The Dirt y Dragon is D.C. and Andrew Ladner’s answer to requests for a compact, low-wattage amplifier for recording and gigs. Ladner’s TV electronics background led him to hand wire his amps on ceramic strips rather than the usual tag, turret, or eyelet boards for improved electrical isolation. He machines his chassis from raw aluminum, and constructs the head and speaker enclosures from imported 11-ply Russian baltic birch. All work is done in-house in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. I tested the head with a Whitfill Custom T-type, a Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster with humbucking pickups, and a Fernandes S-type. I tried it through its matching 1x12 cabinet, and then a custom 1x12 cabinet with an Eminence Texas Heat speaker.
The Dirty Dragon is not a clone of anything in particular, but its Baxandall tone stack configuration is similar to the EQ in the original “Oliver” series of Ampegs. In this configuration, the mid frequencies are relatively fixed and two knobs add bass and treble. This uncommon system took a minute to suss out, but once I got hip to how it worked, it offered a wide range of tones. Turning the Bass and Treble way down offered a pronounced mid bump, while turning them all the way up produced a kind of mid scoop. Through its own closed-back cabinet, the Bass knob needed to be kept low to avoid woofiness, but through my larger closed-back 1x12, I could run up Bass to create an almost 4x12 bottom end. Once I got used to getting extreme with the tone knobs, I was able to dial in the perfect EQ for each of my test guitars. There are great sounds throughout the range, they just need to be matched with the right speaker and instrument. For example, turning up the Treble control gave a presence to the Blacktop Jazzmaster that it had never produced before.
The Dirty Dragon is surprisingly clean sounding and offers plenty of headroom even at the half-power setting. Instead of reducing the power of the output tubes, the Half Power switch allows the output section to be driven at full power and then internally attenuates it before the speaker output. At 8 watts, the amp is still quite loud and produces an almost identical tone as the full-power setting. Cranked up in either position, the Dirty Dragon gets just crunchy enough to justify its name, but for overdriven tones I preferred to set it on the edge of breakup, and then use a pedal for distortion. It was with pedals that the amp came into its own, and I dug how the Dragon’s extended top-end range preserved the sparkle even when an unbuffered effect was running in front of it.
The Dirty Dragon is very reasonably priced for a hand-wired amp, and despite its compact size, it offers plenty of juice for small club gigs as well as bigger stages when miked. Definitely an amp worth checking into if you need a highly portable tube rig to breathe some fire into your sound.
PRICE $995 street
CONTROLS Volume, Bass, Treble
TUBES Two 6V6, two 12AX7
POWER 16 watts
EXTRAS 16/8-watt switch
SPEAKERS One 12" WGS Green Beret (Eminence “Cannabis Rex” is optional)
WEIGHT Head 17 lbs, cabinet 29 lbs
KUDOS Wide tonal range.
Portable yet powerful.
CONCERNS Might not have enough gain