In the past 44 years, Orange Amplification has built some of the most iconic and prized amplifiers in the world. When they celebrated their 40th anniversary four years ago, Orange introduced the anniversary OR50—a limited edition of 50 heads based on the legendary Pics Only amp that has since become one of the most sought-after products in the company’s history. Now, the ensuing clamor has driven Orange to reissue the amp as a production model, the new OR50H. The result is one of the most versatile Oranges ever—an amp that delivers a wide range of sounds in addition to the muscle and headroom typically associated with the brand.
An Orange by Any Other Name
While the original OR50 amps were billed as anniversary models, they were more tribute models than exact reissues. Orange’s lead amp designer Adrian Emsley used the 1972 OR80 model—one of the first amps designed and released exclusively by Orange after parting ways with the legendary Mat Mathias (of Matamp fame)— as an inspiration for the anniversary heads. The OR80 and larger OR120 helped establish what would become known as the Orange sound—thick tonality and a beefy, expansive crunch.
The build of the new OR50H is classically Orange, complete with beveled edges along the cabinet, dual roll bars, and pictographs to indicate the function of each control. The only major cosmetic difference between it and the original OR50 heads is that it has a silkscreened metal faceplate instead of a Plexiglas plate.
At the heart of the amp is a simple single-channel circuit, fueled by a trio of 12AX7 preamp tubes and a pair of EL34 power tubes. The extra 12AX7 adds a preamp gain stage for more aggressive and saturated tones.
The control layout is pretty standard fare, save for Orange’s signature and delightfully cryptic pictogram layout. There are knobs for the 3-band EQ, preamp drive, and master volume. But the really interesting component here is the HF drive control—marked with a fist— that adjusts presence and also injects the tone with power amp gain as you crank it clockwise. If you’re a true single-channel purist, the master volume control can be removed from the circuit via a singlebutton footswitch that plugs into a jack on the front panel.
Orange amps are popularly regarded as a rocker’s means for reaching gained-out bliss. The truth is that the OR50H has much more range than that. It dished out crisp country snap, mellow jazz vibes, and searing blues tones—along with Orange’s signature thick and scorching gain—when I called for it.
Connecting the head to an Emperor 4x12 loaded with Weber C1265 speakers, hooking up a Telecaster, and disengaging the amp’s master volume is the ticket to beautiful, gut-punching clean tones. Offering plenty of sparkle and fat, wide lows, this is a combination that works well for fingerpicked arpeggios. The EQ controls are effective for adding or subtracting harmonic content in their respective frequency ranges—particularly the treble control, which is, delightfully, neither harsh nor abrasive.
The HF drive control is very effective for dialing in a solid, fundamental tone. And by keeping the EQ controls at noon, I was able to coax snappy Jerry Reed sounds, buttery jazz rhythms, and balanced- but-toothy Jimmy Page-esque jangle by moving the control through its range. The impressive clean headroom with master volume disengaged is another key to the OR50H’s range. You can keep this amp clean at volumes that border on ludicrous. I got breakup right around 1 o’clock on the HF drive control, but it cleaned up beautifully when I rolled the Tele’s volume knob off a tad.
With the master volume kicked in, the OR50H is a very different machine. The voicing takes on a more compressed nature, and the lows become a little punchier. The combination of the drive knob set at noon and the HF drive at around 3 o’clock yields glorious blues leads with impressive, heaving low-end sustain. The signal won’t clean up as readily at these settings and you can lose a little harmonic depth, though the amp’s EQ controls are rangy enough to compensate in most cases.
With a Les Paul out front and the preamp gain up to around 2 o’clock, the OR50H becomes a great tool for heavy, old-school British riffage. The tone is classic Orange at these settings—blistering and boisterous mids, snarling highs, and a cavernous low end—with a slightly modern edge to the gain voicing. With humbuckers in the mix, turning up the HF drive beyond 3 o’clock sludges up the tone a bit and you lose a little definition. Dialing it back between 2 and 3 o’clock keeps the tone balanced and prevents the signature Orange fuzzy top end from overpowering the rest of the spectrum.
There are, of course, great tones to be found at more extreme gain levels. With the gain control at 4 o’clock and the master volume cranked, the amp is perfect for modern stoner rock, and it will tickle anyone with a passion for Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin, and older Melvins. I even found a really cool, fuzzed-out tone with the gain maxed and the bridge pickup’s tone knob lowered all the way. Imagine Marc Bolan’s juicy rhythm on the T. Rex classic “Baby Boomerang” with a little more saturation and thickness.
The OR50H walks the line between oldschool heritage and modern amp tone beautifully, perhaps because the original incarnation of this amp helped draw that line in the first place. The single-channel layout keeps things simple and straightforward, and the switchable master volume gives the amp clean headroom that will probably surprise guitarists who associate the Orange name with thick overdrive—though there’s plenty of that when the master volume is introduced to the circuit. The OR50H is a great amp that can wear a lot of different hats. But for die-hard fans of classic and modern Orange tone who weren’t lucky enough to score an original anniversary head, this one is a must-try.