It’s been awhile since I posted a “Boles Blues” review of guitars, guitar amps and other musical gear. Two things were conspiring against me over that time. One, I injured my left wrist. That’s my “fretting” hand, so playing was difficult. The second conspiracy came in two parts, a couple of years apart: Floods! The first flood that hit my apartment came from three flights above and ruined half of my guitar collection. The second flood, two years later, arrived from the same burst pipe in the same apartment on the third floor, and ruined every single guitar amp I owned. The water damage ruined my musical collection and — because I pay for my own gear — I knew it was going to take awhile to get musically re-established.
Here’s my Human Meme podcast detailing the flood recovery:
Now that we moved, and live in a — hopefully! — safer, giant, monolith of a building, with all the right protections and popular amenities, I have slowly started to restock my guitar collection, and getting new guitar amps, to help restore my musical life.
Today, we’ll start with two “Bedroom Amp” reviews of two keen models — the Orange Rocker 15 and the Henriksen Bud — using three of my guitars that sort of survived the flood: my Eric Clapton Custom Stratocaster, my Les 1956 Paul Goldtop reissue and, finally, my Jimmy Bruno Sadowsky. Both amps are fairly, and competitively priced, and yes, both of them can serve the modern guitar player who is forced to live in the urban core with niggly neighbors who complain about the slightest elevation in noise. These are both powerful, but pleasingly quiet, guitar amps.
As I previously mentioned, I pay my own way. I bought both of these amps. No discounts. No favors. No freebies. The Orange Rocker 15 cost $800.00 USD. The Henriksen Bud was $1,200.00 USD delivered.
The first thing you notice about all the Orange amps — is that they’re bright orange! Some people are tossed off by the neon orange — I love the color — but Orange will sell you this same amp in a black cabinet if that fits your aesthetic better than their namesake.
Here’s the official PR Blurp from Orange on the amp:
Capable of 0.5, 1, 7 or 15 Watts of output the Rocker 15 is an extremely portable combo that moves seamlessly from the home, to the studio, to the stage. Finally, a small, two channel, bedroom-friendly all-valve amp that you can legitimately gig!
With the Rocker 15 set wide open, smaller venues are comfortably taken care of despite the amp’s miniature footprint. Thanks to a custom Voice of the World Gold Label speaker and beefy transformers, the Rocker 15 has a remarkably potent delivery which takes full advantage of its EL84 output section. Even when scaling back the power, the amp’s tone stays fat and full, oozing warm valve compression and saturation without disturbing the neighbours.
Clever options aside, the Rocker 15 has real character – a twin channel design with a twist. The Natural channel is a purist’s dream with just a single knob: Volume. Finely balanced and supremely playable, this channel is perfectly voiced to bring out the ‘natural’ sound of the instrument under your fingers (or the pedals under your feet). The ‘Dirty’ channel is a more familiar affair with controls for Gain, Volume and a three band EQ section. Both channels are very sensitive to touch and playing dynamics, making Rocker 15 very versatile despite its straightforward, player-friendly layout.
The amp also features a proper valve driven effects loop for total purity from input to output. So, whether you need a rig for low-volume practising, recording, or to be heard on the club circuit, the shape-shifting Rocker 15 will show itself to be the amp for every occasion.
There is a lot of like in the Orange Rocker 15. The controls are a bit hieroglyphic, but you’ll figure out what they do when you play around with dialing in your sound. I like the standby switch. I was fooled by the “Half” and “Full” switches on the top of the amp, because if you want the lowest “Bedroom” sound — you have to turn yourself upside down, and hunt for the switch inside the back of the cabinet, and put it in the “Bedroom” position. Once I figured out that trick, I was able to really dial up all the volumes, and sounds, and keep a reasonable overall volume without losing any subtleties of sound.
Here’s how my guitars played out under the Orange.
Clapton Strat: The “Natural” switch gives you a clean channel. Beware of any miscues in fingering, because the Orange is precise and unforgiving! Every mistake you make comes out of that speaker! The Clapton Strat has battery powered noiseless pickups, and they certainly were quiet and clean. On the “Dirty” setting, the Clapton Strat growled, even using the syrupy neck pickup! Big sound changes abound with a single switch flick.
Les Paul Goldtop: I love my Les Paul with its grouchy P90 pickups. Yes, there’s always a buzzy hum from the guitar pickups, and yes, that hummy buzz is amplified by the Orange on both the “Natural” and “Dirty” channels — no escaping the sound of electricity! — but that’s why you play P90s, right? You want that ancient, classic, bite that anticipates even when you aren’t playing anything. The hum will set you free!
Sadowsky Jimmy Bruno: This Jazz guitar is always incredibly well behaved. The one neck pickup is bright and shiny, and clear, and the Orange “Natural” channel provides a thick, if creamy, sound. Going dirty on the Sadowsky is just fun, and funny. “Misty” as a chord melody in the Dirt channel is an experience we should all share at least once in a lifetime.
My only concern is that there is no headphone jack on the Orange Rocker 15 — so you can’t really crank the amp in your ears without bothering your neighbors — but I understand a phones out jack isn’t something you ordinarily find on a tube amp.
