Surprisingly loud clean sounds, juicy overdrive and all points inbetween. Review by Huw Price.
Next to the Stone Pony the Lil’ Elvis looks like a cute ‘Mini Me’ version, but it’s a completely different amp designed with other applications in mind. This amp is apparently based on some mysterious vintage Vox circuits that never made it into production, but of course you get the 65Amps trademark Bump feature plus a shuddering tremolo.
We’re promised 12W of clean tone, plus a few more with overdrive, from a pair of EL84 power tubes and three 12AX7s in the front end with a 6CA4 rectifier. The Master Voltage feature is also present, but Bump comes in a simplified form with a preset level and a single Tone control that’s active whether Bump is engaged or not. For the tremolo there are Speed and Intensity controls, and the Intensity knob doubles up as a trem on/off switch. This time there’s a double footswitch that handles Bump and Tremolo switching, plus there’s a passive effects loop on the rear panel. A switch labelled Smooth +/- sits above the Tone and Volume controls: it doesn’t do anything in clean mode, but it provides a hint of compression when things are cranked.
Paired up with 65Amps‘ G12H-loaded 1×12" cabinet the Lil’ Elvis produces a big, room-filling sound. The headroom is very impressive, staying clean up to about two thirds of the way up on the Volume before easing into overdrive, then heavier saturation – even with single coils. There’s more than enough treble and Fenderish twang for country pickers and even a Les Paul can be coaxed into chiming, but for general clean duties I pulled the Tone control a fair way back then rolled it further back as I turned up Volume.
Bump gives the Lil’ Elvis a stiff kick up the proverbial, with a big preset midrange boost and an avalanche of saturated harmonics. This time I felt the need to add more treble, so if you’re switching between modes in a live situation, some compromise might be required. The overdrive recalls other EL84-loaded amps, like a Vox AC10 or an 18W Marshall, with a juicy, fat tone, plenty of bite and a hint of midrange scoop.
The tremolo operates on the bias, so it swells up and down without interfering with pick attack or definition; it’s subtle, and it doesn’t reach extremes of speed or stutter like some amps. Turning down the Master Voltage gave the tremolo an oddly clipped gating effect, but rolling back the Intensity knob sorted this out.
We’ve saved mentioning the Master Voltage feature until last because it’s common to both amps, and we wanted to see how it performed in each. To my ears it scores over a conventional master volume because you can still hear power stage overdrive and distortion when you turn down – so you’re not confined to fizzy preamp overdrive at low volumes, and the touch response of a pushed power stage is better retained. However, our ears perceive frequencies differently depending on volume levels, so you might feel like increasing the bass at low volume and pulling back the treble at high volume. This can be done with the Stone Pony, but the Lil’ Elvis‘ single Tone control isn’t quite as flexible.
The Lil' Elvis is versatile, but you really need to tweak things around when you engage the Bump. It would be ideal for recording; it doesn't have instant accessibility, but if you're prepared to control things from your guitar you can access a huge range of tones. The Stone Pony, in contrast, gets you close to multi-channel versatility without complexity or processed sound quality. I'm very impressed - this amp's inherent transparency offers something genuinely different. It's also very well thought out, and flexible enough for all manner of live and recording applications.