Dirty tones, clean tones, plenty of effects, a memory, and a spookily huge surround sound: could the latest THR amplifier be the ultimate practice device? Review by Martyn Casserly
Description: Solid state 10W combo
Contact: Yamaha – 0844 811 1116 – www.uk.yamaha.com
In the beginning was the valve, and it was good. Then came the transistor, and it wasn’t quite as good, but it at least enabled the humble guitarist to practice at sensible domestic levels. Thus it was for most of the ’80s. Then the transistor amp begat the digital modelling amp, and there was crying and gnashing of chords in a variety of sonic flavours.
Many winters passed, with bedroom players learning the arcane secrets of deep editing and DSP loads, until once again the valves re-emerged. This time they were restricted to less than five watts and the promise of quietude. Guitarists rejoiced at the return of purity, but also suffered multiple hernias as they had forgotten how damn heavy these things were. Was there no solution to the problem of great tone but light weight? Winds carried the anguish of these players to the far corners of the Earth, and a work was set in motion. Now, behold, the wonders that these trials have spawned. Yamaha, that jewel of the Orient, has set forth its new wonder – the THR range of amps, and lo… they are magnificent.
When you first lay eyes on the THR10X you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was just another small, valve-head amp like the Tiny Terror or the Vox AC4. The compact shape, which is only a little longer than the magazine you’re holding, suggests that it would sit nicely on top of the 1×12″ cab that you no doubt need to plug it into. But hold up there. You see the grilles at the front? They’re not for decoration. Inside are two 8cm speakers – yep, centimetres – that are all the THR10X needs to make some truly impressive tones.
Now, of course, you’re thinking that 8cms is a little on the small side when as guitarists we’re used to 12″ speakers, and if you want to gig this amp then you’d be right. When it comes to home levels of volume though, this size is strangely effective. Much of that is down to the clever engineers in Yamaha’s hi-fi department who helped design the THR range. Whatever the maths and physics involved, the results are excellent. Simply plug your guitar in, select an amp model, dial in your tone, and you’ll be having fun in no time.
The diminutive case sports a dark green metal faceplate with a row of dials on top. Three control the EQ, alongside a Master Volume, Gain, two effects dials, and two output controls that allow you to blend the volume of the guitar with the signal from an MP3 player connected via the AUX socket. A last dial allows you to select between five modes across three distorted amp models (Power 1&2, Brown 1&2, and Southern Hi), plus clean, bass, or flat options. You have the option to save five user-defined tones, and there’s also tap tempo and tuner functions. Turning the unit around reveals a power input, USB port, and the battery compartment into which you can put 8xAAs then take to the streets as the Joe Satriani of the busking world.
This basic, well chosen layout provides everything you need, and pretty much nothing you don’t. If you pine for extra features then the USB port offers access to the THR Editor via your PC. This software will give you greater control over the parameters and allows you to change some of the preset effects. The port also turns the THR10X into a recording interface that you can use with a variety of DAWs, and the tones that we captured through it were very good indeed.
Perhaps one of our favourite touches is the orange glow that emanates from behind the grille when the unit is turned on. No, there’s no valves inside, but there are a couple of coloured LEDs that make it look like there is. We can’t tell whether Yamaha were having a laugh or trying to fool people, and to be honest we don’t really care. It just looks cool.
The THR10X might fancy itself as a high gain amp, and it can deliver on that, but there’s a lot more tonal range on offer. Selecting one of the modes, but with the Gain low and Master high, you’re presented with a cool, crisp clean tone, hinting at breakup when you dig in. Increasing the gain slowly will get you into stinging blues territory, and we spent a good deal of time on the Brown mode with gain at a little less than halfway, jamming along to old Black Crowes albums. The hi-fi heritage of Yamaha really comes through on the MP3 input, and playing along with the tracks sounds great, with none of the confusing balances that often spoil the experience on other practice amps.
When you do ramp up the gain the THR10X screams with menace and pushes out a decent amount of low end for something so small. Harmonics sing and the feedback at the end of notes is enough to make you believe you’re playing through a ‘real’ amp. The effects add to the fun, with tremolos, delays, reverbs, phasers and flangers all sounding authentic and giving the tones depth and sparkle.
The volume remains quite low until around halfway; after that it can get up to a level that would have the neighbours sharpening their pitchforks. It never feels underpowered, and although it wouldn’t stand up to a rock drummer, you could mic it up at a rehearsal and get a respectable tone.
We like the THR10X. You instantly know how to use it, but it can keep surprising you the more you play it. Yamaha has really thought about what guitarists need at home, and with the THR range it’s hit a bullseye. It’s light, visually pleasing, sonically impressive, and just plain old damn fun to play – and doubles as a classy hi-fi into which you can plug your iPod or smartphone. Yes, for a few quid more you could pick up an excellent valve amp like the Laney VC15R or the Vox AC4C1, but do make time to play one of these little metal handbags of joy first. We think it might just get under your skin.