I have to admit when I first saw the ads for the Bugera 333XL – a 3-channel, 120- watt, all-tube head – and heard the price point, I assumed they were targeted for a younger, less experienced crowd on a budget. But while I might have easily dismissed the line any other time, the frenzied chatter emanating from guitar shows and forums persuaded me to look a little deeper. The question itself was intriguing: can you find kickass “boutique tone” on a budget? Some said yes, some said no; nearly all of them said it at the top of their lungs. Being the high-gain amp snob I am, I decided this amp deserved a run in the Review Chamber, if for nothing else than to prove “boutique” exists only with a price tag.
Rather than run the typical review test, I decided to perform my own study over a three-month period. We’d rock it on three platforms: in the studio, live and in rehearsal – in other words, the ones that count.
The Bugera arrived at my studio, and my tech and I had the chance to open the boxes together. The sweet-looking chrome grill, the elegant script logo and the various appointments seen in the ads screamed “rock n’ roll” – but once the 333XL was in the flesh, it screamed “imported plastic.” I remember it clearly; my tech turned to me and said, “You can’t be serious.” It was a sobering moment, as we were well prepared with a nice selection of high-gain amps ranging in price from $1800-$4400; the Bugera simply did not fit in. But that would be my first lesson in judging by the cover.
To give the 333XL what we thought would be a fighting chance, we skipped the Bugera 4x12 and plugged into a seventies straight Marshall cab loaded with Greenbacks. As we prepared to lay down some basic rhythm tracks, I fired up the Crunch channel and tweaked a few knobs – my tech and I immediately turned to each other with the same look of disbelief on our faces, followed by a couple of big smiles. The Crunch channel had plenty of spank and raunch, yet it remained smooth and not overly compressed. It felt like the love child of a hot-rodded Marshall with its own unique voicing (not as “quacky” in the upper mids) and a sweet-sounding, old school Soldano SLO100. You read that right.
The lead channel was, in a word, bitchin’. It was extremely fluid and had a crushingly tight low-end. The remarkable thing about the 333XL is that it manages to strike a nice balance in terms of EQ, feel, response and tone. It’s tight as hell with plenty of modern low-end, while at the same time remaining open and dimensional. While this is definitely a modern creation, there are undertones of something from the seventies at the verge of blowing up – think Eddie with everything on 10 meets modern high-gain. As far as the mids go, you can scoop the hell out of them or you can Schenker ‘em right up; this amp is happy in both camps.
All three channels feature independent Volume, Gain, Bass, Mid and Treble controls, but the Crunch and Lead channels feature the XL switch, which not only gives you a boost in the low-end but also functions as a noise gate – I essentially used it as a sweet switch to give the amp a bit of a 6L6 vibe. As a side note, the 333XL can accommodate 6L6 tubes (it ships with EL34s and four 12AX7s) with its easily accessible bias control.
At the end of our session the 333XL made it to tape and some of the others did not. And yes, I still call it a record.
In Rehearsal & Onstage
I typically run a big rig in rehearsal; two heads, two 4x12 cabs and the occasional touch of detuning or pitch shifting to get that big, wide, stereo image. With all the bigness, it’s hard to find an amp that will get your rocks off in a single headcab- guitar format. Once again, both the Crunch and Lead channels came through in a pinch. The Bugera is a very responsive amp, and not noisy by any means, just kind of… real. If things do get a bit too noisy, there’s the built-in, impressively effective Noise Gate knob right on the front panel, but at the end of the day I didn’t need it. There’s also a Master Presence control that helps shape the sound to taste on all channels.
"Rather than run the typical review test, I decided to perform my own study over a three-month period. We'd rock it on three platforms: in the studio, live and in rehearsal — in other words, the ones that count."
As for the clean channel, if you’re expecting me to say it sounds like a blackface Bassman, it ain’t gonna happen. That being said, when you rock n’ roll at loud volumes, it’s really hard to find a clean channel that is wide enough to be heard over the band without blistering high-end or offensive frequencies – Bugera has pulled it off here without too much extra. The Clean channel definitely walks the line; it’s not generic and it’s not abounding with personality, but damn, you can feel it and hear it in a real rehearsal, making this more than just a one-trick pony.
During rehearsal, I took the occasion to plug in the accompanying 4x12 cab. It’s solidly constructed, and even the 50- watt speakers are a proprietary design; I was surprised to find that the parent company (Berhinger) owns the forest that grows the trees that are felled to make the paper that becomes the cones of the speakers – talk about a vertical organization. Rated at 200 watts, it will hold its own with many on the market, and at the price, it’s a real value.
By this point, I was ready to say that the 333XL had proven itself, but I wanted to make sure it could jump onstage and do its thing. The show went smoothly and the amp performed well under pressure. The FOH engineer told me that it cut through the mix with minimal EQ tweaking and was generally impressed.
For those still convinced that this amp could not sound this good for the price, consider that this amp is distributed by a large company doing their manufacturing overseas; when production is happening on such a large scale, the cost for components drops substantially, meaning that a great tone circuit can be had for the price of a sandwich. Expect more of this in the future. Sure, the aesthetics are a little weak, but they costs have to come down somewhere. If you’re looking for posh tolex options with hand-cut, seamless corners and top-shelf knobs, buy a limited production, made-in-the-USA machine (and spend $2000 more).
I have had no problems with reliability at this point. I have had a chance to speak and meet with the folks at Bugera, and although I work for a company that buys ink by the barrel, my gut tells me they are hungry to take care of their customers.
The Final Mojo
After living with the Bugera for an extended period, I’ve gotta say it offers great tone without coming remotely close to breaking the bank. If you’re just starting out and the $3000 amps are out of reach, the 333XL is clearly a no-brainer. Likewise, if you’re a $3000 high-gain amp guy, go buy this head tomorrow. It might just kick your ass down the street, and if it doesn’t, you’ll easily be able to unload it on someone who digs it.
you want metal tones at a basement bargain price
you’re obsessed with the status quo
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MSRP: (head) $879.99 (cab) $369.99- Bugera Amps - buerga-amps.com