Tested By Barry Cleveland
The word “troubadour” refers to a self-contained songster with a romantic bent who wanders the countryside wooing listeners with his tales. The designation is well suited for the Ibanez Troubadour TA20 and TA35 amps, which are designed for acoustic guitarists who need a small, lightweight amp suitable for personal practice or small-scale rehearsals and gigs. The two amps differ primarily in cabinet size, speaker size, and wattage—though the TA35 has a few additional features, most significantly a discrete microphone input/preamp section. Both models have solidly built closed-back cabinets covered with a faux-leather material and attractive two-tone woven grille cloth. Hard rubber corners on all sides afford added protection, and heavy-duty padded handles make for durability and comfort.
I tested both amps using a Martin D-28 equipped with a Sunrise soundhole magnetic pickup and a Martin DC-16RE with a Schertler Bluestick under-saddle micro-condenser pickup. Just for grins, I also tried plugging in a PRS McCarty to see how well the Troubadours could handle a solidbody electric—something of interest to guitarists who play both electric and acoustic, but prefer to gig with a single amp.
The TA20 is a streamlined package with several thoughtful extras. For example, it features active Bass and Treble controls with 15dB of boost/cut and a sweepable midrange EQ with Frequency (400Hz-2kHz) and Level (&lusmn;15dB) knobs. And, unlike the fixed chorus on some inexpensive amps, the TA20’s chorus section has Depth and Speed controls. Another nice touch is a line output for routing the preamp/effects signal to a PA or recording mixer.
The first thing I noticed when I turned on the amp was that the actual sound was very good—especially considering the frequency limitations of the 8" speaker—but there was an appreciable amount of hiss. The reverb circuit was also noisy, even when there was nothing plugged into the amp. I was able to notch out some of the noise using the very flexible EQ, which also helped reduce a little of the brassiness of a small speaker in a small cab, but that approach is something of a compromise.
The spring reverb doesn’t sound too bad at low levels, but its billowy swell and long decay time tended to muddy up anything other than slowly played single-note lines.
The chorus, on the other hand, sounded very nice although, because the Speed knob didn’t work, I’m judging it on how the identical chorus in the TA35 sounded. There’s no footswitch capability for either the chorus or the reverb, but that’s hardly surprising in an amp this inexpensive.
Overall, the TA20 performed better with the D-28’s magnetic pickup than with the DC-16RE’s Bluestick, as the latter emphasizes the upper frequencies, compounding the small speaker’s propensity for brightness. Once again, by tweaking the intelligently voiced EQ, I was able to compensate and arrive at a nice sound. I also got very good results by connecting the TA20’s speaker output—another nice touch on an amp this size—to an external cabinet.
A single 12" cab worked well, filling out the mids and lows, but the little titan even pushed a 4x12 cab with amazing vigor. Finally, when I plugged in the PRS solidbody, I got a passable clean sound. The TA20 covers all the bases for an inexpensive acoustic amp, with a number of useful extras thrown in. Given that it sells for well under $200, it’s a good bargain.
You’ll only have to shell out a little more than a hundred extra clams to get this amp, rather than its diminutive sibling, and the differences are well worth it. The larger speaker and considerably deeper cabinet result in a bigger and more evenly balanced sound, and the microphone section makes the amp the equivalent of a mini PA—a definite plus for the troubadour or gigging singer/songwriter. There’s also a CD/Aux input for playing along with your favorite tunes, connecting a small DJ mixer, or other purposes.
The TA35 features the same versatile EQ section as the TA20, and its wide range is even more useful in this amp. The reverb also sounds better, which may be a function of the larger speaker and cab, though there’s still a lot of hiss, and the decay is a little too long for my taste. The chorus is smooth and rich, with a nice range of speeds—from very slow to very fast—and, both it and the reverb are footswitchable.
The microphone section worked just fine with several different dynamic mics. If you want to use a condenser mic, however, it will have to be battery powered because the TA35 has no phantom power. There’s a dedicated mic Volume knob, which, combined with the guitar Volume and Master Volume knobs,
works as mini-mixer.
The TA35 sounded very good with both acoustics, though hiss was still an issue, and I had to spend some time adjusting the EQ to get optimal results. There’s enough clean volume for small club or coffee house gigs, or you can send a direct feed to the house system and use the TA35 as a personal monitor. As with the TA20, connecting the amp to an external cabinet with larger speakers gave it added depth and dynamic range. And, happy news for acoustic/electric giggers, the TA35 delivered solid and nicely balanced clean tones with the PRS McCarty. Bring an overdrive pedal along, and you just might be able to leave your regular amp at home.