Friedman BE-50 Deluxe Review
Fifty watts of stunning Marshall-flavored versatility that moves from clean to screaming.
Sample played using a Nik Huber Krautster II, bridge pickup; into a 4x12 cab emulation with Celestion Greenbacks via Universal Audio OX Box.
0:00 – Rhythm channel: bright switch, from off, to low-bright, to high-bright.
0:21 – BE Channel
0:28 – HBE Channel
0:50 – Gain Structure Switch: switched to low, back to BE channel
0:56 – …to medium
1:03 – …to high
1:08 – Fat switch “on”
1:23 – Back to HBE channel
1:49 – SAT switch engages
2:00 – HBE Master Volume adjusted upwards to compensate
Outstanding build quality. Ridiculously good rock and clean tones, with superb versatility.
Some players might enjoy a master volume on the clean channel, and I’d like to see external bias points for easy EL34 swaps—although both exclusions are conscious and valid design choices.
Friedman BE-50 Deluxe
Ease of Use:
Rock aficionados have heaped boatloads of acclaim upon Dave Friedman’s BE preamp topology—praised for years as one of the most delectable “modified-Marshall-style” lead channels around. This Marshall model 2203-derived circuit has been reconfigured into several Friedman models over the years, but it has typically appeared in beastly 100-watt iterations like the BE-100. The BE-50 Deluxe changes all that by packaging three distinct channels into a versatile 50-watt head that Friedman calls “my most flexible design yet.”
Knobs a Poppin’
It’s true: There are a lot of knobs on this thing. But approach the 3-channel design one step at a time, and it makes sense pretty quickly. There are two independent EQ stages: one for the clean channel, and one shared by the two lead channels. Each has bass, middle and treble controls. While the clean channel has a single volume control, the two lead channels—the standard BE channel and high-gain HBE—each have dedicated gain and master controls. All share a trio of output-stage controls labeled presence, response (negative-feedback-loop level), and thump (a resonance or deep control). The two-button footswitch (included) allows selection between the clean and lead blocks and the lead channel’s two gain levels (HBE is labeled “boost” on the footswitch).
The clean channel’s preamp is lifted from Friedman’s Buxom Betty, a non-master-volume amp that delivers bold, sparkling, American-meets-British clean tones that get a little crunchy when you push it hard. True to form, there’s no master volume on the BE-50’s clean channel, either, though it does have a 3-way bright switch to tailor the sparkle. A full-/half-power switch on the back panel means the two EL34 tubes can be run in pentode/full-power mode or in triode mode for a more club-friendly 25 watts. Four 12AX7s drive the preamp and phase-inverter.
The back panel is also home to the dual speaker outputs and a rotary selector for 4, 8, or 16 ohms. There’s send and return jacks with a return level control and bypass switch for the buffered effects loop, a TRS input for the two-button footswitch, a saturation (SAT) switch, and a 3-way gain structure switch. The last of these is a feature many players enjoy on Friedman’s Mini Dirty Shirley, allowing three base gain levels on the BE and HBE settings (think ’80s, vintage, modern), while the SAT switch noticeably increases harmonic saturation in those two channels when engaged. (It also drops the output level slightly—a factor that’s inherent to the design.) There’s also a “fat” switch on the front that adds even more lower-mid girth to the two lead channels, as desired.
Inside you see the handwired goodness we’ve come to expect from Friedman. As the knob count suggests, there’s a lot going on under the hood. But the layout is elegantly arrayed on a long, rugged turret board that bristles with high-quality components: U.S.-made Synergy “Royal Mustard” signal capacitors, ARS electrolytic caps, a mix of carbon-comp and carbon-film resistors, and other esoteric bits. On the other side of the box reside three U.S.-made Heyboer transformers. The only things missing from my perspective are external bias check and adjustment points to make output tube swaps a little easier—something many makers offer on amps around this price. The good news is that the BE-50 Deluxe still weighs a very manageable 30 1/2 pounds.
I tested the Freidman with a Gibson 1958 Les Paul reissue, a Novo Serus J with P-90s, and a ’94 PRS CE 22, through both a Port City 2x12 cab with Eminence CV-75 speakers and a Universal Audio OX Box for recording direct to Pro Tools. It floored me at every turn. This amp is insanely flexible. It sounds good with every stomp of the channel-selector switch, knob twist, or flick of a voicing switch. And if you can’t find the tone you need for classic rock, alt, grunge, blues-rock, or vintage metal sounds, you probably aren’t really looking—or listening. What’s more, the two lead modes are just as good at low-gain tones as scorching high-gain sounds.
The tone permutations offered by the feature set are almost exhausting to contemplate. Let’s just say there are a ridiculous number of voices available here. The presence control is focused and exponentially widens the tone possibilities. Response takes core tones from refined to raw. Thump does exactly what the name implies to low-end output. You might end up asking, “How did I ever live without these features?” And that’s before you discover that the EQ controls have significantly more range than most Marshall-inspired T/M/B stages. Some players are likely to critique the BE-50 Deluxe as too busy. To them, I suggest spending a little time finding your favorite sounds, set them, and forget them.
The clean channel sounds great and is extremely clean. With no master volume, it only breaks up when the volume is pushed way past 2 or 3 o’clock. But it’s simultaneously bold, thick and articulate throughout that range. It makes an outstanding pedal platform, and was utterly delectable with overdrive pedals.
The half-power setting is a little softer and browner in its response, as most triode modes are, but it’s much less so than on most other amps I’ve tried. And I rarely felt that the tone suffered. Full power is stouter, crisper, and a little more immediate. But if you need to dial down the decibels to keep a sound guy happy in a smaller club, you’ll still be smiling, believe me.
The BE-50 Deluxe is an impressive addition to the Friedman lineup. It might even live up to Dave’s claim that it’s “the best amp I’ve ever made,” which is really saying something. Frankly, my first spin with this amp left me a little dizzy with the options, and the discovery of a great sound around every corner. Once I recovered and discovered a few favorite go-to settings, I was convinced this is an amp to be reckoned with, and one you have to try out if the budget and the format fit your needs.
Watch the Review Demo: