|Small tube heads are all the rage these days, with the format typically being two
channels driving a pair of EL84 output tubes
for about 20 watts of punch. The Ironball meets
these criteria while offering a bevy of features
that enhance its flexibility. Both channels share
a common set of tone controls (Bass, Middle,
Treble, Presence), and there are Clean Gain and
Lead Gain knobs for each channel, as well as a
Lead Volume and a global Master that adjusts
the overall output level for both channels. A
Boost switch ups the gain on both channels,
while an adjacent switch selects the channels.
These functions are also footswitchable, as is the
reverb and another function called M.V.B., which
is a preset volume boost that’s only accessible
by footswitch. With all these useful functions
ready to be put to use, it’s too bad that a footswitch
isn’t included with the Ironball, even if it
made the package a little more costly.
A standout feature of this amp is its 4-position
Power Soak, which lets you set the wattage at 20
watts, 5 watts, 1 watt, or “off” for silent recording
when using the balanced line out. The Ironball is
quite loud when running at full clip, so being able
to knock the wattage down in increments makes
it possible to run the amp at high output settings
to take full advantage of power tube harmonics
without it being too loud for the room. Between
this function and the well-implemented Master,
you can easily get this amp dialed in volume-wise
for whatever the situation calls for.
The Ironball is a rugged affair with a sturdy steel enclosure, a stainless-steel handle, recessed
knobs, and a perforated grille that provides excellent
protection for the tubes while allowing plenty
of airflow around them for cooling.
Firing up the Ironball in Clean mode though
a Bad Cat 4x12, the amp delivered a warm, clear
tone that sounded tight and well-focused in the
20-watt mode with the Gain knob at a lower
setting and the Master cranked. You can get
grindier rhythm tones by turning up the Gain,
with heavier crunch awaiting as the knob gets
close to the maximum setting. The nicely voiced
EQ made it easy to get great clean-to-crunchy
rhythm sounds a with a PRS 22 and Buzz Feiten
T-Pro, and there was plenty of gain on tap for
tough-sounding distortion with the Feiten’s
single-coils—especially with the Boost switch
engaged, which slathers on more gain and makes
it possible to go from a dynamically grinding
rhythm sound to a stout lead tone by toggling
the Boost switch on and off. The dynamic sensitivity
is such that you can also control the distortion
level using only the guitar’s volume control.
The digital reverb has an open, airy sound and
trails off in a smooth, organic manner. You can’t
preset a different reverb level on each channel,
but that’s a realistic concession due to the limited
space for knobs.
In Lead mode the Ironball turns into a
distortion machine with lots of sustain available
as the Gain is rolled up. The tones are tight and
aggressive, and this channel’s touch responsiveness
allows you to transition from searing
solo tones to lighter crunch simply by adjusting
your picking or backing off on the guitar’s
volume. The Lead Master provides good control
of the volume level, and here’s also where
a 5-watt or 1-watt Power Soak setting helps to
maintain much of that girthy output-tube character
while keeping the volume in check. Connected
to the Eminence-loaded 1x12 cabinet,
the Ironball obviously didn’t sound as big as it
did through the 4x12, but it was loud enough for
a smaller stage and had headroom to spare.
The Ironball makes a lot of sense for players
who need a small head that can deliver a
wide range of clean and overdriven tones on
the bandstand and/or in a home studio environment.
It scores well in the features department
and lands at a fair price considering its
German origin. Pack it along with a compact
speaker cabinet, and you’ve got a rig that can
make for a one-trip carry from the car to the club.
That alone might be reason enough to give the
Ironball a shot, but spend a little time exploring
its tones and you may find this little amp to
be a great choice even if you enjoy the luxury of
having a crew to lug your gear.
PRICE $1,199 street
CONTROLS Clean Gain, Lead Gain, Bass,
Middle, Treble, Presence, Lead
Volume, Master. Gain Boost
and Lead/Clean switches,
Standby and Power switches.
Rear panel: Reverb Level,
4-position Power Soak switch
POWER 20 watts. Switchable to 5
watts, 1 watt, or speaker off
TUBES Two EL84 power tubes,
four 12AX7 preamp tubes
EXTRAS Digital reverb. Effects loop.
Headphone out. Balanced
line out (1/4” TRS). 8Ω and
2x16Ω speaker outs. Reverb/
Master Volume Boost footswitch
Gain-Boost footswitch jack.
SPEAKERS Tested with a Bad Cat 4x12
and a 1x12 cab loaded with an
Eminence EJ1250 speaker.
WEIGHT Head 15.2 lbs
KUDOS Excellent clean and overdriven
tones. Handy Power Soak
function. Compact design.
CONCERNS Footswitch not included.