Arizona based RedPlate Amps was established in 2006, by Henry Heistand. According to the company, Henry has been involved with playing, servicing, and designing tube amplifiers for over 41 years and he works to a golden rule - “first get the cleans right”. RedPlate are true boutique amps, hand built and with painstaking attention to detail. Sadly, those words usually signify a hefty price tag and the RP50R is no exception, but here at GI we pride ourselves in the diversity of gear we review, from entry level, through to top end, no expense spared products - and this amp certainly falls into the latter category. New for 2014, the RP50R claims to finally answer the Blackface or Tweed argument, combining RedPlate's BlackVerb and Blues Machines models into a single unit, intending to make it the most versatile amp currently on the market. Is it? Well, you can be the judge by checking out the video - but in the meantime here's my opinion!
On first looks this is quite an understated combo amp, I'm not sure what I was expecting, maybe I thought for the price it might rise from a plinth, surrounded by dry ice, and be lined with gold, but alas our sample came just in plain black with red writing. However, once you get up close and personal it quickly becomes clear that A) this thing has been put together well and is built like a tank, and B) there are a multitude of knobs, switches and hidden features. I recommended that the camera guys went and got a coffee while I familiarised myself with what everything did!
The RP50R has a Tweed channel to cover those legendary “break-up tones”, a Blackface channel aiming for pristine cleans, as well as an overdrive section, master control, and footswitch. It also has a fully buffered effects loop and a tube spring reverb. Basic controls such as Bass, Middle, Treble, separate channel volumes and presence all work the same as on any other amp, but there are some interesting additions on the RedPlate combo. There is a Bright switch on the front, centre = off, Up = normal bright response, Down = sound of new strings - handy if you haven’t changed them for a while! There is also a Voice switch on the back which allows you to select, Fat, Humbucker or Single coil, depending on the type of guitar you are using, this sets the amount of bass gain in the input of the clean pre-amp stage - useful for matching the amplifier to the guitar type.
Other things such as Line Out, Send and Return Jacks so you can run an effects loop are also around the back, as well as the Reverb control, which personally was one feature that I wasn’t too keen on. If you should you need to make a quick adjustment on the fly, it's not the most convenient positioning. Some of the knobs on the front of the amp also offer a pull-out feature to give a greater variety of tones, such as reducing girth for the Brownface era tone, or a reduction of extreme highs. There is also a great switch on the front called Mode Selector, which offers different settings such as Funk and Rock. It steps through five progressively fatter positions of the midrange centre frequency and adds a stack lift of the Middle control for even more midrange in position six. All this squeezed into a 50 Watt all-valve combo! Once again be sure to check out the video as I demo all the different controls and their sounds.
Plugging into this amp, my first impressions were just how much power you get out of such a compact combo - you really get the sense of having to tame a beast! The Blackface channel offered some of the best cleans I have ever heard. Pristine, bell-like clarity with plenty of bottom end and rich mids, combined with some of the pull features discussed above, this channel gives you all the bottom end you could want for a vintage Jazz tone, or plenty of bite and cut through for a more modern Funk/Pop sound, and everything in between.
The Tweed channel didn’t disappoint either. Even at a relatively low volume I was able to get that classic break-up tone that valve amp fans crave, making this ideal for crunchy rhythm and bluesy leads. Playing around with the overdrive section of this amp, I was able to get smooth Fusion type lead tones and classic aggressive Rock. There's not enough there for really saturated Death Metal type growl, but a suitable overdrive pedal in front will soon solve that. All this can be controlled by the four button footswitch (see video), and the best thing is it's actually included! So often you come across high-end amps that cost the earth and then they make you buy the footswitch separately!
The Red Plate RP50R is a truly fantastic combo amp. I would go as far to say one of the best I have ever tried. Henry and his team absolutely have the right idea: get the clean part right then everything else can be built on from that. So many manufactures seem to get this wrong, leaving you with a very thin, weak sounding amp with nowhere to go.
I would have liked to have had longer to play around with this RedPlate, as there are so many different tonal possibilities and I probably only tapped into a few of them, but what I managed to find, I loved. This is a true valve amp that responds and feels like a valve amp should. It delivers fantastic dynamics, and had perfect touch sensitivity, so you can go from rhythm to lead by lightening your attack or reducing the guitar volume. Yes it's expensive, but let's face it most of the truly great things are, these amps aren’t mass produced you have to place your order and get on the waiting list, but I can promise you it will be well worth the wait! Also, you then get to choose whether you want it with or without reverb, as a head or combo and you can choose the covering material and colour.
After some debate we decided to give it that coveted extra half a star. How can an amp costing this much be great value for money? Well. Because you simply wouldn't get this quality of sound without spending this much money - and in some cases, a lot more.