The single-channel Goblin 5-15 isn’t exactly a one-trick pony (though its lack of any footswitchable features is bound to furrow the collective brow of some), and its sweet street price and ability to deliver a variety of tones that belie its diminutive stature make it a force to be reckoned with.
Designed by Reverend founder Joe Naylor and amp designer Dennis Kager (who was integral to many of Ampeg’s mid-’60s designs), the Goblin sports a workmanlike, no-frills look. Black Tolex covers its plywood cabinet, while the retro looking, two-tone grillecloth adds a nice spice and keeps the amp from looking too pedestrian. For the most part, the cabinet construction is clean and you can access the tubes or even slide out the chassis without removing the centrally located back panel (which really only seems to protect the back of the speaker).
HobnobBin’ with the Goblin
Testing the amp with several Fender Strats and Teles and a Gibson SG, I quickly began to appreciate the Goblin's wonderfully implemented Schizo function, which revoices the preamp’s gain and EQ structure. With the Schizo switch set to UK, the Goblin preaches the gospel of royal Brit-tone with a snarling, pronounced midrange, rotund-yet-tight bottom end, and an aggressive top-end slice that can be exaggerated or tamed with the Presence and Treble controls. UK delivers enough gain to satisfy most rock dudes who demand a little more scream and sizzle, but who also want to retain note definition, as well as a sense that their own personal touch isn’t getting lost in a sea of garbled distortion. Though the tones in UK mode are dynamic, bending to your will when you lighten your touch or back off your guitar’s volume, this setting’s strong suit is definitely grind.
If you want super-clean chimey textures, the US setting is tops, as it offers skinnier timbres and bell-like clean tones that are squarely in the classic blackface Fender camp. By keeping the Gain settings low, I was able to conjure some beautiful sounds that had all of the sparkle and slice I could ever want. Slowly inching up the Gain control, the tones snarled with authority, simultaneously singing and stinging with every guitar. Think of an Ibanez Tube Screamer running in front of a Fender Deluxe Reverb, but with a beefier low-end and more complex highs, and you get the picture. Very nice!
According to Reverend, the Lo-Fi setting is meant to replicate the sounds of funky American amps such as Supros and Silvertones. And armed with my trusty Telecaster and employing some drastic EQ settings—such as dumping the Bass and cranking the Mids and Treble—I was able to conjure tones reminiscent of the shoebox timbres Jimmy Page used so effectively on tracks such as “Communication Breakdown.” Putting the tone knobs back to their mid settings, the Lo-Fi mode sounded pretty normal, yielding more gain than the US setting as well as a softer attack than UK mode.
Even with the bevy of cool tones I elicited from the Goblin 5-15, I was most impressed by its ability to simply sound big. Whether running at 15 or 5 watts, the Goblin was loud enough to hang in quieter band situations, delivering remarkably focused multi-dimensional tones that were on par with many low-wattage vintage amplifiers costing nearly three times as much. Plus, the Goblin’s polite-sounding, yet utterly musical reverb makes the tones even more luxuriously spacious. Sure, some players may balk at the inability to footswitch between Schizo settings, or even toggle the reverb on or off. But to them I counter with a hearty, “whatever!” The Goblin 5-15 has the best feature of them all—great tone!