Review: Honeydripper Sugar Bee 1x12 Combo

The Sugar Bee is worthy of consideration for anyone looking for a super easy-to-carry combo that can cover pretty much any gig you throw at it.
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Texas-Based Honeydripper Amps recently introduced the Sugar Bee, a 1x12 combo designed by a team consisting of Kendrick Amplifiers founder Gerald Weber, Dave McGrew, Rick Dielman and Dr. Ulrich Neumann, a scientist at the University of Southern California. This unique design is intended to meet the needs of players who want an amp that performs like a 1x12 combo with two 6L6 power tubes (or equivalent), but weighs about half as much.

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The nut of the technology involved in the Sugar Bee is an exclusive, Patent Applied For “active output transformer” coupled to a single 12AX7 dual-triode running in class AB push-pull to produce 45 watts RMS. By eliminating the weight of a standard iron output transformer, and reducing the heft of the power transformer as well, the end result is a powerful 1x12 combo that weighs a scant 24 pounds — about the same as a solidbody guitar in a hard case.

The Sugar Bee’s preamp section uses three more 12AX7s, and the control set includes drive, volume, treble, bass, reverb, speed, intensity and Texas Tea, an exclusive Kendrick-designed control (also found on Kendrick’s So-Lo 7 recording/practice amp) that layers a tweed tone on top of the default blackface voicing. Turning the knob fully counter-clockwise is pure blackface; fully clockwise is pure tweed. The idea is that selecting somewhere in between these two settings will yield sounds reminiscent of both types of amps running together.

Other front-panel functions are a Normal/Aggressive switch, a three-way Brite switch and a Blues/Jazz/Lead switch that selects between a stock voicing, a more compressed voicing with less gain, and a more cutting, British-flavored lead sound. The aluminum chassis houses a large printed circuit board for most of the components — including ceramic sockets for the four 12AX7s and the speaker and footswitch jacks — with hand-soldered leads fanning out to the pots, switches and input jack. A smaller board holds the power supply. The interior workmanship is very clean, and it all fits snugly into a 1/2-inch-thick, mahogany-stained solid-pine cabinet, which also carries a Kendrick Blackframe 12-inch speaker and a full-size reverb pan.

The Sugar Bee’s compact size and light weight gives the impression of a low-wattage practice amp, but that all changes when you switch it on and turn up. The delivery is nothing short of amazing, and the output stage contributes to the harmonics-infused distortion and the tactile feel of real power tubes as you approach 10 on the volume knob. Fortunately, you can also rock fiercely at house levels thanks to the drive control’s abundant gain range.

The Normal/Aggressive switch is very effective for setting up the voicing for the style of choice, as is the Blues/Jazz/Lead switch. Between these two functions, everything from clean and warm to gritty breakup (perfect for dirty rhythm playing) to full-tilt-boogie sustain is readily available. I had no trouble getting plenty of distortion on all three settings using a Tele or a Les Paul, although the Jazz setting is the mellowest of the three, and it feels a tad squishier when you drive it. I favored Normal because it sounded the fullest overall, and generally kept the Brite switch in the lower position for its lower-midrange emphasis. The Texas Tea control works as promised, producing a thicker, gnarlier overdrive sound when set fully clockwise (tweed) and a slimmer, cleaner tone when twisted in the blackface direction. Depending on the guitar, I dug leaving it at, or close to, the middle setting for a blend of both textures. Compared with several all-tube 1x12 combos in the 20- to 50-watt range, the Sugar Bee proved equally at home onstage alongside bashing bass and drums. In fact, like most tube amps, the harder you push it, the better it sounds.

For an amp that’s designed to function without a traditional output transformer, the Sugar Bee is surprisingly adept at maintaining its tube composure at all levels. Its multiple voicing functions wring way more tones from a single-channel platform than you might imagine, and when you add to it a nice-sounding analog reverb and a Patent Applied For “phase inverter modulation” vibrato (both footswitchable), the Sugar Bee is worthy of consideration for anyone looking for a super easy-to-carry combo that can cover pretty much any gig you throw at it.

SPECIFICATIONS

Sugar Bee
CONTACT
honeydripperamps.com
PRICE $2,495 street

CHANNELS 1
CONTROLS Drive, volume, Texas Tea, treble, bass, reverb, speed, intensity; Normal/Aggressive switch, 3-way Brite switch, Blues/Jazz/Lead switch
POWER 45 watts
TUBES Three 12AX7 preamp tube, one 12AX7 configured as a push-pull class AB output tube
EXTRAS Footswitch included for reverb and tremolo. Solid-pine cabinet. One speaker jack handles 4-, 8-, and 16Ω loads.
SPEAKER Kendrick Blackframe 12”
WEIGHT 24.2 lbs
BUILT USA

KUDOS Impressive tube sound and power yet weighs under 25 lbs
CONCERNS One speaker jack

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