1 Watt amps. Remember that craze? Yeah, so do I. I thought they were a bit disappointing too. The thing is, it seems like such a good idea: you love the sound of your big amp running full-tilt at a gig, but it’s just too loud to be practical in the studio, or sociable at home. Enter the 1W amp – often a simplified version of the front end of a big amp, strapped to a push-pull power amp design made from a dual triode preamp valve. You can see the thinking here but, having spoken to Orange Technical Director and all-round amp genius, Adrian Emsley, I get why this concept misses the point.
Adrian is a man who knows a thing or two about shrinking amps in the search for great tone – he completely turned the guitar amplifier industry on its head (no pun intended) with his now legendary Tiny Terror. This pocket-sized 15W powerhouse wiped the floor with its 100W contemporaries and changed the market forever. The reason? You could crank the Tiny Terror up into power amp overdrive (the holy grail of guitar tone) whilst all the big-rig owners had to get their distortion from the preamp – or get thrown out of the venue for making a racket!
And this is the main problem with the 1 Watt amp fad. Sure, you can turn up the volume until the power amp starts clipping, but you’re still clipping a preamp valve and it still sounds like preamp distortion. You’ll have heard the valve-related terms ‘Pentode’ and ‘Triode’ before and, while they’re a bit nerdy to really go into here, they’ll make some great background reading for those who are interested in this very important difference.
The other big downfall of the 1 Watt amp is, while you’re able to crank it up just like your big amp, it’s not your big amp!! Not only are these often-budget offerings lacking the features or character that we love about our gigging rigs, they also mean you have to buy another amp.
This is where Adrian Emsley stepped in with the aptly-named ‘Headroom/Bedroom’ switch, featured on Orange’s acclaimed Rocker 15 head and combo and the none-more-retro-and-cool Tremlord 30. The Bedroom mode drops the Rocker 15’s output all the way to 0.5 Watts (1 Watt on the Tremlord) by manipulating the signal headroom in the phase inverter part of the circuit. This simple control lets you dial in your favourite gigging sounds so quietly you could hear the neighbours banging on the walls…but they aren’t.
Flip to Headroom and it’s back to all-out, stage-filling, trouser-flapping tone. The best part is you’re always making use of those inimitable pentode output valves and still enjoying every feature of your go-to amp, without compromise. In typical fashion, Emsley has managed to tackle quite a complicated question and come up with an answer that just works. You don’t need room for two amps, you just need Headroom and Bedroom.