Epiphone So Cal 50

Designed by noted amp guru PYOTR Belov—and with a circuit board laid out by Michael J. Soldano—the U.S.-designed/China-manufactured, all-tube Epiphone So Cal 50H ($799 retail/$499 street) promises a mammoth bang for but a whimper of buckage.

“We devised the amp for players who seek a wide palette of guitar tones from classic rock to modern lead without breaking the bank,” says Belov. “We also wanted to give these players a lot of meat-and-potatoes features, such as an all-tube signal path and a tube-powered, transformer-driven reverb. We didn’t push the gain to uber-distortion levels. We wanted a good clean sound, and an overdrive channel that delivered great rock and blues sounds.”

As tested with its matching 412SL cabinet ($499 retail/$299 street) and optional EPA-FSB footswitch ($22 street), the So Cal 50 certainly hits most of the goals of its design team. It’s absolutely a tremendous value, given that you can be blasting through a 50-watt tube half-stack for around $800, and the tweakability is fairly awesome for an amp in this price range. The global EQ can be switched to Independent (modeled after early “hi-fi” tone controls where one frequency is boost or cut without affecting the other) or Interactive (based on circuits where boosting treble typically cuts the bass, and vice-versa), although the Middle and Presence knobs are always “independent.” The Bass control is a monster—twist that sucker full up, and you just might shake a few molars loose. It’s a damn good wallop, although it’s not tight enough for nu-metal barrages. The Middle and Presence are fairly subtle, and the Treble control is voiced right near the pick attack—which can be searing at cranked levels. Channel 2 adds a Contour knob that further affects the mids for sculpting lead and overdrive sounds.

Whether you go for Independent or Interactive EQ, there’s enough tonal firepower to craft high-gain sounds that rumble, punch, soar, shimmer, or roar. However, using all this frequency control to dial in an expansive and dimensional clean sound seemed strangely out of reach. Channel 1’s clean tones were typically flat sounding, gritty, or a tad brittle. Channel 2 is where this amp really lives. Set to snarl and holler, you can achieve everything from classic AC/DC stomp to ragin’ blues to stoner rock tones. And when you turn down your guitar’s volume or lighten your touch, you’re rewarded with a vibey, dimensional, and tough-as-nails clean tone. I’d totally be at home using Channel 2 for all my pretty and rough tones, and relying on Channel 1 solely for heavily processed, “sound effect” parts. The So Cal 50 is also hipper for cats like me who never use reverb, because the spring reverb makes a sound that’s closer to a short delay with multiple repeats than a smooth or splashy ambience.

Overall, I feel the So Cal 50H and 412SL cabinet is a fabulous—and fabulously affordable—rock and blues beast. I wasn’t really bothered about the clean channel being a tad ho-hum, because the overdrive channel cleans up so beautifully, and it rages like a rabid panther when cranked up. If you adore that half-stack pants flap, this all-tube ruffian is a dream machine.