A 'Howling Wolf' combo? So that'll be made in Chicago, right? Actually, no. This brand new guitar amp comes from about as far away from the home of the Mississippi delta as you can get - Worcestershire, England. Michael Casswell looked a bit sceptical. Then he plugged in...
The Howling Wolf 5/15 combo is totally hand built from the ground up in Worcestershire, England, and the website says it has been developed to give 'the highest quality audio utilising thermionic valve and semiconductor technology from the '50s as well as a few more modern day techniques'. So does it give the highest quality audio? Well the quick answer to this is "yes it does".
When the guys who make this say 'hand built' they mean it - even down to the transformers, which they hand wind. Oh, and there's a proper steel chassis, too. They make that. And a dovetailed wood casing. They do all of it.
The 5/15 described as a tube/hybrid which I think means it is part tube and part transistor. Somewhere inside it are one ECC83 valve acting as a phase splitter and two EL84 output tubes in a class A/B arrangement, which all sounds very valve based to me, so the 'hybrid' is probably to do with the pre-amp side of things. What I do know is I was impressed straight away by the sound it made.
We ran the amp at 5 Watts for the review and it sounded powerful, responsive and loud, great for home or studio purposes, to me it even sounded loud enough to handle some gig situations. You can also run the amp at 15 Watts, hence the 5/15 name. Looking round the back at the open cab part of the amp, the speaker of choice is a Celestion G12. Not my favourite speaker but it did sound great in this amp. Personally, I would go for a Celestion Vintage 30 over a G12, especially in a 1x12 format, because experience has told me that the V30 performs and sounds sweeter at stage volumes. I am sure it wouldn't take much to specify your choice of speaker, because everything about this amp screams boutique and each one is hand built.
If you're concerned about aesthetics as well as tone, then you get a beautiful dovetail jointed pine cab, an engraved control panel, a hand stitched leather strap handle, vintage style grille cloth and gold looking corner protectors. It's all here. For a little extra outlay you can have the amp in walnut, American red cherry, white oak and tulip wood. All very luxurious but not really essential. For me it's all about the sound and all that luxury would not sit right with me if it was not matched by great tone. Fortunately the Howling Wolf 5/15 sounds really great.
As soon as I plugged in I knew straight away this wasn't just 'yet another amp'. It instantly felt alive and responsive. The ace in the hole for me is the fantastic EQ section which really allows you to fine tune your tone and although it's just a single channel amp, the huge array of tones you can get using the EQ and the drive and gain functions make the possibilities endless. The EQ gives you boost and cut at the 250hz, 500hz, 1khz, 2khz and 4hz ranges. Adjusting these different points of EQ really gets the amp and guitar talking to each other and also allows you to really get the best out whatever pick ups you use and also bring out the character that may be hidden in your guitar through use with your average bass, mid, treble type EQ. It also has a dramatic effect on fine tuning your clean and dirty sounds, and you can get some good impressions of some of the main amp names out there.
The Howling Wolf will deliver super clean to super dirty tones and everything in between once you get into the drive and gain pots, plus you can supercharge your desired setting with the presence control which actually gives the sound 25db of boost. Imagine your favourite boost pedal in front of your amp and you'll get the idea of what the presence control is doing, which isn't anything like what we associate with a regular presence pot.
This would be a fantastic studio amp that can cover a lot of ground. Both Fender and Marshall tones are there, as well as some great '80s hot rodded singing lead tones. Dare I say it, even some Dumble-esque sounds can be squeezed out with some careful tweaking! I would love to try the more powerful 30 Watt version, maybe in a head version so I could marry it with a cab of my choice.
This is not a cheap amp. You have to pay for quality, but if you are based in the UK or Europe, it's not priced outrageously high which, unfortunately, some American boutique amps seem to be by the time they reach the UK, and yet it is easily in that class. I urge you to try one. I was really impressed and dare I say it, I want one.