Compact, punchy amp heads are very much in vogue right now, and Hayden amps weigh in with their own contender for the diminutive crown. Review by Dave Walsh
As a subsidiary of the mighty Ashdown, best known for quality bass rigs, Hayden has been making an impact in the guitar amp world over the last 18 months. The current trend for affordable yet quality portable amp heads has seen some fine product already hit the shelves, and Hayden‘s response is to offer something just a little different in a similarly-sized mini format.
Inside a smart black nylon shoulder bag we find a swanky hand-signed certificate informing us that this is number 37 out of 100 in this batch, handbuilt in the UK by master builder (and ex-Matamp and Ashdown designer) Dave Green. One pleasant surprise: the footswitch comes included – hallelujah, and bravo to Hayden for pulling that irritating splinter at last.
Another neat feature is the retractable top-mounted handle which sinks from view, presumably should you wish to stack a couple of amps together. The handle is a little on the flimsy side, but at only 18Ibs this is a lightweight amp, so it should be up to the job.
The case is sturdy 1.6mm mild steel and powder coated in a silk black finish, with exceptional ventilation. Stood unplugged on the desk astride four screw-mounted rubber feet, a passing friend commented that it looked like a funky designer toaster. Nice.
Shade your eyes from the glare of the Essex-gold plastic Hayden badge and you’ll spot three 12AX7 preamp valves stood in gold/bronze protective shells behind the front grille, while at the back are four EL84 power amp valves snuggled between the power and output transformers.
Separate US and UK-voiced guitar inputs shape the incoming signal for classic British or thinner, high-gain US-style tones. Next door is the cheekily named MoFo boost level control (could be a buttock-clenching moment for retailers – let’s hope parents don’t need to ask what it means) followed by Gain, regular EQ controls, Presence and a single input marked FX loop.
Unusually, rather than the usual twin send/return FX jacks, this lone input operates in a similar fashion to a mixing desk, so you’ll need a ‘Y’ lead to connect your effects pedals. This single input design does cut down on precious space within the amp but will not be to everyone’s taste… how many guitarists actually lug around a ‘Y’ lead?
Located on the base is a chunky slide switch which engages Stealth mode. Running this amp as a true Class A 30-watter at full bollocks in the luxury of your own home could make you unpopular, so flicking this switch reduces the amp’s output signal (down to 2W according to Hayden’s blurb) for home or recording use without loss of delicious valve tone.
A great feature – but there is very little stealth about the switch itself, which protrudes from the base of the amp casing. Surely this magical switch could be recessed to save it from potential damage. As it stands, lay the amp down heavily on anything other than a flat surface and the switch is a goner.
Round the back you’ll find an input jack for the footswitch that controls the MoFo boost plus 8 and 16 ohm speaker outputs capable of driving everything from a tightly focussed 1×12" up to stadium-worthy 4×12" cabinets.
Plugging in to a 2×12" cab with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers and powering up reveals yet another oddity – the absence of a standby switch. This could be a serious pain if you need to swap guitars during a gig, but there was little noise during the warm up and the quartet of power valves begin to glow immediately from their back row seat.
The overall effect really is quite cool, particularly in a darkened stage-like environment.
There are a lot of sounds on offer here, but you’ll need to experiment a little to find your working tone. It’s not complicated, just a little less intuitive than current trends. The two inputs are used independently, so with the luxury of a late ’60s SG to hand and plumping for the UK input (it is a Brit-built amp, after all) you’re greeted with a solid, thick voicing.
Hayden promise plexi-like crunch, and true enough there’s a definite Milton Keynes accent to the sound. The gain and EQ are responsive and stomping on the footswitch to boost things with the MoFo dial adds further gain for glassy solos or heavier rocking.
Swapping into the US input delivers a tighter voice with a definite lift and pronounced top end sparkle on the cleaner settings with a more hi-fi output as the Gain is raised and the boost kicked in.
Reaching under to engage Stealth, the volume is immediately squashed but pleasingly, the core tone remains virtually intact and is surprisingly loud and punchy. It’s a truly great bedroom level sound – perfect for recording but still gutsy and loud enough for sensible rehearsal, as long as your drummer isn’t a total animal.
All in all, some truly wonderful valve tones – it’s a pity that it isn’t a true twin channel amp as the US input delivers the sweeter clean sounds, but the true Brit grit is all on the UK input.
At around the same price as a couple of already very successful Class A compact amp heads, the MoFo has some stiff competition. In terms of valve tonality this little brute can easily stand toe to toe with any of the recent flood of compact gig units. It's a British-built amp and mostly hand-wired - in fact, had this amp been the first of its kind to cross our desks then we'd have been falling over ourselves to sing its praises. However, some of the space-saving compromises including a lack of a standby and the badly-placed Stealth switch plus the single FX input (with all the fuss these could create) may trip up rookie players. Also, the twin input idea is a little confused - presumably you could plug in two guitars via an A/B box, but wouldn't a single input with a simple mode switch and an additional footswitch selector have made this a truly versatile, pseudo channel-changing live amp? The styling and the blingy Hayden grille badge won't be to everyone's taste either, but these gripes aside, in tone terms there's a lot to praise the MoFo for - it's just not quite as user-friendly or versatile as some of its competition, and that could be a major stumbling block.