Designed by former Ampeg and Crate engineer Obeid Khan for the Reason Amp Company of St. Louis, MO, and built in the USA, the cute blond Bambino has the stature and wattage of a mini-amp, but it’s actually built like a good old-fashioned big amp, using two output tubes in a push/pull, class AB output stage (although it is cathode biased, a feature that leads many makers to erroneously dub similar amps “class A”). Maximum wattage is reined in to a robust eight watts by the use of two 6AQ5 output tubes, a miniature 7-pin type that was used in several beginner and student amps of the ’60s, notably Gibson’s GA-17RVT Scout and GA-5 Skylark. In addition to restraining output levels while still allowing an amp that’s configured like the big boys, the 6AQ5 lets Reason keep the voltages down throughout the chassis (the tube only needs about 280 to 300 DC volts to do its thing) and therefore to use smaller transformers, too. Another bonus is that, since the 6AQ5 has never been in great demand in tone-hound circles, plenty of excellent, tested new old stock (NOS) tubes are still available on the market; our review model, for example, came with a sweet pair of vintage NOS US-made GE 6AQ5s.
In addition to the push/pull output stage, the Bambino stacks in plenty of features at the front end, with independent Normal and Bright channels (think Yank and Brit) with Volume and Tone on the former, plus a pullfat switch, and Volume, Treble, and Bass (plus pull-bright) on the latter. These can be used individually— selected from a frontpanel rotary switch or the left button of the supplied two-button footswitch—or cascaded one into the other in Stack mode (also footswitchable), which brings to life the Stack Volume as an overall master volume control. The front panel’s final control is an 8-watt/ 2-watt switch that flips in a resistor to lower the plate voltage in the amp. Around the back, the Bambino offers a single speaker out with switch for 8Ω/16Ω load, and DI and headphone outs with level control. Inside, we find all components mounted on a pair of quality PCBs: one for the main circuit and one for the rear panel features. The tube sockets all mount to the PCB and are held in place with standoffs.
Using the 8-watt setting, the Bambino quickly lives up to its promise of a big-amp feel. With the Normal channel’s controls set to around noon, my Telecaster elicits a bold, punchy clean tone that segues toward light crunch when you hit it hard, and a Les Paul brings on the crunch even earlier. Flipping over to the Bright channel at similar settings offers a little more snarl and aggression, plus a bump in volume, and winding either of these individual channels up to the threequarter mark offers great old-school lead tones that can still be converted to sweet, chiming cleans from the guitar’s volume control. Flipping into Stack mode to run the gain stages in series— Normal into Bright— ups the sizzle factor exponentially: for an easy reference, think baby-Boogie or petite- Soldano, and even less so when you engage the very effective 2-Watt switch. Getting a handle on Stack mode takes a little practice, and I found myself experiencing a few odd volume jumps with the footswitch before coming to grips with it. Ultimately, it’s pretty straightforward, although some clearer front panel markings would help when you haven’t got the user’s manual on hand. On the whole, though, the Bambino fulfils its promises, and offers impressive flexibility besides. And treated as any other “big amp,” it’s probably even beefy enough to pull off some small club gigs, if your drummer isn’t overly aggressive.
CONTACT Reason Amplifier Co., (636) 233-1290; reasonamps.com
PRICE $749 retail/Street price N/A
CONTROLS Normal Ch: Volume, Tone; Stack (mode) switch. Bright Ch: Volume, Treble, Bass; Stack Volume (master); 8-watt/2-watt switch
TUBES Three preamp tubes – one Sovtek 12AX7LPS and two TAD 12AX7s; two NOS GE 6AQ5 output tubes; solid-state rectification
POWER 8 watts/2 watts
EXTRAS Two-way impedance selector for 8Ω/16Ω, headphone and DI outs with Level control.
WEIGHT 14 lbs
KUDOS Versatile clean and lead tones; good “big amp” body and weight for a low-output head
CONCERNS Achieving balanced output levels between footswitch settings requires some experimentation.
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