ValveTrain Brandywine Review
Inspired by vintage American studio bass amps, the Brandywine packs enough punch to get you tone-drunk.
Like audiophiles who bemoan declining sound quality in our digital world, bassists often look back to the titans whose tones still inspire us. It’s hard to top John Entwistle’s hallowed Hiwatt howl or Jaco Pastorius’ delay-drenched Acoustic 360 punch. And for some tone-chasing bassists, the gold standard of tone is the glorious grit of James Jamerson’s Motown sound.
Much has changed in bass amplification since Jamerson’s day. We’ve embraced new technology that allows high power and low weight to coexist. But for every company offering 1,000-watt class-D heads and featherweight cabs, there’s another that draws inspiration from the amps of yesteryear. Meanwhile, Florida’s ValveTrain strikes delicate balance between vintage and modern technology. Their 50-watt, tube-powered Brandywine amp and sealed 1x15 Revolution cab bring this vintage format into the 21st century.
The Brandywine and Revolution sport two-tone tolex and chevron-shaped grilles (with cloth rigid enough for worry-free transport). All knobs, switches, jacks, and hardware are expertly installed, and the Brandywine’s marbled, port-colored faceplate lends extra class to an already tasty-looking number. Meanwhile, the Revolution Bass 1x15 is a sturdy little box with metal-reinforced corners and tolex tough enough to take a tap or two when loading in and out.
Around back are a 3-way impedance switch (2/4/8 ohms), two 1/4" speaker jacks, and additional 1/4" outputs for tuner, preamp, and direct signal (with level knob). Under the hood are a pair of 12AX7 preamp tubes, two 6L6GC power tubes, and a solid-state rectifier.
Like many classic ’60s amps, the Brandywine utilizes a Baxandall tone stack plus additional ultra-high and ultra-low switches. Borrowing from Sundown Amplification’s Dennis Kager—a mentor to some of the ValveTrain crew—the amp also includes a “governor” control. Output volume decreases as you advance the control, allowing the player to drive the preamp stage hard while maintaining volume control. (More on this in a bit.) An off/standby/on switch and adjustable input pad round out the front-panel controls.
The rig’s form factor has got it going on. The Brandywine isn’t packed with the kind of glass you’d find in a monster tube amp, and the Revolution 1x15 is light enough to grab with one hand. While the 45-pound cabinet is relatively large compared to some comparable 1x15s, the extra space and bottom port give the speaker ample room to breathe.
Some speaker sticklers thumb their nose at neodymium in favor of heftier ceramic drivers, citing neo’s bashful booty and obnoxious midrange. But I found the Revolution 115’s neo Eminence Basslite C2515 perfectly capable of assuming whatever character I dialed in. Until I can hire hands to schlep my stuff, I have no problem riding the neodymium bandwagon all the way to Feathertown. (The cabinet is also available with a ceramic-driver option.) My only gripe is the Revolution’s hefty $949 price.
Catching a Buzz
The Brandywine is billed as a studio amp, but I found it added much character to a mid-volume jam session. It starts grunting and growling once the volume reaches 10 o’clock, though, so if you seek crystal-clear tone at high volume, move along. But if you like a bit of hair to your sound, the Brandywine has plenty to offer.
The Brandywine’s three EQ bands offer ample boost and cut at familiar frequencies, and the SVT-style ultra-high and ultra-low switches offer additional options. For my taste, the Brandywine is at its best with the midrange rolled off, the treble flat, and the bass bumped a bit. Like a well-appointed spice rack, the Brandywine’s EQ array offers flavors for every palate, but the meat of the matter lies in the volume and governor controls.
With the governor rolled off and volume approaching noon, the Bradywine begins to moan. Inching up the governor lets you hit the preamp harder while maintaining control of your overall volume. Taken to extremes, the Brandywine is capable of balls-out screaming overdrive, even at bedroom levels. Can you get decent bass distortion with a pedal or plug-in? Sure. But neither option is as fun as making the Brandywine howl.
But as fun as such punishment is, there are just as many smiles to be had in settling into a reasonable volume and getting lost in the deep EQ controls. Each control can do heavy lifting, but the midrange control is especially mighty, ranging from scooped and muted to honkier than a juiced-up goose.
To be sure, the Brandywine is at its best when you don’t need it to move a ton of air. But if the quality of said air is paramount, the Brandywine excels.
With its vintage vibe and powerful controls, the Brandywine and accompanying Revolution merit a spot in any tone connoisseur’s arsenal. This amp/cab combo may not be the best choice for a player seeking a single rig to cover all bass needs, but its strong character and sheer fun factor make it a prime contender for a well-appointed studio.
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