When Leo Fender launched his first 4×10 combo in 1954–the venerable Bassman–did he have any idea how popular the design would be? Not only did Marshall cop the Bassman’s circuit for its first amplifier, but the 4×10 speaker configuration proved to be a hit, as well, providing a bright, punchy tone with tons of dispersion. As the years went by, 4×10 combos of all types–especially the Fender Super Reverb–graced numerous recordings and stages. These new 4×10, all-tube combos from Koch and Traynor aim to bring modern refinements to the classic quad template.
Hailing from the land of clogs and gouda (i.e., the Netherlands), Koch Amplifiers has been making a name for itself stateside in recent years. The Classictone combo, Koch’s newest model, sports Clean and Overdrive channels with bass, treble, and midrange controls for each. The Clean channel has a single volume control, and Overdrive packs gain and volume knobs. Master controls include reverb like no other best analog reverb pedal (courtesy of a full-sized Accutronics tank), presence, and vibrato depth and speed. The included five-button footswitch allows you to switch channels, activate the vibrato and reverb, turn the effects loop on or off, and disengage the master volume.
Construction. The Classictone is ruggedly built. The black Tolex is neatly applied over a plywood cabinet, and the heavy-duty steel chassis sports a clean layout with nearly all of the circuit components (including the two Groove Tubes EL34s and four 12AX7s) residing on one large PC board.
Tones. Plugging a variety of guitars into the Classictone (including a ’72 Fender Tele, a Strat, and a Hamer Studio) yielded an impressive array of crystalline clean tones. The Clean channel’s EQ is conservatively voiced–don’t expect any severe sonic tweaks–but that’s okay, because the Classictone is one of those amps where the tone controls can be set at noon, and the amp still sounds good. Crank up the Clean channel, and the Classictone sounds like a vintage 4×10 combo on ephedrine. The tones exhibit the stringy detail and throaty honk that have put 4×10 combos on the map, while offering a more modern vibe with a crisper, less spongy attack. Very cool. The reverb doesn’t quite go to surf-extreme, but it’s super thick and musical. The vibrato is also excellent, yielding a choppier response than what you get from traditional Fender vibrato.
The Overdrive channel also features an EQ section that’s more suited for mild tone tweaks than sonic facelifts. With the gain halfway up, I got searing tones that were rife with rich midrange and sizzling (yet sweet) top-end. With single-coils, the treble was a bit bright, but a lower presence setting fixed that in a snap. The Classictone is also very dynamic, bending instantly to the will of your touch, or your guitar’s volume control.
Traynor Custom Valve 80 YCV80Q
The latest amp in Yorkville Sound‘s Traynor line, the Custom Valve 80 YCVSOQ, offers dual channels, each with an EQ complement of treble, mids, and bass. Channel 1–the overdrive section–also sports a gain control, a boost switch (which can be activated via the included two-button footswitch), and a scoop function. Channel 2 has a single volume control, as well as Bright and Expander buttons. Global controls include master volume and reverb.
Construction. Inside the Custom Valve’s painted 18-gauge steel chassis you’ll find all of the pots, jacks, switches, and tube sockets (for the Sovtek 5881s and three 12AX7s) mounted to PC boards. The plywood cabinet’s black leatherette covering looks okay, but there are slight imperfections where the material hugs the nooks and crannies.
Tones. Channel 1 (remember, this is the overdrive side) yields tough, ballsy tones with kick-ass midrange snarl. Engaging the boost produces the same tone–only louder–so I chose to leave it on all the time. There is plenty of gain on tap, but I found that keeping the gain around the half-way mark prevented the tones from becoming overly smeared–especially when playing complex chords. Even so, I was able to coax effortless feedback at reasonable volumes. The Scoop function is surprisingly effective at turning this combo into a modern-sounding shred machine with tightly focused bass and a savage, instantaneous attack.
Channel 2’s clean tones proved satisfying with every guitar I used. Bassman-esque clean tones are the order of the day–especially when you crank the master or disengage it completely. Although these tones don’t quite have the upper-midrange complexity of a ’50s Bassman, the Custom Valve fides the clean/dirty fence better than most amps in its price range. The bright control has enough power to give humbuckers some single-coil shimmer, and the Expander button–which boosts lows and highs–produces a glassiness that’s especially useful for darker, humbucker-loaded guitars.
Powers of 410
The Koch Classictone pulls off the nearly impossible feat of sounding vintage and modern at the same time. If you get giddy imagining what a Marshall JCM 800 from 1954 might have sounded like, you’ll love what the Classictone has to offer.
The Traynor Custom Valve 80 will delight vintage tone hounds and modern rockers who seek a flexible, powerful, and stageworthy amp. With its hip tones and unbeatable price, the Custom Valve 80 is a dream for working guitarists on a budget.
- Pros Loud and extremely flexible. Killer tones. Speaker-simulated recording out. Switchable master volume.
- Cons Expensive for a production line 4×10 combo.
Trynor Custom Valve 80 YCV80Q
- Pros Stout tones. Flexible EQ. Enough headroom for nearly any situation. Affordable.
- Cons Some cosmetic sloppiness.