Improved reverb and scalable power make an Orange stalwart more versatile than ever.
Orange amplifiers have long attracted the worship of high gain freaks. Yes, the amps’ show-stealing visuals make them objects of desire among a wide cross section of players (not to mention great stage dressing), but it’s the massive, gooey crunch that keeps heavy players crawling to Orange like ants to the sugar jar.
In 2003 Orange launched their Rockerverb series—versatile dual-channel heads with reverb and effect loops. The third incarnation, reviewed here, is the 50-watt Rockerverb MKIII, a muscular mid-powered head with improved reverb and scalable power.
Orange On Orange
The Rockerverb is about the same size as most full-sized Orange heads (21.65" x 10.63" x 11.02") and weighs in just shy of 46 lbs. (20.75 kg). The face is adorned with the no-text graphic labels that Orange introduced in the ’70s. These icons can be confusing for the uninitiated, but they’re intuitive enough once you learn their functions.
A 12AT7/ECC81 tube and a custom transformer drive the improved reverb circuit. Another new feature is a built-in attenuator located after the master volume, providing additional control over how the Rockerverb distorts after the preamp stage. It’s a handy feature for playing at home or on smaller stages, helping retain the push/pull dynamic of high-end gain at lower levels. You can also halve the power to 25 watts via a faceplate switch.
The sturdy chassis houses a preamp section driven by four ECC83/12AX7s and two ECC81/AT7s. There are two EL34s in the power section, while a single 12AT7/ECC81 buffers the effect loop. There’s 3-band EQ for the dirty channel, and 2-band for the clean channel, marking a return to the Rockerverb MK1 configuration (MK IIs have 3-band EQ for both channels.) The speaker output can be set for 8 ohms, 16 ohms, or two 16-ohm cabs.
High-Gain Classic with New Tricks
I’m an Orange owner familiar with the Rockerverb series after years of touring with 50- and 100-watt MKIIs. I generally set these completely clean with a small dose of reverb, with a bunch of pedals at the front end. I did the same with the MKIII, running the head through a 4x12 with Celestion V30s.
At full power and with the attenuator disengaged, the MKIII’s ample headroom works well as a pedal platform. My Stratocaster sounded crisp, bright, and airy with the EQ controls at noon, and pick attack felt super-immediate. At times I found myself yearning for the MKII’s mid control, especially when I got around to playing in the context of a full, raging band. For the most part, there’s enough presence to get out in front of a band, though it would be faster and easier with a dedicated mid control.
However, the footswitchable attenuator offsets some of that lost flexibility. You can, for example, set up a clean boost if you turn the circuit off with the attenuator threshold set higher than the master volume. (Be careful, though—too much attenuation can throw a wet blanket over your sound, especially if you run the MKIII at half power.) You can also use the attenuator on the dirty channel as a secondary master volume or third channel.
For many players, the dirty channel is the Rockerverb highlight. Running a Gibson Les Paul straight into the head was an illuminating experience. In fact, just about any guitar with decent humbuckers can make you grin like a fool when you push the gain past noon. The distortion sounds spacious, with little of the compression you get from fuzz-based gain. Touch sensitivity is excellent.
The gain control puts many overdrive flavors at your fingertips. Settings between 10 to 12 o’clock are perfect for hard rock riffage and Angus Young leads. Twist the gain up to 3 o’clock and you’ll discover why Orange amps are so popular with the metal crowd: Tones are rich, gigantic, and touch-responsive. What’s doubly remarkable is how much the Rockerverb loves pedals at these high gain levels. Turning on my ’80s RAT or an EarthQuaker Devices Hoof added discernibly different flavors of crunch to chords and character to leads, but the MKIII never sounded overloaded or excessively compressed.
I’ve always liked Rockerverb MKIIs for backline partly because of their onboard reverb. The effect didn’t sound fantastic, but it let me ditch a reverb pedal. Fortunately, the Mark III’s reverb is deeper and more full-bodied than its predecessor. You can generate longer trails, and the effect seems less prone to feedback. While the circuit lacks the range and depth of a big Fender tank, it’s a major improvement.
Orange amplifiers are rather expensive, and at just under $2,000, the Rockerverb MKIII is no exception. The good news is that the MKIII covers much ground for that money. Its scalable power and attenuator mean it won’t be overkill in a club, and at full power the amp is an absolute monster. It’s also an excellent pedal platform on both channels—a rarity among high-gain heads. In an amp category full of one-trick ponies, the Rockerverb MKIII stands as a versatile jack-of-all-trades.
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