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Not to make light of what can be a crippling emotional issue, but I have been known to suffer from a very mild form of agoraphobia, which, when translated from the word’s Greek roots, means “fear of the marketplace.” For me, it means I have an out for not wanting to do grocery shopping. It also means some days the last thing I want to do is call people.
I was in the midst of one of those days when I initially began reviewing the Port City Dual Fifty. I did my typical number: plug in, nominally twiddle the knobs and expect the sound of angels singing. Even more specifically, when I didn’t hear said angels, I cranked it – like you’re supposed to with a tube amp, right? And again, I was met not by the song of angels but more of what I hadn’t dug before.
The following day, after getting myself together emotionally, I contacted Daniel Klein at Port City Amplification and approached the amp again. Armed with his suggestions, I got it. It being, firstly, that the Dual Fifty is loud. Its Normal channel provides metric tons of headroom, and the Thick channel needs to be cranked to window-pane-rattling levels to break up. Secondly, in my relentless pursuit of aging, I realized the last time I played (for any length of time, at least) through an amp rated at anything more than 30 watts or so was early on during Bush’s first go-round, and then only when my silverface Deluxe wasn’t loud enough for a particular venue – which wasn’t very often.
The Normal channel rocks as much headroom as you could possibly want, but does so with a sweet, bell-like tone – warmer and more articulate than a typical blackface circuit. In a word, this amp, and more specifically the Normal channel, is very uptown. Sure, it breaks up, but not like a Fender or a Marshall, instead continuing to get warmer and more three-dimensional with just a dusting of dirt on top as the Volume knob moves clockwise. Mind you, this is all via the Normal channel, which provides two inputs (the second with a 3dB drop), Bright switch, Volume, Treble and Bass.
The Race is On
The nuts and bolts of the Dual Fifty include two 6L6s, three 12AX7As and one 12AT7 up front, with a GZ34 tube rectifier rounding out the package. In addition to the Normal channel, the Dual Fifty features a Thick channel, voiced along the lines of a low-wattage British amp – a tall order for 6L6s, but this amp clears that hurdle unscathed. The Thick channel’s layout mirrors the Normal channel with two inputs, the second again padded 3dB, a Deep bass-boost switch followed by Volume, Treble and Bass controls. This is the caveman, turn-it-up-and-rock channel, although keeping the volume at a reasonable level provided inspiring jazz tones.
The idea behind the Wave line of cabinets involves using 45 degree sound deflecting panels, one up top, the other down below, that, in conjunction with the port that runs across the bottom of the cabinet, are intended to make the cabinet more efficient and able to reproduce everything the amp generates. It is also intended to make the rig “responsive and louder,” so much so that “responsive and louder” is underlined in the company’s literature.
The Dual Fifty mated well with everything from Strats to Les Pauls, with my faithful Nocaster sounding particularly glorious through the Normal channel. Starting with the Bright switch off, setting the Volume at 2 o’clock, rolling the Treble up to around 1 o’clock and leaving the Bass at noon offered up some really flexible, flavorful clean tones. Country-ish tones were available on the bridge pickup, but think more along the lines of Vince Gill, not Don Rich. The depth of the amp’s timbre allowed the middle position on the Nocaster to get scarily close to the archetypal in-between Strat tone. The neck pickup sounded phenomenal for jazz, blues or anything else you would want to throw at it.
The depth of this amp’s clean tones becomes apparent when playing fingerstyle on a Strat, although the Nocaster sounded amazing sans pick as well. The dynamic nuance provided is almost frightening, with the Dual Fifty not offering up much to hide behind, the amplifier equivalent of running through your shortcomings with your therapist. A Strat in the aforementioned in-between position achieved a dead-on impersonation of Mark Knopfler’s late ‘70s tone, with the same level of nuance available for the right picker.
To check out the Thick channel, Daniel suggested grabbing something with humbuckers in it, engaging the Deep switch, and turning the Volume, Treble and Bass controls all up to around 4 o’clock. Doing so resulted in a nice, dry Brit-flavored crunch. For some reason the word “papery” keeps coming up, but meant as an accolade. Pulling the Volume back down to noon, the Treble around 2 o’clock and setting the Bass at 1 o’clock gave up a warm, woody jazz tone that sounded really uptown with a flatwound-strung Epiphone Emperor.
A big part of this rig’s tone is in Port City’s 1x12 Wave cabinet and its unique design. The idea behind the Wave line of cabinets involves using 45 degree sound deflecting panels, one up top, the other down below, that, in conjunction with the port that runs across the bottom of the cabinet, are intended to make the cabinet more efficient and able to reproduce everything the amp generates. It is also intended to make the rig “responsive and louder,” so much so that “responsive and louder” is underlined in the company’s literature.
So does it work? Yeah. It gave the Dual Fifty ample bass response, along with a rabbit-like dynamic response more along the lines of a 4x12, miles away from a typical 1x12 design. In fact, I reckon it was the main reason the volume produced by the Dual Fifty seemed all out of whack with regards to its 50-watt power rating. I went into this thinking I had a Bassman-like circuit on my hands and ended up with an amp that could hold its own with a Twin, both volume and headroom-wise. In all honesty, this amp moved a serious amount of air, certainly more than would typically be expected from a 6L6-powered 50-watter.
The Final Mojo
The Dual Fifty along with the 1x12 Wave cabinet would be the perfect rig for a player looking for a clean, warm and deep rig, handling jazz, country and uptown blues and rock tones with ease. If your amp needs encompass subtle nuance and an amazing clean tone, be sure to audition the Port City Dual Fifty. And if you’re in need of a speaker cabinet for an existing rig, make sure to check out the Wave series.
Port City Amps
Head MSRP $1599
1x12 Unloaded Cab MSRP $400
1x12 Loaded Cab MSRP $525
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