed.
You’ll need the footswitch for quick hops between the channels as although it can be done manually using the Master Volume’s push pull, we found it was difficult to pull the knob out without turning it – not a major gripe, but with this much juice on tap we found that even knocking the knob a few degrees clockwise increased the output, which is far from ideal mid-gig.
Two grand is a fair dollop of moolah to splash on an amp, but whatever justification is used you’ll find your hard-earned well spent in the case of the Superdrive 30. We’re fans of valve equipment and seekers of that elusive ‘certain something’ that older amps sometimes have, and this Budda really does have it nailed. If you ran across a dusty old vintage amp that produced this quality of tone then you’d quite rightly lurch from the shop, drooling and mumbling about the Holy Grail or some such nonsense. Old amps can be great, but it’s a mixed bag and they also tend to be very pricey, whereas this amp is quality from start to finish. Add in the bonus of modern reliability along with more tonal flexibility, and the price is easily justified for the player who knows that the ‘certain something’ usually comes with a certain price tag. In short, if you want outstanding Plexi-informed tones blended with a hefty dose of touch-sensitive Fender sparkle and a hint of AC30, plus a well-considered midrange twiddler onboard – and enough volume to flatten passing traffic – then this Budda should definitely be on your radar.