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This article was originally published in issue #15
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A PRS amp? Yes, the illustrious US guitar maker officially launched an amp devision back in 2009. It would be fair to say it has been a slow burn. But could 2013 be the year PRS amps really take off? Michael Casswell gets down to basics with Maryland's finest.
Paul Reed Smith shot to fame and fortune with his no compromise handbuilt guitars that burst on to the scene in 1985. PRS guitars are now an industry standard and those early run '85, '86, '87 guitars are extremely collectable and sought after today, because that's when Paul was hand building them himself with the best possible woods and components, in the his first small factory. I'm lucky enough to own a PRS guitar that was built very early in '86, and thought it might be a good choice to put this new PRS two channel H amp head through its paces in our video.
It seems a little odd to see the PRS logo on an amp head, but here it is, the '2 Channel H'. It's a 50 Watt, all-tube, all American, channel switching amp than can run with the big boys. The brains behind the design is Doug Sewell who was a reputable amp 'hot rodder' back in the '80s and '90s, and is the man Paul Reed Smith brought in to build an amp worthy of wearing that PRS logo on the front.
The 'H' in the name of the amp stands for the 'Heyboer' transformer inside. The transformer of any tube amp is a major component that contributes to the overall performance and tonal character, along with the choice of pre-amp valves, EQ, and, in this case, the 2x6L6 output valves, which are my preferred tube. A Heyboer is a thing of beauty if you are into transformers (this is getting very sad - Ed). There is also a 'C' version of this amp which stands for the Cinemag transformer, and I assume, gives a different overall character to this H version.
These amps are put together in the USA and yet are priced competitively. There is a trend towards having products made in the Far East to keep costs down and while you can understand why manufacturers do it, and while it can be great for those of us on tight budgets, I'm glad PRS hasn't gone down this route for this amp. The PRS name stands for a lot of things and compromise isn't one of them!
Although the amp is handmade, there are still printed circuit boards inside and if there weren't and it was an all point to point hand wired amp, it would cost three times more, so there have been some sensible attempts to keep costs down. On the back there is a level send and level return for your effects, and this is wired in series, which means if you don't have anything in the loop, you can still use your level send to push whatever sound you have set round the front. It's a bit like an extra crunch stage, and can be quite effective at fine tuning things at higher volumes.
This is one of those amps that reproduces accurately the characteristics of what you put in. In other words, if you plugged a Telecaster in, you would be able to hear it's a Tele. Some amps just kick out a generic type sound which can blur the subtleties of what you give it, but good amps complement what you give them - and this is one of those. The cleans are lively and organic and the dirties are fat and defined with some real grit and attitude. If you want silly amounts of gain, then all it takes is your favourite loud stompbox pedal in front and, like any good valve amp, another world of 'more is better' opens up to you. This is standard practice nowadays, so if you haven't tried it yet, jump onboard! There is plenty of gain available, but if you use lower output pick ups, then a little push with a pedal can be fun.
This amp acts like blank canvas and delivers accurately what you give it. It looks good too, with what seems like stained flame maple on the front, setting off its overall good looking and purposeful image. 50 Watts should easily be loud enough for most situations because output wattage, in guitarist's terms, is more about headroom than volume. A 100 Watt amp will keep its cleans, being cleaner at louder volumes, but this amp feels like it has plenty of power, especially when it's paired up with its matching 2x12 PRS speaker cab, which comes loaded with a pair of Celestion Vintage 30's (my favourite speakers).
Overall the two Channel H head is a great amp and definitely worth a look. It's a grown-up amp that I would say is better suited to a player with a good touch and feel for tone, rather than your 'plug it in, turn it up and go' type player, but hey, there are no rules. We like the five year warranty these coms with, too. Very nice.