Few amplifier companies around today
can claim the history and pedigree of
Laney Amplification. They’ve been around
since 1967 under the direction of Lyndon
Laney, and their amps have produced a
significant share of the most iconic tones in
rock, pop, and metal, from Tony Iommi’s
Black Sabbath crunch to the jangle of Echo
and the Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant.
But while Laneys are loved by players
of every stripe, they are most synonymous
with heavy sounds and players. And the
Ironheart, a 120-watt beast of an amp that’s
dedicated to pushing the heavy overdrive
envelope, is about as heavy as they come.
I Am Iron Man
The Ironheart is one intimidating-looking
customer. It feels stalwart and sturdy, and
handles on the top make it easier to lug the
head around and place on top of a cabinet.
The Ironheart feels smooth and precise
too—knobs turn with a reassuring resistance
and switches click with a solid, satisfying
snap. It looks pretty cool too: Flipping on
the power activates an internal array of red
LEDs that illuminate the interior of the
chassis with a hellfire glow. The amp’s alltube
complement is easily visible through
its metal grating, which reveals four 12AX7
preamp tubes and four 6L6 power tubes.
The Ironheart’s striking appearance suggests
a get-down-to-business approach. So
do the control sets, which are all about
delivering tweakability that will satisfy the
most serious tone obsessives. There are
three channels to work with, though the
clean and rhythm channel share a single
control set. Both control sets have dedicated
EQ knobs that double as push-pull
frequency-shift switches. Pulling on the bass
knobs expands the lows considerably, and
performing the same action on the mid and
treble knobs can tighten up the tone and
round off the highs, respectively.
Channel 1 doubles as the clean and
low-gain rhythm channel, and has separate
controls for setting volume level and preamp
gain. When the rhythm mode is activated,
the rhythm gain and rhythm volume
controls come into play, determining the
amount of preamp overdrive and volume
level. Switching back to the clean mode
effectively removes those two controls from
the circuit and brings in the clean volume
control, which acts very much like a nonmaster
volume control on a vintage highwattage
amp. If you want to add a little kick
to your signal before the EQ processes it,
there’s a variable control for pre-boost that
can be flipped on to notch up the volume.
Four more controls (dynamics, tone,
watts, and reverb) let the player determine
the overall response, volume, and feel of
the amp before the signal hits the speakers.
The dynamics knob affects the tightness or
looseness of the lows, and the tone knob
resembles a typical presence control, delivering
brighter, sharper sounds the more you
crank it clockwise. Watts enables you to
drop the Ironheart down to less that a single
watt, which is great for players looking to get
natural, biting power-amp overdrive without
having to endure face-ripping volume levels.
The amp’s built-in digital reverb offers one
knob that adds more or less of the effect.
The Ironheart’s back panel is pretty sparse.
There’s a serial effects loop with a switch to
either bypass it, or set it at 0 dB or -10 dB
level. The amp can also be easily converted to
EL34s by replacing the output tube complement
and flipping the bias switch on the back
panel. Channel switching, activation of reverb
and pre-boost, and alternating between the
clean and rhythm modes on channel 1 are all
controlled via a 4-button footswitch that connects
to a 5-pin DIN jack. And if you forget
the footswitch at home, there are also two 1/4"
jacks for connecting conventional switches that
cover everything the supplied one does.
Laney offers both 2x12 and 4x12 cabs
to handle the Ironheart’s output. Both the
IRT212 and IRT412—which is used for
this review—are loaded with custom Laney
12" speakers, each rated to 80 watts. At
only a little over 65 pounds, the IRT412 is
surprisingly light. That might seem like a
hefty weight to those who regularly gig with
small combos, but in the world of stacks, it
almost ranks as a featherweight.
Deaf Forever to the Battle’s Din
On one hand, the Ironheart is designed to
deliver molten metal tones, and boy, does it
deliver on that count. While its second channel
roars and bellows like a smoldering beast,
the real surprise here is the amp’s excellent
clean channel, which delivers a wide range of
crystal-clear tones with a hi-fi edge.
With the tone controls set flat and the
reverb up about halfway, open chords I
played on a Telecaster sounded full and
lush, with an extremely tight low end.
The bass and treble controls both have
huge ranges in clean mode, and you can
significantly reshape your sound using just
these two controls. My attempts to loosen
up the lows by adjusting the dynamics and
the mid knobs had only a nominal effect.
But each of the control’s push-pull features
had a pronounced effect on the signal. You
can get a lot more pop and cut by pulling
out the treble knob, and that’s sweet for
twangy country riffs. The clean channel is
also responsive to picking dynamics, and
even the hardest picking is never excessively
The channel’s rhythm mode is perfect
for fat ’70s-inspired riffing, though the
overdrive voice can seem congested if you
pile on too much gain. Conservative use of
preamp gain will give you a saturated edge
with less harmonic clutter.
The lead channel roars, to say the least.
Put a Les Paul with hot humbuckers in
front of this channel and you can rage like
a warlord and his army on a hellish rampage.
There’s a nearly ridiculous amount
of preamp gain on tap—and at times it
can seem like too much. You hit the sweet
spot for heaviness with the gain control set
around 11 o’clock and the master at about
one o’clock (at least for humbuckers), and
beyond that increases in gain will clutter
things up fast. In general, the lead channel
has a very serrated high end and gutpunching
midrange that rides over a dark,
powerful low end and gives individual notes
the weight of a wrecking ball.
As with the clean channel, the EQ controls
give you a lot of room to work with the lows
and highs, but they affect the mids considerably
less. There’s not much of a mid bump
until you set the knob in the three o’clock
range—a pretty aggressive setting. But that
doesn’t mean the Ironheart’s lead channel is
limited in terms of tone shaping. And if you’re
willing to dive into the amp’s capabilities with
both feet, you’ll discover just how much variation
you can get using the channel’s master
volume in tandem with the preamp gain,
working the differences between the push-pull
voices of the EQ knobs, and adjusting wattage
to add more sag and saturation.
Though the Ironheart is a worthy heir to
Laney’s heavy reputation, its also full of surprises.
The amp’s stellar clean channel was, at
times, a revelation—especially considering that
the amp was built for metal mayhem. That
capability alone is a feather in Laney’s cap that
sets the Ironheart apart from 100-plus-watt
monsters with high-gain proclivities. There
may be big amps with more gain, but few are
as capable of such a beautifully wide range
of tones. And for heavy players with more
exploratory tastes and musical visions broader
than having more gain than the next guy, the
Ironheart has the goods to take you to headbanging
Valhalla and calmer climes beyond.