Next, I plugged the Guild Bluesbird into the slightly misleadingly named “bright” channel. Unlike the “normal” channel, the “bright” input bypasses the single tone knob. Not to say this option doesn’t have its uses, but it has a decidedly darker voicing than the “normal” channel. Perhaps the best way to describe the difference is to consider the “bright” channel a smokier, more vintage vibe—and perhaps it kicks out the jams just a bit more than the “normal” option. If you’re scratching your head at the Danelectro and ES-125 selections, I maintain that both Marshalls and Marshall-inspired amps’ clean tones have been criminally overlooked. Also, if an amp is well built, it won’t hum or buzz excessively when you play unpotted single coils through it.
While the Ugly 18 may not even be on the radar as far as jazz heads are concerned, it won’t lead you astray either. Both the Daneletro and the ES-125 displayed a remarkable amount of woody overtones and acoustic timber to their sound. Historically, I’ve had noise and feedback problems with both of these guitars, especially the ES-125; I’m happy to say that even with the volume dimed, any amp noise was kept to a minimum. O’Boyle put it best, saying, “I hate to admit the the PCB amps, if well designed, are quiet because you don’t have to run ground wires or make a grounding scheme happen; it’s baked into the bread.”
Playing my MIJ, Bill Lawrence-equipped Strat, I was struck by how the bottom remained tight and punchy, remarkable for a low watt-amp with limited EQ options. Kicking things up a notch with an Xotic AC Boost, the Strat sounded phenomenal. Because the Ugly 18 lacks a reverb unit, I doubt it’s going to be anyone’s “go to” amp for Dick Dale-inspired mayhem, or Buck Owens-like twang, but don’t rule this one out as a western swing partner. Last but not least, I just had to crank up the Ugly 18 and plug in a BC Rich Gunslinger Retro with a single Dimarzio Super Distortion. Dime the volume knob, stomp on a Boss DD-6 Digital Delay—you’re in hair metal heaven.
The Final Mojo
The Ugly 18 Head is a very cool package. Even with medium-output humbuckers, the Ugly 18 will break up at a reasonable volume level. If you want a little more crunch, the Ugly 18 responds well to OD pedals. The real surprise, however, was with both the Strat and hollowbodied single-coil guitars. I think in order to get the most out of the amp, you should consider an A/B/Y box, and loop junkies might consider an Xotic X-Blender or similar device. An external reverb or delay may also help round things out a bit, too. Some may be put off by the somewhat limited EQ options, but the Ugly 18 never sounded murky, ill-defined, shrill or unpleasant. I don’t hesitate to recommend the Ugly 18 for anyone looking for a low-watt, British-voiced amp; it should work well for recording, practice, or small club gigs.
You’re looking for a better-than-average, low-watt, Brit-voiced amp.
You absolutely, positively can’t live without reverb and an effects loop.
List (as tested) $799 - Ugly Amps - uglyamps.com