Mick Hughes—live engineer for the Led Zeppelin reunion tour—described Jimmy Page's Orange AD30 twin-channel amplifier head as "the loudest 30 watts I have ever heard!" That's not the only thing about the Orange AD30 that appears to defy physics. There are a lot of 2-channel tube amplifiers out there, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an amp that sounds as different from one channel to the next as the AD30. That's because the AD30 is more like two completely separate amplifiers in one than a single amplifier with two tones. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, we thought we'd showcase just what makes this classic amp so good. Nick Jennison tells us more.
There's always discussion amongst the guitar community around what makes a piece of gear "vintage". For some, it's any piece of gear that's 20 years older or above—a definition that would seemingly include gems like the Gorilla GG-20, the Johnson J-Station and those "is it a heart or a toilet seat?" guitars from Daisy Rock.
More discerning types will argue that a "vintage" piece of gear can be much younger, provided it's truly excellent. A "classic", if you will? Well, whichever of these definitions you roll with, the Orange AD30 fits the bill—it's 20 years old this year, and it's absolutely killer.
One of the amps that marked the "second coming" of the legendary British amp brand around the dawn of the new millennium, the AD30, was the brainchild of lead designer and eccentric genius Adrian Emsley. The name is a non-too-subtle nod to the Vox AC30, the inspiration for the EL84-powered AD30 (originally released as a single channel head and combo). That's about where the similarities end, though.
The classic two-channel AD30 (as used by Jimmy Page) was introduced in 2001 and has remained the most popular iteration of the amp. It's a 30w all-valve design, including a GZ34 valve rectifier like the ones found in '60s AC30s, which was notably absent in AC30s produced between 1970 and 1993. Unusually, the two channels are close-to-identical in sound and function, save for a little bit of extra aggression on channel two. While this may seem puzzling at first, it's actually the secret to this amp's enormous versatility.
Both channels cover the entire gamut of gain from sparkling chime to thick and fuzzy saturation, giving you a tonne of options. Maybe you want a crunchy rhythm sound that cleans up nicely and a lead sound with more punch, volume and sustain? How about two cleans - one brighter and more percussive, one slightly darker for running dirt pedals? Maybe you just want to crank the gain on both channels, but you want some more volume and midrange for solos? Can you think of another two-channel amp that'll do all of that? I can't.
Tonally, there's definitely a touch of that "AC" chime at lower gain settings, but the AD30 is very much it's own beast once you start turning the gain up. Where an AC30 gets searing and splatty when you crank it (the famous "blizzard of nails" tone), the AD30's overdrive is Orange through and through - thick, mid-forward and more "fuzzy" than "buzzy". There's a good deal more gain and low end available than in a traditional "AC" circuit, too, although a Rockerverb this most certainly is not. The gain is loose, saggy and grainy, and very well suited to "classic" playing styles.
The EQ (as with all Orange amps) is highly interactive, with much more scope for drastic tonal sculpting than most classic British heads. This is particularly interesting when you start to wind up the volume and overdrive the EL84 power amp tubes. Driving the midrange hard into the clipping power stage produces a very "vowel-y" tone, while the bass control essentially becomes a "sag" control - you can get either channel to be blown-out and fuzzy, articulateand vocal or somewhere in between.
As we've come to expect from Orange, the AD30 is engineered to be completely indestructible. It's a heavy beast, made of heavy bent steel and birch ply. This is a rugged bruiser of an amp in both construction and performance, but it's a real looker too. There's something about the Orange "picture frame" format, the oversized knobs and the pictograms that really appeals to me.
The Orange AD30 is a stone-cold classic of the modern era. It's toneful, powerful, versatile without being overly complicated, and has withstood the toughest test of all - time.
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