From the moment I unpacked my Big White Monkey’s Handwired tube combo, the VT-5, I was pretty impressed. But before I delve into my review, lets have a listen to this amp first with our resident Guitar Gas guitarist Darren putting it through it’s paces…
In the video above Darren was using a 1981, 100% original made in Japan Greco Spacey Sound SE 450 and a Big White Monkey Howler distortion pedal. Apologies also for the abrupt ending, I was told by Jeremy, the editor for this site that his missus rang while doing the shoot, the price you pay for recording a video on your phone. The video was shot using an iPhone 4 and the Fostex AR-4i Audio Interface for iPhone.
Now lets hear how she sounds with a Les Paul and a pair of Seymour Duncan Seth Lovers Humbuckers…
The guitar in the video above is a 1980ish made in Japan Fernandes Super Grade Les Paul Gold Top with Seymour Duncan Seth Lovers. The pedal is the Big White Monkey Howler, again the video was shot using an iPhone 4 and the Fostex AR-4i Audio Interface for iPhone.
Now, down to business….
Well, I personally think looks can be important, and the light brown chocolate granulated tolex, with perfectly co-ordinated dark beige/brown coloured weave mesh grill, topped off with a nice circular logo at the top was spot on.
Details had been given care, as with the steel corner protectors, nice leather style vintage handle, mini vintage white control knobs and I was quite happy with the aesthetic side of things. Of course I would also like a beaten up old 60’s Fender Tweed or Champ, whose well worn looks are part of the mojo, but this BWM amp is far more affordable for a mere $349 for a hand wired amp.
One thing I haven’t mentioned that you turn the amp around, and you can see the handwired insides through the Perspex backing! Okay, dat’s cool!! Another thing I liked was the ease of access to the valves (2 of) and since the amp has a fixed bias you can change the tubes easily and not have to rebias an amp (the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ aspect for the technically minded!).
Weighing in at 7.5kg it has some reassuring weight and it’s not too light, ok let’s now have a deeper look at the Handwired VT-5.
Before launching into tone, some factors that affect the final sound waves coming out of the box. The amp features a 8” Celestion Super 8 which is pretty good stock standard. For upgrades you can look to Weber, Tone Tubby do an 8” Alnico if you need. However there really is no need and I love changing speakers.
Also the tubes are a 6V6GT in the power amp section and a 12AX7 in the preamp. You can exchange the 6V6 for a ‘6L6’ (and double the output wattage) also as an option. So you are going to get more Fendery cleans and a USA voicing (I know that is a bit of stereotype).
So tone,,finally you say! I love the warm articulate cleans, great presence with a little grit and quite loud. I had always thought 8” speakers may be too small and not have good tone, but this made me think again (check out the YouTube clips at the top of this post again, that Jeremy has put up on this amp…).
Since I am a bedroom rocker, this is as loud as I need it to be. Also you have a switch to go from 3watts or a full 5 watts, which for those of you who love tube tone, know that 5 watts can be loud.
The controls are interactive with fantastic mids, a sweet but mild bass response (natural considering it is a small speaker) and obviously very dynamic treble. I personally have a sweet spot of mids about 3 o’clock, treble about 12/1 o’clock and bass nearly all the way to compensate for the lesser bass response.
However the tone is not thin in anyway, and takes pedals like a champ. Perfect for pedals and considering it only has a Bass, Mid and Treble (along with volume) controls, you will need a pedal for dirt, delay or whatever you want.
I have a BWM Spider OD (lovely) and a delay. It takes them perfectly, no extra hiss or fuss. OD sounds beautiful through this amp, it’s juicy and dynamic and you can have it begging for mercy!! Best of all, it is designed for sounding fantastic at low volumes with warm tube tone. I feel that this is the sort of tone I have been chasing, Fender type cleans with grit, presence and yet warmth.
So in summary would I recommend it? Well I think you can tell I really like it, and I have confidence in the unit to last and keep me rollin’ in good tones for many years. I actually think I have finally found a keeper, something portable with that honest to goodness tone that you can just plug n play without any pedals and still really enjoy playing music.
This amp reminds me why I love playing guitar in the first place, because it is FUN and makes you feel good. Go for it, grab one from the boys on the coast, Big White Monkeys.