Roundup! Three 50-Watt Tube Heads

March 15, 2006

RoundupTHE 50-WATT CLASS OF TUBE AMPLIFIER has long been a staple of the guitar scene.

The volume generated by a pair of 6L6s, EL34s, KT66s, 5881s, or other popular beam power pentodes has proven ideal for stage use, and the tonal qualities of amplifiers equipped with these popular tubes is well documented on thousands of blues, country, and rock albums made since the late 1950s. Fender and Marshall dominated the 50-watt arena for many years, and two of their best-loved designs—the Bassman and JTM-45—were the basis of many a boutique manufacturers’ product line in the early ’90s. Today we find amplifiers that have evolved from these vintage classics being produced by nearly every major tube amp manufacturer, as well as many of the smaller outfits who employ either handwired or PCB-style construction.

We recently had the opportunity to evaluate a trio of heads that fall into this power category: the medium-priced Budda Superdrive 45 and Krank Chadwick, and the adventurous but outlandishly expensive Mad Professor CS-40. All were tested primarily with a Gibson Les Paul ’68 Black Beauty reissue, a PRS McCarty, and a Fender Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster. Budda and Krank supplied their own 4x12 cabinets, while Mad Professor chose not to do so, preferring that we use whatever cabinets we had on hand. Mad indeed! We paired the MP with several cabs, including 2x12s by THD and Dr. Z, as well as our in-house Marshall straight-front 4x12 that is currently loaded with two Celestion Heritage G12M and two Heritage G12H speakers.

These costly non-stock units—which are among the small number of speakers still being made in Celestion’s factory in Ipswich, England—are proven tone enhancers, so to keep things on an even keel, we compared the other amps as well though this excellent sounding cabinet.

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