Hands-On Review:Boutique amp sound at a budget price
Although the Traynor nameplate has been on the scene since the early 1960s, for reasons that remain obscure to me the company's gear has historically failed to gain the props it deserves among vintage amp freaks. Traynor tube amps from the '60s and '70s have always been a hot pawn shop commodity, yet they've somehow failed to garner the mystique that some other highly collectible names have achieved. I believe that with the advent of Traynor's Custom Valve series, that's about to change.
Ranging from its diminutive Custom Valve 20 to the honkin' Custom Valve 80Q, Traynor has nailed the vintage tones we all lust over while incorporating 21st century refinements and features. And perhaps the best news is that they've achieved their aims while bringing the series to market at prices within easy reach of weekend warriors and garage jammers.
Pick of the litter
For the purpose of this review, I've chosen to focus on the Custom Valve 40 (YCV40) given its versatility and middle position in the range. Much of the 40's technology is shared with its larger and smaller siblings while its tonal flexibility covers a gamut that should suit pickers of pretty much every stripe. After giving this combo a thorough workout with a Tele, Strat, and a custom DePaule archtop, I came away with an appreciation of its attributes that was in complete agreement with Guitar Player magazine's decision to grant the YCV40 an Editors' Pick Award.
That honor probably came as no surprise to engineer and session guitarist Ray Himbeault, one of the "Lab Rats" at Yorkville-Traynor's parent company-who is the brains behind the amp. Taking on the 40's design project with the benefit of his working guitarist's perspective, he had a very clear sense of how the ideal small combo should sound and work. And that is clearly evident in the final result.
Getting into the guts
The Custom Valve 40 visually presents a nice balance of retro vibe with business-like functionality. The solid plywood cab is vinyl clad and has chromeplated corners. The top-mounted, uncluttered control panel is slightly recessed keeping the "chicken-beak" knobs out of harm's way. Behind the grille cloth is a perforated steel grille shielding the Celestion 12" driver.
Within the chassis all the electronics are neatly laid out on three PC boards. The most significant components are a pair of 6L6GBs in the power amp circuitry and a trio of 12AX7As in the pre-amp stage. The DC power supply to the pre-amp tubes together with a fully regulated supply in the output stage puts the lid on hum and noise nicely. Traynor's auto-balancing bias supply eliminates the need for matching output tubes and bias tweaking. The chassis also houses a long Accutronics reverb spring that delivers the authentic vintage effect-no sterile simulations here!
The control layout consists of independent three-band EQs, gain and volume on both channels, a channel select and brightness control on Channel 2, and master presence and reverb controls. LEDs keep you posted on the selected channel, boost, power, and standby status. The included footswitch lets you toggle channels and activates the boost.
Getting down to the sound
The first thing you notice upon plugging in to the Custom Valve 40 is that this thing is LOUD! The boost on the lead channel allows you to dial in moderate-gain crunch as well as high-gain lead tone that is reminiscent of some very pricey boutique rectifier amps. The core overdrive sound of the lead channel is creamy and warm, especially with humbuckers, delivering sweet tube distortion that's ideal for roots and blues riffing. Cranking the boost adds plenty of body to the tone without becoming strident.
The clean channel easily gets a soft, saturated sound while maintaining distinct string definition when playing chunky rhythmic stuff. Think Fender Deluxe Reverb with some hot-rodding. The Tele's single coils come across bright and very smooth without activating the bright switch. My archtop's slightly tubby voice notably sharpened up with the bright control switched in. Cranking the clean side introduces a modest amount of grind that is easily moderated by turning down the guitar's volume pot. Blending in the Accutronic added even more dimensionality to the already expansive tone.
For the musician seeking warmth and complexity at the lower output levels demanded in practice, warm up, and bedroom-concert contexts, the Custom Valve 40's rich gain structure kicks in at a surprisingly moderate volume. Adding the boost layers on even more gain without significantly messing with your EQ balance. The amp just gets louder and nastier.
Another 40 flavor?
Since introducing the Custom Valve 40 in 2000, Traynor has been expanding the Custom Valve family both upward and downward with the introduction of combos ranging from 20 watts on up to 80 watts. In keeping with this ever-broadening range of choices, the company is now offering the Custom Valve 40T (YCV40T) equipped with a pair of Celestion Tube 10 ten-inch speakers. This configuration delivers even more punch for the player wanting the powerful mid-range response that a 2 x 10 combo delivers.
Factoring in Traynor's standard two-year (even if you break it) warranty coupled with pricing that blows the rest of the tube combo market out of the water, the Custom Valve series represents a brilliant balance of performance and affordability.
Features & Specs