If you're not familiar with this lunchbox/old-tabletop radio-sized guitar amp, this is a Fender Greta model from their "Pawn Shop" series. As far as gear that "backs up" instruments goes, I'm always a fan of smaller is better. I remember playing Tele and lugging around a 2x12 combo amplifier in college and hating it. Nowadays if I'm going to play any electric at all I generally either mic up a small amp or send the signal out of the back of the box to a mixer board directly.
So, this little amp appealed to me immediately. I liked the styling, the simple controls (output/tone), the cheesy 50s colors, and the fact that it can run an outboard speaker if desired. The line out was also quite the feature to have for shows. I bought one second-hand ("new, out of box") and liked it the moment I took it out of the shipping box.
It's certainly not for everyone and certainly wasn't "perfect" for me as-is. The small 4" speaker that's on-board doesn't push a lot of air but it's plenty to practice with or mic up for recording or shows. It's about perfect for playing with unamplified players in its 1w range. I can see this as fitting beautifully in that grey-area of small cafes and bars where a big (or even small, 15w) would start to overwhelm acoustic musicians very quickly.
Right out of the box, though, the preamp channel is very gainy and the overall tonality of the amp is slightly boxy (who would have expected anything else from a 4" cone?). So, if you like an early blues or jazz tone with just a bit of crunch and mid-range warmth, you could only get that by having the gain turned down pretty low and the volume boosted. The factory build is great for guitarists who like distortion and breakup at low volumes for practicing or recording and it does that very well.
I suspected that I could sculpt it a bit more to my liking by playing around with tubes, though, and more on that later...
Here you can get a better sense of the size.
It's lovely to watch the meter flick up as one drives the amp harder.
The amp is built beautifully at its price-break, being two heavy pieces of wood and a thick, bent metal top. It's totally rugged.
Back panel: guitar input, "aux in" (for iPods, CD players, computers, etc.), line out (speaker on, signal out) and external speaker out which will drive a small speaker cabinet quite nicely (I tried it on a 1x8 and 1x12 I had about and really enjoyed the bit of extra volume and sweet warmth on the bottom end).
If you wondered where the logo on the front of the amp had gone... I took it off. I totally hate this vaguely-70s-looking plastic thingie. I'm hoping to track down some sort of cute metal nameplate to stick on the front instead that perhaps matches the aesthetic a bit better.
I mentioned tinkering with the amp a bit earlier. The original tubes in this amp are one each of 12AX7 (driving the preamp) and one 12AT7 (driving the output). Both are inexpensive Chinese tubes.
Here's the interior. Can you believe how nicely this is built? It's simple, straightforward, and all mounted to a nice thick baseplate.
I decided to swap out the Chinese tubes for a pair of 70s/80s RFT (East German) 12AT7 "new, old-stock" equivalents. This meant that the preamp tube (originally a 12AX7) would at max pump gain to 60% or so of the original tube with the new 12AT7 equivalent plugged in.
The result? This amp is just what I want it to be... I can pop the volume all the way up and run my gain at low to medium levels for a good sweet sound with a bit of crunch and fizz. It's also much warmer than it was before and I feel like the output may have increased slightly. It's funny what a small amount of upgrade will do for this box.
Any further tone tweaking can be done on the guitar end and cutting volume on the guitar quickly cleans up tone at the amp... sort of like a Vox.
As a bonus for getting through this review, here's a tiny little 30s/40s amplifier (with 4 1/2" speaker) I spruced up yesterday. It was missing an input jack of any sort and the power cord had been cut. I took it all apart, popped in a new jack, new cord, cleaned it all up, and (surprise, surprise) it fired up right away.
So, I took it all apart, sprayed it this fun green (it was really beat up), and reassembled it again. It now sits on my desk here in the workshop and gracefully renders Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Bob Wills, and a whole host of other older (originally mono) recordings in their best light. I also mix the stereo signal from my laptop down to mono and feed that into it to keep up with On Point and the news while working, too.
Back panel and some nice glowing tubes, all GE. The original owner of this amp scratched off any labels so I have no idea who made it.