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This article was originally published in issue #39
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When looking at many of the greatest tones in electric guitar history you can identify three key elements that define and shape the amp sounds we love - the pre-amp, the power amp and the speaker. When these three elements work in perfect harmony you achieve that lofty goal of great tone but, in recent years, the power amp element has become somewhat neglected as more and more guitar players have migrated over to primarily pre-amp based distortion, using the power amp not so much to shape and add to the tone, but rather just to make it louder. But judicious use of power tube saturation adds the beautiful compression, warmth and bloom that is not only great to hear in your sound but also enormously rewarding to play and with Laney's brand new GH50R, GH100R and 2x12 GH combo, launched at this year's NAMM show, Laney aims to give you back the ultimate control over the balance of the pre-amp and power amp sections in order to master the dark art of ‘great tone’.
The GH50R is based on four 12AX7 (ECC83) pre-amp tubes and a pair of EL34s in the power stage for a classic ‘British’ style combination and plenty of onboard gain available. The head is a wonderful looking combination of classic good looks with just enough modern twists to stand out from the crowd. Finished in a luxurious looking red and black vinyl to represent the pre-amp gain and dark art of the Power stage respectively, this is an amp that sticks in the mind visually and will look fantastic on stage.
Laney has decided to offer a two channel design here with a shared three band EQ, master Tone control that effectively functions as a Presence dial, independent Gain controls and a Volume control for channel two. The most interesting element is the Output control, used for dialling in the amount of power tube output, but this is far more than a standard attenuation control for dropping the wattage - here we have a control that fundamentally changes the tone and feel/response of the power section and thus your overall tone. If you dial the output control higher of course things get louder, but you add in a whole load of harmonics, width and compression to your sound, saturating the power section at the highest settings for those classic ‘cooking power tube’ tones.
By balancing the gain/pre-amp control with this Output dial, you have incredible amounts of control over not only the amount of saturation, but the dynamic feel and harmonic content of the signal, allowing you to craft a huge range of sounds from only these two controls. This takes a little bit of getting used to but is very intuitive once you’ve got your head, ears and fingers used to working this way and you’ll begin to wonder how you ever got on without this level of control over the response and feel of your tone! You can go from stiff, super clean funk tones to fat, spongy Jazz cleans, to biting crunch tones all the way to fully saturated, compressed leads by only touching these two dials, going nowhere near those tone controls.
It’s an amazing experience once you get why the power tube output control is so important to your tone and you’ll find yourself experimenting with different balances of Gain and Output, discovering tones you absolutely love.
Obviously, things get very loud indeed when cranking the Output and Gain controls so Laney has included a Volume control on channel two so that you can dial down the level, while retaining the amount of pre and power tube saturation you require. This control also feeds the level going to the power section though, adding another tonal and dynamic element to consider and shape your sound with. Channel one is left as a pure Gain and Output combination for the simplest way to dial in great sounds. The EQ section works very well indeed to shape your sounds with a very musical range throughout and the master Tone control is a very useful addition for taming single coil high end or bringing brightness back to dark humbuckers if required.
Laney has also included the same excellent DI output from the Ironheart IRT-Studio and Lionheart Studio heads, allowing speaker emulated recording or sending the output signal to the front of house on gigs. Most importantly this DI is taken from after the Power section so that the Output control and the magic it provides to your tone is captured in all its glory. All of the usual speaker outs and effects loop connections are also present plus a great sounding, lush digital reverb similar to that found on Laney’s other amp ranges.
In combination with the closed back GH2x12 cab, loaded with Vintage 30 speakers, our review GH50R head sounded stunning with a dynamic response rarely found on amps at this price point. Cleans and drive tones sing beautifully and this amp can grind with the best of them when required, especially with a boost pedal in the front, also working great with pedals in the front or in the loop. Mastering the art of utilising and controlling the power section in all of your tones is a transformative experience that offers you an amazing level of control over your sound and brings the Power section back to tones that have really been missing this vital element in recent years.
Laney has clearly thought a lot about every element of this amp’s design, from the choice of output transformer and circuitry to the cool visual design. The amp is incredibly well made, built to stand up to use on the road and comes with the usual Laney slip cover for protection. For those that really care about having great tone and need a versatile amp that rewards exploration and balancing of the controls, the GHR series of amps represent not only great value for money but a superb tonal experience that really deserves to be checked out.