Engineering has been manufacturing guitar amp kits for many years, and Dan Torres
' book Inside Tube Amps probably kickstarted the careers of many of today's small-scale amp builders. If you don't feel your soldering or amp-covering skills are up to building a kit then Torres amps are also available pre-assembled, and you can select the vinyl colour and speaker cloth you prefer. You can even specify carbon comp resistors and the capacitors of your choice for point-to-point wiring on Torres
' own custom tag boards.
Fender Champs have always delivered classic American tube tone at manageable volume for rehearsals and recording, and many models - the tweed ones in particular - have featured on some classic rock recordings. On this side of the pond we had the Vox
AC4, but it never commanded the same respect or affection among discerning players.
If you're looking for a low-wattage tube amp that delivers a ‘British' sound, the Torres British Boxer
could be just what you're looking for. This 5W tone terror has been designed around a Vox
template with a single-ended Class A EL84 output stage feeding a Celestion
G12M Greenback. A GZ34 rectifier supplies the DC power for the two ECC83 preamp valves, and Torres promises as much creamy overdrive as you'll ever need, with a touch-sensitive response.
There isn't a lot of clean headroom - enough to drown out an acoustic, but not much more. It's an ideal level for recording, especially with delicate ribbon mics, and what you do get is plenty of transparency and chimey sparkle for the true voice of your guitar to come through.
Overdrive comes on quite gradually, and you'll notice the low mids beginning to thicken up and to growl. The tone doesn't sound remotely American, but whether you'd equate it to a Vox or a Marshall depends on the Midrange control. If you go easy on the mids and wind up the treble and bass the grittiness is reminiscent of a Marshall, but roll them back and max out the mids and the British Boxer
becomes more Vox-like. A Celestion
Blue to complement this thicker and woodier midrange would probably get you even closer to a Vox sound, but I can't help liking this Celestion
With volume up to about two-thirds I was able to get my T-type to jangle in a particularly pleasing 1960s sort of way. Pushing the amp a bit harder brings on some grind, inspiring some cack-handed Keef impersonations and some revved-up rockabilly picking.
Beyond halfway up the British Boxer
doesn't get much louder, but the response and feel changes dramatically. The raunchy overdrive morphs into a creamy sustain, with distortion increasing between halfway and three-quarters on the volume. Above this, distortion remains about the same, but compression and power supply sag come into play.
The slightly ragged edge that seems to be a characteristic of single-ended amps only creeps in at high volume settings - but by this time the British Boxer
is churning out enough distortion to keep any heavy blues or classic metal player happy. Jamming with this amp, I set the amp volume to two o'clock then controlled the sound from my guitar's volume. The British Boxer
is so sensitive to input levels that I was able to go from heavy distortion to relatively clean while maintaining fairly consistent volume levels, with enough sustain for my needs without resorting to an overdrive pedal.
The British Boxer is one of the best single-ended amps I have tried so far. It sounds big and there's not a trace of small amp boxiness, but potential purchasers should be aware that 5W of valve power through a Celestion Greenback gets pretty loud. It's ideal for getting tube amp overdrive in rehearsal, recording and even small gig scenarios - but if you're after an amp to crank without annoying the neighbours, this probably isn't your best bet. To be brutally honest the standard of finish on these amps isn't exactly top drawer, but I've seen far worse on some American boutique amps costing far more - and both these amps are such wonderfully responsive tone machines that the asking prices made me do a double-take. If you're prepared to try building (and covering) one yourself, you'll be getting the best of boutique at an even better bargain price.