Laney GH50R-212 Review
Classic Laney high-gain sounds become impressively configurable in this potent new 2-channel combo.
Clip 2: Ch. 2, Drive At 2 O'clock
Clip 3: Ch.2, Drive 4
Clip 4: Ch.2, Max Output, Medium Drive
Laney’s two-channel GHR amps are built on a philosophy that’s become less obvious in the modern stompbox era: that the circuit of an amp alone—when designed right—can offer as many tone colors as 10 overdrive pedals. But amps like the GH50R-212—which is based on a remarkably interactive control set—may once again make that path very appealing.
Hefty Build, Heavy Features
At just under 70 pounds, the GH50R is a few pounds heavier than a Twin Reverb, but carting it around is made a bit easier by the handles recessed into its two top corners. The entire package looks very sharp in its oxblood-and-black vinyl and mirrored faceplate. Inside, four 12AX7s drive the preamp while two EL34s push a pair of Celestion Vintage 30s.
Overall the GH50R has a basically British accent, and just about any player used to a Boogie or a modern high-gain Marshall can probably leap into sorting out its nine-knob front panel with confidence. That said, the sensitivity with which the GH50R’s controls interact does demand a little more concentration during the get-to-know-you phase.
Channel 1 will feel familiar to anyone accustomed to a master-volume amp, and the drive knob—which pulls out to yield brighter tones—works with the master output control in a more-or-less conventional master volume relationship. Channel 2 has a drive control, too, sans the bright function, but it also has a volume knob that lets you dial in how much of the preamp sound hits the output section. This is key to the amp’s versatility, as we’ll see.
The 3-band EQ serves both channels, and its mid knob pulls out to emphasize a tighter, more scooped profile. Additionally, there’s a master tone control that feels and functions a lot like a guitar tone pot. Both channels share a Laney-designed digital reverb circuit whose depth control features yet another pull function to tailor the ambient response.
The back of the GH50R reveals yet more sound-sculpting tools: There’s an effects loop with variable gain, an auxiliary input, a DI output (with cabinet emulation and ground lift), a jack for the included two-button footswitch (which controls reverb and channel selection), and five jacks accommodating a multitude of speaker-output options ranging from one 4-ohm cab to one or two 8- or 16-ohm cabs.
If you’re in search of clean tones, the GH50R’s first channel is your best bet. Maxing the master output yields a hearty bellow that you can shape and saturate with the drive control. Even with a Gibson Les Paul and the drive around 9 o’clock, you perceive miles of headroom—it’s very loud before you’re even halfway to total saturation. Roll down the amp’s master tone a hair at these settings, and the output takes on some of the characteristics of a clean Fender—though the EL34s are almost always hotter in the midrange than a typical 6L6 circuit. In this case, the Laney’s British-ness is a cool, sparkling counterpoint to the Les Paul’s beefy output—especially when activating channel 1’s drive knob. This endows the output with a snappy top-end response that accentuates the picking dynamics humbuckers sometimes obscure.
But channel 2 is where you can really start shaping the relationship between preamp and output gain. In short, the range of achievable tube saturation is huge. Pushing the drive heats up the preamp section, and with the master output at noon and single-coil pickups driving the signal, breakup starts at around 10 o’clock. Bring up the master output, and individual notes start to bloom, low-end fills out, sustain increases, and the compression gets more intense and squishy.
If you want vintage-rock bite, you need to hit the GH50R’s power amp hard, and the channel volume enables you to throttle the EL34s and open up the output section without destroying your hearing. Better still, the amp remains very dimensional and deep sounding with the output dimed. From there the possibilities are many. I found a great, fuzz-like distortion with drive around 4 o’clock and master output around 10 o’clock, and I could tailor it to guitars with different EQ profiles using the push-pull mid control. Further, turning up the master output summons a heavier bottom end with an almost Big Muff-like boominess that’s perfect for stoner-metal rhythms. In all, the huge range of drive on tap makes switching between the two channels an exhilarating experience. Setting up channel 2 with a healthy dose of distortion and sustain while leaving channel 1 clean opens up a world of dramatic loud-then-quiet dynamic possibilities—particularly when you spice up the clean tones with ample effects in the loop.
Most of the effects I ran through the Laney worked very well through the front end, although modulation and time-based pedals sounded best through the effects loop—a very welcome addition, given the copious amounts of preamp saturation that could otherwise adversely affect their signals. The GH50R’s reverb sounds nice and is fairly configurable, with a basic character somewhere between a room and hall reverb. With the knob pushed in, the effect sits quite a bit lower in the mix, adding just an extra shade to your notes. Pulling it out tacks on a longer tail and darkens the voice a bit. Additionally, the DI output is a godsend for bedroom recording, with a variable output and 4x12 cabinet emulation.The Verdict
Considering the wide swath of excellent tones you can coax from the GH50R-212, its slightly higher-than-average street price seems quite reasonable. The unusual and uniquely interactive control array on channel 2 is stunningly versatile and, when dialed in right, a wonderfully bruising contrast to the clean channel’s sweet responsiveness. With a range of voices that moves from vintage mojo to modern swagger, the GH50R is a compelling option for players tasked with covering a wide variety of styles or working within dynamic arrangements.