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Port City Sahana Amp Head and Wave 2x12 Cab Review

The Sahana is an EL34-flavored amp with great midrange rock tones.

Don’t let anyone tell you there’s anything more important to your tone (besides your technique) than your amplifier’s preamp section. There are no pickups, speakers, cables, DSP effects, or guitars that will sound pleasing with a preamp that sounds like garbage (experimental tones excepted). Bold statements require bold proof, so here’s Exhibit A—Port City Amplification’s 45-watt, EL34-powered Sahana head.

Sound and Vision
Download Example 1
Gain 11, Bass 4, Mid 11, Treble 2. Both pickups.
Download Example 2
Gain 11, Bass 2, Mid 2, Treble 11. Bridge pickup.
Download Example 3
Gain dimed, Bass 3, Mid 9, Treble 3. Neck pickup.
Download Example 4
Gain 10, Bass, Mid, & Treble 2. Bridge pickup.
All clips recorded with a Gibson SG, mic'ed with a Studio Projects C1 large diaphragm condenser.
On the surface, the Sahana is a work of art, as well as a utilitarian tone machine. The burly, finger-jointed case bears a resemblance to a Marshall plexi, and the knobs, switches, and inputs are top quality. The preamp features three 12AX7s and the power section uses two EL34s, all of which are JJ brand—my favorite, because their full-bodied clean tones and dynamic distortion sound like vintage tubes at a fraction of the price. I frequently hear guitarists mention that an amp’s weight plays an important role in their buying decisions, and these guitarists will be pleased to find that the Sahana is surprisingly light, due in part to its aluminum chassis.

Technically, the Sahana is a single-channel amp, but it includes a footswitch to toggle between two gain stages that have independent knobs— Gain 1 and Gain 2—on the front panel (you can also switch from Gain 1 to Gain 2 by pulling out the Volume knob). I tested the Sahana with Gain 1 at moderate settings, so it functioned basically as my clean channel, while Gain 2 was set higher for overdrive. There are also Treble, Middle, and Bass knobs that provide a lot of flexibility for shaping your desired tone. There’s almost nothing worse than spending money on an amp only to discover it has a timid EQ, and that’s not the case here. Other features include a Master knob that lets you dial in that juiced preamp sound at reasonably quiet volumes. In fact, it’s advised that you roll up the Master carefully, because this is the loudest 45-watt amp I’ve ever heard! This is partly because of Port City’s ported 2x12 Wave cabinet, but the amp also features an output impedance selector knob (4, 8, and 16 ohms) that lets the Sahana shine through any of your cabs. Port City began as a ported cabinet maker, and they only recently ventured into the world of amp making. As such, they make beautiful cabs. The 2x12 Wave cabinet I tested wore the same chrome logo, silver piping, and high-quality Tolex as the Sahana. With the Sahana resting on top, you’re looking at a unique and stylish package.

The cabinet is constructed with an internal sound-deflecting board that’s positioned at a 45-degree angle, facing downward. This panel is designed to push speaker sound from the top of the box to its bottom. There, a second angled deflecting panel pushes sound outward and upward through the horizontal front port. Port City offers numerous speaker options, including Celestion, Eminence, and Jensen. The cabs can also be configured with optional colored Tolex, wired in stereo, or even purchased empty.

Where It Shines
Plugged into the Sahana and the Wave cab, I only had to strum my Gibson SG a few times to realize I was in the company of a serious amplifier. Like many point-to-point amps, it’s very revealing of your technique. Regardless of your skill level, though, the Sahana will inspire you to be a better player and squeeze everything you can out of each note. The output of the Sahana’s preamp tubes is carefully crafted, as the overdrive tones are delicately compressed and in no way erratic. This is a sign of a truly great amp that doesn’t rely on power tubes to tame a flaky preamp section. The preamp also has a great level of dynamic range and touch sensitivity. With the gain at 11 o’clock, soft fingerpicking takes on a warm, bell-like chime. The clean tone is robust, with great definition and clarity. The harder you play, the more the preamp gradually breaks up. Working my guitar’s volume knob, I was able to continue to the point of full-on distortion, and I still had gain to spare. Even at full gain, I was able to back off my guitar’s volume and play softly to get gentle, musical overdrive. The Sahana’s response to input level is gradual, making it easy to dial in the right amount of gain on the fly. So how much gain are we talking about? To find out, I dimed Gain 2, scooped the mids, switched on the neck pickup, and started chugging away on a heavy rock sound. Metal and shred tones are not within the scope of this amp. That’s not to say you can’t produce jamming, palm-muted thrusts, but they’re just not voiced for metal. In this scooped setting, I was able to get a clear picture of the Sahana’s complex and pleasing upper-harmonic register. As my fingers gravitated to Tool riffs, the amp delivered punchy, hard-rock tones. The Sahana has the ability to crank out a ridiculous amount of treble if you need it. If not, attenuating the highs via EQ sounds natural, when used in moderation. Idling at full gain, I experienced slightly more noise than I would have expected. However, distorted tones transition gradually to musical feedback without being overcome by screeching noise.

The Sahana responded gorgeously to my SG’s bridge humbucker. After bringing up the Middle knob, backing off the others, and setting Gain 2 at two o’clock, I was able to channel pure British EL34 tone. If the low-watt, high-gain Marshall JCM/JTM sound is what you’re looking for, this amp will blow you away. Rockers who lean toward this midrange sound are really going to dig the Sahana for its ability to cut through a loud mix. I usually prefer a slightly scooped sound, but the Sahana’s boosted mids are easily my favorites.

The Final Mojo
The Sahana executes that slicing, midrange rock-and-roll sound of Malcolm Young as well as any amp I’ve played, and it does so while preserving your picking dynamics. Playing an amp of this caliber gives you a new perspective on both your tone and technique, because each note in a chord is present and powerful. Further, the Wave cab has a bass response that’s as focused as any guitar cabinet I’ve played through. Jazz players, seven-string rockers, and baritone guitarists will really enjoy this cabinet’s extended bass and tight low end. Soloists especially will appreciate the immediate thump that accompanies each pick strike.
Buy if...
you need a powerful EL34-flavored amp with a wide range of tones and tons of thump.
Skip if...
you need an amp capable of metal or shred.

Sahana Head Street $1899 Wave 2x12 Cab Street $685 - Port City -