Since my wrist is still a bit wonky, and because I’m not as good a player as those found in online videos, here’s the authentic Orange Rocker 15 video from Orange. Great stuff!
The Orange Rocker 15, in comparison with other tube amps, is pretty small — but it has nothing on the size, weight, heft, and solid state power of the teeny tiny 9″x9″x9″x9″ Henriksen Bud amp! In fact, I cannot get out of my mind the idea of Nibbler’s “power poop” pellets from Futurama — actually being a Henriksen Bud amp in disguise!
Nibbler eats everything ten times bigger than he, and it all gets compressed into a tiny turd that weighs a ton that can then power a spaceship:
As waste, they excrete pellets of dark matter, an extremely heavy material formerly used as a starship fuel. The mechanism by which meat, which is made of ordinary matter, is converted into dark matter inside the Nibblonian advanced digestive tract is unknown, although it can be assumed it may be based on a kind of black hole or pocket dimension which would explain their ability to eat much larger creatures whole and not visibly gain any weight. They are capable of swallowing themselves to enter their digestive systems and get out of a universe.
And that, my friend, is the power of the Henriksen Bud! It looks so cute and tiny — until you pick it up, and play through it — and then you realize you have the whole heft of the history of the world miraculously compressed in your hand in a 9-inch square cabinet!
Don’t be fooled, or charmed, when you first turn on the Bud, and the Henriksen logo begins to glow in front of you — there’s nothing silly or sweet about this Bud for you — there is only power, and wailing, waiting, even at bedroom level volume! You crank it up to crank it down, and the Bud delivers a beautiful, chimey, clarity like nothing else you’ve ever heard in your lifetime.
Here’s the official PR Blurp from Henriksen:
The Bud has two identical pre-amps, each with independent EQ, separate FX loops, independent reverb, full 48 volt phantom power and an input gain control to adjust for different pickups. There’s also an auxiliary input on channel 1 so that whatever you are using it for can be EQ’d separately from your instrument signal. Channel 2 has a bright switch for instruments that need more high end push.
There is a balanced XLR out on the back of the amp which is post-EQ, post-reverb and both channels summed – meaning the signal you’re sending the house (or mixing console, or other amplifier, etc…) is the same signal you’re hearing from the speaker! For individual channel output the FX loop send/returns can be used.
If you need more sound pressure, there is a parallel extension speaker output to make full use of The Bud’s output power. The Bud can drive a 4×10 bass cabinet with no problem at all, and if you plug a 1/4″ dummy plug (headphone adapter plug) into the headphone jack, it defeats the internal speaker but leaves the extension speaker out live. Did we mention there’s a headphone jack?
The possibilities are nearly limitless, all from an amp so tiny you won’t believe your eyes, but you will believe your ears.
The bud has a great, even, predictable, tone that is clear without being creamy. The sound is bright, but not sharp. You can hit the low end without bottoming out. The Bud is truly an engineering marvel.
Here’s how my guitars played through the Bud.
Clapton Strat: The neck pickup was purely delightful. “That Clapton Sound” was right there, without any effort. The bridge pickup was bitey, and crunchy, without being “Dirty.”
Les Paul Goldtop: The P90 hum was still there with the Bud, but the electrical chatter was reduced, processed a bit, perhaps, but there was no loss in power or quality of audible vision.
Sadowsky Jimmy Bruno: Ahhh! This is how The Heavens must sound to The Gods when they sing and dance. The Bud was made for the Jazzy Sadowsky! The sound isn’t just pure, and clean, and beautiful — there is also an exoticness that entices! The marriage of intention, and production, is powerful and sexy. Chord melodies ring, and sustain, and shine. It’s not just glimmer and glitter — but the effervescence of the human soul itself!
The Bud is a winner.
Here are a few niggles.
I love the headphone jack, but I’d love it more if it were on top of the amp to be more accessible; and speaking of accessibility, I’d appreciate the power button to be on top of the amp as well instead of hiding somewhere on the back where you have to feel for it in the dark. Maybe the answer is just to always leave the Henriksen Bud on all day and all night, shining like a firefly in a backwoods swamp. As well, an angle plug won’t fit into Input 2 if Input 1 is already seated with a cable.
Now, when you order a Bud, you will deal directly with owner and SuperGenius Peter Henriksen — and he can’t build enough Buds to fill advanced orders, so pay the man and get in line! Yes, the man himself builds your amps, and takes your orders, and calls you if there’s an issue. Peter is a great guy, and he will take care of you, and compel your every wish!
You can’t beat that sort of direct, personal, service in today’s mechanical and distanced world; so you might pay a bit more for a Henriksen amp, but you’re making an investment in a vision, and supporting a purpose that rings beyond the cabinet.
Here’s a delightful video of the Henriksen Bud in action. You will not be disappointed!
Both the Orange Rocker 15 and the Henriksen Bud are powerful, beautiful, guitar amps that work really great in a tiny bedroom without losing any quality of sound at low volume. If you want a little versatility between “Dirty” and “Natural” channels, and if you have a bit of space to lose, go for the Orange Rocker 15. If you want your mortal soul clearly articulated in the heaviest, tiniest, lightest possible cabinet — go with the Henriksen Bud — for the goodness of humanity.