If you’re looking for a chunky, compact rock amp that you can tweak for tone and then switch for drive levels, then the lower-power amp in the Budda Superdrive series might suit. Review by Huw Price
Description: Twin channel 20W valve combo with one 12″ Budda Phat 12 speaker, 2 x 6V6 power valves, 5U4 rectifier, 3 x 12AX7s, handwired power section with PCB preamp construction, effects loop, slave out, extension speaker out, 4/8/16 Ohm switching. Made in the USA
Contact: Chandler Guitars – 020 8940 5874 – www.budda.com
If you thought that Budda amps tended towards being just a touch too, well… purple, then you’ll find the look of the new MkII combo with its more subtle cream fascia to be a huge improvement. It looks good: modern, stylish and distinctive. Triangular Davis knobs are a nice touch, and the off-white tolex is (almost) an exact match for the control panel. The finish quality impresses, and heavy duty bolts fix the thick back panels to the open-back cabinet. Structurally speaking the V20 is overbuilt and somewhat weighty, but it’s reassuringly solid and nothing rattles or buzzes.
A 5U4 valve handles rectification duties with two channels feeding a trio of 12AX7 preamp tubes and a pair of 6V6 valves for 20W of Class AB power. Individual preamp volume controls, labelled Drive and Rhythm, line up alongside shared Master, Bass, Middle and Treble. The master volume doubles up as a channel switcher and push/pulls on the Mid and Rhythm controls provide mid boost and bright switching.
The V20’s back panel features include output impedance switching, an FX loop and a Slave output with a level control. We also appreciated the heavy duty cable with a gold-plated right-angle jack that hooks up the Budda-designed Phat 12 speaker.
Rather than go for two distinctly voiced channels, the Budda V20 is more about giving players the same basic tone on both channels but with the potential for two vastly different levels of gain. To some extent this tonal similarity is predictable given the shared EQ section, and sometimes there can be a degree of compromise with amps that are configured this way.
The pull bright switch on the rhythm channel is a very clever feature, but this may not be immediately apparent. If you start by dialling in your clean tone with the bright switch disengaged then switch it in, the chances are you’ll find that things get too bright – at which point, you may begin to wonder what it’s doing there in the first place.
Things begin to make sense when you switch channels and dial in your overdrive sound. Extra harmonic overtones accompany the increase in gain, so the V20 sounds brighter. It’s easy to make things smoother and sweeter by turning down the treble, but when you switch back to your clean sound there may not be enough sparkle. But remember that bright switch? Switch it in again and the clean channel’s clarity and sparkle is restored. The rhythm channel sounds pure, sparkly and clear while the drive channel grunts and grinds with enough definition to cut through any mix.
Both channels share the master volume, but getting the volume levels balanced is relatively straightforward. For loud clean tones it’s usual practice to max out the master while keeping the preamp volume low, but we don’t think the V20 is designed to work that way. You certainly get a big, loud and clear tone but the signal to noise ratio suffers. Again, setting up the overdrive levels first pays off because the rhythm channel has so much clean headroom that its volume control does simply control volume – and volume only – until it reaches its upper limits.
Whether you’re running master high and volume low or vice versa, the sound of the clean channel remains fairly consistent, but we preferred the hint of overdrive and smoother touch dynamics with the preamp running hotter than the power amp. Think old-school medium-power US amp with chewier mids, improved clarity and less spiky transients, then you’ll be in the ballpark.
Although 20W amps are hardly synonymous with heavy rock, the V20 provides oodles of gain if you want it. It’s unusually loud for its power rating and has ample low-end response for drop tunings. Having said that, it’s certainly not a crass gain monster.
With Drive low there’s barely any difference between the two channels. Overdrive comes on gradually, progressing smoothly through mild overdrive into blues rock and creamy crunch. You won’t get the dramatically scooped mids and fizzy bite of some US rock amps; the driven tones have solid mids that you can really dig into and creamy sustain that requires no stompbox assistance for soloing.
The V20’s drive channel isn’t fussy about guitars – we were able to dial up fine tones with various single coils and Filtertrons – but this amp sings with humbuckers. With Seymour Duncan Trembuckers and some Shed PAF Daddies the V20 delivered fat, smooth tones with superb definition and real solidity in the bass.
We have minor reservations. First, the V20 loses a bit of vibrancy when a guitar’s volume control is turned down, so it isn’t the type of amp you can crank up and control with your fingers; still, the two channels cover such a wide range of cleans and overdrives that it hardly matters. Secondly, the 20W rating places the V20 into the ‘studio’ category, but in lieu of vents Budda has chosen to fit a cooling fan. While acceptable for gigging and jamming duties, its presence will probably be noticeable when recording.
Otherwise, it’s all good news. The V20 has a huge range of sounds, well thought-out controls and it sounds terrific. The master volume is a great success, controlling output level without making the tone fizzy and gutless. It may look like a boutique blues amp, but the V20 is more of a wolf in two-tone tolex.