Giveaways January 2015

January 15
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Ugly Amps Ugly 18 Head Review

Ugly Amps Ugly 18
Hey, are you Brit curious? Leave the radio on long enough and it’s just a matter of time before the characteristic “brang” and “snarl” of classic EL84-based Brit amps comes crashing through the speakers. Of course, the plexi is best known for a decidedly Brit brand of rock, but the Ugly 18 is far from being a “one-trick pony.” Owner Steve O’Boyle is quick to point out that “these amps are not ‘clones’ of anything; they are ‘inspired’ perhaps in the nature of the topology, but the circuits have evolved over time and through the requests of some of my better clients.” For starters, Ugly Amps makes two versions of the Ugly 18 head, one using PCB (list $799), and a handwired version ($1099), which can be custom voiced at no additional cost. Like a lot of plexi-derived amps, the Ugly 18 is a non-master volume amp that uses a dual 12AX7 and EL84 format, two input options and, like other plexi-inspired amps, it also lacks a reverb tank and effects loop. That said, the addition of a standby switch came as a welcome surprise.

U-G-L-Y You Ain’t Got No Alibi
O’Boyle says that the name Ugly “started as a joke, but now it has become fun to keep it anyway; it’s easy to remember with so many people using last names…” While the name might be a joke, the amp isn’t. Steve has a degree in electronics, and his ten years of amp work has paid off in one cool little amp. Despite its size (15-1/2” x 9-3/4” x 11”) and its low-watt rating, the Ugly 18 packs quite a punch. Don’t let the minimalist controls put you off, because there’s more than meets the eye. The Ugly 18 sports two inputs on the front, “normal” and “bright,” one Volume knob for each input jack, and a single Tone knob. Spinning the Ugly 18 around reveals both a 4- and 8-ohm output jack. It should be noted, too, that off the speaker jack there is a voltage divider, so you can capture the amp’s sound for recording or to send to a board. O’Boyle also provides a quick word of caution: “you still have to have the speaker connected with this type; it is not a preamp out, it is the whole amp... just as with an L-Pad.”

Although the Ugly 18 uses a PCB construction, Steve O’Boyle says that there is a big misconception concerning PCB-based amps: “I would say there’s a tone myth, there are pros and cons to every method of construction; if well designed with good components PCB amps can sound great. There are issues with service work, but it depends who does the work.”

Into the Fire
In order to give the Ugly 18 Head a thorough testing, I press-ganged several of my workhorse guitars into service: a Michael Dolan Esquire, a late-nineties Guild Bluesbird, and then later I called in the reserves, a MIJ Strat with Bill Lawrence pickups, a late-fifties Danelectro U1 and Gibson ES-125. Setting the Ugly 18 volume and tone both at 12 o’clock, I plugged in the Dolan Esquire and let it rip. Fans of Brit rock will completely dig the Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds or early Led Zep tones that radiated out of the Tone Tubby 1x12 deep cabinet. Chimey but punchy, ballsy yet articulate, the Ugly 18 is a great example of why low-watt EL84 based amps have developed a cult following.